The WNBA season here, and it’s a great time to take a tour around the W and see what the landscape is shaping up to be. A lot of familiar faces are in new places and teams are positioning themselves to go on deep playoff runs this summer. With that in mind, I wanted to take a tour with one of the best basketball minds in the game. I reached out to Chaunte’l Powell of Swish Appeal’s Triple Threat Podcast and The Committee on Twitter. Here’s our conversation below:
Brian Fleurantin: The big news surrounding the WNBA this offseason was Britney Griner’s arrest and detention in Russia. What have you made of the responses from Cathy Engelbert on issues such as player pay, travel accommodations, opportunities for the W to grow, how they’ve marketed the game and its players, etc.?
Chaunte’l Powell: I think her responses suck given they’re not consistent with the players have been saying or fan’s reactions. It was troubling to me watching the [Athlete’s Unlimited] AU players rave about having the time of their lives and how hard going overseas is then hearing Englebert make those comments insinuating players enjoy going overseas and playing year round.
BF: Generally speaking, what do you think the WNBA can do to expand their reach and make the game more enjoyable and accessible for fans?
Little things like capitalizing off draft day and training camp hype by making preseason games available to bigger things like expansion and more roster spots so they can keep the momentum college basketball fans bring into the season.
BF: Back on the court, the LA Sparks made some major moves in the offseason by signing Liz Cambage and freeing Chennedy Carter from the mess that is the Atlanta Dream. How do you see the new look Sparks doing this year?
CP: They have some aging players whose health is going to be a concern, but honestly I think they can be a 5 seed and show enough improvement to put Derek Fisher in COY conversations.
BF: Without Cambage and Angel McCoughtry, the Las Vegas Aces have fully handed the keys of the franchise over to A’ja Wilson. They also have a new head coach in Becky Hammon after four seasons of Bill Laimbeer. With all of the big changes surrounding the team, what should we expect from them this season?
CP: Expect the Aces to run an offense from this decade. With Laimbeer, Las Vegas had the spacing of a phone booth and when he shut down the idea of giving A’ja Wilson the green light to shoot threes I was sick. Becky Hammond is bringing in a more modernized small-ball offensive system that should be fun to watch.
BF: Here in New York, the Liberty upgraded at the coaching position by bringing in Sandy Brondello and moving on from Walt Hopkins. Sabrina Ionescu hasn’t made the impact a lot of us expected when she was taken first overall in the 2020 Draft. What do you think Ionescu needs to improve upon this season and where do you see the Liberty season winding up?
CP: One thing that Walt Hopkins said that may or may not have contributed to his departure was Ionescu struggles against quicker guards. He wasn’t lying. She’s reportedly 100 percent healthy this year so she’s gotta get a bag and find a way to get her shot off without 20,000 screens or go straight bully ball and post up some. The latter I don’t see happening at all, but it would decrease the odds of her getting her shot punched like we saw repeatedly last season.
BF: The Chicago Sky lost Diamond DeShields and Stef Dolson, but most of their core is intact as they look to defend their title. What do you think of their acquisition of Emma Messeman and how do you think they compare to the other contenders like Connecticut?
CP: I think Big Meese keeps the Sky in title contention. Diamond DeShields has been a shell of herself the last few years and hopefully will have a resurgence in Phoenix, but ultimately losing her wasn’t a huge blow. Stef Dolson was huge for the Sky last season, but Messeman is for sure an upgrade so I think they’ll be fine.
BF: Who’s a player that fans should keep an eye on this season?
CP: I think this year’s rookie class has the potential to make a lot of noise, particularly Kierstan Bell out in Las Vegas. I think she’ll fit well with what Becky Hammon wants to do and make a strong case for ROY, though I still think that’s going to be Rhyne Howard in Atlanta.
BF: Anything that I missed that you think is important to watch for this season? And to close us out, who’s your early championship favorite?
CP: Gabby Williams is also free and playing in the W for the first time since 2020. I think she’s going to have a good year up in Seattle. Speaking of Seattle, it’s Sue’s last year as well as Sylvia Fowles so expect to see some lovely tributes to both for brilliant careers. With the addition of Gabby Williams Seattle is my early favorite to win it all.
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