The WNBA turns 17 today with the tip-off to a new season. As a young league, and with many critical of the women’s game, the WNBA has had to prove itself time and time again. Nevertheless, the league has seen great improvement since its inception, with more TV time, greater attendance and more incredible talent than ever before. And this year should be no exception. So, here are the top five reasons to tune in to the WNBA this year:
The Rookie Class
Without a doubt, this year marks the most talented group of rookies ever to enter the WNBA. Headlined by the “Three to See” in Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, these rookies are going to make huge impacts on their teams right away.
At 6’8’’ and the ability to really dunk, Griner is going to change women’s basketball. The obvious No. 1 pick in the draft, she brings a defensive presence to a Phoenix team that’s already plenty deep with talent.
Delle Donne has the versatility that will allow her to become a great player in the WNBA. Though not 6’8’’ like Griner, at 6’5’’ Delle Donne is no slouch in the post, but she can also score from anywhere on the court and has the ball handling skills of a guard.
Then, there’s point guard Diggins, who can get in the lane or drain the three-point shot. She brings leadership to a Tulsa team that should have a successful season since moving from Detroit.
All in all, the rookies this year won’t be sitting on the bench but will be determining the success of their franchises.
Competitive Games Every Night
The WNBA only has 12 teams with six in each conference, so that means that every team is stacked. Unlike in the NBA, there’s no taking a night off. With the WNBA season only being 35 games long, every night counts when determining those coveted four playoff spots in each conference.
In the past, there were teams like Tulsa or Washington that were always in the cellar of their respective conferences, but not this year. Trades and the WNBA draft have taken care of that. Of course, there are still frontrunners in the league, but every night is going to be a competitive battle and a fun game to watch.
The Phoenix Mercury
Possibly the biggest frontrunner in the WNBA is the Phoenix Mercury. After a disappointing season last year, in which the entire starting lineup was injured for the majority of the year, the Mercury acquired the No.1 draft pick and therefore picked up the incredible Griner. Griner will certainly be huge. As a run-and-gun team that in 40 minutes would prefer to score into the 100s (they average more points per minute than most NBA teams), Griner will bring a defensive presence to the squad and her rebounding will simply facilitate the fast break.
However, even as the future of the WNBA, Griner isn’t the focus of Phoenix because they also happen to feature the best player in the world: Diana Taurasi. The scoring champion almost every year since entering the league, Taurasi can take her defender off the dribble or will sink NBA-range threes. Possibly the biggest competitor in the league and with every basketball award/accomplishment already, she has incredible strength and a great basketball IQ.
Add to that the versatility of Australian Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree, young point guard Samantha Prahalis and DeWanna Bonner, and you’ve got a Mercury team that’s going to be nearly unstoppable.
The Indiana Fever
If there’s one team that could take the Mercury down, it’s the defending champions, the Indiana Fever. The Fever are always competitive. Leading the team is the WNBA’s best defender, Tamika Catchings. She wreaks havoc on the other team on the defensive end as the league’s all-time steals leader but on the offensive end can kill you, too. She is comfortable playing in the post or on the wing and can absolutely change a game.
Her running mate, Katie Douglas, returns after spraining her ankle in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Yes, the Fever went on to win a title without one of their best players. Douglas, who is a pure shooter and clutch handling the ball, will certainly have some motivation to win another title, as she wasn’t able to be on the court to win her first last year.
Last season, to win it all, the bench players had to step up, and they did. It created a Cinderella-story ending to the season and all those players returns. Indiana is a veteran squad with plenty of weapons, so while Phoenix on paper may be the team to beat, never count out Indiana.
An Extended Three-Point Line
As one of the rule changes to this season, the WNBA is moving back its three-point line. The arc moves from 20 feet, 6-1/4 inches to 22, 1-3/4 inches, the same as the international distance. While moving the line back might make some people think there will be fewer threes, I don’t think fans will see a decrease at all. Virtually all WNBA players play overseas during the offseason and are therefore accustomed to this distance. Even with the old line, there were players making NBA-distance threes.
With the three-point line moved out, this will only spread the court more and give more space for the players to work with. Plus, it’s another movement toward showing that the women can really play.
So, for anybody that’s never watched the WNBA, I suggest you give it a chance. It’s definitely going to be a season to remember.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.