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2024 WNBA Season Preview Part 1 – The Lead

12. Phoenix Mercury (2023 Record: 9-31)

Defining Stats from 2023: TO% (12th), DRTG (12th)

A proud franchise that has won three WNBA championships and has 17 playoff appearances in their history, the Mercury experienced their second-worst season in history in 2023. They fired head coach Vanessa Nygaard after starting the season 2-10 and sputtered at the at end, losing their last 11 games.

Offensively, Phoenix finished in the top half of the league in shooting (49.7% eFG). Unfortunately, turnovers prevented them from attempting enough shots for that to matter. They finished dead last in field-goal attempts, almost three attempts per game behind the rest of the league.

The Mercury had the highest turnover rate in the league last season at 17.2%, well above the WNBA average of 14.7%. The four full-time players who had the highest turnover percentages on the team were Brianna Turner (35.7%), Kadi Sissoko (27.4%), Sug Sutton (21.9%), and Michaela Onyenwere (18.5%).

Of those four, Sutton is the only one returning for the Mercury this season.

Worse yet, Phoenix’s defensive rating of 109.9 was dead last in the league. They were ninth in opponents’ effective field-goal percentage, 11th in opponents’ turnover percentage, and last in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage.

Out with the old, and in with the new.

New head coach Nate Tibbetts was brought in to breathe life into a new chapter for the Mercury.

Phoenix currently has only eight players on their roster who played in the WNBA last season. However, they bring in proven veterans Natasha Cloud, Kahleah Copper and Rebecca Allen to add to a roster that already features Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi and Sophie Cunningham.

Cloud is a defensive ace who spent the previous eight seasons with Washington. She’s been named to the All-Defensive team twice in her career. She also brings command to the Mercury offense. She’s been in the top 10 in the league in assists five times in her career and currently sits 20th all-time in career assists.

Copper, an All-Star the last three seasons with Chicago and the 2021 Finals MVP, has a career turnover percentage of 13.3% in her eight-year career. She has blossomed into an elite and efficient scorer as she continues to improve year after year.

Allen brings everything together for the Mercury. An elite and versatile defender, the 6-foot-2 guard was seventh in the league last year in blocks. In 2021, she was eighth in the WNBA in steals. Offensively, she will stretch the floor with Taurasi and Cunningham while Copper, Cloud and Griner create opportunities in the middle of the floor.

Phoenix should be drastically better next season, but it may take some time to gel. Unfortunately, two of their first three games are at Las Vegas, with a home game sandwiched in between against a solid Atlanta Dream team.

Regardless of where they begin the season, they be much improved and will be ready to contend by the end of the season.

11. Seattle Storm (2023 Record: 11-29)

Defining Stats from 2023: ORTG (12th), OPP A:TO (11th)

Only two teams finished with an offensive rating of below 100 – Phoenix (99.1) and Seattle (98.7). Those two teams combined to win only 20 games last season. Unsurprisingly, Seattle was dead last in shooting (47.3% eFG%) and second to last in turnovers (16.0% TO%).

Seattle fared better on the defensive end, finishing eighth in defensive rating (105.8). One area of concern, though, was giving up too many assists and not creating enough turnovers. Seattle finished 11th in opponents’ assist-to-turnover ratio (a league-worst 21.0 assists per game to only 12.9 forced turnovers per game).

An overhaul was necessary, and an overhaul is what happened.

Defensive stalwart and rim protector Ezi Magbegor returns after an All-Star season but has more help on the defensive end with the additions of Nneka Ogwumike, Skylar Diggins-Smith and rookie Nika Mühl out of UConn.

Perennial All-Star Jewell Loyd carried Seattle’s offense by leading the league in scoring at 24.7 points per game. The “Gold Mamba” earned All-WNBA for the third time in her career. Despite her scoring prowess, she couldn’t completely carry the load offensively.

Ogwumike comes to the Storm after an illustrious 12-year career in Los Angeles. She is coming off a season where she was named Second Team All-WNBA. She finished sixth in the league in scoring last season and has been in the top ten in field-goal percentage in 11 of the past 12 seasons. Defensively, Ogwumike was a member of the All-Defensive team last season for the sixth time in her career. She finished in the top ten in steals in seven of her 12 seasons, including the past two seasons.

Diggins-Smith returns to the WNBA after sitting out the 2023 season giving birth to her second child. A proven veteran, Diggins-Smith has been named All-WNBA six times in her nine-year career. Her career assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.87 will strengthen the Storm’s league-low ratio of 1.22 from last season. She will be a great compliment to Loyd, a college teammate at Notre Dame.

With only 144 roster spots in the 12-team league, rookies have trouble making an immediate impact in the WNBA. Despite being picked in the second round, Nika Mühl is in a perfect situation to do so. A prototypical point guard, Mühl is an excellent passer, incredible team defender at 5’10”, and will help fill the needs of the Storm in 2024.

Like Phoenix, Seattle is ready to turn the page on last season and will be in a better position this season.

10. Indiana Fever (2023 Record: 13-27)

Defining Stats from 2023: FGM (5th), OPP 3P% (12th)

Indiana literally and figuratively won the lottery.

For the second year in a row, the Fever owned the first pick in the WNBA Draft. And for the second year in a row, they had a sure-fire difference maker at the top of the board.

Picking first in 2023, the Fever selected South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston who went on to become the fifth unanimous Rookie of the Year in league history. She was the first rookie to lead the league in field-goal percentage at 57.8 percent. Combining with fellow All-Star Kelsey Mitchell, a sharpshooting 5’8” off-guard, Boston helped lead the Fever offense to sixth in offensive rating (103.0) and fifth in field goals made (30.2 per game).

Turnovers held them back from achieving even greater success.

Enter Caitlin Clark.

After a legendary college career at Iowa, the 6’0” point guard will create a deadly offensive trio with Boston and Mitchell. She will single-handedly improve many of the Fever’s offensive weaknesses, especially taking care of the ball.

Defensively is where the Fever struggled the most, finishing 11th in defensive rating at 108.1. With much of the roster intact from last season, the Fever needed capable defenders to improve their dismal perimeter defense.

Second-round draft pick Celeste Taylor was certainly an indication that the Fever knew perimeter help was needed. The 5-foot-11 guard from Ohio State was one of the best defenders in the nation. Her skill and length translate to the WNBA. If she can become serviceable enough offensively, her defense will help the Fever, who finished last in opponents’ three-point percentage last season at 37.5%.

Clark’s length will also help, and she was able to show what she is capable of defensively in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. With Boston and Mitchell taking some of the pressure off her need to over-produce offensively, look for Clark to become an even better defender over the course of her professional career.

After 11 straight playoff appearances from 2005-2016, the Fever have failed to get back. They have not finished with a winning percentage above 0.400 since that 2016 season. If they stay healthy, they will eclipse that mark this season and find themselves in the playoffs, ending a seven-year drought.

All team stats sourced from WNBA.com