The WNBA season began on June 5, so we at Wear Your Voice Sports thought we could offer a preview of what to know and look for this season.  Here are 7 things to know about this WNBA season.

1. Season Recap

It’s a short season (34 games) and long offseason in the WNBA, so here’s what happened last year:

  • Finals Match-up: Chicago Fire vs. Phoenix Mercury
  • League Champion: Phoenix Mercury
  • League MVP: Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx)
  • Finals MVP: Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
  • Rookie of the Year: Chiney Ogwumike  (Connecticut Sun)
  • Top Pick in the Draft: Jewell Lloyd (Notre Dame), selected by Seattle Storm

Ogwumike won rookie of the year after being selected #1 overall by the Sun.  Maya Moore led the league in scoring (23.9 per game) en-route to her first league MVP award.  Phoenix had the league’s best regular season record at 29-5, and lost only one game in the playoffs (7-1).

Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi celebrate their 2014 WNBA Championship

Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi celebrate their 2014 WNBA Championship

 

2. Diana Taurasi’s notable absence

As seen in the top 10 female athletes post, Diana Taurasi one of the influential athletes in women’s sports.  This season, she will not be playing in the WNBA, sitting at the request of her team in Russia who is paying her much more than her WNBA year’s salary to rest and stay healthy.  This is a huge tipping point for the WNBA, which does not pay its players very much when it comes to professional sports.  The max a player can earn per year is $107,000.

Taurasi’s absence will have a trickle-down effect to the rest of the league, as well as this preview.

 

3. The Defending Champs

The Mercury are the defending WNBA champion, but come into the season not sure what to expect.  As mentioned, one of the league’s best players, Diana Taurasi, is not playing.  They also have the league’s defensive player of the year and 2-time blocked shots leader Brittney Griner.  However, Griner is expected to miss the first 7 games of the year (a shade over 20% of the season) due to suspension (we’ll talk about that next).  Does Phoenix have enough to overcome all of these obstacles to repeat as champs?

 

4. Brittney Griner’s stardom and legal trouble/general controversy

In April of this year, police responded to a call at the home of Griner and her then fiancee and fellow WNBA player Glory Johnson. The two had been fighting, and were both arrested for assault.  The league issued 7-game suspensions for both of them.  Then on June 4, the Tulsa Shock announced that Johnson would miss the coming season because she is pregnant.  The next day Griner filed for an annulment to their marriage, claiming she was married under duress.  Griner was poised to step-in as the face of the franchise this year.  Then, over the past 7 weeks, she got arrested, married, suspended from the league, and then a marriage annulment.

From a basketball perspective, the suspension obviously hurts Griner as a player and the Mercury’s bid to repeat as champs.  But that, and the rest of this controversy, has ramifications on the league.  Griner’s jersey was the number one seller in the league in 2013 when she was a rookie, and number 6 last year.  Will this have an impact on her popularity and/or the league’s, which frankly cannot afford to lose fans?

Hope Johnson (L) and Brittney Griner

Hope Johnson (L) and Brittney Griner

 

5. Maya Moore’s reign as top player

Maya Moore is the defending league MVP, and a two-time WNBA champion (2011 and 2013).  This is her time to step up as the league’s best player.  Last year her Minnesota Lynx had the league’s second-best record and lost in the conference finals to Phoenix.  This is a great opportunity for her and fellow Lynx star Lindsay Whalen to return as champs, and cement Moore’s status as the league’s best player.

Maya Moore

Maya Moore

6. Chicago Sky keeping last year’s momentum

The Chicago Sky finished last year at 15-19, barely making it into the playoffs.  They beat the conference’s best team (Atlanta) and win in the next round to make it to the WNBA Finals.  This was basically the opposite of what they did the year before, when they took the number 1 seed into the playoffs and went on to get swept in the first round.  Which Sky team will we see this season?

The Sky are led by Elena Delle Donne, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, who missed more than half the season last year.  She came back in the playoffs and led the team in scoring.  Can she stay healthy, and can they keep the momentum going from a strong post-season, to take control of a weak eastern conference?

 

7. Isiah Thomas and the New York Liberty

New York sports fans will no doubt remember Isiah Thomas’ tenure as President of the New York Knicks from 2003-08, which included two seasons of him also serving as head coach.  Thomas’s teams were 112-216 in his 4 full seasons in NY, 56-108 with him coaching.  He was also hit with a sexual harassment suit by fellow Madison Square Garden (MSG) employee Anucha Brown Sanders in 2007.  She was awarded punitive damages of $11.6 million by a jury, though Thomas was not held personally liable.

In May of this year, MSG Chairman James Dolan (who owns the Knicks and Liberty) brought Thomas back as President and part owner of the New York Liberty.  While the jury did not find Thomas liable, and MSG denies any wrong doing, the sexual harassment allegations are still an issue the league will no doubt want to face head on.  New owners must be approved by the WNBA Board of Governors and, to this point, they have not approved Thomas.  A group of roughly 20 gathered outside of Madison Square Garden on June 6 to protest the hiring of Thomas.

Isiah Thomas at the New York Liberty Media Day

Isiah Thomas at the New York Liberty Media Day

Featured photo image credit: Flickr user Joe Bielawa  via Creative Commons

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