2020 WNBA newcomer impact rankings: DeWanna Bonner, Skylar Diggins-Smith lead way

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Thursday, July 16, 2020

With a new collective bargaining agreement in January, the free agency moves and trades that followed made it one of the most active offseasons in WNBA history. There are plenty of new faces in new places, and several are expected to have a major impact this season, which tips off July 25 in Bradenton, Florida. Leaving out the drafted rookies, we rank the 12 teams based on the impact a key newcomer is expected to have in the 2020 WNBA season.

1. Connecticut Sun: DeWanna Bonner, F

The 6-foot-4 multidimensional forward went from Phoenix -- where she'd spent her first 10 seasons in the league averaging 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds -- in a sign-and-trade deal to Connecticut.

Coach Curt Miller said she will impact everything the Sun do. At age 32, Bonner doesn't appear to be slowing down, and could be the missing piece for the Sun to finally get the championship the organization has long pursued.

"You tend to want to get the ball in her hands nearly every possession," Miller said. "When you work with her personally, you realize just how talented of an offensive player she is. We're having fun here early in practice putting her in different actions. She's going to be an unbelievable addition, and our fans are going to love her."

2. Phoenix Mercury: Skylar Diggins-Smith, G

She sat out last season on pregnancy leave, but got back into competitive mode over the winter with the U.S. national team. Diggins-Smith reached the playoffs in two of her six seasons (she missed most of 2015 because of a knee injury) with Tulsa/Dallas. She wanted to leave, and the Wings traded her to Phoenix in February.

Diggins-Smith goes from an organization with very little playoff experience (after it left Detroit following the 2009 season) to a franchise that has won three WNBA titles and has missed the playoffs only once in the past 11 years.

Diggins-Smith averaged 17.9 points and 6.2 assists in 2018. She can fill a more pure point guard role for Phoenix, allowing Diana Taurasi to do other things.

"Skylar is hungry; she's ready to go," said Mercury center Brittney Griner, who was taken No. 1 in the 2013 draft ahead of No. 3 Diggins-Smith. "She's ready to learn, to take control, and that's what we need up at the top of the key, making real-time decisions fast. The first day of practice here, we saw it."

3. Las Vegas Aces: Angel McCoughtry, G/F

The No. 1 draft pick in 2009 became the face of the Atlanta Dream and one of the league's stars. She sat out the 2017 WNBA season to rest, and then missed last year because of a knee injury suffered near the end of the 2018 season.

She left the Dream as a free agent for Las Vegas, knowing her role there would be different, as A'ja Wilson will be looked to as the Aces' primary scorer. But McCoughtry is ready for that, and at age 33 says she still has plenty in the tank.

"I want to come in and lead, play solid, continue to play my hustle game," McCoughtry said. "But I don't have to put so much on me, like I did in Atlanta. I can just play."

4. Atlanta Dream: Shekinna Stricklen, G

She has been in the league eight seasons but seemed to find her groove the past three years in Connecticut. She helped the Sun get to within a victory of the WNBA title last year.

Stricklen came to Atlanta as a free agent. She doesn't have that scoring flare of Courtney Williams, another newcomer to the Dream who isn't working out with the team. But Stricklen can hit big 3-pointers, and is known for being a steady, dependable presence on defense. That's a good way to describe her overall personality, too. And considering some of the Dream's off-court distractions, like the statements of co-owner Kelly Loeffler that have drawn the ire of the league's players, Stricklen helps in many ways.

"She's just a calming presence," Atlanta coach Nicki Collen said. "She knows how to play the game. She's not incredibly vocal, but she's also not quiet. She knows how to be a pro. She understands what she's good at ... she doesn't try to do things that aren't in her wheelhouse. But when she's open, you get her the ball."

5. Chicago Sky: Azurá Stevens, F/C

She was the No. 6 pick by Dallas in the 2018 draft, and had a solid rookie season. But she was limited to nine games last year because of injury and was traded to Chicago in a deal that sent former UConn teammate Katie Lou Samuelson to the Wings.

The 6-foot-6 Stevens, at age 24, still seems to have a lot of untapped potential. The Sky nearly made the WNBA semifinals last year, and she's joined in Chicago by two other former UConn players: Gabby Williams (who was her Huskies teammate) and Stefanie Dolson. Maybe this season, we'll see Stevens really start to come into her own.

"From the minute that I got into Chicago, I felt so welcomed with the team, the coaching staff," Stevens said. "I've gotten to know pretty much all of them really well and there hasn't really been a moment where I felt out of place. Something that I've put a lot of pressure on myself to be better with is defensive rebounding and offensive rebounding, putting pressure on the defense."

6. New York Liberty: Layshia Clarendon, G

At age 29 and with seven seasons in the WNBA, Clarendon has a world of experience compared to most of her Liberty teammates, seven of whom are rookies. She was off to a solid start last year with Connecticut before ankle surgery cut short her season at nine games. She signed as a free agent with the Liberty, and knows how important her leadership will be this season.

"It would be nice to have one more old soul around here," Clarendon joked of the Liberty roster. The next-oldest player is Amanda Zahui B., 26, with five years of experience. "But I'm wearing it with a badge of honor. I've always liked to lead, so I'm just taking it in stride. There's still so much I'm learning, too. We have some amazing rookies who can do some things we have not seen a lot of players do as a rookie."

7. Los Angeles Sparks: Seimone Augustus, G

It has been an emotional whirlwind of a year for Augustus. At one point, she figured it might be her last season in the WNBA and she would celebrate it with Minnesota, where she has played all 14 previous seasons. Then came a difficult decision to leave as a free agent for Los Angeles.

Injury limited Augustus to only 12 regular-season games last season. How much court time she'll get this year remains to be seen, but Sparks coach Derek Fisher said her presence is extremely valuable.

"I had no idea how much she would impact us in terms of her personality," Fisher said. "I had no idea how funny she is, some of the moments where she is cracking everybody up and bringing levity and lightness to what can sometimes feel mundane. Seimone is amazing at breaking that up and giving us all reasons to feel like the game is supposed to be fun."

8. Seattle Storm: Ezi Magbegor, C

The Storm took Magbegor in the first round of the 2019 draft knowing she wouldn't play last season, but that she'd be making her debut in 2020. She doesn't turn 21 until August. But she already has a few years of professional experience in her native Australia, and is part of its national team. With the Storm's strong presence in the post already, Magbegor won't need to take on a huge role and can get acclimated to the WNBA.

"She's a pretty intriguing player," said Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg, who is filling in for Dan Hughes this season. "She's long; she's really athletic. I know she's had some really good coaching in Australia. If she'd played in college, she'd be a top-five player coming out of college. I think she's got a tremendous upside. She's picking stuff up very quickly. There's no pressure on her; we have a good, deep team. We'll just work with her and try to develop her."

9. Dallas Wings: Katie Lou Samuelson, G

She was the No. 4 pick by Chicago in the 2019 WNBA draft but was sidelined early last season by a wrist injury. Even after she got healthy, things never really clicked for her with the Sky and coach James Wade, prompting an offseason trade.

With the Wings, Samuelson has a fresh start with a very young team that is trying to develop its culture. We saw what kind of high-impact scorer, especially from beyond the arc, she was at UConn. It's a matter of translating that to the pro game, which Wings coach Brian Agler says he believes she can do.

"I think I have a really good ability to space the floor out and open things up," Samuelson said. "Shooting is something everyone knows I like to do, but I've also been trying to make sure I make the right play every time on the court. I feel like I have a coach who's behind me and believes in me 100 percent. I'm excited to finally get that."

10. Washington Mystics: Essence Carson, G

The Mystics are the defending champions, but they're not going to look like the same team on court this season. Last year's MVP, Elena Delle Donne, and the team's big free-agent signing, Tina Charles, both applied for medical exemptions. As of July 15, we know Delle Donne's was denied, but she's still not expected to play, and neither is Charles. Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders are also not playing this season.

So the Mystics are looking to Carson for her veteran presence. She has been in the league for 12 years and is known for her defense prowess. She can also hit some big shots from the perimeter.

"That was a godsend to us to have her decide to come here," Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said. "I've known her since she was in college, and have always liked the professionalism that she brings in. We needed somebody who not only could play a couple positions but could bring us some of the leadership we might be missing in our locker room. She's been terrific."

11. Minnesota Lynx: Shenise Johnson, G

Injuries have been very tough on Johnson the past three years; she was limited to 14 games in 2017, didn't play in the league in 2018, and played 17 games in 2019. Johnson, 29, said she was so eager to get back to playing full time, she would have played this season "in the middle of the Sahara." She also said she was glad to hear Lynx coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve, who acquired Johnson in a trade with Indiana, tell her that she just wants her to play her game, which should help Minnesota's pace and spacing on offense.

"For me, specifically, it's being a playmaker," Johnson said. "I'm versatile, so she can put me at the 1 or the 2. But more importantly, she just wants me to be myself. I feel I've learned more about myself these last couple of years than I have in my life. I've learned I can overcome anything."

12. Indiana Fever: Julie Allemand, G

The Fever didn't have much turnover from 2019, with eight returners plus getting back Victoria Vivians, who missed last season because of a knee injury. They do have a new coach in Marianne Stanley, but their only newcomers as players are three rookies, although one already has pro experience: Allemand.

She just turned 24, is a native of Belgium, is on the national team, and also plays professionally in Europe. The Fever initially picked her in the third round of the 2016 draft; four years later, they signed her as a free agent and she's making her WNBA debut. Indiana looks to her to help shore up the point guard spot.

"I'm someone [who] plays to help the team out, and I hope they'll like the way I play," Allemand said in a Q&A on the Fever's website. "I'm always looking to make the pass, but sometimes people say I'm too unselfish because I always think about passing and helping others.

"I hope they like me as a point guard. I started playing basketball when I was 4 years old, and I've been watching the NBA and WNBA ever since. I never thought I would be able to get to this point."