WNBA Power Rankings 2024: Unbeaten Lynx leap five spots

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Monday, May 20, 2024

Catch your breath yet after a whirlwind first week, WNBA fans?

The 2024 season kicked off in memorable fashion. Rookies from Caitlin Clark to Angel Reese to Cameron Brink made their professional debuts and impacted their respective teams right away. Superstars from A'ja Wilson to Breanna Stewart to Alyssa Thomas picked up from where they left off in 2023. Under-the-radar players from DiJonai Carrington to Kia Nurse to Alanna Smith raised eyebrows early.

A game went to double-overtime Friday, two triple-doubles were tallied on the first two days of the season,and several other contests had close finishes. And we're not even a full week in.

The top quarter of the league -- the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces, last year's runners-up in the New York Liberty and perennial contenders in the Connecticut Sun -- looked pretty much as expected, collectively going 7-0.

But newer-look teams that made big moves in the offseason have had mixed results. The Minnesota Lynx asserted themselves early and are the only other undefeated squad heading into Week 2. After an 0-2 start, the Seattle Storm -- who could emerge as the league's newest superteam by summer's end -- beat the Washington Mystics on Sunday for their first win.

The Phoenix Mercury gave the Aces a tough go Tuesday before beating the Atlanta Dream in a Saturday evening thriller, marking new head coach Nate Tibbetts' first career win. That same night, new Chicago Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon also earned career victory No. 1 as the Sky won at the Dallas Wings.

The injury bug hit the likes of Dallas, Seattle, Washington and Phoenix over the past few days. The Wings will be without Natasha Howard (broken foot) for three to six weeks, while Brittney Sykes and Nneka Ogwumike both missed Sunday's meeting with ankle injuries they suffered Friday. The Mystics were without Shakira Austin (hip injury management) and the Storm without rookie Nika Muhl (visa issues) in that game.

Brittney Griner is also out indefinitely for the Mercury after fracturing her toe. The Aces remain without Chelsea Gray as she continues to come back from the foot injury she suffered in last year's WNBA Finals.

The top three teams in ESPN's WNBA Power Rankings remain unchanged from our preseason edition, but there's plenty of shuffling after that. Here is where things stand heading into Monday's games: Connecticut travels to Indiana (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) for a rematch from opening day, while Seattle ventures to New York (7 p.m. ET, ESPN App).

1. Las Vegas Aces (2-0)

Preseason ranking: 1

This week: vs. PHO (May 21), vs. IND (May 25)

The champions had an eventful week. On Tuesday they received their rings for winning the 2023 title and a pregame talk from team minority owner Tom Brady. That night, as they defeated the Mercury 89-80, they also showed off their new silver and black uniforms, harkening back to not just Aces owner Mark Davis' Las Vegas Raiders but also to the franchise's origins as the San Antonio Stars.

But during their Saturday contest against Los Angeles -- a come-from-behind victory for Las Vegas -- it was reported that the WNBA is investigating a deal in which the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority publicly pledged a $100,000 sponsorship to each player on the Aces roster. "Just another day in the life of the Aces," Wilson, a two-time MVP, said of the investigation after the game. "We can't ever start just normal, it's always going to be something, and that's OK."

Wilson and Jackie Young have led the charge on the court. Wilson kicked off her season with a 30-point, 13-rebound, 5-assist, 3-block outing, while Young is embracing more of a facilitating role with Gray out, averaging 8.5 assists to go along with 22.5 points per game.

Coach Becky Hammon is always harping on her team's defense, and Saturday she was displeased with how the Sparks asserted their will in the paint. Offensively, Hammon stressed after both games the need for more ball and player movement, and it hurts not to have Gray on the floor to help conduct the operation. No one needs to try to be Gray, but Hammon wants each player to give a bit more.

Former Iowa standout Kate Martin, who was drafted in the second round, might be a somewhat unexpected person to help; she was plus-8 in 26 minutes against the Sparks on Saturday.

2. New York Liberty (3-0)

Preseason ranking: 2

This week: vs. SEA (May 20), vs. CHI (May 23), @ MIN (May 25)

After a scare against the Mystics to open the season, the Liberty cruised to 3-0 with a pair of wins over the Fever as they look to use last year's chemistry-building season to make another run at the franchise's first WNBA title. "We were close last year," Breanna Stewart said Saturday, "but we're even closer this year."

Stewart demonstrated yet again why she's a two-time MVP, coming out with a 31-point, 10-rebound, 4-assist, 3-steal and 2-block effort in Indianapolis on Thursday. Jonquel Jones -- who unlike last year is healthy to start the season -- has been strong to start (17.7 PPG, 10.0 RPG), as has Betnijah Laney-Hamilton (15.0 PPG) on both ends of the floor.

New York retooled its bench in the offseason, and we've seen coach Sandy Brondello go to her reserves more frequently already, with at least five bench players averaging between nine and 11 minutes per game. Nyara Sabally, in particular, showed great flashes Saturday against the Fever.

Washington and Indiana are a combined 0-6, so upcoming meetings against the Storm, Sky and Lynx should tell us more about where the Liberty truly are, especially on the defensive end. That's the area, Jones said, where they want to grow the most this year.

3. Connecticut Sun (2-0)

Preseason ranking: 3

This week:@ IND (May 20, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN), vs. MIN (May 23), @ CHI (May 25)

Connecticut has largely picked up where it left off last season -- and some. All-Star Brionna Jones has returned to the lineup after last year's Achilles tear, and while she's still working her way back, her impact in the paint is undeniable. No Sun player has taken a bigger jump than Carrington, a fourth-year guard. The former Baylor standout first shined with a strong defensive effort on Clark in which she also scored 16 points, and then followed with 21 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists against the Mystics.

Coach Stephanie White said the staff trusted Carrington to take this sort of jump in her career, that it was just a matter of her becoming more disciplined. Carrington's continued growth would be a massive boon for a Sun team that has tended to be stronger in the frontcourt than backcourt.

After a convincing season-opening win over the Fever, Friday's matchup against the Mystics was tougher with the Sun's offense stalling, but White credited the team's veteran leadership (spearheaded by DeWanna Bonner's 14 points in the final frame) in helping them overcome a six-point fourth-quarter deficit.

4. Minnesota Lynx (2-0)

Preseason ranking: 9

This week:@ CON (May 23), vs. NY (May 25), @ ATL (May 26)

Expectations were mixed on how the Lynx would look this year, but they took it to Seattle, sweeping their opening week home-and-home against the Storm. After a slew of poor starts in recent years (0-6 in 2023, 0-4 in both 2022 and 2021), the Lynx notched their first 2-0 start since 2019. And it wasn't entirely surprising to coach Cheryl Reeve after her players had a "hell of a training camp," she said Friday, with their competitiveness, willingness to help each other and communication. "The art of accelerating chemistry, this group has kind of put on a clinic in what that takes," Reeve said after their second win.

Napheesa Collier, who finished fourth in MVP voting in 2023, is doing Napheesa Collier things, coming away with 29 points, 9 rebounds, 6 steals, 5 assists and 2 blocks in the Lynx's double-overtime win Friday despite dealing with foul trouble. Former Stanford standout Alanna Smith has been stellar in her new chapter in Minnesota, recording a career-high 22 points in her first game as a Lynx and a career-best six blocks the next. And Reeve is really excited about the synergy the two posts are developing with each other, especially on defense.

Could Minnesota be a title contender? Wins over Connecticut and New York this week would help push the Lynx into that conversation.

5. Phoenix Mercury (1-1)

Preseason ranking: 6

This week:@ LV (May 21), vs. WAS (May 23), vs. DAL (May 25)

Despite being without Griner for the foreseeable future, the Mercury are off to a solid start. They overcame a rough first quarter to play Las Vegas tight and pulled within three with 1:17 to play, helped in large part by Diana Taurasi's 7-for-11 shooting from the 3-point arc. Phoenix sank 15 of 36 attempts from deep that night, aligned with Tibbetts' offensive system that prioritizes looks from 3 (35-40 attempts per game) and in the paint/at the rim.

He wasn't as pleased with the Mercury's shot selection the next game against the Dream, when they gave up the lead late before clawing back to come away with the victory. But new addition Kahleah Copper was unstoppable, finishing with a career-high 38 points, which included 16 trips to the free throw line.

Natasha Mack, back in the league after being drafted in the second round in 2021, has helped the Mercury find their footing. Tasked with helping compensate for Griner's absence, Mack collected a game-high 11 boards against Atlanta and has been lauded for her defense. That end of the floor, Tibbetts said, is what the team worked on extensively in training camp and will be its priority moving forward.

6. Atlanta Dream (1-1)

Preseason ranking: 7

This week: vs. DAL (May 21), vs. MIN (May 26)

The Dream kicked off 2024 with a pair of road tilts out west -- beating the Sparks and then narrowly losing to the Mercury -- before returning home for their home opener Tuesday. Former No. 1 draft pick Rhyne Howard is living up to the billing, scoring 20 points in each of her games in her third season on an efficient 51.6% shooting (50% from the 3-point arc).

Future Hall of Famer Tina Charles made her return to the league after not playing in the WNBA last year, averaging 13.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals, while crediting coach Tanisha Wright, her former teammate in New York, for always bringing out the best in her.

Wright has harped on her team needing to stay disciplined and consistent for four quarters, an issue dating to last season. She felt the Dream lacked energy against Phoenix at the beginning, needed to defend better and also play smarter after failing to take advantage of Natasha Cloud guarding Charles for large stretches of the game. Atlanta -- which is still without Jordin Canada but picked up Crystal Dangerfield -- has a chance to work on that sharpness this week with just two home games.

7. Seattle Storm (1-2)

Preseason ranking: 4

This week:@ NY (May 20), vs. IND (May 22), vs. WAS (May 25)

The Storm garnered plenty of hype entering the season after bringing in Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith in free agency to pair with Jewell Loyd and Ezi Magbegor. It has taken some time for the talent to coalesce, understandable given how early it is in the season. Following a pair of losses to the Lynx, the second in double overtime, Seattle earned its first win of the season Sunday over the Mystics in D.C. despite being without Ogwumike.

Coach Noelle Quinn thought her team finished plays better and showed more focus, discipline and toughness -- qualities the Storm will need to come out with another win to conclude their back-to-back Monday at New York. Depending on how she feels, Ogwumike might be available for the matchup, Quinn said.

Seattle's biggest issues are on the offensive end. The Storm's offensive rating (89.5 points per 100 possessions) ranks second-worst in the league, and they're also last in assist percentage (48.9%) and effective field goal percentage (41.7%). Part of that is a product of Loyd's shooting slump; she has made 13 of 59 attempts from the field, but Quinn said she thought the guard found a better rhythm Sunday.

8. Chicago Sky (1-1)

Preseason ranking: 12

This week:@ NY (May 23), vs. CON (May 25)

Rookie Reese had a challenging matchup for her first pro games, facing the size of the Wings' Teaira McCowan, Kalani Brown and Stephanie Soares, all of whom are 6-foot-6 or 6-7. But it was apparent with Saturday's comeback win over the Wings that Reese, her Sky teammates and Weatherspoon are finding their way behind a defensive-minded identity and balanced offense.

Reese (11.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG) continues to bring energy on the glass and get to the free throw line (7.5 attempts per game), while fellow post player Elizabeth Williams (12.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG) has had a solid start to the season as well. Those two have helped the Sky emerge as the top offensive rebounding team in the league (42.2% offensive rebounding rate).

In the second game of the season, six players -- the starters plus reserve Chennedy Carter -- reached double figures, something the Sky did only once last season. Weatherspoon was complimentary of Carter on Saturday, saying the guard -- who prior to this week hadn't played in the WNBA since 2022 -- is finding her way and her role. Diamond DeShields is another player making a comeback of sorts with the Sky; she was sidelined with an injury in 2023 but is thriving back in Chicago (15.0 PPG).

Chicago has only two games this week but they're against tough competition in the Liberty and Sun. The game against Connecticut will mark Chicago's home opener, at last.

9. Dallas Wings (1-1)

Preseason ranking: 5

This week: @ ATL (May 21) @ PHO (May 25), @ LA (May 26)

Dallas has started its 2024 campaign in rocky fashion. The Wings were already without Satou Sabally until after the Olympics, and then Jaelyn Brown and Howard were sidelined this week with their respective injuries (Brown is expected to be a week). The Wings brought in Monique Billings on a hardship contract in the meantime.

The Wings split their two-game series against the Sky, in the first game overcoming a late deficit to win and in the second relinquishing a lead in a loss. Coach Latricia Trammel was proud of her shorthanded team's effort -- Maddy Siegrist and Soares earned their first career starts as a result -- but 26 turnovers and 19 Sky offensive boards ultimately spelled doom. Dallas will look to clean up both those areas as it heads into a five-game cross-country road trip.

Arike Ogunbowale's blistering offense -- including her eighth career 35-point game Saturday -- was a common thread throughout both contests. She's averaging 30 points per game while shooting 40% on 3s, and until Howard and Sabally return, the Wings will continue to lean on her to keep things afloat. Can this be the year she asserts herself in the MVP conversation?

10. Los Angeles Sparks (0-2)

Preseason ranking: 10

This week: vs. WAS (May 21), vs. IND (May 24), vs. DAL (May 26)

The Sparks still await their first win of the season, though they were within striking distance in their losses to Atlanta and Las Vegas. Their defense has much room for growth -- it's a limited sample size, but their defensive efficiency (109.7 points per 100 possessions) ranks 11th in the league -- but they've had some bright spots, and coach Curt Miller said after their loss to the Aces he's encouraged with where his team can go.

Dearica Hamby is off to a blistering start, averaging 24.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game through two contests, bolstered by her 29-point outing against the Aces, her former team, on Saturday.

Layshia Clarendon recorded their first career triple-double in the season opener, while Nurse is playing the best basketball of her WNBA career. Lottery picks Rickea Jackson and Cameron Brink are impressing early, too -- the latter putting on a defensive clinic with five blocks and eight boards against the Aces.

Los Angeles has a fairly favorable schedule with the winless Mystics and Fever coming to town, followed by the Wings, to round out a three-game homestand.

11. Washington Mystics (0-3)

Preseason ranking: 11

This week: at LA (May 21), at PHO (May 23), at SEA (May 25)

The Mystics have been perplexing to watch. In some stretches, they look much better than many anticipated for a team that saw multiple stars leave in the offseason. Washington has actually led heading into the fourth quarter in each of its first three games against the Liberty, Sun and Storm.

But their fourth-quarter collapses -- they've been outscored by double figures in the final frame in each contest -- have resulted in their first 0-3 start since 2016. It hasn't helped to be without Sykes most of the past two games, and then sans Austin on Sunday. Coach Eric Thibault said Sykes will travel on the team's upcoming three-game road trip and will be considered day-to-day.

The newcomers have been exciting for the Mystics so far. Karlie Samuelson, finally on a protected contract, is shooting 47.1% from 3, while WNBA rookies Aaliyah Edwards and Julie Vanloo earned their first career starts Sunday. The latter, a 31-year-old guard from Belgium, is leading the team in assists with 5.7 dimes per game despite averaging just 23.2 minutes.

The schedule doesn't get much easier this week, as the Sparks will be hungry for their first win as well. The Mercury and Storm are looking to establish themselves as contenders following big offseason moves and are tough teams to play on their home floors.

12. Indiana Fever (0-3)

Preseason ranking: 8

This week: vs. CON (May 20, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN), at SEA (May 22), at LA (May 24), at LV (May 25)

The going has been tough for the Fever, who have arguably the toughest schedule in the league to start the season with seven games (including five on the road) in 12 days. By Saturday, they'll have played the Liberty and Sun twice, plus the Storm and, on the tail end of a back-to-back, the two-time defending champs.

Their first two games, at Connecticut and versus New York, were particularly rough, as Indiana lost by a combined 57 points. But Saturday's loss to New York in Brooklyn was by a respectable 11 points as Indiana bounced back to win the second half. The Fever's current minus-68 point differential is the second worst through the first three games of a season in league history.

There has been a lot of focus on the offense given Clark's role in it, and the teamwide need for better chemistry, flow and execution on that end of the floor. Coach Christie Sides undoubtedly wants to see progress defensively too, particularly after her team allowed New York to hit 12 3-pointers in the first half Saturday. Their 285 points allowed are the fourth most through the first three games of a season in league history. Indiana ranks last in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

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