The Seattle Storm would have entered this season as a favorite to repeat their 2018 WNBA title -- until an injury that Breanna Stewart suffered while she was playing overseas changed 2019 for the Storm.
So which team does that leave as the favorite? There is no longer an obvious answer.
The absence of Stewart and some other WNBA stars -- most notably the Minnesota Lynx's Maya Moore -- for this entire season will have a large impact on who ends up as champion. There are other players, including the Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi and the Los Angeles Sparks' Candace Parker, who are out indefinitely with injuries. There are veterans looking for bigger opportunities, and there are rookies eager to prove themselves.
We'll see a lot of twists and turns, especially in how teams without a key player respond early. Here's a projection of the best and worst each WNBA team can expect in 2019.
2018: 23-11, lost in semifinals to Washington
Best case: Led by guard play from Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery and Alex Bentley, the Dream are able to hold their own well enough even without star Angel McCoughtry, who suffered an ACL injury last August. But she returns late in the season, is integrated smoothly into the starting rotation and helps the Dream advance to the semifinals.
Worst case: McCoughtry isn't able to return at all. The Dream's inside game, with newcomers like Marie Gulich, isn't all coach Nicki Collen hoped it would be. Atlanta comes close, but just misses the playoffs.
2018: 13-21, missed playoffs
Best case: With a different identity under new coach James Wade, the Sky strengthen their defense (really!) while still being a tough team to guard. No. 4 draft pick Katie Lou Samuelson gives the offense a boost and gives the Sky another strong 3-point threat along with Allie Quigley, Diamond DeShields and Courtney Vandersloot. Chicago advances to the second round of the playoffs.
Worst case: Chicago has a few too many of those "almost" games that the Sky can't pull out. The defense doesn't improve enough. They make a run at the postseason, but fall short for the third year in a row.
2018: 21-13, lost in second round to Phoenix
Best case: In the absence of Chiney Ogwumike, who was traded to Los Angeles, the Sun get back the 2017 version of center Jonquel Jones for the whole season. They are not a star-studded squad, but it doesn't matter as they are again one of the league's best shooting teams. The Sun reach the semifinals.
Worst case: The Sun miss Ogwumike more than they expected, but they still get a first-round bye. They lose for the third year in a row in the second round.
2018: 15-19, lost in first round to Phoenix
Best case: The Wings embrace new coach Brian Agler's system, which is especially noticeable on defense. Skylar Diggins-Smith returns well from pregnancy leave, and another Notre Dame guard, Arike Ogunbowale, makes a run at Rookie of the Year. Post player Azurá Stevens takes a jump forward in her second season. The Wings lose in the first round of the playoffs, but feel good about where they are headed.
Worst case: Dallas misses Liz Cambage, its leading scorer/rebounder from last season. The Wings don't click well offensively, despite some flashes of brilliance from Ogunbowale. They miss the playoffs.
2018: 6-28, missed playoffs
Best case: No. 2 draft pick Teaira McCowan adjusts quickly to the pro game and gives the Fever a needed boost in rebounding and rim-protection. Second-year guard Kelsey Mitchell blossoms as the team's top scorer and has more clarity about her role. The Fever miss the playoffs again, but show they're closer to consistently competing and getting back to the postseason.
Worst case: McCowan has ups and downs defensively. The Fever miss Victoria Vivians, who suffered an ACL injury overseas after a solid rookie year in the WNBA. Veteran Candice Dupree still carries a big load, but there's not that much progress for the team overall, resulting in a second consecutive last-place finish.
2018: 14-20, missed playoffs
Best case: Everything clicks for the Aces after their big trade for center Liz Cambage. She and A'ja Wilson form one of the most lethal frontcourts in the WNBA, and the guard play, led by Kayla McBride, benefits from the dynamic duo inside. The Aces overcome their lack of playoff experience and make a run all the way to the WNBA title.
Worst case: Cambage and Wilson don't coexist as well as hoped, and neither has as good a season as she did last year. Las Vegas' league-low 3-point shooting production from 2018 doesn't improve. The Aces too often look like five individuals instead of a team. They make the playoffs, but lose in the first round.
2018: 19-15, lost in second round to Washington
Best case: With sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike reunited, the Sparks have an even deeper and more versatile post rotation, especially when Candace Parker returns from a hamstring injury. Chelsea Gray and ageless Alana Beard anchor the backcourt, and the team responds well to new coach Derek Fisher. The Sparks win their fourth WNBA title.
Worst case: Injuries and illness both impact Los Angeles as they did in 2018. Fisher has some difficulty settling on the right post rotation, so it takes some time to jell. The Sparks are still a strong contender, but lose in the semifinals.
2018: 18-16, lost in first round to Los Angeles
Best case: In their first season since 2009 without either Lindsay Whalen (retired) or Maya Moore (sitting out season), the Lynx start to establish a new identity. Still, veterans like Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus continue to lead the way, and Napheesa Collier is one of the top rookies. Newcomers like Odyssey Sims provide a boost. The Lynx fall in the semifinals.
Worst case: The chemistry that seemed almost effortless the last several years is much harder to maintain. The Lynx play very well at times, but stumble at others as their leadership isn't consistent. They miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
2018: 7-27, missed playoffs
Best case: With a new owner in place (Joseph Tsai) and a more secure-looking future, the Liberty don't have as many off-court worries as in 2018. Katie Smith settles in during her second season as head coach. Rookies Asia Durr and Han Xu both make an impact, and Tina Charles leads the way as usual. The Liberty lose in the second round.
Worst case: The Liberty aren't much different from their 2018 version, and still don't give Charles enough consistent help offensively. They have moments when it looks like they are making progress, but they don't make the playoffs.
2018: lost in semifinals to Seattle
Best case: Even while waiting for Diana Taurasi to return from back surgery, the Mercury are a strong team, led by Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner. Briann January and Essence Carson provide a defensive edge to the perimeter game, and the rookies contribute. Taurasi returns to make an impact in the playoffs, and Phoenix wins a fourth WNBA title.
Worst case: Phoenix has trouble adjusting to Taurasi's absence and lacks a consistent on-court leader. She returns, but isn't as effective as hoped. The Mercury fall in the second round.
2018: 26-8, won championship
Best case: Rallying around the loss of Breanna Stewart (torn Achilles tendon suffered overseas), the Storm live up to a vow of each player doing a little more. Natasha Howard, a revelation in her first year in Seattle in 2018, becomes the Storm's leading scorer this season, while Jewell Loyd is near the top, too. Led again by point guard Sue Bird, the Storm scrap their way into the semifinals but lose there.
Worst case: The Storm can't come close enough to making up for the loss of the league MVP, and that impacts so much on both ends of the court. They lose in the first round of the playoffs.
2018: lost in WNBA Finals to Seattle
Best case: With so much of their 2018 core back, plus adding in forward Emma Meesseman again, the Mystics are one of the hardest teams in the league to guard. Meesseman misses June because of a commitment to the Belgian national team, but is effective when she returns. Elena Delle Donne has another MVP-caliber season, and there's no sophomore slump from Ariel Atkins. The Mystics win their first WNBA championship.
Worst case: The Mystics aren't as strong defensively as coach Mike Thibault would like, and Delle Donne ends up carrying too much of the offensive load. They fall in the semifinals.
WNBA 2019 season predictions: Best- and worst-case scenarios for each team
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