WNBA free-agent rankings: The 20 best players in 2021

Which WNBA free agents can most help teams this season?

The 2021 free-agency market opened for negotiations Jan. 15, though teams and players cannot begin agreeing to contracts until Feb. 1. Although this year's WNBA offseason might not bring the kind of blockbuster moves we saw last winter, when DeWanna Bonner, Tina Charles, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Kristi Toliver all changed teams, there are plenty of big names out of contract -- including several future Hall of Famers who will be unrestricted free agents.


To rank the players available, I put together a projection of the wins above replacement player (WARP) teams can expect from them during the 2021 WNBA season based on their age and production by this metric over the past three seasons.

Let's take a look at the top free agents, including players who have been given the core designation by their teams, according to the statistical projections.

1. Liz Cambage


Las Vegas Aces

Center

Age:
29 (as of Feb. 1)

Core player

Projected WARP:4.5

When last we saw Cambage in an Aces uniform, she was earning All-WNBA Second Team honors during her first season in Las Vegas. Like many of the league's biggest stars, Cambage did not play in 2020 after she was medically excused from the WNBA's season played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Though the Aces reached the WNBA Finals without Cambage, they prioritized bringing her back by applying the core designation to keep her off the market. Cambage is guaranteed a one-year contract for the league's supermax salary ($221,450) and cannot negotiate with other teams.

2. Natasha Howard


Seattle Storm

Forward/center

Age:
29

Core player

Projected WARP:4.1

An All-WNBA First Team pick in 2019 when she also won Defensive Player of the Year, Howard didn't perform at the same level during the Storm's run to the 2020 championship. After a late start to training camp, Howard didn't find her stride until midseason and played a smaller role in the offense with the return of frontcourt-mate Breanna Stewart. Still, given Howard's age and track record, she's likely to be more productive in 2021 -- something the Storm recognized by making her their core player.

3. Candace Parker


Los Angeles Sparks

Forward/center

Age:
34

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:3.8

Of this year's free agents, nobody was more effective during the 2020 season than Parker, who won Defensive Player of the Year and finished third in MVP voting. The key question is whether Parker, who will turn 35 before the start of the 2021 campaign, can continue to stay as healthy as she did in 2020. By playing all 22 of the Sparks' games, she matched her total from the previous season's 34-game schedule.

4. Nneka Ogwumike


Los Angeles Sparks

Forward

Age:
30

Core player

Projected WARP:3.2

While Parker stayed healthy, longtime teammate and fellow former MVP Ogwumike was snakebit by injuries in 2020. Ogwumike missed three games late in the season due to a back injury and was unable to play in the Sparks' opening playoff loss due to a migraine. Still, Ogwumike remains one of the league's most efficient contributors, ranking seventh in the WNBA with a .636 true shooting percentage (TS%). With Parker ineligible for the core designation because she previously played three seasons under a contract signed as a core player (2015-17), Los Angeles opted to use the core on its other MVP.

5. Emma Meesseman


Washington Mystics

Forward

Age:
27

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:2.9

The 2019 Finals MVP took on a different role last season, moving from super sixth woman to the Mystics' go-to scorer with Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne both unavailable. That caused a predictable tumble in Meesseman's efficiency (her TS% dropped from .628 to .509), but she compensated with a career-high 4.5 assists per game. At 27, Meesseman is in her prime and likely to remain one of the WNBA's most versatile frontcourt players.

6. Diana Taurasi


Phoenix Mercury

Guard

Age:
38

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:2.6

A bounce-back 2020 saw the WNBA's all-time leading scorer demonstrate she can still be an elite player in her late 30s. Taurasi led the WNBA with 61 3-pointers and extended her record with a 14th All-WNBA appearance. Again, health is the big question for whether Taurasi can keep it up after being limited to six ineffective games in 2019. She recently told ESPN.com's Katie Barnes, "I'm not stopping; I don't feel like I should stop right now."

7. Cheyenne Parker


Chicago Sky

Forward/center

Age:
28

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:2.5

The top-rated player on this list who has never been a WNBA All-Star, Parker is coming off a breakthrough 2020 campaign that saw her average 13.4 PPG and 6.4 RPG while shooting 55% from the field. Her .651 TS% ranked fourth in the WNBA. While that was a new level of performance, Parker has typically been a strong finisher and is in her prime, so she figures to remain valuable moving forward.

8. Chelsea Gray


Los Angeles Sparks

Guard

Age:
28


Unrestricted

Projected WARP:2.5

Although Gray has been an All-Star each of the past three times an All-Star game has been played (the WNBA did not hold one during the shortened 2020 campaign), her efficiency has tailed off the last two seasons because of poor 2-point accuracy in 2019 (43%, career 48%) and an off season from 3-point range in 2020 (30.5%, career 38.5%). This projection assumes something of a return to form in both categories.

9. Allisha Gray


Dallas Wings

Forward/guard

Age:
26

Restricted

Projected WARP:2.4

The top-rated restricted free agent, Gray has quietly progressed in terms of value since being named Rookie of the Year in 2017. Last season, she combined an above-average usage rate (finishing 21% of Dallas' plays with a shot, trip to the free throw line or turnover) with above-average efficiency, an excellent sign as she heads into her prime years.

10. Kayla McBride


Las Vegas Aces

Guard

Age:
28

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:2.2

Expect McBride to improve on last season's 34% 3-point shooting. She's a career 37% shooter who had made 41% the previous two seasons before slumping in the Wubble. Still reasonably efficient without as many 3s going in, McBride could be poised to post her most efficient season with better luck beyond the arc.

11. Alysha Clark


Seattle Storm

Forward

Age:
33

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:2.0

It will be interesting to see how the market values Clark, who has continued to develop into one of the league's premier role players into her 30s. Last season, Clark led the WNBA in TS% (.693) for the second time in her career (she previously did it in 2015) while also earning All-Defensive First Team honors.

12. Aerial Powers


Washington Mystics

Forward

Age:
27

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:1.7

A valuable reserve as the Mystics won the 2019 title, Powers showed the ability to succeed in a larger role before a hamstring injury ended her 2020 campaign after just six games. In that span, Powers averaged career highs virtually across the board, including 16.3 PPG.

13. Riquna Williams


Los Angeles Sparks

Guard

Age:
30

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:1.7

One of the WNBA's premier reserves, Williams ranked fifth in scoring among players eligible for the Sixth Woman Award at 10.5 PPG. Primarily a volume scorer earlier in her career, Williams has scored with better efficiency in L.A. as she has improved her 3-point shooting. She has set new career highs by shooting first 39% and then 42% beyond the arc the past two seasons.

14. Brionna Jones


Connecticut Sun

Center

Age:
25

Restricted

Projected WARP:1.6

Taking advantage of the opportunity to start with All-Star Jonquel Jones deciding not to participate in the 2020 season, Brionna Jones was one of the league's most improved players, going from making 49% of her 2-point attempts in her first three seasons to 60% accuracy as she averaged 11.2 PPG. Alyssa Thomas' injury could give the Sun more incentive to retain the restricted free agent and possibly play the two Joneses together at times.

15. Natalie Achonwa


Indiana Fever

Center

Age:
28

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:1.5

A reliable post player, Achonwa has been a part-time starter for the Fever the past two seasons after starting all 34 games in 2018, when she posted a career-high 2.6 WARP. She's a strong rebounder and above-average passer for a center.

16. Sue Bird


Seattle Storm


Guard

Age:
40

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:1.4

Even as she neared age 40, Bird was one of the best players on the court in the 2020 WNBA Finals, handing out a Finals-record 16 assists in Game 1 of the Storm's sweep over Las Vegas and recording a double-double (16 points, 10 assists) in Game 2. Bird's value is limited only by how much she can stay on the court after missing the entire 2019 season following knee surgery and 11 of 22 games during the 2020 regular season.

17. Erica Wheeler


Indiana Fever

Guard

Age:
29

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:1.4

Wheeler was never medically cleared to join the Fever in 2020 after a positive test for COVID-19 in July but has returned to the court overseas. The prior year, Wheeler was named All-Star MVP, having earned her first All-Star appearance by averaging a career-high 5.0 APG and shooting a career-high 38% from 3-point range.

18. Sami Whitcomb


Seattle Storm

Guard/forward

Age:
32

Restricted

Projected WARP:1.3

Whitcomb is one of this offseason's most intriguing free agents because the Storm's cap crunch could make it difficult to bring her back as a restricted free agent. Other teams might envision Whitcomb doing more in a larger role; her 16.5 MPG last season were easily the fewest among free agents in the top 20 of my projections who saw action. Per 36 minutes, Whitcomb averaged 17.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists -- numbers that could make her a top reserve elsewhere.

19. Amanda Zahui B


New York Liberty

Center

Age:
27

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:1.3

Asked to stretch the floor in the Liberty's five-out offense, Zahui B made a career-high 34 3-pointers at a 34% clip but struggled inside the arc (37%). If she could marry that outside shooting with her high-percentage finishing from past seasons (she shot 57% on 2s the previous two seasons) and above-average shot blocking, Zahui B could be an above-average center.

20. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough


Phoenix Mercury

Guard/forward

Age:
25

Restricted

Projected WARP:1.3

Acquired on the night of the 2020 draft for the Mercury's first-round pick to provide depth, Walker-Kimbrough stepped into a larger role late in the season, including averaging 9.8 PPG during Phoenix's six-game win streak that spanned August and September. Improved 3-point shooting was key for Walker-Kimbrough, who shot 43% beyond the arc last year after totaling 31% in three seasons with Washington.

Three other notable free agents



Alyssa Thomas


Connecticut Sun

Forward

Age:
28

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:2.5

I pulled Thomas out of the rankings after the news that she underwent surgery to repair an Achilles tendon rupture, which will surely sideline her for the entire 2021 season.

Betnijah Laney


Atlanta Dream

Guard/forward

Age:
27

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:1.1

The WNBA's Most Improved Player didn't quite crack the top 20 because her below-replacement play prior to 2020 pulled down her projection. Whether her development as a 3-point shooter (making a career-high 30 at 41% accuracy) sticks will go a long way toward determining if Laney can maintain her growth.

Tina Charles


Washington Mystics

Forward/center

Age:
32

Unrestricted

Projected WARP:0.7

Medically excused from the 2020 season, Charles has yet to suit up for the Mystics after they dealt for her just before last year's draft. Washington had high hopes to get the Charles we saw in 2018, when she posted 2.5 WARP. That dropped to -0.5 in 2019, when Charles made a career-worst 41% of her 2-point attempts and 19% of her 3-point tries. That poor season substantially dragged down Charles' projection.
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