WNBA Power Rankings, Way-Too-Early edition: Where the Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun and every o...

ByM.A. Voepel ESPN logo
Monday, September 19, 2022

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- The 2022 WNBA season ended with a franchise winning its first title. The Las Vegas Aces, who originated as the Utah Starzz when the WNBA debuted in 1997, won the championship Sunday, beating the Connecticut Sun3-1 in the WNBA Finals, and the Aces show no signs of slowing down for 2023.

Two of the WNBA's biggest legends -- Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird and Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles -- have retired. This offseason, we will wait to see if two other iconic players, the Chicago Sky's Candace Parker and the Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi, will return for 2023. And the league and its players will keep their thoughts on Phoenix center Brittney Griner, who has been imprisoned in Russia since February.

There are at least two head-coaching hires to be made, for the Los Angeles Sparks and Indiana Fever. After another difficult season, the Fever will await the draft lottery, where they will see if they finally get a No. 1 pick for the first time in franchise history.

We updated our WNBA Power Rankings every Monday of the regular season. Here we list where teams were in final regular-season rankings a little over a month ago and where we project they might start the 2023 season -- knowing a lot can change with trades, free agency, the draft and prioritization rules that could impact players' eligibility for the season depending on their overseas commitments.

MORE:Complete WNBA Finals coverage

1. Las Vegas Aces

2022 record: 26-10

Result: WNBA champion

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 2

The Aces celebrate a championship with a core five -- A'ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Dearica Hamby -- who are all 30 or younger (Gray turns 30 on Oct. 8) and under contract for next season. Many observers pointed to depth as a potential problem this season, but it didn't stop the Aces from winning both the in-season Commissioner's Cup and the overall title. Now can they become the first WNBA team to repeat since Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002?

2. Connecticut Sun

2022 record: 25-11

Result: Lost to Las Vegas in WNBA Finals

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 3

Considering they were without floor general Jasmine Thomas (ACL) almost all season, the Sun have nothing to hang their heads about with a runner-up finish. However, it is the fourth time the franchise has lost in the Finals (the others were 2004, 2005 and 2019) and they have some concerns about next season's personnel. Will they be able to keep forward Brionna Jones, the Sixth Woman of the Year this season, and guard Courtney Williams, who are both unrestricted free agents? Regardless, with Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner back, they should be strong contenders again.

3. Washington Mystics

2022 record: 22-14

Result: Lost to Seattle in the first round

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 5

The Mystics strategically rested star Elena Delle Donne throughout the regular season due to her back issues, and the plan worked, as she averaged 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds while playing 25 games. When she can play, Delle Donne is one of the best offensive players in the WNBA. But she just turned 33, so her availability -- with her back injury history -- will likely be restricted to some degree the rest of her career. Washington's top five scorers in 2022 -- Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud, Myisha Hines-Allen and Shakira Austin -- are all under contract for next season.

4. Seattle Storm

2022 record: 22-14

Result: Lost to Las Vegas in semifinals

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 4

We are rolling the dice putting the Storm this high, because things could look dramatically different by next season. As my colleague Kevin Pelton wrote recently, the Storm face an uncertain future. Bird has been the team's leader for two decades, and no one person will ever replace her. But forward Breanna Stewart, a free agent in the prime of her career, is also irreplaceable. In all, there are seven free agents, and guard Jewell Loyd is the only key player from 2022 under contract for next season. Stewart's return would solidify a lot. But if she doesn't come back, the Storm will start next season with a much lower projection.

5. Chicago Sky

2022 record: 26-10

Result: Lost to Connecticut in semifinals

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 1

For a long time, the Sky will be reliving the nightmare of the last four minutes of Game 5 against the Sun, wondering how that game, that series and their chance at repeating all got away in one horrible scoreless stretch. But coach/general manager James Wade also has a lot of work to do in the offseason. As is the case with Seattle, the Sky might not be this high in the Power Rankings next season if they look substantially different. Will Parker return? What about the franchise's longest-tenured player, Courtney Vandersloot, and her wife, fellow guard Allie Quigley? Kahleah Copper is the key player the Sky have on contract for 2023.

6. New York Liberty

2022 record: 16-20

Result: Lost to Chicago in the first round

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 10

We're bullish on the Liberty based on the best things we saw from them this season, when guard Sabrina Ionescu broke through to be the kind of triple-double threat we were expecting. The Liberty's key players are under contract, and they will have had a year of playing in coach Sandy Brondello's system. The Liberty are sure to still be trying to improve in the offseason, but this team could be ready to make a positive step forward that includes a longer playoff run.

7. Dallas Wings

2022 record: 18-18

Result: Lost to Connecticut in first round

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 6

The Wings were the lone .500 team in the WNBA in 2022, and that was a step in the right direction for Dallas. Arike Ogunbowale was injured at the end of the season and wasn't able to contribute in the playoffs, but Dallas still pushed the Sun to three games in their series. But can Dallas break into that group of title contenders, as opposed to just being a team that can make the playoffs? Forward Isabelle Harrison is an unrestricted free agent. Guard Marina Mabrey, who took over a big leadership role especially when Ogunbowale was hurt, and center Teaira McCowan, who kept improving as the season went along, are restricted free agents. It would help if the Wings could get anything close to a full season in 2023 from forward Satou Sabally, who has been limited each of her three years in the league with injuries.

8. Atlanta Dream

2022 record: 14-22

Result: Missed playoffs

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 8

With a new coach in Tanisha Wright, a mostly young squad and veteran guard Tiffany Hayes limited to 11 games, little was reasonably expected from the Dream in 2022. Yet they nearly nabbed a playoff spot, thanks in large part to a Rookie of the Year season from guard Rhyne Howard, the No. 1 draft pick. She quickly answered whatever questions people might have had about how soon she would adjust to the pro game. This was an overachieving squad, which is a great one-year story in the WNBA but not something you want to build a franchise around long term. Youthful players like Howard, Aari McDonald and Naz Hillmon competed with a lot of energy, but GM Dan Padover has work to do in the offseason to add more talent.

9. Minnesota Lynx

2022 record: 14-22

Result: Missed playoffs

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 9

Pretty much everything that could go wrong in Fowles' last season did go wrong, yet the Lynx still didn't get eliminated from playoff contention until the last day of the regular season. Coach/GM Cheryl Reeve was frank in her assessment after the season that a lot of the buttons she tried to push for 2022 in terms of roster construction just didn't work. Also, forward Napheesa Collier played only four games in 2022 after giving birth to her daughter. She is expected to be back to her usual self in 2023. Collier, Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers are all under contract for 2023, but the Lynx are going to need more help inside. Getting back to the postseason would be a very positive step. Things the Lynx once just expected in their dynasty years can't be taken for granted anymore.

10. Phoenix Mercury

2022 record: 15-21

Result: Lost to Las Vegas in first round

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 7

Even if you didn't take into account the fact that longtime Mercury star Griner was in jail thousands of miles away, it was a drama-filled season for Phoenix. From Tina Charles' contract divorce around midseason, to Taurasi's late-season injury, to Skylar Diggins-Smith leaving the team for personal reasons while the Mercury were fighting for a playoff spot, first-year coach Vanessa Nygaard had her hands full. Diggins-Smith, Diamond DeShields and Brianna Turner are the Mercury players under contract for 2023. It seems hard to believe that Diggins-Smith and Nygaard can co-exist for another season, so what will the Mercury do about that?

11. Indiana Fever

2022 record: 5-31

Result: Missed playoffs

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 12

The Fever parted ways with coach Marianne Stanley early in the 2022 season, but it didn't change anything. Indiana was very young, and while the Fever battled to at least challenge teams, they just didn't have the developed talent to do it. Their next coach has to help nurture that growth in 2023. No. 2 draft pick NaLyssa Smith had a solid season (13.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG), but the Fever need the lottery to go their way so they can add a potential franchise-changing player such as South Carolina post player Aliyah Boston.

12. Los Angeles Sparks

2022 record:> 13-23

Result: Missed playoffs

Final regular-season Power Ranking: 11

The Sparks have just two key players under contract for next season in guard Chennedy Carter and forward Katie Lou Samuelson -- and neither of them averaged double-figures scoring in 2022. Face-of-the-franchise Nneka Ogwumike is among the unrestricted free agents. With so much to figure out, you would think the Sparks feel a sense of urgency in hiring a new GM -- but you never know with this franchise. The Sparks haven't had that position filled since coach/GM Derek Fisher was fired in June. Will the Sparks try to replace coach/GM with one person again, or will they hire for both jobs? Prior to 2021-22, the Sparks hadn't missed the playoffs two years in a row since 1997-98, the league's first two seasons. The franchise seems like it is at a crossroads now.

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