The WNBA’s historic 20th season tips off Saturday, May 14 with a new, more balanced format for the regular-season schedule and a reconfigured postseason structure in which the eight teams with the highest winning percentages regardless of conference qualify for the playoffs and are seeded based on their record. WNBA Tip-Off 2016 presented by Verizon consists of 12 games over nine days (May 14-22), showcasing the home opener of every team.
With the season just over a week away, here are some storylines to watch:
FOUR OF A KIND?: After winning its third title in five years last season, the Minnesota Lynx has a chance in 2016 to become the second four-time champion in WNBA history. (The Houston Comets won the league’s first four championships, from 1997-2000.) The Lynx looks formidable again behind the quartet of Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson – a group that has played together since 2011 – and 2015 WNBA Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles, who was acquired during last season and re-signed in February. Minnesota begins its title defense on Saturday, May 14, with a home game against the Phoenix Mercury (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), which features seven-time All-Star Diana Taurasi and reigning two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year presented by Samsung Brittney Griner.
TAMIKA’S FAREWELL: Tamika Catchings is preparing for her 15th and final WNBA season – all with the Indiana Fever, a team with whom she won the 2012 WNBA championship and reached The Finals last season as the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The 36-year-old forward will look to add to a résumé that includes 10 All-Star selections, five Defensive Player of the Year awards and recognition as the 2012 Finals MVP, 2011 WNBA MVP and 2002 Rookie of the Year. Catchings is also the WNBA’s all-time steals leader and ranks second in scoring and rebounding. She trails Tina Thompson by 541 points (an average of nearly 16 points a game over a full season) and Lisa Leslie by 154 rebounds (an average of slightly more than 4.5 rebounds a game over a full season).
SEATTLE STEW: The Seattle Storm selected UConn’s Breanna Stewart with the No. 1 overall pick of WNBA Draft 2016 presented by State Farm, making the four-time NCAA champion a franchise cornerstone to go with last year’s first pick, 2015 WNBA Rookie of the Year presented by Samsung Jewell Loyd. The Storm’s selection of Stewart and Loyd in back-to-back years recalls the 2001 and 2002 drafts, when Seattle also had consecutive No. 1 picks and landed future stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, respectively. Jackson and Bird won a championship in their third season together and added another one in 2010. Bird, who ranks second on the WNBA’s career assists list (2,215), remains with the Storm and is seeking to help Seattle return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
To celebrate the WNBA’s 20th season, the WNBA and NBA family will host 20 youth basketball events during Jr. WNBA Week (May 7-15). Each WNBA team along with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards will participate with events in their communities. The WNBA will also host a national Jr. WNBA Week event on Monday, May 9, featuring WNBA President Lisa Borders and former WNBA stars Teresa Edwards and Sue Wicks leading a basketball clinic for 150 girls at Williamsburg Community Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Details on each team’s events will be available on individual team websites.
Breanna Stewart made her preseason debut Wednesday and finished with 11 points and eight rebounds in the Storm’s 81-73 loss to the Mercury. Phoenix guard Courtney Williams, the eighth pick in WNBA Draft 2016 presented by State Farm, equaled a team high with 15 points.
San Antonio Stars guard Moriah Jefferson and Connecticut Sun forward Morgan Tuck, the Nos. 2 and 3 picks, respectively, in last month’s draft, also made their preseason debuts Wednesday. Jefferson recorded six points, six assists and two steals in a 74-67 victory against the Atlanta Dream, while Tuck had seven points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in an 84-81 win over the Chicago Sky.
The Dallas Wings will play their first home game of the team’s inaugural season in the DFW Metroplex on Sunday, when they face the Sun in a preseason game at College Park Center.
Phoenix’s Brittney Griner has an opportunity this season to become the first player named WNBA Defensive Player of the Year presented by Samsung in three consecutive years. Griner led the league in blocks the previous two seasons and holds the record for blocks in a season (129 in 2014).
Dallas’ Courtney Paris is also eyeing the same honor for the third year in a row: She has won the WNBA Peak Performer Award for rebounding in each of the last two seasons. The only player to win the award in three straight seasons is Tina Charles from 2010-12.
Sue Favor, Women’s Hoops World: “[New WNBA President Lisa] Borders came to the league with energy, a business plan, a vision, and an eye on bringing it all together.”
Jim Souhan, Minneapolis Star Tribune: “The State of Hockey? Why can’t Minnesota become the State of Hoops? The Lynx are the winningest team in town, and now share a new, state-of-the-art practice facility with the most promising team in town. The Lynx’s practice court abuts the Timberwolves’, and the latter is starting to resemble the pre-championship Lynx.”
Laura Albanese, Newsday: “[W]hen Madison Square Garden buzzed during the Liberty’s playoff run, or when the team’s teal–and-white jerseys started popping up around Penn Station, it mattered. The Liberty opens its season May 14 at Washington and wants to make it happen again.”
Terrence Thomas, San Antonio Express-News: “Called the ‘greatest basketball player to come out of a service academy since David Robinson,’ [Kelsey] Minato is currently an undrafted rookie in the San Antonio Stars’ training camp. … [U]nlike other free agents trying to latch onto a team in the league, Minato’s not worried about what her future holds. She will graduate from West Point in a few weeks and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.”