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12 WNBA newcomers to watch this season

A new player on each team for you to keep your eye on.

The 2021 WNBA offseason continued the transaction frenzy of the year before, proving that the movement afforded by the cap spike of 2020 would not be an outlier. In total, nine WNBA All-Stars changed teams via trade or free agency before the start of this season, and that’s not even including last season’s most improved player Betnijah Laney, perennial all-defense honoree Alysha Clark, or two All-Stars who moved in the 2020 offseason but have yet to suit up for their new teams.

The league’s 12 squads are going to look a little different this year — and not just because of their awesome new uniforms. Here’s a look at the splashiest names to take their talents elsewhere during the offseason and which newcomers we expect to have the biggest impacts on their new teams this coming year.

Aari McDonald, G, Atlanta Dream

Every year there’s one college player who has a breakout NCAA Tournament, raises their draft stock, and captures the eyes and hearts of nearly every basketball fan along the way. That player this year was Arizona guard Aari McDonald. McDonald dazzled in March with an absurd ability to make difficult shots, and it was nearly impossible to take your eyes off her when she was on the court. That helped her rise in the draft, where she went No. 3 overall.

Now she heads to a team tailor-made for her: the Dream, who already sport a backcourt of Chennedy Carter and Courtney Williams. Carter and Williams are cut from the same mold as McDonald: short guards with tantalizing talent that produce endless highlights, with flair and personality to match. McDonald can learn from the pair, and watching her on the court with either or both of them will be must-see TV.

Candace Parker, F, Chicago Sky

Parker shocked the world and shook up the WNBA landscape this offseason when she left the bright lights of Los Angeles, and the only team she’d known in her illustrious 13-year career. The two-time MVP opted to join her hometown team, and how she does there is the most fascinating narrative of the season.

With a fully stacked lineup, no one can deny the Sky have the on-paper talent to be the last team standing. Parker’s experience, defensive reputation (she was the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year), and offensive brilliance could propel Chicago to new heights; but some wonder how the fit, both on and off the court, will work with a Sky team that’s had some unusual hiccups over the last few years.

Jonquel Jones, C, Connecticut Sun

It’s cheating a bit to list Jones as a “newcomer” when she’s spent the entirety of her career in Connecticut. But the Sun had a quiet offseason and Jones opted out of the 2020 Wubble season, so we haven’t seen her in two years. The Sun made one of the biggest moves in the league last year when they acquired the highly versatile DeWanna Bonner, and now fans will get to finally see how the pairing works.

Jones is an absolute force in the middle, and watching how Curt Miller uses his two franchise players will be one of the more intriguing storylines this season. If Jones is at her best after a year away from the league, it could be a spectacular season for her and the Sun.

Charli Collier, C, Dallas Wings

Two other teams decided they didn’t want the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft before the Wings swooped in and found their center of the future in Charli Collier, who just happens to be a local Texas product. Collier is the prototype of a modern big with the ability to stretch defenses while also protecting the paint. Even without drafting for fit, the Wings found a perfect player to complement the scoring prowess of Arike Ogunbowale in the backcourt and the versatility of Satou Sabally on the wing. Dallas has all the pieces to build a powerhouse moving forward, but it will be interesting to see how ready Collier is in on day one, with a young roster and a new head coach.

Kysre Gondrezick, G, Indiana Fever

When the Fever selected Gondrezick with the fourth pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, there was a lot of hand-wringing about what Indiana had done. A team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2016 was using its lottery pick on a player projected to go in the second round at best, and potentially later.

A month later, Gondrezick has become a marketing darling and a future face of Adidas Basketball, but it’s time for her to show why the Fever were so high on her as a basketball prospect. Indiana lost its third-leading scorer in the offseason in Candice Dupree, so the opportunity is there for Gondrezick to step in alongside the Mitchells (Kelsey and Tiffany) and prove that her 19.5 points per game in the Big 12 can translate to the W.

Chelsea Gray, G, Las Vegas Aces

Parker wasn’t the only star to leave Tinseltown this year in search of a better basketball situation. Gray, who won a title and blossomed into a three-time All-Star while in Los Angeles, opted to move up the road and join a stacked Vegas squad.

Gray fits everything that the Aces stand for: she’s tough, a tenacious on-ball defender, and can score or set up her teammates. One thing to watch is her three-point percentage: after peaking at 48.2 percent in 2017, it’s been in a steady fall the last three years, dropping to 39.2 percent, 38.2 percent, and finally 30.5 percent a year ago. The Aces are a team notorious for not shooting threes, but if Gray can take and make them, it could add a much-needed element to Bill Laimbeer’s offense.

Kristi Toliver, G, Los Angeles Sparks

Taking Gray’s place in Los Angeles is Kristi Toliver, a player who qualifies as a newcomer, even if she’s not at all new to the team. Toliver spent seven seasons with the Sparks from 2010 to 2016, making an All-Star team and winning a championship. She returned to L.A. a year ago, but opted out of the 2020 season. Now she makes her long-awaited return, and does so with a Sparks team that looks much different than the one she initially signed up to play for.

Since we haven’t seen Toliver in two years, it’s easy to forget how dynamic of an offensive player she is. In 2019 she averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 assists per game, while shooting 49.4% from the field and 36.0% from deep as the primary ballhandler for a championship-winning Mystics squad. The Sparks plan on playing smaller and faster this year, and if Toliver’s in form, the offense could hum.

Kayla McBride, F, Minnesota Lynx

It’s hard to find a player who is a better fit for a Cheryl Reeve team than McBride. She’s an offensively-diverse wing, with the ability to slash, cut, and shoot from distance, where she’s made 36.7 percent of shots in her seven-year career. Yet while her offensive abilities have helped drive her to three All-Star appearances, she’s also comfortable playing her role and not being the go-to option, as evidenced by how effective she was in 2019 while playing a tertiary scoring role behind A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage on the Aces. She’s also a strong defensive player who can guard multiple positions, and rarely makes the wrong decision.

It’s a safe bet that McBride will look her absolute best on the Lynx, and that she’ll benefit from playing alongside Napheesa Collier, Sylvia Fowles, Aerial Powers, and Crystal Dangerfield about as much as they’ll benefit from playing alongside her.

Natasha Howard, F, New York Liberty

The Liberty arguably had the biggest talent infusion of any team in the league this offseason, bringing in last year’s most improved player and getting Sabrina Ionescu back after an ankle injury limited her rookie season to three games. But the most impactful addition could prove to be Natasha Howard. The three-time champion has willingly played a secondary (or even tertiary) role on championship teams, but has also shown the ability to dominate on both ends of the floor when the opportunity presents itself.

Howard is a defensive menace who can clean up for the rangier lineups the Liberty plan on using. She isn’t much of a post-up threat, but she can draw defenders into the lane by rim-running and space the floor as a trailer on the break. New York’s center play has been bleak, but Howard gives the team a bona fide All-Star eager to prove she’s more than just a system player.

Kia Nurse, F, Phoenix Mercury

The Mercury had an odd roster construction last year that was heavy on guards and bigs, resulting in some ultra-small lineups that somehow also lacked spacing. Kia Nurse arrives in Phoenix to help fill that gap, a 6’0 wing one year removed from an All-Star campaign. It bears remembering that Nurse had a horrific shooting season in the 2020 bubble; however, she played the whole year with an ankle injury suffered on opening day with a Liberty team that had the second-lowest offensive rating of the past 20 years. Playing with Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith will get Nurse cleaner looks, and her career 86.9 percent free-throw shooting mark suggests that she’ll cash in on a good chunk of those.

Katie Lou Samuelson, F, Seattle Storm

Samuelson hasn’t yet found her footing in the WNBA after spending one year each in Chicago and Dallas, but the Storm are counting on this being her breakthrough season. Samuelson’s overseas performance this year suggests she’s ready for the challenge. She made the all-EuroLeague first team, averaging 15.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game as she led Perfumerias Avenida to the EuroLeague final. Seattle needs some shooting and length on the wing after losing Alysha Clark in the offseason, and that’s the role Samuelson was born to fill. Perhaps reuniting with her former UConn teammate Breanna Stewart can once again bring out the best in the third-year forward.

Tina Charles, F, Washington Mystics

The Mystics brought in Charles to be a complementary player for the defending champs in 2020. Now, Charles will have to assume a much larger offensive role in the absence of Emma Meesseman and Alysha Clark while Elene Delle Donne rehabs a back injury. LaToya Sanders has also moved to the bench as an assistant coach, giving Charles more minutes to soak up.

Fortunately, the former MVP is no stranger to shouldering a heavy burden. Charles’ paint attacks will be easier than in her Liberty days due to the abundant spacing provided by the Mystics perimeter players. There’s also a strong defensive ecosystem in Washington, led by a stout defensive backcourt of Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins, so Charles won’t have to put out a lot of fires. We haven’t seen MVP-level Tina Charles in a few years, but the conditions are ripe for her to remind the league that she is one of its preeminent centers.