The 2021 WNBA playoff field is set, and we’re gearing up for what is slated to be one competitive postseason. The Reigning champion Seattle Storm are back, and so are last year’s runner-ups, the Las Vegas Aces. With two deep runs into the postseason last year, we could see a repeat of the 2020 Finals match-up, but not without some competition along the way. A few teams are threatening to mix things up this postseason, and they won’t make it easy for the Storm or Aces.
The Phoenix Mercury have been dangerous all year, and have a devastatingly talented backcourt, from their starting guards to those off the bench. The Connecticut Sun have also been fun to watch since Week 1 of the regular season while being led by the likely MVP, and you can’t forget about the young but talented Dallas Wings.
All in all, this year’s postseason should be highly competitive, and I’m ranking each team on how likely they are to take home the 25th WNBA championship.
8. New York Liberty
The Liberty were the last team to get their bid to the playoffs beating the Los Angeles Sparks. They are led by Betnijah Laney, averaging 16.8 points per game, followed by Natasha Howard, averaging 16.2. My biggest concern with the Liberty is that they do not have a big presence in the paint. As a 6’2 forward, Howard leads the team in rebounds with 7.2 per game. This could be problematic against teams with more size, and it has proven to be an issue throughout the season as the Liberty sit 10th out of the 12th teams in the league for rebounding percentage.
The Liberty’s first opponent is Phoenix Mercury. They were able to pull off a two-point win over the Mercury early on in the season, but in the following two matchups, they lost by 27 and 16. Can the Liberty make a run this postseason? I don’t think so. They finished the regular season 12-20, and with that said, they’re fairly young. This postseason is all about experience for them and developing their younger players.
7. Dallas Wings
The Dallas Wings were the second to last team to clinch their playoff spots, and I believe that the playoffs will be more competitive now that they are in. But with that said, though they are a talented team, like the Liberty, they are also young. Their most experienced player is fifth-year forward Kayla Thornton, and eight of their 12 players have played two or fewer seasons in the W.
Though age and experience should not be the sole gage for success, I see this more like a building postseason for the Wings. They finished off the regular season 14-18 and No. 5 in the West. Their resume is not the most impressive, but they’re a team that can fight. This is a year for their young core to get experience to build for deep postseason runs in the future.
6. Chicago Sky
The Sky had a rocky start to the season. After winning their first two games, they proceeded to go on a seven-game losing streak. Candace Parker was out for much of that streak with an ankle sprain, but when she returned the Sky managed to bounce back with a seven-game win streak. Overall, they have been quite inconsistent this year, and they capped the regular season with a .500 record.
Looking toward this postseason, so much is up in the air for the Sky. Parker has injured her ankle twice since the start of the season, and as their leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, if she can’t stay healthy, it slims the Sky’s chance at a championship run. With that said, Kahleah Copper was very reliable throughout the regular season, leading the team with 14.4 points per game, while Allie Quigley has been sensational, as usual, from the three, shooting 45.4 percent from the three on 119 attempts.
Ultimately, even with Copper and Quigley as bright spots, I’d be surprised if the Sky made a deep run in the playoffs this season.
5. Phoenix Mercury
Coming out of the Olympic break, it looked like everything was falling into place for the Mercury. Since then, they’ve hit a three-game losing streak that will take them into the playoffs. I think they still have a chance to go far into the postseason, but I’ll hold my tongue on if I think they can win it all.
On the plus side, the Mercury have Brittany Griner, who has been a standout leading the league in blocks and offensive rating. Griner also leads the Mercery in points per game with 20.5, followed by Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi. That trio has been solid all year, and outside of those last three games, they have had a dominant second half of the regular season.
Ultimately, it will come down to consistency and grit for the Mercury. There is no denying that they are a solid team, and they have all the weapons to go on a tear through the postseason, but whether they do or they don’t, it’s all up to them.
4. Minnesota Lynx
Similar to the Sky, the Lynx got off to a rough start this regular season with a four-game losing streak right out of the gate. It’s only been up from there ever since. If Minnesota can ride their end of regular season hot streak into the postseason, they have a chance of going the distance.
The Lynx are led by two USA basketball gold medalists in Napheesa Collier (averaging 16.2 points per game) and Sylvia Fowles (averaging 16 points per game). Kayla McBride has also shared a significant amount of the scoring responsibilities, averaging 13.7 points per game. The Lynx have been consistent this season but not a team I would say could take it all this year. Even as the third team in the WNBA standings, the Lynx still need to find a way to set themselves apart in a congested postseason pool of talent.
In particular, they will need to find a way around the Sun and the Storm, who are shaping up to be their biggest competition heading into the postseason. The Lynx are talented, but it feels like there are a few missing pieces away from a championship.
3. Connecticut Sun
The Sun have been one of the most exciting teams to watch this regular season, and much of that is thanks to Jonquel Jones. Jones and DeWanna Bonner have powered the team to the top of the East, and now they’re thinking about a championship. Jones is having the best season of her WNBA career, averaging a double-double, with 19.4 points per game and 11.2 rebounds per game.
The Sun have the best record in the league, 26-6, and their success this year mimics closely the successful year they had in 2019, when they went to the WNBA Finals but lost a tough series to the Mystics. This year’s Sun team looks ever better. This could be their year to win it all and give their franchise its first title, but also, the Sky and the Storm stand in their way as two teams that have handed them four of their six losses this season.
2. Seattle Storm
Will the Storm repeat? Well, we’ll have to see, but their resume through this regular season gives me every reason to believe that their chances are high. During the 2020 regular season, the Storm went 18-4. They finished the regular season this year at 21-11. Though they’ve logged more losses in this year’s long season, they are still sitting at second in the West, the same place they were last season when they won it all.
While other teams like the Connecticut Sun have improved since last year, the Storm have experience on their side. Much of their team was a part of the least two championship runs in 2018 and 2020. Star veteran guard Sue Bird is playing for her fifth WNBA title, which would further etch her name in the history books as the all-time WNBA champion. Also, Jewell Loyd’s numbers have improved since last year in points, rebounds, and assists, and Mercedes Russell is on track to play a major role in their postseason run for them at center. It is clear that they are no strangers to the postseason.
But we have to talk about the elephant in the room, Breanna Stewart’s health. In my opinion, Stewart is their X-factor. She was last season’s Finals MVP and averaged almost a double-double this year with 20.3 points per game and 9.5 rebounds. She went down with a foot injury with two games left in the regular season, but she’s slated to make her return this postseason. If she can stay healthy, Storm are a WNBA Finals worthy team, but without her, well, I’m not so confident.
1. Las Vegas Aces
The Aces made the WNBA Finals last season, but since then, they have added even more great players to their roster. At this point, they look like a superteam with A’ja Wilson, Liz Camabage, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray, and so many other talented players all on one roster. According to DraftKings Nation, the Aces have the best odds to win the title +220, but the only two teams that look like they can stop the Aces this season are the Connecticut Sun and the Minnesota Lynx. The Sun beat the Aces in all three of their matchups this season, and the Lynx beat them in two out of three.
But even with that track record, the Aces know what it’s like to be so close to a title and lose it all. Because of that, they may be playing with a chip on their shoulder this postseason.
Overall, it’s hard to predict who will walk away with the 2021 title. I’d like to see the Connecticut Sun holding up the trophy to cap off a stellar season, but with the talent in this league, you truly never know.