WNBA 2019: 5 storylines to follow this season

The 2019 WNBA season kicks off Friday and if it’s anything like the offseason, there will be plenty of action to follow.

Beyond hiring the league’s first commissioner (Cathy Engelbert), there were big transactions and some big names who will miss all or part of the season due to injury.

Looking ahead, the result will be some races to keep an eye on in if not one of the most anticipated seasons then certainly the most covered with games now airing on CBS, CBS Sports Network and streaming live on Twitter, in addition to continued coverage of ABC and ESPN.

The Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream  kick off the year at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Indiana Fever and New York Liberty will follow, airing on NBA TV at 8 p.m. ET.

Saturday feature a Western Conference finals rematch between the Phoenix Mercury visiting the reigning champion Seattle Storm at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

5 story lines to follow during the 2019 WNBA season

The Aces will be fun to watch

If you’re looking for a team to root for, then there’s still time to jump on the Aces bandwagon. Las Vegas sports a star-studded roster that includes the last three No. 1 overall draft picks — Kelsey Plum (2017), A’ja Wilson (2018) and Jackie Young (2019) — and now two-time All-Star center Liz Cambage.

The Aces acquired Cambage from the Wings in a deal centered around point guard Moriah Jefferson and forward Isabelle Harrison. 

Cambage, 27, was the 2018 MVP runner-up to Breanna Stewart and led the league in scoring (23 points per game) and was second in rebounds (9.7) last season. Her move to Las Vegas made the Aces favorites to win the championship given the dominance of what will be her and Wilson in the front court.

There are some big absences

The league already was preparing to start the season without one of its brightest stars when Minnesota Lynx’s Maya Moore announced in February she would be sitting out the entire year for personal reasons.

But then an injury bug hit the league and the likes of the Storm’s Stewart and Sue Bird and Mercury’s Diana Taurasi will miss substantial time.

Stewart torn an Achilles during the “offseason” when she was playing overseas for Russia-based Dynamo Kursk in the EuroLeague Final Four championship and will miss the entire WNBA season. A little over a month after the news of Stewart broke, Bird — the longest tenured player in the WNBA — revealed she would miss much of, if not all of, the year after undergoing knee surgery.

Taurasi, another league veteran, will sit out 10-12 weeks after she underwent a back procedure. 

The Dallas Wings’ Skylar Diggins-Smith just gave birth a few weeks ago, but coach Brian Agler expects her to play sometime this season. She has been participating in some drills during the Wings’ practices, however it’s unclear when she will to return.

The Los Angeles Sparks will be without their star, Candace Parker, for a few weeks after she suffered a hamstring strain in a preseason game. 

A seemingly open title race

The transactions and injuries have left the conference races open. The Storm will face an even tougher Aces team, a Mercury team with seasoned pros but also four rookies, who are already making their presence known, as well as the Sparks, who have the sister duo of Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike and high expectations after finishing third in the Western Conference.

In the East, the Washington Mystics will hope to build off their 2018 season that saw the franchise’s first finals appearance. Elena Delle Donne, who is a favorite to win this year’s MVP award, and Kristi Toliver likely will lead the way again. However, they will be up against a young Connecticut Sun squad that is ready to finally break through in the playoffs after having lost in the second round the past two postseasons.

Then there is the defending Eastern Conference champions. The Atlanta Dream returned to the playoffs in coach Nicki Collen’s first season and but will be without veteran Angel McCoughtry, who may or may not return after suffering torn ligaments in her knee the day the Dream clinched the 2018 playoff berth.

Who will walk away with the MVP nod?

With regular-season and WNBA Finals MVP Stewart unable to defend the honors, there will be a number of players vying. 

In a recent WNBA general managers survey, Delle Donne was predicted to win the award. It would be the second time in her career after being named MVP in 2015.

But she has stiff competition.

Cambage will be ready to put on a show in Vegas while teammate Wilson, who was Rookie of the Year last year, will want try and top the league in her second season. A little farther south in Phoenix, there’s Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner who are having their own intrasquad battle for MVP.  

Jonquel Jones will work to take the award as she returns to the lineup for the Sun. She won Sixth Woman of the Year in 2018 and after Connecticut traded Chiney Ogwumike, Jones will have plenty of time on the court to make her case.

The rookies are taking over

This year, the WNBA has a very talented class that had more than 20 first-year players making their respective teams’ active rosters. It will make for a tight, and exciting, Rookie of the Year race.

Asia Durr, the second overall pick out of Louisville, is expected to break out in New York. Katie Lou Samuelson landed in Chicago after her time at UConn. 

Notre Dame will see its five starters from 2018-19 making their WNBA debuts. Arike Ogunbowale will play for the Wings, Marina Mabrey landed in L.A., Brianna Turner with the Mercury, Jessica Shepard is in Minnesota and Young with the Aces.

Former UConn star Napheesa Collier will join Shepard and Kalani Brown playing alongside Mabrey. Former Mississippi State star Teaira McCowan will start for the Fever to round out the long list of rookies to watch.