Predicting how far each WNBA team can go this season


The 2018 WNBA season tips off Friday, and even those teams who didn't make the playoffs last summer -- Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana and Las Vegas (then in San Antonio) -- have reasons to believe they can get back to the postseason. Minnesota and Los Angeles, the titans of the past two seasons, return enough talent to once again be favorites for the championship. But they aren't guaranteed to make the WNBA Finals, as some other teams are hungry to get their shot at winning a title.
Here's a look at what could be the best-case scenario for every WNBA squad in 2018 -- and also what could be the worst case.
Atlanta Dream
2017: 12-22, missed playoffs
Best case: With G/F Angel McCoughtry back, the Dream's offense returns from being in the bottom quarter of the league. Newcomers such as PG Renee Montgomery and F Jessica Breland fill holes Atlanta had, and the Dream meet new coach Nicki Collen's goal of being one of the best defensive teams in the league. The Dream make the semifinals.
Worst case: It's harder than expected to reincorporate McCoughtry. The Dream's preferred super-fast pace results in too many turnovers, and their league-worst 3-point shooting percentage from 2017 doesn't improve much despite the addition of Montgomery. The Dream miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time.
Chicago Sky
2017: 12-22, missed playoffs
Best case: The returning veteran starters -- PG Courtney Vandersloot, G Allie Quigley and C Stefanie Dolson -- mesh well with newcomers such as 2018 draftees G Diamond DeShields and F Gabby Williams, plus C Alaina Coates, who was drafted in 2017 but missed the season due to injury. The Sky are a stronger defensive team than they were last year and make the semifinals.
Worst case: The rookies struggle with inconsistency, and the Sky have a hard time finding the right combinations. They have a drop-off in 3-pointers, and overall offensive efficiency, despite Vandersloot's leadership and Quigley's shooting ability. Once again, they fall short of the playoffs.
Connecticut Sun
2017: 21-13, lost in second round to Mercury
Best case: The Sun build on their improvement last season, when they returned to the playoffs after a four-year absence. F/C Jonquel Jones, last year's WNBA most improved player, is an MVP candidate. F Chiney Ogwumike, back from an Achilles' injury, makes the Sun even more formidable. Rookie Lexie Brown contributes to an already good backcourt. Connecticut wins the WNBA title for the first time.
Worst case: The Sun get off to another slow start like they did last season. And although they pull things together, they don't really take a big step forward from 2017. They lose again in the second round.
Dallas Wings
2017: 16-18, lost in first round to Mystics
Best case: Liz Cambage's long-awaited return to the WNBA is a success. The center and rookie F Azura Stevens immediately improve the Wings' league-worst defense, exactly what Dallas needs to complement its very good offense. F Glory Johnson benefits from having more size around her. Sky G Skylar Diggins-Smith has another strong season, as does last year's rookie of the year, G Allisha Gray. The Wings' depth is an asset, and they advance to the semifinals.
Worst case: Cambage doesn't have the impact that's expected, and the Wings struggle again to be a better defensive team. They again fall in the first round.
Indiana Fever
2017: 9-25, missed playoffs
Best case: Year two of the post-Tamika Catchings era goes better than last season, when the Fever missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. G Kelsey Mitchell quickly adjusts to pro ball and becomes the go-to scorer that Indiana needs. Fellow rookie G Victoria Vivians also gives the Fever an offensive boost. Indiana gets back into the double-digit victory category, if not quite a playoff spot.
Worst case: Without longtime PG Briann January (who's now with Phoenix), the Fever's offense sputters about as much as it did last year, putting a lot of pressure on the defense. The rookies aren't ready for the load they need to carry, and the Fever end up in the league basement.
Las Vegas Aces
2017: 8-26, missed playoffs
Best case: The former Stars franchise leaves all its bad luck behind in San Antonio. And like the Golden Knights' expansion franchise in the NHL, the Aces become an immediate success in their first season in Vegas. No. 1 draft pick A'ja Wilson is the perfect fit as a dynamic post player. Young guards Kayla McBride, Moriah Jefferson and Kelsey Plum blossom for coach Bill Laimbeer, and the Aces get to the second round.
Worst case: All the change is a good thing, and the team gains a following. But inconsistency is a problem, and the franchise misses the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years.
Los Angeles Sparks
2017: 26-8, lost in WNBA Finals to Lynx
Best case: The core group -- led by F Nneka Ogwumike (2016 MVP) and F/C Candace Parker (2008, '13 MVP) -- that took the Sparks to the 2016 championship and last year's Finals is back with some helpful additions. Those include veteran G Cappie Pondexter and rookie C Maria Vadeeva. The Sparks remain one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the league and win the franchise's fourth title.
Worst case: Opposing defenses make the Sparks' guards try to take on too much of the offense, and Los Angeles isn't as efficient as it has been. It's still a strong contender but loses in the semifinals.
Minnesota Lynx
2017: 27-7, won championship
Best case: The so-familiar group of Lynx stars -- led by 2014 MVP Maya Moore and 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles -- picks up where it left off despite replacing a lot of Minnesota's bench from a year ago. Those new faces blend in well, and the Lynx win the franchise's fifth title. Then, they wait to see if any of their veterans opt to retire.
Worst case: With the Lynx being an older team, a couple of nagging injuries take a toll. The Lynx see an unexpected drop-off in both their 3-point shooting and their defense, and they lose in the semifinals. It's just the second time in eight years Minnesota is not in the WNBA Finals.
New York Liberty
2017: 22-12, lost in second round to Mystics
Best case: After a difficult offseason during which MSG tried to sell the franchise but remained a reluctant caretaker (for now), the Liberty make some new fans in their Westchester County home. Led by 2012 MVP Tina Charles, New York's interior game is particularly strong. Rookie G Kia Nurse and veteran G/F Marissa Coleman, in her first season in New York, help the perimeter scoring. Under first-year head coach Katie Smith, the Liberty advance to the semifinals.
Worst case: The Liberty miss the Madison Square Garden energy. The depth and size inside doesn't help New York's offense as much as the Liberty hoped. They make the playoffs but fall in the first round.
Phoenix Mercury
2017: 18-16, lost in semifinals to Sparks
Best case: C Brittney Griner has an MVP season and gets good help inside from veteran forward Sancho Lyttle, in her first season in Phoenix, and rookie C Marie Gulich. F DeWanna Bonner, back after having twins, is a big boost, as is longtime Fever PG Briann January. G Stephanie Talbot takes a step forward. And Diana Taurasi provides scoring and leadership as the Mercury win the franchise's fourth title.
Worst case: Phoenix isn't quite as good defensively as it hopes to be and goes through some frustrating inconsistency on offense. The Mercury fall in the second round.
Seattle Storm
2017: 15-19, lost in first round to Mercury
Best case: Back from a short retirement, coach Dan Hughes helps the Storm improve their defense and become a better rebounding team. Rookie PG Jordin Canada provides a spark, and F Breanna Stewart and G Jewell Loyd blossom as a duo in their third season playing together. PG Sue Bird provides excellent mentorship, and the Storm make it to the semifinals.
Worst case: The ups and downs that plagued the team last season are still there, even with a new coach. The Storm's league-high average in 3-pointers -- 7.3 per game -- goes down. Bird still has to play too many minutes at age 37. The Storm fall again in the first round.
Washington Mystics
2017: 18-16, lost in semifinals to Lynx
Best case: F Elena Delle Donne, now fully confident as a leader in her second year in D.C., has another MVP-type season like she did in 2015. Despite not having F Emma Meesseman, who's sitting out this WNBA season, the Mystics get good post play by committee. G Tayler Hill, who was lost last July with an ACL injury, returns as a strong perimeter scorer. The Mystics advance again to the semifinals.
Worst case: The Mystics miss Meesseman's scoring and defense and struggle at times to keep Delle Donne from having to do too much. Washington doesn't have enough consistent scorers. The Mystics fall in the first round.