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The Big WNBA Eastern Conference Preview

The Mystics were without their superstar in the Wubble. Can Elena Delle Donne make all the difference in the weaker half of the league?

Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics poses for a portrait during 2021 WNBA Media Day at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in St. Elizabeth’s on April 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s plenty to like about the WNBA this upcoming season, but it’s no shade to say the Eastern Conference is for sure the weaker of the two sides. And because The W doesn’t separate the playoff field by conference and has a balanced schedule (teams play each other three times, while facing just one team in your conference four times), there’s a good chance at least three of the teams below will miss the eight-team postseason.

And as the top end of the league has gone west, which leaves the 2019 champs as the class of east coast.

Let’s take a look at each of these teams in alphabetical order, with their 2021 championship odds from DraftKings Sportsbook included.

Atlanta Dream

2020 record 7-15 (missed playoffs). 2021 Championship Odds +6000

Full disclosure: We covered Courtney Williams in college, and she’s absolutely our favorite player in the W. Her Instagram is a world itself, and seeing the girl that got benched freshman year for her bad attitude and worse defense become such a pro has been quite cool. She’s also a pure bucket that can create her own shot, and she’ll need to this season.

Guard Chennedy Carter is the star here, and the 4th overall pick in the 2020 Draft lived up to the hype with 17.4 points per game to lead the team last season. But she might not have a lot of help. She’ll get another pure iso scorer to help in Aari McDonald from the national finalist Arizona Wildcats, but the backcourt isn’t the issue here.

The Dream are really thin up front. Monique Billings is a nice player to have (8.5 points & rebounds per game last season), but in a league with just 12 teams she’s not enough on her own. ATL is going to have to just outscore people to compete.

Oh, and their head coach Nicki Collen took the job at Baylor a few weeks ago, and they fired the GM after taking McDonald third overall on a team with plenty of guards already. At least the new owners are the bossest of bosses.

Chicago Sky

2020 record 12-10 (lost in first round). 2021 Championship Odds +1000

The Sky made the biggest free agency acquisition of the offseason, grabbing living legend Candace Parker from the Los Angeles Sparks merely for a max salary slot. Basketball’s CP3 that’s actually won something was third in league MVP voting last season, and is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. But a great job by Derek Fisher and the Buss family in letting her walk!

She gets added to America’s favorite backcourt couple on-and-off the court in Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot. Sloot shot almost 40% from three-point range last season and got 10 assists per game to lead the league, and Quigs led the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game.

If the pieces fit here, and they should on paper, Chicago can be a team that rises up and competes for a championship. Having three starters in their 30’s with something to prove should make this team fun, and Kahleah Copper (14.9 ppg) gives them some young legs as well.

And we haven’t even gotten to the long list of UConn role players in Azura Stevens, Gabby Williams, Stefanie Dolson — there’s some depth here too. We’re in on the Sky if the training staff can keep them healthy, because the conditioning and heart of their starting five can’t ever be questioned.

Connecticut Sun

2020 record 10-12 (lost in semifinals). 2021 Championship Odds +1000*

The Sun are a scrappy underdog team that plays really hard, and veteran DeWanna Bonner was a revelation for them in their surprise run to a fifth game of the final four last season. But Bonner is 33, and this team can struggle to score.

Alyssa Thomas (15.5, 9.0, 4.8 assists) was going to enter her eighth year in Uncasville having improved each season, but she tore her Achilles and is out for the year. Plus the Sun didn’t have a first round pick this year.

Jonquel Jones was terrific in the Wubble as well, but it takes so much talent to win in this league because of having just 12 teams. Head coach Curt Miller will get plenty out of this side, and they’ll be entertaining for sure. But it’s hard to see them doing much when it comes to contending.

But that’s also what we said last season.

Indiana Fever

2020 record 6-16 (missed playoffs). 2021 Championship Odds +8000

It’s hard to amass a roster with this little talent in the WNBA, but the Fever hit the reset button last season and decided to start over. GM Tamika Catchings (also the best player in team history) has 6’7 Teaira McCowan and a very good guard in 17.9 points per game scorer Kelsey Mitchell. But otherwise, this looks like Sam Hinkie at the nadir of The Process.

Tiffany Mitchell is entering her prime and is one of the best free throw shooters in the history of basketball. The Fever also added Kysre Gondrezick from West Virginia with the fourth overall pick, but otherwise there’s not a lot of hope here. Rhyne Howard from Kentucky might be waiting for them with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft.

New York Liberty

2020 record 2-20 (missed playoffs). 2021 Championship Odds +6000

Nobody did more in the offseason to try and get competitive right now. And with fans allowed in Barclays Center this year, Park Slope will be awash in Sabrina Ionescu jerseys and skinny jeans all summer.

The No. 1 pick in the 2020 Draft looked like she was everything the hype said she’d be in the 2.5 games she played before an ankle injury ended her season. Kia Nurse and Megan Walker are gone, but 2019 All-Star Natasha Howard is in from the reigning champion Storm, who got 9.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a game last season despite being blocked by the returning Breanna Stewart.

They also added a pure scorer in Betnijah Laney (17/5/4 for the Dream last season), and drafted UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere at No. 6. They’re young, fun, and will be exciting to watch every night.

But this team will be built around the Oregon star in Ionescu. She can do basically everything on the court like no one since Diana Taurasi, and has a competitive streak that oozes through everything she does. Her Dad also very much knew how good she was going to become.

Washington Mystics

2020 record: 9-13 (lost in first round). 2021 Championship Odds: +350

Take last year’s record and throw it in the trash, as the previously-reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne didn’t go to Bradenton and sat out the season. But the woman that goes neck-and-neck with Breanna Stewart as the most-dominant force in the game is back for 2021.

If anything, EDD sitting out was the reason for the emergence of Myisha Hines-Allen, the fourth-year guard that was the feel good story of the Wubble. She went from 2.3 points per game to 17.0, and her newfound confidence and contract should go a long way this season.

But the Mystics won’t return Emma Meesseman at least for now, and Delle Donne’s fellow twin tower will be missed. Aerial Powers going to Minnesota isn’t ideal either.

But Ariel Atkins returns, Tina Charles has been added, and Leilani Mitchell showed last season she can still play. But are the pieces enough to support one of the best women’s basketball players in human history? We’ll probably know after 2-3 weeks if this is a contender or pretender.

* Connecticut Sun odds are not available from DraftKings due to their partnership with Resorts Casino, a partial owner of the team.