September 10, 2023 

Sunday Notes, Week 15: Let’s talk about the future, with Indiana, Phoenix and more!

Our weekly look around the WNBA dives into the four teams missing the playoffs and measures how bright their futures are, from Fever to Storm

Welcome back to Sunday Notes, your weekly journey into trends and analysis around the WNBA. Today we’re looking at the 2023 obituaries, seeing where the non-playoff teams go from here and assessing whether they’re worth having faith in. For reference, since this notebook comes out on Sundays, I define “this week” as the prior Sunday through last night.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today. Join today

Tankathon Check-in

There’s just one day left to sort out playoff seeding. Let’s see where our teams are right now in the lottery standings and where they project to end up (chart organized by rightmost column):

Team:Odds of No. 1 draft pick:Odds of top-two draft pick*:Games back of No. 8 seed:Finished:
Indiana44.2%75.8%EliminatedTop lottery odds
Phoenix27.6%58.6%EliminatedSecond-best lottery odds
Los Angeles17.8%40.8%EliminatedThird-best lottery odds
Seattle10.4%24.9%EliminatedWorst lottery odds
Chicago—————————No. 8 seed
* Per Tankathon

Notably for the 2025 lottery race, the three teams most likely to repeat as lottery participants — Phoenix, Seattle and Indiana, in that order — all finish with records extremely close together.


For the WNBA’s 27th season, save 27% on your subscription!

The WNBA playoffs are here, and our staff of writers is working hard to bring you everything you need to know about every team still in contention. Get started with a paid subscription, which helps support all of our writers, editors and photographers who work tirelessly to bring you this coverage, and save 27%!


Indiana Fever

Bright spots:

  • Aliyah Boston is a perennial All-Star, an elite interior scorer, and will likely soon be a premier rim protector
  • Outside of Las Vegas and New York, Kelsey Mitchell is the league’s best perimeter shot-creator
  • No. 1 lottery odds in December
  • NaLyssa Smith appears to be an elite play-finisher, and shot 3-pointers decently in the second half of the season
  • Grace Berger is probably a good backcourt player who is easy to pair with different stars
  • Players seem to enjoy playing for Christie Sides
  • Among the best player-development infrastructure in the WNBA
  • Cap space for almost two supermax contracts

Concerns:

  • Smith’s defense did not improve at all from 2022
  • If young players continue developing, nearly $340,000 in guaranteed 2024 salary should be coming off the bench from just two players
  • Bench play
  • Weak 2024 free agency class for the team’s areas of need

Honestly, it’s hard to find any reason to worry about the future of the Fever. Even if they don’t get Caitlin Clark in the 2024 draft, they still have at least borderline-All-WNBA players at off-ball guard and center along with probably an All-Star-caliber power forward and very promising lead guard/passing wing (or however you want to describe Berger). More importantly, all four of those players are either in or are about to hit their primes. That is a foursome that still very much needs some star power either at the three (or possibly at the one instead, in which case Berger just defends at the three), but it’s not hard to see how a Clark or Bueckers, or a Kahleah Copper or Tiffany Hayes, would transform Indiana in 2024.

Hope Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Los Angeles Sparks

Bright spots:

  • Nneka Ogwumike is timeless
  • Jordin Canada may suddenly be a top-four point guard thanks to a 3-point shot off the catch and off the dribble?
  • Massive cap space in one of the most attractive free-agent markets
  • Lexie Brown is the most underpaid non-rookie-contract player in the W
  • No. 3 lottery odds in December
  • Stephanie Talbot will be close to 15 months past her ACL tear when the 2024 season begins
  • An additional, late first-round pick in what should be a very deep 2024 draft
  • Curt Miller remains one of the best floor-raising coaches in the WNBA
  • Decent 2024 free agency class for the team’s areas of need

Concerns:

  • No particularly promising young players
  • It turns out that Stevens is one of those “jack of all trades, master of none” players

Los Angeles will always be Los Angeles: even after what Derek Fisher did to the franchise, 11 of this past offseason’s top 30 free agents1 heavily considered offers from the Sparks. And with just three protected contracts on the books for 2024, there is a lot of opportunity there.

The issue is that this free agency class is likely to be just a few max contract-worthy stars and some very good role players. With Ogwumike going into her age-33 season, there needs to be a path to future contention other than attracting free agents. The good news is that it is certainly less likely that Clark would use her fifth year of eligibility if a team like Los Angeles won the upcoming draft lottery.

1. Per aggregate media rankings

Hope Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆


The IX Newsletter: Six different women’s sports in your inbox every week!

If you love The Next, you’re going to want to subscribe to The IX, a women’s sports network sent straight to your email. Six days a week, hear from our plugged-in reporters for women’s soccer, tennis, basketball, golf, hockey and gymnastics. Breaking news, analysis, curated links across each sport and interviews with newsmakers come your way six days a week!

Subscribe now and join us, just $6 a month or $60 a year. It’s the women’s sports media network we all wished for, and now it’s here! Get your subscription 50% off for the first year by joining now.


Phoenix Mercury

Bright spots:

  • No. 2 lottery odds in December
  • Brittney Griner
  • A general manager in Nick U’Ren who comes from one of the most innovative and successful front offices in the NBA
  • All signs point to significant investment from new ownership in Matt Ishbia
  • Moriah Jefferson was actually pretty decent, all things considered
  • Megan Gustafson developed into an excellent backup center

Concerns:

  • All six contracts on the books for 2024 are well over market value
  • Five of those six contracts are protected
  • Traded away its 2025 first-round pick, a likely lottery pick in one of the best lotteries in league history, for Michaela Onyenwere
  • Appear set to continue focusing the franchise around a soon-to-be 42-year-old with decreasing offensive and actively negative defensive impact, who has run off two All-WNBA players in the last four years
  • Traded away its second-round pick in what should be a deep 2024 draft class to get off Diamond DeShields’ contract
  • Have struggled to attract top free agents since 2020

I can’t sugar-coat what has gone on in the Valley across the last few seasons. Extraordinarily poor roster management over the past half-decade has caught up to the Mercury: After spending years bringing in interesting role players, cutting or trading them once they hit a cold streak and using future draft capital to plug the resulting holes, Phoenix is now stuck with effectively dead cap space and historically valuable draft assets lining other teams’ coffers. On the bright side, there is an incredible amount of joy in seeing Brittney Griner be good at basketball again. Unfortunately, barring a major coup in free agency, she and the Mercury’s 2024 lottery pick are the only real difference-makers next year’s team can hope for.

Phoenix does have one thing going for it that could mean big returns in three or four years, with the Ishbia-led overhaul of the franchise. Ishbia by all accounts has seemed to be taking a significant interest in the goings-on of the Mercury, a welcome change from the recent past. It is not hard to see his hiring of U’Ren as the club’s next general manager as a front office move similar to Las Vegas hiring Becky Hammon, giving big money to a top NBA mind who was soon in line for promotion into a prominent gig on the men’s side. With how far Phoenix has lagged behind the WNBA’s better franchises in team infrastructure, staffing and overall quality management, there is a real possibility that the Mercury have already started overhauling the team’s foundation, and in the near future, they could have better infrastructure than almost anyone.

Hope Rating: ⭐⭐☆☆☆

Seattle Storm

Bright spots:

  • Jewell Loyd is under contract through her age-31 season
  • Ezi Magbegor is a top-three young big
  • Jordan Horston is already an excellent and versatile defender
  • The Storm front office still knows how to scout talent as well as any group in the WNBA
  • Cap space for another max contract or multiple top role players in free agency
  • Consistently attractive free-agent market

Concerns:

  • Best players are in their primes but the team isn’t close to contention
  • Over $300,000 in guaranteed 2024 salary will be coming off the bench from two players who combined for 0.0 WAR in 2023 (per Positive Residual)
  • Gabby Williams’ WNBA career is likely over

Much of the current Storm brass led the team through arguably the most successful rebuild in league history and current management has effectively pulled off multiple one-year retoolings at the margins over the past several years. The current roster reflects this front office’s commendable ability to have given the now-broken-up Big Three as many legitimate shots at championships as possible while still developing cost-controlled players for the future. The problem here is that Seattle looks like a team still one Breanna Stewart away from title contention. A Loyd-Magbegor-Horston core is certainly something to be excited about — and Jade Melbourne coming off a half-decent age-20 season shouldn’t be overlooked herself — but even if Horston suddenly regains the touch she had at Tennessee last year, no supporting cast is getting that kind of Storm team to home-court advantage.

With Loyd re-signing and Magbegor staying in the Pacific Northwest for the foreseeable future, Seattle isn’t chasing elite lottery talents any time soon. Unless they plan to add Skylar Diggins-Smith and/or DeWanna Bonner in free agency, it remains hard to see how the Storm reach title contention from here without the biggest lottery coup in WNBA history.

Hope Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

2 Comments

  1. RM Williams on September 11, 2023 at 8:12 am

    After watching the Fever run over the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday, I would say of these four teams the Fever might have the strongest chance to get to the playoffs next year. The Fever beat the Lynx 3 out of 4 this season with stronger play, a better defined attack, and an overall stronger will to win. The Lynx basically gave them what they wanted. Unlike the recent article on Winsidr titled “The Minnesota Lynx Find Their Groove Once Again,” the Minnesota Lynx feel into their old rut once again, aided by a much better Indiana team.
    A case can be made for the other three teams reaching the playoffs next year, but Indiana has enough pieces that once they become a little more cohesive and can close out games, they’ll be in the race. Seattle and Phoenix have needs to fill, and the Sparks, well, the Sparks need to figure out who they are and who they will be once Ogwumike decides to retire. The time is now to plan for the future, which means a tear down and rebuild. If some of the quality players are in the draft next year and don’t take advantage of their fifth college season, the league could look very different.

    • Em Adler on September 11, 2023 at 11:29 am

      Totally agreed!

Leave a Comment