WNBA Power Rankings 2023: Is it too early to talk about the draft lottery?



M.A. Voepel, ESPN.comJun 12, 2023, 11:25 AM ET

CloseM.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

The Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm retired the jerseys of legends Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird on Sunday. It was a great time for reflecting on their glorious pasts. But what do the franchises’ futures look like? When this WNBA regular season ends three months from now on Sept. 10, will both those teams be in the 2024 draft lottery?

The Lynx and Storm are still at the bottom of ESPN’s WNBA Power Rankings this week. Seattle, dealing with the loss of Breanna Stewart to free agency, as well as Bird’s retirement, beat the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday for its first victory of the season. Meanwhile, the Lynx saw a potential victory slip away Friday against the Indiana Fever, but a late rally Sunday gave them their first home win this season, also against the Sparks.

Minnesota added a lottery pick this season in No. 2 Diamond Miller, who’s out injured. That was Minnesota’s first top-four draft selection since 2012 — although Napheesa Collier has played so well for the Lynx that it’s easy to forget she was a No. 6 pick in 2019. That was like getting lottery-level talent without having a top-four selection.

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Minnesota’s decade-plus without a lottery pick was due to the franchise’s tremendous success during that time, plus coach Cheryl Reeve’s strategy even when the dynasty years started to wane and rebuilding was on the horizon. Reeve wanted to do that more through free agency than the draft, but also had her eye on when the draft might become really strong. Suffice to say, that appears to be the case the next couple of years.

“Unfortunately, sometimes you go back before you go forward,” Reeve said after Friday’s loss. “We’re just going to keep at it. It doesn’t feel good; I know [the players are] frustrated.

“How do you try to get that [success] again? Sometimes, you have to fail first. That might be what’s next for us. We’re certainly trying to be successful, and it just may not be our time.”

The Storm have twice had back-to-back No. 1 picks, and all four became stars who won championships. Three of them were at Climate Pledge Arena on Sunday, with Bird (No. 1 in 2002) being honored while Lauren Jackson (2001) and current Storm guard Jewell Loyd (2015) were part of the adoring audience for the ceremony. Stewart (No. 1 in 2016) sent her well wishes via television interview after the New York Liberty’s victory.

Stewart is Seattle’s most recent lottery pick. But Ezi Magbegor, the No. 12 pick in 2019 at age 19, currently is second on the Storm in scoring and first in rebounding. Like Minnesota’s Collier, Magbegor seems to be over-performing at her draft spot.

The four teams that finish out of the playoffs will be in the 2024 lottery, but their odds are determined by their combined records of the past two years. Minnesota was 14-22 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Seattle was 22-14 and played in the 2022 postseason. The Storm have missed the playoffs just three times since Bird was drafted, the last in 2015. Both organizations say they are committed to doing the best they can this season.

Tanking for draft position hasn’t been quite the topic in the WNBA that it has been in other pro leagues, especially the NBA. But Reeve made a joking reference Sunday to the most-discussed alleged tanking in WNBA history: the Phoenix Mercury’s 7-27 season in 2012, which put them in the lottery that nabbed No. 1 pick Brittney Griner in 2013. The Mercury dealt with a lot of injuries in 2012 and have always strongly denied they entertained any notion of tanking.

It’s too early in 2023 to say any team is 100% lottery-bound. Sunday was for giving flowers to two past lottery picks who are certain to be Hall of Famers. But where Minnesota and Seattle will go from here is where the uncertainty comes in.

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DeWanna Bonner erupts for 41 points as Sun hand Aces their first loss

DeWanna Bonner scores a franchise-record 41 points to help the Sun defeat the Aces in a rematch of the 2022 WNBA Finals.

1. Las Vegas Aces
Record: 8-1
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. Seattle (Thursday), vs. Minnesota (Sunday)

The Aces lost at last, and coach Becky Hammon thought their defense in that defeat was atrocious. To be fair, the loss made sense: It came in the Aces’ second game in three days at Connecticut. So the 2022 WNBA Finals teams split their meetings, and then both won their subsequent game. The Aces are no longer perfect, but they’re still No. 1.

2. Connecticut Sun
Record: 8-2
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Atlanta (Thursday), at Los Angeles (Sunday)

The Sun continue to breathe down the Aces’ necks. For now, they are the clear top-two teams. Three different players were Connecticut’s top scorers this past week, with the biggest performance being DeWanna Bonner’s 41 points in beating Las Vegas on Thursday. Bonner got her career high at age 35 and in her 14th WNBA season. How’s that for not slowing down?

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1:07

Breanna Stewart’s 32-point game helps Liberty past Wings

Breanna Stewart scores 32 as New York pours in 100+ points in back-to-back games for first time in franchise history.

3. New York Liberty
Record: 6-2
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Atlanta (Tuesday), vs. Phoenix (Sunday)

The one thing the Liberty couldn’t beat last week was the poor air quality that caused the postponement of Wednesday’s scheduled game against Minnesota. Then they won at Atlanta on Friday behind Sabrina Ionescu’s career-high 37 points, and had a big third quarter to take control on the way to beating Dallas on Sunday back in Brooklyn. It’s the first time in franchise history — which goes back to the start of the league in 1997 — that the Liberty have scored 100 or more points in consecutive games.

4. Washington Mystics
Record: 5-3
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Indiana (Tuesday), vs. Phoenix (Friday), vs. Chicago (Sunday)

The Mystics spent a few days in the Pacific Northwest, defeating the Storm twice by almost identical scores. Elena Delle Donne played in the first game Friday but missed the second due to neck tightness Sunday. Without EDD, the Mystics’ backcourt of Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins took over with a combined 31 points as Washington survived a 23-8 Storm edge in the fourth quarter. Now, all eyes will be on how soon Delle Donne plays again.

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0:21

Natasha Cloud drops a nice pass for the Mystics bucket

Natasha Cloud feeds Shakira Austin for the layup as the Mystics boost their lead.

5. Dallas Wings
Record: 5-4
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Los Angeles (Wednesday), vs. Seattle (Saturday)

After back-to-back wins against Phoenix in Brittney Griner’s Texas homecoming visit, the Wings hung with the Liberty for the first half in Brooklyn before falling Sunday. There were several positives last week for Dallas beyond the expected big numbers from Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally.

Veteran Odyssey Sims, signed as a replacement player, had 21 assists in her first three games. Another replacement player, Kalani Brown, totaled 33 points and 25 rebounds in that stretch. Rookie Maddy Siegrist, the No. 3 overall pick, had her best game yet with 14 points and eight rebounds in the first game against the Mercury.

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2:00

Chicago Sky vs. Las Vegas Aces: Full Highlights

Chicago Sky vs. Las Vegas Aces: Full Highlights

6. Chicago Sky
Record: 5-5
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Indiana (Thursday), at Washington (Sunday)

After beating Indiana at home in overtime, the Sky traveled west and lost at Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But Marina Mabrey’s combined 56 points in those three games stood out for Chicago, as has the performance of Alanna Smith, who is averaging 11.1 points and 5.6 rebounds in her best season yet in the WNBA.

7. Phoenix Mercury
Record: 2-5
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Seattle (Tuesday), at Washington (Friday), at New York (Sunday)

Why are the Mercury moving up after two losses at Dallas and a narrow win at Indiana? A couple of reasons: Excellent scoring from Brittney Griner all week (combined 71 points), and the resilience of the entire team in Indianapolis on Sunday after the harassment of Griner at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Saturday. Griner went 9 of 13 from the field and 11 of 12 from the line vs. the Fever, which shows how focused she was.

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1:47

Griner drops a season-high 29 points in Mercury’s win

Brittney Griner shows out with 29 points in the Mercury’s 85-82 win over the Fever.

8. Indiana Fever
Record: 2-6
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Washington (Tuesday), at Chicago (Thursday), vs. Atlanta (Sunday)

The Fever came close to winning consecutive games for the first time since May 2022. After losing at Chicago, they won at Minnesota but then fell at home to Phoenix by three points. The Fever are still looking to put all the pieces together, but they’re getting there. NaLyssa Smith’s career-high 29 points, plus 12 rebounds and four assists, vs the Mercury on Sunday was her fifth double-double this season.

9. Los Angeles Sparks
Record: 4-4
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Dallas (Wednesday), vs. Minnesota (Friday), vs. Connecticut (Sunday)

We are perhaps over-punishing the Sparks to drop them this low, considering they are still .500 and have two more victories than the Mercury or Fever. But there had to be some consequence for losing to the bottom two teams in the Power Rankings — accounting for Seattle’s only win — even if both games were on the road and they beat Chicago between those losses.

The Sparks thus far have been most “mobile” in the Power Rankings: 8, 6, 7, 5 and now 9. Tune in next week, because they’ll be somewhere else. Nneka Ogwumike is excelling — she tied her season high with 27 points Sunday at Minnesota — but the Sparks are still trying to get the consistency thing, particularly in finishing out games.

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2:04

Connecticut Sun vs. Atlanta Dream: Full Highlights

Connecticut Sun vs. Atlanta Dream: Full Highlights

10. Atlanta Dream
Record: 2-5
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at New York (Tuesday), at Connecticut (Thursday), at Indiana (Sunday)

We gave the Dream some benefit of the doubt this week, as their losses were to top teams New York and Connecticut. However, neither loss was close, and the Dream play those same teams on the road this week. The loss of guard Aari McDonald for likely at least three more weeks to a torn labrum suffered June 2 is a blow. Atlanta might “battle” for the Power Rankings cellar if the Dream have another winless week.

11. Minnesota Lynx
Record: 2-7
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at Los Angeles (Friday), at Las Vegas (Sunday)

It might not be Minnesota’s “time” as Reeve said, at least in terms of being a championship contender now. But there are enough good pieces on this team that things could still come together for a playoff berth. Erasing an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Sparks on Sunday made things even more cheerful for Fowles’ jersey retirement celebration, but also showed how the Lynx have strengths to flex. But they also face that same Sparks team twice on the road in the next eight days, along with a trip to play defending champion Las Vegas.

12. Seattle Storm
Record: 1-6
Previous ranking: 12
This week: at Phoenix (Tuesday), at Las Vegas (Thursday), at Dallas (Saturday)

Beyond Loyd, which players will consistently score for the Storm? Ezi Magbegor is the only other player averaging double figures. After that, it’s mostly role players and youngsters. Loyd has stepped into the leadership void. The Storm getting their first win last week — 66-63 over the Sparks — and rallying to avoid a blowout against the Mystics on Sue Bird Day were both good signs. But Seattle, which now has three in a row on the road, is facing a talent and experience deficit in a league where every game is hard to win.



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