The WNBA playoff picture is set after an action-packed ending to the regular season. After the dust settled, the New York Liberty were able to squeeze into the postseason, moving past the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks.
As eight teams gear up for the playoffs, four teams are now headed to an early offseason. The Mystics, Sparks, Atlanta Dream, and Indiana Fever have all had a rough year and it's time for a quick look back at their performances this season and what we can expect from them moving forward.
The Fever finished with the worst record in the league with just six wins out of 32 games, ending their season with seven straight losses.
But misfortune also comes with opportunity as the Fever have the highest probability of getting the top pick in the 2022 draft. Odds for the WNBA Draft lottery are computed using a team's combined record for the past two seasons. So with a 12-42 record (they were 6-16 in the 2020 bubble), the Fever have a 44.2 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick.
Despite the poor record, Kelsey Mitchell showed up big time for the Fever. She started in all 32 games and was the team's leading scorer with 17.8 points per outing. She ended the season with a bang, dropping a season-high 32 points in a losing effort versus the Chicago Sky. Teaira McCowan, meanwhile, finished tied for third in rebounding with Tina Charles (9.6 per game), just behind Sylvia Fowles (10.1) and Jonquel Jones (11.2).
The last time the Fever made it to the playoffs was 2016. After five losing seasons, a top pick just might turn their fortunes around for the next season.
The Dream have had a rocky season, to say the least. Nicki Collen vacated the head coaching position to call the shots for Baylor University, roughly a week before the season started. Then, interim coach Mike Petersen stepped down because of health reasons, placing Darius Taylor in charge. Back in early July, the team suspended Chennedy Carter indefinitely for "conduct detrimental to the team." The fourth overall pick in 2020 missed the Dream's last 15 games.
The Dream finished second to last in the league standings with an 8-24 record, giving them a 27.6 percent chance of getting the top pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft.
Courtney Williams was one of the lone bright spots in Atlanta. The 27-year-old earned her first All-Star selection and averaged 16.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists for the season. The Dream certainly have pieces that they can work with for a better performance next year.
Los Angeles Sparks
It was a heartbreaking 87-84 loss to the Dallas Wings that led to the Sparks missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2011. To rub salt into the wound, Dallas owns LA's 2022 first-round pick – which now turns out to be a lottery pick – after a trade last year.
The Sparks were one of the teams that made a huge makeover prior to the season. Among the many changes, Candace Parker went home to Chicago while Riquna Williams and Chelsea Gray moved to Las Vegas. It also didn't help that a number of Sparks, including Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver, were in and out of this season's lineup due to injury.
But credit the Sparks who kept fighting all season long despite the changes and injuries to still win 12 games. Nneka Ogwumike still managed to play 18 games and showed flashes of her former MVP self. Erica Wheeler, the only one to play in all 32 games, posted career-highs in points (13.6) and rebounds (3.1).
Among the three teams vying for the eighth spot, only the Washington Mystics had their fate completely in their hands during their final regular season game. They only needed to win against the Minnesota Lynx, unlike the Liberty and Sparks who needed other teams to lose to clinch a playoff berth. But the opportunity to advance slipped from the Mystics’ fingers after losing to the Lynx.
The injuries eventually caught up to the Mystics. 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne finally returned to the roster, only to play in just three games. It was great for the league to see her back in action but fans have to wait another season to see her in full strength. Alysha Clark, meanwhile, missed the entire season because of a foot injury. Even head coach Mike Thibault sat out the last two games after unfortunately testing positive for COVID-19. No one on the Mystics roster suited up for all 32 games.
Even though they were hit badly by the injury bug, the Mystics had an MVP candidate in Tina Charles. The 2012 MVP paced the league with a personal-best 23.4 points per game and showcased her improved 36.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Ariel Atkins also deserves some praise as she was part of the 2020 Tokyo team that earned a gold medal. Natasha Cloud, Myisha Hines-Allen, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, and the rest of the crew played their hearts out to win 12 games but the team ultimately lacked firepower.
After four straight years of playoff basketball, including two trips to the WNBA Finals, the Mystics failed to advance to the postseason. A healthy and complete lineup may be the difference-maker for them next year.