We’re counting down the 30 players most prepared to have the best seasons in 2021. Rookies and players like Sabrina Ionescu who have very little WNBA experience were not considered. Here’s a look at No. 20 through No. 11:
20) Dearica Hamby
Las Vegas Aces
The two-time reigning Sixth Woman of the Year is so valuable to the Aces. She is strong and physical inside and you had to more than respect her 3-point shot last year as she improved greatly from beyond the arc up to 47.4 percent (18-of-38). That was good for third in the league behind only Alysha Clark and Julie Allemand. Hamby is also a great defender — she basically does everything you could ask of a player. She’s unlikely to become a starter on a loaded Aces squad so she could be up for her third Sixth Woman of the Year award in a row. But everyone knows she could be a starter for any team. Will we ever get to see her put in a position to play up to her full star potential? She probably doesn’t care as long as the Aces are winning.
19) DeWanna Bonner
Bonner was once a perennial Sixth Woman of the Year winner like Hamby is now. She won the award three times in a row to start off her career. Then, in her fourth season, she increased her career-best scoring average by 8.6 points to 20.6 and added 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. She continued to be a star for the Mercury, helping them to a second title in her tenure in 2014 and making three All-Star games. Bonner is 33 years old, but recorded the second-best scoring average of her career last year at 19.7. She also hauled in a career-high 7.8 rebounds, dished out three assists and notched 1.7 steals per contest. She is still worthy of big three status for the Connecticut Sun.
18) Chelsea Gray
Las Vegas Aces
The Point Gawd has that rare combination of elite distributing talent and elite scoring ability. She has averaged over five assists per game three times and over 14 points per game four times in her six-year career with highs of 5.9 and 14.9, respectively. Once a part of a big three in LA, she will now join the Aces and be their third-best player, which is saying something on a team loaded with stars. Gray can score in a variety of ways, but her 30.5 percent shooting percentage was disappointing last year. She had shot 38.2 percent or higher the previous three seasons with a 48.2 percent mark in 2017 that led the league.
17) Sylvia Fowles
The fact that Fowles is 35 years old and coming back from a calf injury is the only reason she isn’t higher on this list. One of the elite true centers and rebounders in the game, Fowles is still a star and is one of the Lynx’s best players. She averaged 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last year but only played in six games due to the injury. Fowles averaged a career-high 20 points per game in 2011 and a WNBA-record 11.9 boards in 2018. Those numbers will be hard to duplicate at her age, but expect a solid year from Fowles.
16) Natasha Howard
New York Liberty
Howard is the reason the Liberty gave up what would have been their second No. 1 draft pick in a row. The team decided to stop building with young talent and add a superstar player to play alongside 2020 No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu in 2021, so they traded the pick to Seattle in exchange for Howard. The 6-foot-2 small forward is a versatile scorer and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. Not a bad combination of skills. She was also an All-WNBA First Team member in 2019, a year that Seattle’s MVP Breanna Stewart missed entirely due to a torn Achilles. In 2019, Howard averaged 18.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.7 blocks, showing just how great she can be when asked to be a team’s best player like she will be in New York.
15) Jewell Loyd
Howard’s former big three mate in Seattle, Loyd is now the clear-cut Robin to Stewart’s Batman and her offensive skillset is just filthy. Nicknamed the Gold Mamba by Kobe Bryant, she definitely brings the mamba mentality to the table. Her buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat the Sparks on Sept. 4 was the highlight of the 2020 regular season and she also scored 19-plus in four out of her six playoff games, including 28 in Game 1 of the Finals. Loyd’s career-best scoring average is 17.7 set in 2017. She’s 27 years old so expect a big year from her in 2021.
14) Diana Taurasi
The GOAT dealt with a back injury that hampered her play in 2019 when she averaged just 4.3 points per game in six contests. Some questioned if she could ever be her true self again, but she proved she could be in 2020 with 18.7 points and 4.5 assists per game at age 38. That performance earned her a spot on the All-WNBA Second Team, so she was one of the Top 10 players in the league. If she’s playing at her best she could be even higher on this list. You always have to respect the GOAT.
13) Skylar Diggins-Smith
Taurasi’s younger backcourt mate comes in at No. 13. Diggins-Smith, like Gray, is an elite distributor and scorer, who averaged a career-high 6.2 assists in 2018 and a career-high 20.1 points in 2014. She has averaged over three assists in each of her seven seasons and five or more four times. She has also averaged over 17 points five times. In her first year with the Mercury in 2020 she was good for 17.7 points and 4.2 assists per game. She’s still at the top of her game and helps give the Mercury a ton of talent at the top of their roster.
12) Arike Ogunbowale
Ogunbowale’s not going to blow you away with her assist numbers, which is why she isn’t higher on this list. But she is arguably the best scorer in the game, though Elena Delle Donne may have something to say about that as she returns to the court. Given Ogunbowale’s clutch history, if you had to pick one WNBA player to make a game winning offensive play, you might pick her. She has filthy skills like Loyd, except even better. She can make threes while fading away or with very little space and can finish in a variety of ways.
11) Napheesa Collier
Collier was an All-WNBA Second Team member last year after winning Rookie of the Year in 2019. She is the second-best player under 25 on this list because she can score, rebound, distribute well for a forward and defend. In 2020 she put up the impressive stat line of 16.1 points, nine rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks. Expect Collier to take on even more of a leadership role in 2021 after she was named captain in just her second season.