May 28, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Aces forward Aja Wilson (22) celebrates with guard Kelsey Plum (10) after scoring against the Minnesota Lynx during the first quarter at Michelob Ultra Arena. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

As the WNBA season officially begins on Tuesday, May 14, fans are eager to see where the teams and especially the new rookie class stacks up within their own teams and the league at large. Super teams in the league have emerged, especially through free agency with the combination of elite veteran scorers and defensive specialists. And of course the historic 2024 draft class will add new possibilities to rosters all over the league.

Teams in the league have a mixture explosive guards and power forwards that make some more lethal than others. Below is a ranking of each team’s Big 3 players and their x-factor threats:

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Dream

  1. Rhyne Howard
  2. Allisha Gray
  3. Cheyenne Parker-Tyus

X-factor: Jordin Canada 

The Atlanta Dream are anchored by guard Rhyne Howard who was Rookie of the Year in 2022. She averaged 17.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals per game last season. Guard Allisha Gray, Rookie of the Year in 2017, averaged 17.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game last season. The two guards are rounded out by center Cheyenne Parker-Tyus who averaged 15 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game last season. The x-factor and new addition to the Dream this season from the Los Angeles Sparks, Jordin Canada, had a breakout season last year scoring 13.3 points, 6 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game and an impressive 33.3% from beyond the arc. 

Angel Reese LSU
Louisiana State University forward Angel Reese (10) smiles after play late during the fourth quarter of the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament game with Ole Miss at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. Saturday, March 9, 2024.

Chicago Sky

  1. Marina Mabrey
  2. Diamon DeShields
  3. Angel Reese

X-Factor: Kamilla Cardoso

The Chicago Sky are in a rebuilding year losing two out of their top three scorers in the off season. Marina Mabrey and Diamond DeShields will have to pick up the slack after losing Kaleah Copper. Mabrey scored 15 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists last season. DeShields missed last season due to injury but over her career she has averaged 13.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game. Angel Reese will most likely round out the top three for the Sky this season. Reese has already shown promise in the league’s preseason games scoring 13 points in both and contributing 5 and 9 rebounds. The x-factor for the Sky will be if Kamilla Cardoso can get healthy and return to the lineup. Currently, she is out with a shoulder injury, but if she can consistently join and play with the team, she adds her long 6’7″ blocking and paint point frame to the mix.

Connecticut Sun

  1. Alyssa Thomas
  2. Dewanna Bonner
  3. Breanna Jones

X-Factor: Tiffany Hayes

The Sun have last year’s MVP contender Alyssa Thomas who averaged 15.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game. A direct counter to Thomas’ height, aggression and dominance is Dewanna Bonner (3-time Sixth Player of the Year) who has had 7 seasons with over 15 points per game, with 17.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in the 2023 season. In addition, the Sun have Breanna Jones (2021 Most Improved Player and 2022 Sixth Player of the Year) returning this season from an injury that kept her out of the lineup most of last season. Jones is a power forward who brings even further height to assist Bonner and Thomas by averaging 9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds over her 7 previous WNBA seasons. The Sun’s x-factor is guard Tiffany Hayes as she has averaged 13.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game across her career.

Indiana Fever

  1. Kelsey Mitchell
  2. Nalyssa Smith
  3. Aliyah Boston

X-factor: Caitlin Clark

The Indiana Fever are led by two veterans in Kelsey Mitchell and Nalyssa Smith. Mitchell averaged 18.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game last season as the team’s lead guard. Smith averaged 15.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game last season as a fforward. Rounding out their top three is forward Aliyah Boston going into her second season in the league. In 2023, she was named Rookie of the Year and made the All-Star team. She averaged 14.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game last season. The x-factor joining the Fever is overall first pick in the 2024 draft Caitlin Clark. Clark won and set just about every record during her collegiate career, and she has had an impressive pre-season start with 16.5 points, 4 assists, and 1 steal averaged in her first two pre-season games. She will make a difference for the Fever if she can not only contribute big points with her logo hitting 3s but also assist and set up her core players.

Sabrina Ionescu
Aug 17, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu (20) brings the ball up court against the Chicago Sky during the second half of game one of the first round of the WNBA playoffs at Wintrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

New York Liberty

  1. Breanna Stewart
  2. Sabrina Ionescu
  3. Jonquel Jones

X-factor: Courtney Vandersloot

Led by the 2023 regular season MVP Breanna Stewart who averaged 23 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Stewart is balanced by guard Sabrina Ionescu, and 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones. Ionescu averaged 17 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game last season. When Ionescu gets hot alongside Stewart they are particularly lethal. Last season Ionescu had 18 games in the regular season where she scored more than 15 points; of those 18 games, the Liberty won 16. Jones was a powerhouse during her time with the Connecticut Sun where she won the MVP and averaged 15.2 points per game over the 2017-2022 seasons. Last season she averaged 11.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assist per game. What makes Vandersloot the x-factor is her experience, leadership, and passing; she led the league last year in assists per game with 8.1. 

Washington Mystics

  1. Brittney Sykes
  2. Ariel Atkins
  3. Shakira Austin

X-factors: Aaliyah Edwards

Similar to the Sky, the Mystics will have more of a rebuilding year. Their franchise player Ella Delle Donne has decided to take a season away from basketball and the WNBA. This situation leaves Brittney Sykes who averaged 15.9 points, 5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.1 steals per game last season to steer the Mystics’ ship. Sykes is rounded out by guard Ariel Atkins who averaged 11.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game last season. Shakira Austin is the inside presence for the team at center, who averaged 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game last season. Potential x-factors for the Mystics feature the addition of rookie Aaliyah Edwards who averaged 17.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists for the UConn Huskies during the 23-24 season where they made a run to the Final Four.

Western Conference

Dallas Wings

  1. Arike Ogunbowale
  2. Natasha Howard
  3. Tiera McCowan

X-Factor: Jaelyn Brown

The Dallas Wings are anchored by Arike Ogunbowale who averaged 21.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game last season. Unfortunately, breakout star Satou Sabally who won the Most Improved Player last season is hurt, thus, the Wings will have to rely on their forward Howard (2019 Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year) and center McCowan to contribute big points in the paint alongside Ogunbowale’s dynamic shooting. Howard and McCowan averaged 16.5  and 11.9 points, 8 and 9.1 rebounds, and 2.6 and 1.5 assists per game last season. Rookie Jaelyn Brown could help the Wings significantly this season without Sabally. Brown, although a Rookie in the league, has played stints overseas. In her first pre-season game against the Fever on May 3 she came out with an impressive 21 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal.

Las Vegas Aces

  1. A’ja Wilson
  2. Kelsey Plum
  3. Jackie Young

X-factor: Chelsea Gray

The Aces roster supports the highest average points (92.8) from the 2023 WNBA season and the powerhouse of forward A’ja Wilson who averages 22.8 points per game, 9.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 2.2 blocks. Wilson won the regular season MVP in 2020, 2022, defensive player of the year in 2022 and 2023, along with the finals MVP in 2023. However, Wilson is not all that makes them lethal, their three starting guards in Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, and Chelsea Gray contribute to an up-tempo explosive offensive with these three guards average 18.7, 17.6, and 15.3 points per game respectively. What makes Gray the x-factor is her ability to not only shoot, but direct the offense as she ranked third last season in assists per game with 7.3.

Los Angeles Sparks

  1. Lexie Brown
  2. Layshia Clarendon
  3. Dearica Hamby

X-Factors: Zia Cooke and Cameron Brink

The Sparks big three are anchored by the combination of two guards that can lead the offense in Lexie Brown and Layshia Clarendon and forward Dearica Hamby. Brown averaged 12.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists last season. Clarendon contributed 11.1 points, 3 rebounds, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game last season. Hamby didn’t receive as many playing minutes last season but expect them to increase and her to be a large contributor. Over her career she has averaged 9.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.4 assists but if her pre-season game on May 10 is any indication her numbers will increase as she scored 19 points, 3 assists and shot 50% from the arc. In her second season, and after a tumultuous last year, look for Zia Cooke to contribute impressive numbers like she did in their May 10 pre-season game against the Mercury where she scored 14 points and shot 37.5% from behind the arc. Brink will bring the size that the Sparks need as she averaged 17.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.7 blocks and 2.8 assists per game over her four years at Stanford.

Minnesota Lynx

  1. Napheesa Collier
  2. Kayla McBride
  3. Diamond Miller

X-Factor: Courtney Williams

The Lynx are led by forward Napheesa Collier, who averaged 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks last season and was named the Rookie of the Year in the league in 2019. Collier was assisted by veteran guard Kayla McBride and forward Diamond Miller in the 2023 season who averaged 14.3 and 12.1 points, 3.2 and 3.5 rebound per game last season respectively. The Lynx x-factor is Courtney Williams who is an 8-year veteran, who has playoff experience (formerly with Connecticut Sun), and has averaged 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game in her career thus far.

Brittney Griner
May 21, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) reacts after scoring against the Chicago Sky in the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Mercury

  1. Diana Taurasi
  2. Brittany Griner
  3. Kaleah Copper

x-factor-Natasha Cloud

The Phoenix Mercury have the longtime veteran duo of Brittany Griner (third all-time in blocks) and Diana Taurasi (all-time WNBA scorer). Griner led the team in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. Taurasi’s career average is 19 points per game, but last season saw only 16 points per game, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. In free agency, the Mercury picked up Kahleah Copper from the Chicago Sky, who was the 2021 WNBA finals MVP, and has averaged 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assist over her seven years in the league. The Mercury x-factor this season is Natasha Cloud, a veteran who can run the point, and combine shooting and forward play. Cloud averaged 12.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists this past season with the Mystics.

Seattle Storm

  1. Jewell Loyd
  2. Skylar-Diggins-Smith
  3. Nneka Ogwumike

Potential X-factor: Jordan Horston

Shooting guard Jewell Loyd who averaged 24.7 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists last season leads this team. Nicknamed the “Gold Mamba” Loyd is a dominant scorer who can be the difference maker in any game as she doesn’t shy away from big moments or big shots. Last season, Loyd had 19 games with over 25 points including a 41-point game against the Minnesota Lynx on June 30. Diggins-Smith averaged 18.3 points per game, 5.4 assists, and 3.5 rebounds over her last five seasons. Ogwumike brings not only experience and leadership but the big that the Storm needs after losing Stewart in free agency in 2023. Ogwumike going into her 13th season, has averaged 16.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game over her career. The Storm’s potential x-factor, is second-year dual threat Jordan Horston (9th pick in the 2023 draft) who led the team in steals last season.

About Allison Smith

Dr. Allison Smith is a former Division I and II softball student athlete who is now an assistant professor of sport administration who studies and writes about the current state of women in sport. Outside of writing about women in sport, Allison has taught sport management and marketing courses for over ten years at various undergraduate and graduate programs. Follow Allison on Twitter @allisonbsmith15.