NEW YORK -- The "superteams" showdown in the WNBA Finals got an unexpected twist due to injuries that kept Las Vegas Aces starters Chelsea Gray and Kiah Stokes out of Game 4 on Wednesday. Still, the Aces prevailed over the New York Liberty 70-69 to take a step toward dynasty status and become the first back-to-back WNBA champions in 21 years.
With the 2023 season in the books, it's time to look ahead with ESPN's Way-Too-Early WNBA Power Rankings for 2024.
Much can change in the offseason, as we saw this year when New York added Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot in free agency and Jonquel Jones via trade to become the top challenger to the defending champion Aces.
Stewart, the 2023 season MVP, and Jones are both free agents for 2024, although it is expected they will return to New York.
Among other big names in free agency are the Connecticut Sun's DeWanna Bonner, Brionna Jones and Tiffany Hayes; the Los Angeles Sparks' Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike; the Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith; and the Washington Mystics' Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud.
The 2024 draft could be a blockbuster if every top player who is eligible declares, including 2023 Women's Final Four starsAngel Reeseof the champion LSU Tigers andCaitlin Clarkof the runner-up Iowa Hawkeyes. But they are among several potential draftees who could opt to exercise the COVID-19 waiver and stay another year in college.
Next season, the WNBA also must manage the monthlong break for the Paris Olympics, making 2024 even more of a test of endurance.
The Aces passed all their tests in 2023, and they project to start next season where they left off this one: No. 1.
1. Las Vegas Aces
2022-23 Record: 34-6, won in WNBA Finals over Liberty
2023 final regular-season ranking: 2
The Aces were top notch all season but had to dig deep at the end for this title. They swept their first two playoff series -- versus Chicago and Dallas -- winning 11 games in a row from Aug. 31 until Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. But they lost that game, plus lost Gray and Stokes to foot injuries. Winning Game 4 despite being so shorthanded said a lot about how strong this team was.
The Aces led the WNBA in scoring and defensive rating in 2023. Their top four starters -- A'ja Wilson, Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young -- and WNBA Sixth Player of the Year Alysha Clark are under contract for 2024. At this point, we don't know what Gray's recovery time will be. The fifth starter, Stokes, and Candace Parker are both free agents. As with Gray, it's unknown how long Stokes will be out. Parker's season ended in July because of foot surgery. She will be 38 next April, so it's uncertain if she will continue her playing career.
The Aces have some moves to make, but with that core back, things again look good for Las Vegas.
2. New York Liberty
2022-23 Record: 32-8, lost in WNBA Finals to Aces
2023 final regular-season ranking: 1
The Liberty were not at their best in the Finals, although they won Game 3. The team seemed to still be jelling even at season's end; they had many more new pieces than the Aces did. Stewart's shooting percentages overall and from 3-point range fell off in the playoffs from the regular season, which had an effect on everything else New York did offensively. The Liberty also didn't defend as well against the Aces throughout the series as they hoped to. Still, it was a successful season -- including winning the Commissioner's Cup title -- and brought excitement back to a WNBA original franchise that hadn't been to the Finals since 2002. Expect the Liberty to be back in the hunt next year for their first WNBA title.
3. Connecticut Sun
2022-23 Record: 27-13, lost in semifinals to Liberty
2023 final regular-season ranking: 3
Speaking of first championships, the Sun are still looking for theirs too, and they will be back at it next year. Alyssa Thomas had a dazzling, MVP-caliber season, and along with DeWanna Bonner led the Sun to the semis despite losing Brionna Jones early in the season with an Achilles tendon injury.
Thomas will turn 32 before next season, and Bonner will be 37 in August. But every time we seem to think the championship "window" is closing on the Sun, they show that it isn't. Stephanie White was WNBA Coach of the Year in her first season with Connecticut. The Sun have offseason work to do, and the most salary cap room in the league heading into free agency. But as long as Thomas remains their core star, they will compete hard.
4. Dallas Wings
2022-23 Record: 22-18, lost in semifinals to Aces
2023 final regular-season ranking: 4
This was the franchise's best season since it left Detroit in 2009, as first-year coach Latricia Trammell implemented a style that made the most of the Wings' talents. They led the league in rebounding. Satou Sabally, the No. 2 pick in 2020, won the Most Improved Player award; she is a restricted free agent, so we'll see if Dallas works out a multiyear deal for her. Fellow starters Arike Ogunbowale, Natasha Howard and Teaira McCowan are all under contract for 2024.
Stephanie Soares and Lou Lopez Senechal, the Nos. 4 and 5 draft picks in April who missed this season with injuries, could add more offense for the Wings next season. Dallas also has the Nos. 5 and 9 picks in the 2024 draft. The scoring whiz Ogunbowale greatly improved her playmaking, but the Wings could use another 3-point shooter. A healthy Lopez Senechal could help fill that need or the Wings might find it elsewhere.
5. Washington Mystics
2022-23 Record: 19-21, lost in first round to Liberty
2023 final regular-season ranking: 7
The Mystics went through a lot this season with injuries, but they still were devastated to lose to New York in the playoffs. Because despite everything, the Mystics never stopped believing in themselves. In his first season as head coach after a long apprenticeship as an assistant, Eric Thibault did a solid job getting Washington back in the playoffs despite frequent makeshift lineups due to the team's health issues. Brittney Sykes, Natasha Cloud, Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough at times flat out carried the Mystics.
There are big questions for 2024, though, and we're basing this ranking on good answers for the Mystics. How will Washington handle free agency? Cloud and Delle Donne both have very strong ties to D.C., and it seems likely they will want to stay. But with her elite defense, playmaking, energy and durability, Cloud in particular is likely to be sought hard by other teams. Can the Mystics stay healthy? Delle Donne missed 17 games in the regular season, Shakira Austinmissed 21 and Ariel Atkins 13. That's a lot of time lost with three starters. Lastly, can Washington help itself with the No. 6 draft pick?
6. Minnesota Lynx
2022-23 Record: 19-21, lost in first round to Sun
2023 final regular-season ranking: 5
In their first year during which all of their past championship players were gone -- Sylvia Fowles retired after the 2022 season -- the Lynx started poorly (0-6) but regrouped and made the playoffs. After missing most of 2022 on maternity leave, Napheesa Collier was back strong this season, forming a solid lead trio with veteran Kayla McBride and rookie Diamond Miller.
Miller and Dorka Juhasz both made the all-rookie team. With the No. 7 selection in the 2024 draft, the Lynx could get an impact player. But to reach the level of competing for championships again, the Lynx still need more talent. They have five unrestricted free agents, at least some of whom seem very likely not to return. It's an important offseason for Minnesota's future.
7. Indiana Fever
2022-23 Record: 13-27, missed playoffs
2023 final regular-season ranking: 10
Will the long wait to return to the playoffs end for the Fever next year? Tamika Catchings' retirement after the 2016 season sent the franchise into uncharted territory, and the Fever have been trying to find their way back ever since. They took solid steps in that direction this season under first-year coach Christie Sides.
Led by Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston (2023 No. 1 draft pick), NaLyssa Smith (2022 No. 2 pick) and Kelsey Mitchell (2018 No. 2 pick), the Fever finally seemed to be more on par with the talent level needed to be a playoff team. They have the best odds at the No. 1 pick for 2024. If they get it, and if the draft has some of the big names, the Fever could take another jump next season. (Yes, we're talking about Caitlin Clark passing to posts Boston and Smith and stretching defenses to the breaking point shooting 3s with Mitchell.)
8. Atlanta Dream
2022-23 Record: 19-21, lost in first round to Wings
2023 final regular-season ranking: 8
The Dream returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, which was a big step in the franchise's rebuild. Top four scorers Rhyne Howard (2022 No.1 pick and Rookie of the Year), Allisha Gray, Cheyenne Parker and Aari McDonald are all under contract for next season.
With three unrestricted free agents, the Dream have decisions to make. Do they bring back familiar faces like reserve Monique Billings, their longest-tenured player? Do they make multiple changes to improve on the progress made this year? They also have the No. 8 pick in the draft.
9. Seattle Storm
2022-23 Record: 11-29, missed playoffs
2023 final regular-season ranking: 11
By signing an extension, Loyd (24.7 points per game) showed she wants to continue to be part of the franchise that drafted her No. 1 in 2015 and with whom she has won two WNBA titles. She was the star this season for Seattle, which lost Stewart to free agency and Sue Bird to retirement. The Storm also showed faith in coach Noelle Quinn, as she received a contract extension.
A key going forward for Seattle is the continued growth of young posts Ezi Magbegor and Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu and guard Jordan Horston, who was on the All-Rookie Team this season. With five protected veterans under contract, Seattle is next to last in cap room and might not make a lot of free agent moves. It could mean another season of missing the playoffs. But the Storm have their first lottery pick since taking Stewart No. 1 in 2016.
10. Los Angeles Sparks
2022-23 Record: 17-23, missed playoffs
2023 final regular-season ranking: 5
Franchise stalwart Nneka Ogwumike had an excellent season, even if it ended in the disappointment of Los Angeles missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year. The Sparks were one of teams that beat the Aces this season. But they also stumbled down the stretch, losing five of their last seven to fall out of a playoff spot.
In 2024, Los Angeles will have its first draft lottery pick since Ogwumike was taken No. 1 in 2012. She was a home run, obviously; the Sparks need another one. With seven unrestricted free agents, Los Angeles has the second-most cap space for next year and a ton of work to do in the offseason. Coach Curt Miller and general manager Karen Bryant hope to enter their second season in L.A. with a better roster construction.
11. Chicago Sky
2022-23 Record: 18-22, lost in first round to Aces
2023 final regular-season ranking: 9
Being projected next to last will irritate the Sky, considering they fought hard to make the playoffs this year by winning six of their last eight games. And star Kahleah Copper signed on to stay, rather than go to free agency. But they have a lot to figure out for 2024, including hiring a general manager and deciding the best steps in free agency. Courtney Williams, who has matured in a leadership role for Chicago, and Alanna Smith, coming off her best season in the WNBA, are free agents the team likely wants to keep.
But the Sky don't have a first-round draft pick, and they are behind the curve -- as are the Sparks -- regarding practice facilities. Chicago does have an infusion in energy in new coach Teresa Weatherspoon.
12. Phoenix Mercury
2022-23 Record: 9-31, missed playoffs
2023 final regular-season ranking: 12
The biggest positive for the Mercury was the emotional return of center Brittney Griner, who missed all of 2022 detained in Russia. The rest of this season was a mess for Phoenix, which finished last and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Coach Vanessa Nygaard was fired in late June. Nikki Blue took over on an interim basis and seemed to gain the players' trust and confidence, but injuries overshadowed everything. On Wednesday, Phoenix named longtime NBA assistant Nate Tibbetts as the Mercury's head coach. Things are looking up infrastructure-wise under new owner Mat Ishbia. But for now, the Mercury stay in the basement.
Griner is a free agent but has made it clear Phoenix is her home. Diana Taurasi, who will turn 42 in June, will be back for her 20th season, although she missed 14 games with injuries this year. The draft has been of almost no value to the Mercury for a decade; Sophie Cunningham is the only player they have picked since 2014 who currently is on the roster. But in 2024, Phoenix will have its first lottery selection since taking Griner No. 1 in 2013.
Salary cap projections from Her Hoop Stats.