This past weekend marked the start of the 20th WNBA season. There were several storylines in place, with the debut of a college superstar, the return of one of the game's greatest, and the defending champions looking to continue a dynasty. Here are 5 things we learned from the beginning of the WNBA season.
1) Chicago Sky can win without Delle Donne
If you just glanced at the scoreboard, and saw that the Chicago Sky defeated the Connecticut Sun by a score of 93-70, you would assume that 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne had another monster game.
You would assume incorrectly.
Delle Donne sat on the bench all game with an illness, and instead, the team relied on Cappie Pondexter, Courtney Vandersloot, and the rest of the team to get their season off on the right track.
Vandersloot had 14 points and 7 rebounds, and Pondexter had 13 points. Delle Donne was the only player on the team who didn't score for the Sky, who held a 15 point lead at one point in the first half. They got 43 points from the bench.
Chicago made what seemed like a miraculous run into the WNBA finals two years ago, but was bounced from the first round last season after finishing 2nd in the Eastern Conference. The team got younger in the off season, and are looking to finally get over the hump and win their first WNBA Title. It must be refreshing for Sky fans to know that Delle Donne won't have to try to do it all on her own.
2) Minnesota Lynx are a well oiled machine
The defending champions Minnesota Lynx entered the season as one of the favorites to win the WNBA Championship, which would give them their fourth title in six seasons. They began the defense of their title in dominating fashion, taking down the Phoenix Mercury 95-76.
The storyline entering the game centered on the return of Diana Taurasi, who sat out the 2015 WNBA season. Her return, coupled with the return of Penny Taylor, reunited the starting five from the Mercury's 2014 WNBA Championship season, a season which saw them win a record breaking 29 games in the regular season.
The Lynx, however, were all over the 2009 league MVP, holding her to 18 points, most of which came in the first quarter. She went 7-for-17 in her first WNBA action in over a year. Brittney Griner, who had two fouls early and only managed 12 points, was not a factor for the Mercury.
Instead, it was the 2014 MVP, Maya Moore, who dazzled in front of a sold out home crowd. She recorded a double-double, with 27 points and 10 assists, while watching most of the fourth quarter from the bench. Sylvia Fowles recorded her 100th career double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Simone Augustus went 10-for-15 from the floor for 21 points, and Lindsay Whalen was lights out, scoring 14 points on 7 shots.
The Lynx are trying to become the first team since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 to repeat as WNBA Champions. After Saturday's performance, head coach Cheryl Reeve is confident in her team.
"I'll go out on a limb and say this is the deepest team we've ever had here," Reeve said.
3) Candace Parker shows USA Basketball they made a mistake
The USA Women's National Team made a head scratching decision by leaving Candace Parker, the two time league MVP and two time Olympian, off the Olympic national team. Fans have been trying to make heads or tails of the decision, and while Parker has remained diplomatic in her words regarding the decision, she has to never the less feel motivation to prove they made a mistake.
She did that, and then some, Sunday.
The Los Angeles Sparks completely dominated the Seattle Storm with a 96-66 victory in the Staples Center, thanks in no small part to Parker's stunning 34 point performance. Parker went 12-for-20 on the floor with three three-pointers. She was all over the floor, grabbing five rebounds and three steals to go along with four assists.
If Parker continues to play list this for the rest of the season, she could find herself in position to win a third MVP. Most importantly, the Sparks could see themselves in position to win their first title since 2001.
To Parker's credit, she claims being left off the roster is not motivation for her.
"My focus is squarely on the Sparks; that's all I have to worry about," Parker said. "That's what I'm getting better for. That's kind of been done [the Olympic controversy]. We've kind of moved past that. I leave everybody else to talk and discuss, but our focus is on our team."
Parker may be over the controversy, but USA Basketball may be kicking themselves come August if Parker continues to play great basketball.
4) Breanna Stewart will be great, but needs a team around her
All eyes were on UConn great Breanna Stewart, the four time National Championship winner and number one overall draft pick for the Seattle Storm. She played her first professional basketball game on Sunday in Los Angeles, and many wondered how she would fare with the pressure on her against tougher competition.
Stewart played well, but she can't do it alone.
Stewart dropped 23 points to lead the Storm, while last year's Rookie Of The Year Jewell Loyd scored 20, but the Storm lost by 30 points. The loss was Stewart's first since 2014, and she said she can't remember if she's ever lost a game by 30 points in her entire life. Still, Stewart felt good about her first start.
"I felt good. As each quarter went on, I felt more comfortable in the game and with what we were trying to do," Stewart said "Obviously, there were a lot of mistakes. That's going to happen. But it was fun. Being matched up with a team like them, they're great. For my first game, it's one I'll remember. We lost, and that sucks. But I think there is a lot of good to come out of it as well."
Head coach Jenny Boucek saw more positives than negatives in their loss, and said her young team learned a lot in defeat.
"Experience is the best teacher; I'm glad we got our butt kicked," Boucek said. "I'm excited about the challenge; I can't wait to watch the film and get back on the practice court."
While Stewart's star is only going to shine brighter as her career continues, she will not be able to do it on her own. The Storm are entering a transition period, with future Hall of Famer Lauren Jackson retiring prior to the start of the season, and Sue Bird entering the final legs of her career. Bird only scored 2 points on Sunday, and is transitioning into a facilitator rather than a scorer. The main core of the team is young, and will need time to develop together. Stewart may turn into one of the best players in basketball, but patience will be key.
5) New York Liberty first team to 2-0
Two teams - the New York Liberty and the Dallas Wings - played two games on opening weekend. After playing each other Sunday afternoon, only one walked out undefeated.
The Liberty won on the road at the Washington Mystics Saturday by a score of 87-76 before taking down the Wings at home 79-71. The team picks up where the left off last year, when they entered the playoffs as the number one seed in the East, but got upset by Indiana in the conference finals.
Sugar Rodgers and Tina Charles both scored 24 in their game against the Wings, as the Liberty get off to their first 2-0 start since 2011. Charles also scored 24 against the Mystics, and lead the surge late that helped top the Mystics.
"I'm just playing with confidence right now," Rodgers said after her game against the Wings. "We knew playing a back-to-back we had to come out with energy."
Liberty player Amanda Zahui B added 10 points on Sunday. Zahui B was traded from the Wings to the Liberty on Wednesday for a draft pick, and Zahui B felt the extra motivation.
"I played more aggressive today. It felt great to win," Zahui B said. "Always want to win against your former teammates."
The Eastern Conference is expected to be wide open, so every victory is a big one, even early in the season. New York will have their next four games at home, including their next one against the Candace Parker lead Sparks on Saturday, as well as the Maya Moore lead Lynx on May 31st.