What The New York Liberty and Other WNBA Teams Still Need
Training camp is here, and it is an exciting time for WNBA fans! The regular season is fast approaching, but there remains a lot that needs to be sorted out before it tips off. Perhaps the most important element still pending is that the rosters remain far from finalized. Teams have to condense their rosters down to 12 from as large as 20, trimming along the way as late arrivals extend the training camp roster past 15. Many players have been cut and proceeded to contribute at an WNBA level: Leilani Mitchell, Betnijah Laney, Kennedy Burke, and Te’a Cooper, among others, provide several examples just from the past two years. While we cannot perfectly predict how things will shake out, there are some teams with identifiable gaps in the roster that could be addressed by scouring the waiver wire. By examining what those gaps are and which players could be cut, we can find places where players can get a second chance and teams can shore up their depth.
I will be using the wonderful cap sheets available at Her Hoop Stats to help me navigate the salary situations and make sure I don’t suggest anything contrary to league rules. To prevent this article from becoming too chaotic, I will not explore potential trades. I will also not suggest that teams sign players not currently slated to attend any other team’s camp just in case they have an injury that I have missed and would therefore be unavailable. Most notably, 12th overall pick Iliana Rupert has not yet signed with Las Vegas. Finally, I am assuming that teams do not cut any players on guaranteed contracts or any new Free Agent signings make more than $100,000, even if those contracts are unguaranteed. On that note, let’s explore some teams which may want to pay close attention to the players their rivals let go.
The New York Liberty
Need: Size That Suits Their Style
New York has plenty of talented players in their Training Camp, and they have plenty of cap space. They also want to play very small. However, I still have concerns about their depth up front. As far as I can tell, their only natural post players who are likely to make the roster are Natasha Howard, Kiah Stokes, and potentially Kylee Shook. Both of those players will play a lot of C, so who are the PFs? Neither Rebecca Allen nor Betnijah Laney are natural at the position. In addition, Allen has never played more than 17 MPG in the WNBA while Laney is coming off an unexpected breakout season where, depending on if you think that Shekinna Stricklen played “bigger” than her, she spent more time at SG than at PF. Rookies Michaela Onyenwere, DiDi Richards, and Valerie Higgins could help, but Onyenwere is very undersized to play PF without cross-matching opportunities, and Richards and Higgins are not guaranteed to make the roster. (I’m also not sure if Higgins is big enough). Leaonna Odom showed some promise but still has serious weaknesses as a shooter and as a defensive rebounder. Asia Taylor has had great success scoring the ball overseas, but she’s a bit of a SF/PF tweener in the WNBA with a limited three-point shot. It appears that Joyner Holmes’s shot selection remains as adventurous as ever. And I personally would like to see Howard play PF situationally, but Kylee Shook is no guarantee to make the roster, either. Now, there is certainly a viable PF/C rotation in here somewhere for the Liberty, but given their moves this offseason, I think they’re shooting a bit higher than for mere viability, and I suspect there will be options for them at least to consider.
Say it with me: the New York Liberty should look into Astou Ndour if she is cut. I apologize; I just think she is good and very likely to get cut given Chicago’s salary cap crunch, and her status as a stretch big is especially enticing for New York even if her, Kiah Stokes, and Marine Johannes potentially being gone for Eurobasket could make things complicated. However, I think Natasha Mack’s excellent rim protection would be especially important on a team that likes to play small, and Mack’s jumper is interesting enough that New York would definitely encourage her to let it fly and see if it sticks. Otherwise, a pair of players from the Wings who could be cut are Bella Alarie and Megan Gustafson. I honestly expect only one of them to make Dallas’s roster, and both of them could fit well in New York with their developing jump shots. Moreover, Gustafson’s excellent positioning in the post may provide added value in a small, fast system. From the Seattle cohort, I would consider Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Stephanie Talbot especially intriguing—Harrigan because of the possibility of playing multiple positions and Talbot because, while she is also not a natural PF, her ball movement skills could help maintain their fast pace. I also want to add a long shot from Seattle’s roster: 3rd-round pick Natalie Kucowski who may have potential as a playmaking stretch big. Finally, of Indiana’s later picks at PF, I would be especially interested in Chelsey Perry because of the shooting and scoring she showcased at Tennessee-Martin.
What Other WNBA Teams Needs
Atlanta: Spacing, Frontcourt Depth
The Atlanta Dream have a lot of talented guards on their roster: Chennedy Carter, Tiffany Hayes, Aari McDonald, Lindsay Pulliam, Odyssey Sims, Yvonne Turner, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Courtney Williams. Their problem is twofold. First of all, they can’t keep all of them. Even before we get into there being far too many of them, the team can barely wedge 12 players under the cap, and none of those guards are on rookie minimums. The other problem is that while many of those players like to attack the basket, very few of them are good shooters, and arguably the best floor spacer of the bunch, Walker-Kimbrough, is likely to be cut because she has a relatively high non-guaranteed salary ($85,000). The lack of floor spacing may also compound because several of these players like taking mid-range pull-up jumpers, which tend to be less efficient but will become more appealing if the paint is crowded. While Cheyenne Parker, Tianna Hawkins, and Shekinna Stricklen can all help space the floor from the frontcourt, Elizabeth Williams and Monique Billings cannot. In addition, the team does not have many options at SF: they have Stricklen, they have Hayes (who can shoot but is much better as a driver and is relatively small), and then their next option may be Kaela Davis, who doesn’t help the spacing either and seems far from guaranteed to make the roster. If the team does not mind starting the season with 11 players and keeps Walker-Kimbrough, that helps the spacing and possibly the SF rotation (although Walker-Kimbrough is also small) but likely comes at the expense of Kalani Brown, leaving the team’s post depth weakened and/or pushing Stricklen into PF minutes, leaving the SF rotation questionable once again.
Connecticut: General Depth
The big question for the Sun is who comes off their bench this season. Things become a lot easier if they suspend Alyssa Thomas for the season in light of her season-ending Achilles injury, but I really don’t want to recommend that. As things currently stand, the Sun can only keep 11 players on their roster, and they cannot afford to keep Kaila Charles, who started games for them last year and played well, and both of their two 2nd-round picks: DiJonai Carrington and Micaela Kelly. The team also does not have many experienced WNBA players outside its starting line-up, with a particular weakness at whichever forward spot DeWanna Bonner does not spend most of her time playing. Besides returners Charles, Natisha Hiedeman, and Beatrice Mompremier, the team has done a great job of assembling interesting players to compete for its bench spots, Kamiah Smalls probably being the most recognizable to WNBA fans. As a result, I’m not sure even Hiedeman is safe among their bench players. However, they could still benefit from an infusion of talent as other teams decide their camp battles. Of course, if they do not suspend Thomas, those players will pretty much need to have rookie minimum salaries. (I hope that the league makes Thomas a WNBA ambassador like they did for Breanna Stewart in 2019 after her injury, thereby freeing up not one but two WNBA roster spots while still allowing Thomas to get paid.)
Las Vegas: Post Depth
With the return of Kelsey Plum and Liz Cambage and the arrival of Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams, this Aces team will probably shoot as well as they have in years even with the loss of Kayla McBride. This Las Vegas Aces team also has three tremendous post players in Cambage, A’ja Wilson, and Dearica Hamby. However, after those three players, the team’s best options at the PF and C spots might be Park Ji-Su and Emma Cannon. Park has shown promise but struggled in her previous WNBA experience and may miss time because of the Olympics while Cannon stepped in admirably in the playoffs for an injured Dearica Hamby but could not solve the problems Hamby’s injuries created on such short notice. If one of the Aces’ stars gets injured again, the team will absolutely need more frontcourt options given Coach Laimbeer’s reticence to play Angel McCoughtry at the 4. Having more depth upfront will also facilitate the dreaded Hamby-Wilson-Cambage jumbo line-ups that were so successful during the 2019 season.
Minnesota: PG Depth
After releasing Lexie Brown, Minnesota only has two established WNBA PGs on the roster, Crystal Dangerfield and Rachel Banham. While Banham’s WNBA career has had its ups and downs, she shot extremely well in the Bubble and probably merits some minutes at SG. Dangerfield put together a very good season last year but has never faced the WNBA at full strength. Linnae Harper, Japreece Dean, and Mikayla Pivec can provide quality competition for that third PG spot, and Cheryl Reeve may trust Dangerfield and Banham’s health and ability enough to forego that third spot at least at the start of the season, there are also likely to be some talented ballhandlers who simply cannot make their team’s rosters. In addition, the team was able to mostly stay the course even after Sylvia Fowles’s injury last season using small line-ups with Napheesa Collier at PF and Damiris Dantas at C. The acquisition of Natalie Achonwa indicates that Reeve probably does not want to pivot to small-ball full-time, but retaining more perimeter options and ballhandlers could help unlock different sorts of lineups. This is not nearly as pressing as some of the other teams I’ve mentioned earlier, but I still think it is worth considering. Besides, Coach Reeve is very good at her job and very creative so it is good to remain cognizant of what her options are.
I am assuming that the team keeps Carter, Williams, Sims, and McDonald and cuts Walker-Kimbrough, Turner, and Pulliam (although Pulliam may also be suspended). If the team wants to roster 12 players and/or keep Kalani Brown, options are limited but still multiple as they would be limited to players making less than the veteran’s minimum salary. Seattle proposes to have a lively camp competition at the forward spots with Katie Lou Samuelson, Ezi Magbegor, Kennedy Burke, Stephanie Talbot, Tamera Young, Kitija Laksa, Mercedes Russell, and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan all on nonguaranteed contracts. I would expect Samuelson, Magbegor, and Russell to be safe to make the team along with 3 of the remaining 5. Young and Talbot have minimum contracts too expensive for Atlanta if they want to keep 12 players (and Young doesn’t help their floor spacing anyway), but the rest all have intrigue. A few months ago, I might have expected Laksa to be suspended, clearing up one spot, but that all changed when her native Latvia fell a single basket shy of qualifying for this summer’s Eurobasket competition, leaving her summer open. She is a tremendous three-point shooter, albeit with her own excessive proclivity toward mid-range shots. Herbert Harrigan remains a project but could help out at multiple positions. Burke is a strong two-way player but is probably the least likely of this secondary cohort to be cut. Los Angeles has a similarly crowded wing rotation, with Arella Guirantes and Stephanie Watts fitting a 12-woman Atlanta roster and Nia Coffey being the sort of low-Usage player who could help out the teams if Atlanta drops to 11. Another option for the team to move forward with 11 players is if Chicago cuts Astou Ndour; Atlanta was the team that originally signed Ndour to that massive offer sheet last offseason and may still retain serious interest, and Ndour would help with both floor spacing and post depth. Finally, Connecticut and New York have so many young players in camp that somebody interesting will not make the team; DiJonai Carrington, Morgan Bertsch, and Kylee Shook are especially intriguing possibilities for Atlanta in particular. (As a side note, I wish Bernadett Hatar were in Atlanta’s camp rather than Indiana’s because of the prospect of a competition between her and Kalani Brown as extremely tall but otherwise large dissimilar players. But alas.)
Again, if this team does not suspend Alyssa Thomas, the answer to this question is anyone interesting on a rookie minimum. However, this team has a lot of good players in training camp so I’m not entirely sure they would opt to look outside that roster. While C is a position where Connecticut is relatively set, Los Angeles will probably either need to suspend Maria Vadeeva or make a choice between her and Kristine Anigwe. Both players are on rookie minimums, and while Connecticut has already traded Anigwe, Vadeeva could be a useful option for them. Another player I would emphasize in this case is 5’10” Selena Lott, currently on Minnesota’s roster. Lott was an undrafted Free Agent who averaged 5 APG for Marquette each of the past two seasons, had an extremely efficient Junior season in 2019-20, and is surprisingly young as she was born on October 6, 1999. Australian shooting forward Sara Blicavs, currently on the Mercury, is also on a rookie minimum and could be useful for this team. If the team does suspend Thomas, I think Shatori Walker-Kimbrough is likely to be cut from Atlanta, and she can provide a lot of shooting ability, an area where Connecticut has traditionally struggled. In this case, I would also look into whoever gets cut from Seattle’s wing rotation (including Talbot and Young as their salaries would not impede Connecticut’s roster construction in this scenario) and whichever of Indiana’s later-round PF picks do not make the roster (Unique Thompson, Chelsey Perry, and Trinity Baptiste, of whom I only expect one to be on the Fever regular season roster).
If it feels like I’m recommending all of these teams try to acquire Astou Ndour, well the truth is that I am. However, in order for Las Vegas to acquire Ndour, they would have to cut 2nd-round pick Destiny Slocum, possibly keeping 3rd-round pick Kionna Jeter instead. This is a shame because I think Slocum’s combination of speed and shooting could serve Las Vegas very well. What I find more intriguing for the Aces is if the Sky cut Natasha Mack instead. I think Chicago will have to choose one player between Ndour and Mack, who I was very high on pre-draft. The latter is a tremendous defensive prospect whose jumper does not necessarily translate beyond the arc but has been very solid in the high post, something Coach Laimbeer might find agreeable. This is another team where I would monitor whether Los Angeles cuts one of Anigwe or Vadeeva and what Indiana does with their recently-drafted PFs. I also want to throw out a couple of other names. If Minnesota decides to have a third PG on their roster, they may cut Jessica Shepard. Shepard, like Coach Laimbeer, went to Notre Dame, and she provides great passing out of the high post if she is healthy after her 2019 knee injury. In addition, while I am not the biggest fan of Leaonna Odom generally, I think her athleticism and cutting ability could work well with Las Vegas’s other post players, and her defensive rebounding woes can be covered better here than elsewhere.
I think the most obvious target for Minnesota is whichever of Dana Evans and Marina Mabrey get cut from Dallas; I expect only one of them to make the regular-season roster. Evans’s surprising fall in the draft was well-documented, and while she may not be a perfect fit with either Dangerfield or Banham, the talent is apparent. As for Mabrey, while she isn’t the quickest PG imaginable, she’s big enough to play with either lead guard, and Minnesota has enough talent at other positions that playing her would not put the team at too much of a deficit. It will also be interesting to see if Seattle intends to keep Kiana Williams as insurance given Sue Bird’s recent injury history or if they think that Jewell Loyd and Epiphanny Prince can handle the backup minutes if Bird misses time. On the subject of 2nd-round picks, I would argue that Micaela Kelly of Connecticut might be cut if the team does not suspend Alyssa Thomas and can therefore only keep two of Kelly, Natisha Hiedeman, and Kaila Charles. If Kelly does make the roster, it may come at Hiedeman’s expense. Finally, for the traditional PGs, I consider it unlikely that more than one of Marta Xargay, Shey Peddy, and Tiana Mangakahia make Phoenix’s roster. Any of these players if let go could help Minnesota’s team. If Coach Reeve wants a guard but does not insist on a true PG, Kamiah Smalls showed flashes late in the season with Indiana last season and is currently in Connecticut’s ultra-competitive camp, Minnesota has enough cap space to bring on Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, and Kaela Davis has very poor WNBA statistics but also has never played in as good of a situation as Minnesota. I also do not expect Los Angeles to cut Sydney Wiese, but she is making more than the minimum salary and is part of a crowded wing rotation; she might be a good fit for the Lynx if the Sparks elect to save some money.
I have already discussed Seattle’s forward competition in considerable detail, and I think the losers of that competition could carry interest for Washington if they are not snapped up by someone with higher waiver priority first. Los Angeles’s SF competition, with Seimone Augustus, Sydney Wiese, Arella Guirantes, Bria Holmes, and Nia Coffey all vying for spots, presents a similar crunch, and Washington might be interested in one of those players. Breaking one of the rules I mentioned in the Introduction, I should note that Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has already been a casualty of that wing competition, and while defining positions on the perimeter is always a bit funky when Chelsea Gray is involved, I would argue that Ruffin-Pratt played at SF quite a bit in Los Angeles over the past two seasons. While Alexis Prince has not had many opportunities in regular-season WNBA action, she has put together some good performances overseas as a big guard and may be deserving of her first real chance in the WNBA since her rookie season in 2017. If the team considers itself short on playmaking, Kaela Davis may also be an option here.
A lot can happen between now and the start of the season, and I have little doubt that WNBA teams evaluate players differently than I do. I have also written this piece in such a way that does not include the possibility of surprising cuts which would further complicate matters. However, I just wanted to emphasize that there will be talented players available throughout camp even barring trades, and teams can bolster weak points in their current roster construction. I cannot wait to see how these rosters all shake out, and I am eager to watch WNBA regular season action once again.