Four teams, eight former No. 1 picks and the 25 best players in the semifinals

Four teams, eight former No. 1 picks and the 25 best players in the semifinals thumbnail

Aug 25, 2022

  • M.A. Voepel

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    ESPN.com

      M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
  • Alexa Philippou

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    ESPN

    • Covers women’s college basketball and the WNBA
    • Previously covered UConn and the WNBA Connecticut Sun for the Hartford Courant
    • Stanford graduate and Baltimore native with further experience at the Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times and Cincinnati Enquirer

The 2022 WNBA semifinals are set after chalk dominated the opening round of the playoffs: The No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces will take on the No. 4 seed Seattle Storm, and the No. 2 seed Chicago Sky will face off against the No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun.

The Aces-Storm matchup — Game 1 is Sunday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Las Vegas — has already been hyped as a Finals-worthy showdown. (In fact, Las Vegas and Seattle squared off for the title in the bubble in 2020 on the Storm’s way to winning their fourth championship.) For the first time in WNBA or NBA history, seven No. 1 draft picks will take the court in a playoff game: the Aces’ Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young along with the Storm’s Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. Wilson and Stewart, MVPs in 2020 and 2018, respectively, are considered front-runners for this season’s award as well.

The Sky-Sun series, which features 2008 No. 1 draft pick Candace Parker, marks a rematch of the 2021 semifinals, where, after going .500 in the regular season, then-No. 6 seed Chicago stunned top-seeded Connecticut in four games on the way to the Sky’s first title. They got even deeper in the offseason, particularly with the signing of Emma Meesseman, allowing them to start three Finals MVPs (including Parker and Kahleah Copper) this summer.

And while the Sun have earned their fourth straight trip to the semis, this is the first time they did it behind their Big Three of Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and (a fully healthy) Alyssa Thomas, not to mention a surging Brionna Jones.

With just four teams left standing, we’ve updated our ranking of the top 25 players in the WNBA playoffs, based on postseason performance. Our list features nine new faces and stars making some noise after a largely dominant set of first-round games by the semifinalists: The average margin of victory through 10 first-round games was a resounding 18.2 points.

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Chelsea Gray goes 7-for-8 from downtown as she puts up 27 points to lead the Aces to a massive blowout against the Mercury.

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1. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm

Forward | 6-foot-4
2022 playoff stats:
22.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 6.0 APG
First-round rank: 2

Stewart averaging a double-double in a sweep of a very good Washington Mystics team — plus look at her assist numbers — lifts her to the top spot. But she and Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson are essentially interchangeable in terms of immense value to their teams. — Voepel

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2. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces

Forward | 6-foot-4
2022 playoff stats:
12.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG
First-round rank: 1

Wilson had an atypical playoff opener with eight points, but just the threat she presents is huge. Game 2 was Wilson as usual, making 7 of 9 shots from the field. Her nine assists combined in the two games stands out, too, as part of the Aces’ overall great ball movement. — Voepel

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3. Chelsea Gray, Las Vegas Aces

Guard | 5-foot-11
2022 playoff stats:
22.0 PPG, 6.0 APG, 76.9% 3PT
First-round rank: 14

No one is hotter this WNBA postseason than Gray, who has a history of playoff success. She has been on fire offensively (10 of 13 from behind the arc) along with playing lockdown defense. She has also continued to be an exceptional playmaker; it all warrants this big jump from the early rankings. — Voepel

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4. Candace Parker, Chicago Sky

Forward/center | 6-foot-4
2022 playoff stats:
14.3 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 5.7 APG
First-round rank: 3

True to form, Parker’s fingerprints were all over the Sky’s first-round series win over the New York Liberty, in ways both obvious and more subtle; she even came within reach of recording the league’s third postseason triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists in Chicago’s decisive Game 3 win. — Philippou

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Jonquel Jones makes the Wings pay for a turnover as she gets the steal and score right before the end of the third quarter.

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5. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun

Forward | 6-foot-6
2022 playoff stats:
16.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG
First-round rank: 5

Jones’ early foul trouble Wednesday put the Sun in a bit of a bind in their decisive Game 3 battle at Dallas, but her dominant return in the second half demonstrated just how critical she is for the Sun’s success moving forward. Her ability to stay on the floor, and how successfully the Sun can get her touches inside, will be a key for Connecticut to upset Chicago. — Philippou

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6. Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas Aces

Guard | 5-foot-8
2022 playoff stats:
22.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.5 APG
First-round rank: 4

Las Vegas’ guards were spectacular in the series opener, especially with their WNBA-record 23 3-pointers in Game 2. Plum led the Aces in scoring in the regular season and is tied for the lead in the playoffs. She drops a couple of spots only because teammate Gray jumped up. — Voepel

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7. Kahleah Copper, Chicago Sky

Guard/forward | 6-foot-1
2022 playoff stats:
18.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.7 SPG
First-round rank: 17

Copper showed that our pre-playoff ranking was, indeed, too low for the reigning Finals MVP, bursting into the postseason with a pair of 20-point performances. While her quick first step and ability to attack the rim get most of the attention, her defense on Sabrina Ionescu was massive in swinging the series in Chicago’s favor. — Philippou

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After Sabrina Ionescu scores with under ten seconds remaining, the Liberty don’t get back and Candace Parker finds Azura Stevens for the easy bucket before halftime.

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8. Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky

Guard | 5-foot-8
2022 playoff stats:
14.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 8.0 APG
First-round rank: 7

When Vandersloot is at her best — facilitating the Chicago offense and taking over as needed when the team needs a basket — the Sky are so much tougher to beat. So far this postseason, Vandersloot has continued to demonstrate why she’s considered by many to be the best point guard in the league, compiling a pair of point-assist double-doubles and nearly coming through with a point-rebound one in the other game. — Philippou

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9. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun

Forward | 6-foot-2
2022 playoff stats:
11.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.7 APG
First-round rank: 9

Thomas was relatively contained by the Wings’ stingy defense in the first round, especially after she came close to recording a triple-double in Game 1, but the Sun will need her in top form on both ends — including by making smarter decisions with the ball — to flip the script versus the Sky. — Philippou

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10. Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm

Guard | 5-foot-10
2022 playoff stats:
17.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.0 APG
First-round rank: 13

Loyd has improved a bit on her regular-season scoring average and had a strong close-out game against the Mystics, making five 3-pointers on the way to 19 points. Her playoff experience is showing. — Voepel

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11. Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces

Guard | 6-foot-0
2022 playoff stats:
15.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 71.4% 3PT
First-round rank: 11

Young always seems to do everything quietly, but the effect is very loud. She made 5 of 7 from behind the arc in the first round, along with being her usual versatile self defensively. — Voepel

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12. DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut Sun

Forward | 6-foot-4
2022 playoff stats:
14.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.7 APG
First-round rank: 19

Bonner is the only player on the Sun’s roster who has won a WNBA title, and that experience showed Wednesday night, as she took over the game defensively and offensively to help Connecticut overcome an underwhelming start to tie the score right before halftime and then pull away comfortably after the break. — Philippou

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Sue Bird passes to Gabby Williams, who gets the two points.

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13. Sue Bird, Seattle Storm

Guard | 5-foot-9
2022 playoff stats:
14.0 PPG, 6.0 APG, 2.5 RPG
First-round rank: 18

Bird is playing the final games of her career, and the future Hall of Famer is making the most of them. Her scoring average has jumped from her 7.8 PPG in the regular season, with her assists remaining steady as ever. — Voepel

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14. Azurá Stevens, Chicago Sky

Forward/center | 6-foot-6
2022 playoff stats:
14.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG
First-round rank: NR

After a breakout performance in the postseason last year, it’s no shock that Stevens would come through again for the Sky in 2022; her 12 points — which included a transition basket at the buzzer prior to halftime that swung the momentum back in Chicago’s favor — and getting eight rebounds was particularly impactful in helping the Sky keep a sizable lead over the Liberty most of Game 3. — Philippou

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15. Tina Charles, Seattle Storm

Center | 6-foot-4
2022 playoff stats:
10.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.5 APG
First-round rank: 20

Charles’ numbers are down a bit from the regular season, but that reflects the overall elevation of the Storm as a team in the playoffs. The threat Charles poses makes the entirety of Seattle’s inside game even more daunting. — Voepel

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Allie Quigley shows off the range as she gets the steal and instead of going in for the layup, she knocks down the 3-pointer.

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16. Allie Quigley, Chicago Sky

Guard | 5-foot-10
2022 playoff stats:
13.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.7 APG
First-round rank: NR

Quigley’s back-to-back 3-pointers Tuesday to extend the Sky’s lead to 19 midway through the fourth quarter put the series away for good, but James Wade has also been impressed with how locked in the sharpshooter has been defensively, something to watch for as the postseason goes on. — Philippou

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17. Brionna Jones, Connecticut Sun

Forward | 6-foot-3
2022 playoff stats:
12.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG
First-round rank: 10

Jones uncharacteristically struggled at times once the Wings matched Teaira McCowan with her in Game 2, but her ability to finally get going on the offensive glass in Game 3, with a team-high six offensive boards, allowed the Sun to finally get back to their identity and advance to the next round. — Philippou

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18. Gabby Williams, Seattle Storm

Forward | 5-foot-11
2022 playoff stats:
13.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.0 APG
First-round rank: NR

Williams can be a bit up-and-down, but she has been all up in the playoffs in every way: her scoring, her passing, her defense. If the Storm have this version of Williams the rest of the way, it makes them that much harder to beat. — Voepel

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19. Rebekah Gardner, Chicago Sky

Guard | 6-foot-1
2022 playoff stats:
6.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.0 APG
First-round rank: NR

Gardner doesn’t always have the flashiest stats, but she has quickly established herself as one of the premier defenders in the league, with her defense against the Liberty, and particularly Ionescu, serving as a spark for the typically offense-minded Chicago. — Philippou

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20. Emma Meesseman, Chicago Sky

Forward | 6-foot-4
2022 playoff stats:
8.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.3 APG
First-round rank: 12

Meesseman has had a slow start to the postseason offensively (her 12 points in Game 3 marked her best scoring output of the first round), but has shown up defensively for Chicago, something that’ll continue to be critical for the Sky’s ability to assert their dominance on that end of the floor. — Philippou

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DiJonai Carrington has the crowd on its feet as she drains the and-1 to pull the Sun closer late in the fourth quarter.

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21. DiJonai Carrington, Connecticut Sun

Guard/forward | 5-foot-11
2022 playoff stats:
9.7 PPG, 4.7 RPB, 2.0 SPG
First-round rank: NR

Bonner credited Carrington’s defense for helping change the tide of Game 3 after the Sun’s slow start; that, plus her ability to push in transition and get downhill but still be in control, can continue to serve as a spark off the bench for Connecticut. — Philippou

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22. Kiah Stokes, Las Vegas Aces

Center | 6-foot-3
2022 playoff stats:
7.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG
First-round rank: NR

With Dearica Hamby injured, Stokes has stepped into a bigger role. After averaging 15.4 minutes in the regular season, she has jumped to 26.5 for the two playoff games and is tied with Wilson for the team lead in rebounding. — Voepel

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23. Ezi Magbegor, Seattle Storm

Center | 6-foot-4
2022 playoff stats:
7.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG
First-round rank: NR

Magbegor had to adjust when fellow center Charles, a much more veteran player, joined the Storm in late June. But her ability to do that has helped Seattle be a better overall team. — Voepel

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24. Natisha Hiedeman, Connecticut Sun

Guard | 5-foot-8
2022 playoff stats:
6.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.0 APG
First-round rank: NR

Hiedeman’s clutch 3-point shooting (3-for-5) kept the score tight in Game 3 even as Dallas came out of the gates throwing the first punch, and the Sun will need more of that in the semifinals to keep their championship hopes alive. — Philippou

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25. Riquna Williams, Las Vegas Aces

Guard | 5-foot-7
2022 playoff stats:
6.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.0 APG
First-round rank: NR

With as great as the starting guards are playing, the Aces haven’t needed as much from Williams. But she has been ready whenever they have needed her. — Voepel

Fell out: Ariel Atkins, Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Sophie Cunningham, Allisha Gray, Natasha Howard, Sabrina Ionescu, Marina Mabrey, Teaira McCowan

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