Predicting the 2020 WNBA Playoffs

What can we expect from the IMG Wubble to cap off one of the most unusual seasons in the league's history?
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The WNBA postseason will get underway Tuesday evening when the No. 6 Sky take on the No. 7 Sun in the first of two first-round, single-elimination games. Later Tuesday night, the fifth-seeded Mercury will battle the eighth-seeded Mystics . If the excitement of the regular season is any indication, the upcoming playoffs should be a thrilling affair. A worthy champion will be crowned in the upcoming weeks, capping off what has been the most unusual season in the league’s history. Here’s a look at how we think the postseason might shake out:

WNBA champion: Storm over Aces in four games

While the Aces claimed the league’s top seed on Sunday by knocking off the Storm, 86–84, Seattle shouldn’t be doubted heading into the postseason. Throughout the highly unusual regular season, 26-year-old Breanna Stewart reintegrated into her team with ease after missing last season with an Achilles injury. Despite being the No. 2 seed, Seattle ranks No. 1 in points scored per 100 possessions and No. 1 in points allowed per 100 possessions. “We’re never really satisfied, there’s another level of our game,” two-time All-Star guard Jewell Loyd said after her team clinched its double-bye last week.

Would it be a total surprise to see the Storm falter, though? No, not at all. Las Vegas finished the season 18–4 and went 6–0 combined against the Storm, Sparks and Lynx, the No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds, respectively. Star forward-center A’ja Wilson is unquestionably one of the WNBA’s top players, and arguably did more for her team than anyone else in the league. However, the depth of Seattle’s roster could prove to be the difference in a potential Finals matchup, and the Storm’s postseason experience shouldn’t be overlooked. Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark, Jordin Canada and, of course, Stewart round out arguably the best six-person core in the league. “We’re going to be able to get prepared for them and beat them if we ever get to a situation where we play them again,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said Sunday. Seattle took home the WNBA title in 2018. Now, with its star forward back in the fold, look for it to regain the crown.

Player to watch: A’ja Wilson

Wilson is slowly checking off more and more boxes throughout the early stages of her WNBA career. She won Rookie of the Year in her first season and made All-Star appearances in each of her first two seasons (there was no All-Star Game this year). She finished the regular season second in points per game and first in blocks per game. Wilson’s 8.6 rebounds per contest was also near the top of the league.

But what made her performance—and in turn, the performance of the Aces—so impressive is that Wilson played at such an elite level, despite the franchise missing former league scoring leader Liz Cambage. Sunday’s victory over the Storm might have tilted the MVP scales in Wilson’s favor. A WNBA title would be an even better capper.

A lot is riding on the South Carolina product’s shoulders this postseason as she is at the center of everything the Aces do on both ends of the floor. Angel McCoughtry, Kayla McBride, Dearica Hamby and Jackie Young are all solid contributors, but the Aces will go as far as Wilson takes them. If she elevates her game to another level, Las Vegas will be even tougher to beat than they already have been.

Sleeper pick: Chicago Sky

Last year, a last-second heave from Aces forward Hamby abruptly ended the Sky’s playoff run and kept Chicago from advancing to the league’s semifinals. This season, the Sky are hoping to make a deep postseason push. Courtney Vandersloot put herself near the top of the league’s MVP conversation this summer and led the league in assists (219) by an absurd margin (91 more than the second-highest assist leader, Julie Allemand of Indiana). Vandersloot also averaged the most points in her career and totaled career highs in field, three-point and free throw percentages. The injury, and eventual bubble departure, of 2019 leading scorer Diamond DeShields could end up being a major hindrance in the postseason, but Chicago still has a talented roster, and it’s led by an experienced and prolific guard.

In terms of possible matchups, the Sky split their season series with the Sun, but if they advance into the second round, they should feel confident playing either the Sparks or Lynx. While they lost twice to the Lynx in the regular season, they did so by just five combined points. And they dominated the Sparks in their second game of the season before dropping a close contest late in the year. Having a guard as talented and poised as Vandersloot could go a long way in the postseason, especially since they need to win just two games to advance into the final four.

Bold prediction: An early-round playoff game will end on a buzzer beater.

Throughout the 2020 WNBA regular season, we’ve seen a number of buzzer-beater shots either decide games or push them to overtime. Loyd buried the Sparks at the buzzer in an early-September win. Skylar Diggins-Smith nailed a 45-foot buzzer beater to force overtime in an eventual Mercury win over the Sun. Arike Ogunbowale hit a game-tying three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left in regulation en route to a career-high 39-point outing that kept the Wings’ playoff push alive. Just like last year, don’t be surprised if a last-second shot sends a WNBA team out of the IMG Wubble. Single-elimination games seem to invite late-game drama. And in a year with few certainties, don’t be surprised if a miracle shot shakes up the playoff bracket.