The 2022 WNBA season isn’t over just yet, but there’s already been more than enough big moments to talk about. With the playoff semifinals winding down and the championship match-up fast approaching, here are 10 of the most noteworthy moments from this season of basketball, listed in alphabetical order.
1. An MVP Battle for the Ages
Some years, it’s abundantly clear who the most valuable player in the league is. Other times, it’s much more complicated – and this was one of those years. Two players, A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces and Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm, separated themselves from the rest of the pack early on this season. The two post players have been battling at an elite level since they played against each other in college, and both are the primary reason why their teams are as good as they are this year. All season long, they’ve given WNBA fans delightful face-offs, and their greatness has drawn comparisons to the legendary rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Although A’ja Wilson was named the MVP, they both had excellent cases for the award, and with many more years potentially ahead, this competition between two young legends is just getting started.
2. Atlanta Dream Shake Things Up
In 2021, the Atlanta Dream was a mess. Their intended coach quit just before the season started, three of their players got suspended, and they only managed to win eight games the entire season. This year, they were projected to be at the very bottom of the league — and to be fair, they did end up finishing 10th overall. Though they didn’t make the playoffs, they still looked much better than projected, and rookie Rhyne Howard made a splash from the start. The final stats might not show it, but Atlanta most definitely surpassed expectations, and they laid a solid foundation that they can build on going forward.
3. Brittney Griner
No article covering the WNBA would be complete without touching on Brittney Griner’s devastating circumstances. After playing abroad in Russia this offseason, she was detained by Russian authorities and has now been sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly bringing hashish oil into the country. Her absence alone would have been significant, but the circumstances make the entire thing downright tragic. Without her here this season, the WNBA just wasn’t the same and there is perhaps nothing more noteworthy on this list than her situation.
4. Las Vegas Makes a Change
For the past couple of seasons, Vegas has been in a deep always-the-bridesmaid phase, where they make it into the playoffs only to lose before they can lift that trophy at the end. After a few years of this pattern, management decided to switch it up, so they brought in NBA assistant coach Becky Hammon, who played for the Vegas franchise herself when she was in the WNBA. Hammon flipped the entire gameplan of the team and in doing so, created a monster. With high-volume three-point shooting and the spacing to give A’ja Wilson room to shine, the Aces have entirely transformed, and are now one of the most exciting W teams to watch by far.
5. Liz Cambage’s Rocky Road
Liz Cambage has spent her entire WNBA career itching to get to Los Angeles. So, when she made her move onto the Sparks roster, it seemed like her dreams were finally coming true. Fast forward a few months later, and she’s found herself in the role of the villain. After underperforming, chasing out her head coach, and then exiting the W for what seems like the final time, it’s safe to say that Cambage had a wild time this summer. Add in the allegations of racism that followed her around this year, and it’s easy to see why, exactly, what looked like a promising WNBA match turned into a nightmare.
6. Marine Johannes’ “Pass of the Year”
Johannes played for the New York Liberty this season after a season in France, and she brought highlight-reel energy with her. She quickly became known for her fast pace of play and ability to knock down dagger threes even when heavily contested or shooting off-balance. The biggest moment of her season, though, came when she threw this incredible pass during the first game of the playoffs. It took the internet by storm, and for good reason — it was a beautiful piece of basketball, and it’s absolutely worth a watch or seven.
7. Rookies Came To Play
This year, the top three overall draft picks came to play. The Rhyne Howard was the first overall pick, and her impact and energy for Atlanta cannot be overstated. NaLyssa Smith, the second pick, went to Indianapolis to play for the Fever. Though the team ended the season with a miserable 5-31 record, Smith was a bright spot, averaging 13.5 points and 7.9 rebounds in her first season as a pro player. Finally, No. 3 pick Shakira Austin was a very impressive force for the Washington Mystics — not only did she manage to snag a spot in the starting lineup over significantly more experienced players, but she also brought a defensive intensity and presence that turned a lot of heads. Rookies often face a steep learning curve when they first start playing in the W, but these three held their own, and watching them grow and shine was a highlight of the season.
8. Storm v. Aces, Game 3
The phrase “instant classic” gets overused a lot, but it completely applies in this instance. The third game of the Storm-Aces semifinal series was incredible from start to finish. After getting down by 15, the Storm came storming back (pun very much intended) to make it a high-octane back-and-forth contest. After two consecutive buzzer-beater shots — one from Sue Bird and one from Aces guard Jackie Young — the game went into overtime, with Vegas eventually winning 110-98. It was arguably the most exciting game of the season, and it raised the stakes even higher for the next game in the series. If there’s one “instant classic” on this list and in this season, it’s this game right here.
9. The End of an Era
Before this season even began, Lynx legend Sylvia Fowles announced that she would be retiring at the conclusion of the season. Then, on June 16, superstar point guard Sue Bird issued her own retirement notice. Both players have had monumental careers: Bird has been the Seattle Storm’s cornerstone for 20 years, and Fowles has been nothing short of one of the most outstanding centers to ever play the game. With 20 All-Star nods between the two all-time greats, both Fowles and Bird left an undeniable impact on the game. Their absence from the W going forward marks a significant turning point, and both will be very much missed.
10. Tina Charles’ Search for Greener Grass
After the 2021 season wrapped up, the Mercury got to work assembling a superteam. They still had Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi from seasons past, and in the offseason, they acquired dynamite guard Diamond DeShields and reigning league-leading scorer Tina Charles. However, after Griner’s detainment, the Mercury quickly — and understandably — crumbled, losing eight of their first 10 games. Charles, who has been in the league since 2010, decided that enough was enough and jumped ship. She’s now with Seattle and playing much better than she was with Phoenix, so it seems like the move was the right one for her in the end. The entire situation was incredibly messy, though, and really encapsulated all the drama and tension that the Mercury had to slog through this season.
The 2022 WNBA season is almost over, but if the trajectory of this season tells us anything, it’s that these last few games are going to be just as full of the big moments as the rest of the summer has been — so grab some popcorn, pull up a chair, and get ready to see some more greatness live on air.