What We Learned On Opening Day Of The 2020 WNBA Season

The WNBA kicked off its 24th season on Saturday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida with three action-packed games. The day saw the returns of Seattle Storm stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird from injury, the rookie debut of Sabrina Ionescu, and plenty of players show out for their new teams after a historically busy free agency period for the league. Here’s what we learned from the opening day’s slate of games.

1. The WNBA kept its promise to support Black lives

Earlier this month, the WNBA announced that it would dedicate this season to furthering the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting for justice for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT who was killed by Louisville police officers. Some of the planned initiatives include having the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on the courts, placards with Taylor’s name on the backs of players’ jerseys, and a player-led Social Justice Council.

Ahead of the opening game between the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm, players Layshia Clarendon and Breanna Stewart took mics into their hands and spoke about the importance of getting justice for Taylor before both teams held a 26-second moment of silence to remember her life. The players helped initiate the league’s conversation about social justice and it is really heartening that the WNBA is working with them on ways to keep the momentum going. As a league composed of 80 percent Black players and the first American basketball league to return to play, the WNBA is in such a unique and important position and the women of the league have been using their platforms admirably.

As President of the Players’ Association Nneka Ogwumike said postgame, “Our movement has found its moment.”

2. Breanna Stewart proved she’s back to full health

The Storm’s Breanna Stewart made her long-awaited return from a torn achilles injury in Saturday’s opener against the Liberty and looked sharp, scoring a team-high 18 points, eight rebounds, and four steals along with two assists. The 6’4 forward missed last year but enjoyed an outstanding season in 2018, averaging a career-high 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per contest on her way to earning league MVP and helping the Storm win their third championship. If Stewart can consistently put up those kinds of numbers this season, Seattle will surely like their chances to win a fourth title in Bradenton.

3. Sabrina Ionescu belongs in this league

There were plenty of debuts to go around for the Liberty, with a roster that includes only two returning players from 2019. Point guard Layshia Clarendon impressed, scoring a team-high 20 points and earning two steals, three assists, and two rebounds. And, after much anticipation, rookie sensation Sabrina Ionescu finally got her first taste of league action on Saturday, slotting in at the two. The Storm certainly took her presence personally, but the former Oregon star looked solid, scoring, rebounding, and giving instructions to her teammates. Ionescu may not have had a show-stopping night against one of the league’s best, but she definitely showed that she belongs in the WNBA.

4. The Los Angeles Sparks are not here on vacation

The Sparks must have heard everyone (yours truly, included) pinning the Storm as all but guaranteed to stroll to the 2020 championship, because the team from L.A. did not come to play … or rather, that’s exactly what they came to do. The Sparks completely outclassed the Phoenix Mercury by a score of 99-76, and everyone stepped up in the win. Candace Parker looked like her old, unstoppable self which will be a worrisome sign for the rest of the league, putting up 13 points, seven rebounds, and an assist. Meanwhile, Ogwumike and new addition Seimone Augustus went a perfect 14-for-14 from the field, with the latter scoring a game-high 21 points, six rebounds, and two assists. L.A. put on a show for opening weekend and everyone will be watching to see if they can keep that up.

5. Never doubt Mike Thibault and the Washington Mystics

If you thought that the Washington Mystics would fall off this year without league MVP Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Tina Charles, and Kristi Toliver, you would be justified. But Saturday showed that you should never, ever doubt this team and head coach Mike Thibault. The defending champions are an extremely well-oiled machine, and they proved how they know exactly how to run Thibault’s system. They took care of the Indiana Fever in a comfortable 101-76 win and looked deadly on offense — by the time halftime rolled around, the Mystics were hitting a scorching 72 percent of their shots.

The 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman scored 14 points, five rebounds, and three assists while Aerial Powers had 16 points, five rebounds, and two assists. Another player to keep an eye on is Myisha Hines-Allen, who reached a career-high 22 points in the first half before finishing with 27 points on 64.7 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, and two assists. Out of all six teams that played on Saturday, Hines-Allen led all players in scoring and rebounds.

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