The 2021 WNBA All-Stars will be unveiled Wednesday, and at least a few players are expected to be named to the midseason showcase for the first time.
The WNBA All-Stars will play Team USA on July 14 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) at Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Fans (50%), current WNBA players (25%) and a national media panel (25%) voted for the All-Stars, with the league’s coaches selecting a 12-player team from among the top 36 vote-getters.
With players such as reigning MVP A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart competing for Team USA — the 12-member U.S. women’s national team’s roster for the Tokyo Olympics was announced June 21 — which WNBA players do we expect to be named All-Stars?
Our panel — ESPN.com’s Kelly Cohen, Kevin Pelton and Mechelle Voepel, and The Undefeated’s Sean Hurd — filled out a 10-player ballot (four backcourt players and six frontcourt players, to match the official WNBA ballot) and voted for two additional players to round out the 12-player team.
A look at ESPN.com’s All-Star ballot, and the toughest questions we debated as we finalized our vote. (* Denotes players who would be first-time WNBA All-Stars)
Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky: She’s again leading the WNBA in assists (8.5 APG), just as she has the past four seasons. On a balanced Chicago offense, she’s also averaging 11.7 points while also getting a team-high 2.0 steals per game. At age 32 and in her 11th season in the WNBA, Vandersloot remains one the best floor generals in the league. — Voepel
Betnijah Laney*, New York Liberty: Laney’s claim to an All-Star selection is as strong as any other player our panel picked. She began the season with eight straight 20-point games (second longest streak in WNBA history). She’s currently fifth in the league in scoring (19.9 PPG) and is one of just three of the top 10 scorers who are shooting better than 50% from the field. Laney also ranks seventh in the league in assists (5.2). — Hurd
Arike Ogunbowale*, Dallas Wings: One of the most versatile scorers in the WNBA, Ogunbowale has already hit some of the season’s most memorable shots and has a knack for coming up big in the clutch. The league’s fourth-leading scorer (20.3 PPG), Ogunbowale has helped the young Wings win their past two games to move to 8-8, already matching their win total in 2020. — Cohen
Courtney Williams*, Atlanta Dream: She has long been one of the league’s most dynamic scorers, and that part of her game remains strong at 17.1 PPG this season. But Williams is also currently leading the Dream in assists (3.8 APG) and rebounds (6.8 RPG). Atlanta has struggled this season in part due to injuries, but the Dream have been able to count on Williams. She also leads Atlanta in minutes played at 35.1 per game. — Voepel
Liz Cambage, Las Vegas Aces: Cambage sat out the 2020 season in Bradenton, Florida, due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. After watching her play 15 games this season, Cambage looks like the missing link that the Aces need to win their first WNBA championship. It’s hard to match the skillset of the 6-foot-8 center. Her presence and chemistry on the court with her teammates — even if she isn’t playing her best game — are vital to Las Vegas’ success, and that, to me, is All-Star behavior. — Cohen
Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun: The MVP front-runner when she left to lead Bosnia & Herzegovina to a fifth-place finish in EuroBasket and a spot in the World Cup Qualifying Tournament, Jones has been the WNBA’s best player on a per-minute basis this season. She remains second in my wins above replacement player metric. She’s a no-brainer pick. — Pelton
DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut Sun: Bonner might not garner as much attention as she should playing alongside Jonquel Jones. But her recent Eastern Conference Player of the Week nod after averaging 24.0 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists is the latest reminder that Bonner has been an All-Star force for the Sun this season. — Hurd
Candace Parker, Chicago Sky: If we’re talking about a player’s value to a team, look no further than Parker’s record when she’s on the floor (8-1) for the Sky compared to when she’s not (1-7). When healthy, Parker has been excellent for Chicago on both sides of the ball — especially on the defensive end. Parker leads the league (for players averaging at least 20 minutes a game) in defensive rating and defensive win shares. — Hurd
Brionna Jones*, Connecticut Sun: After impressing in the Wubble last season as Jonquel Jones’ replacement at center, Brionna Jones has maintained that level of play next to her namesake as part of one of the league’s top frontcourts. Brionna has been even better with Jonquel unavailable during EuroBasket, averaging 18 PPG on 61% shooting over the past five games. — Pelton
Dearica Hamby*, Las Vegas: Though Hamby isn’t a starter, her defense is some of the best in the league. Her veteran clutch shots are always great, too. She’s averaging 11.2 PPG to give the Aces six players in double figures, and she ranks third on arguably the best team in the WNBA with 6.1 RPG. — Cohen
Which players get the final two spots?
Sami Whitcomb*, New York Liberty: A full-time starter for the first time in her career at age 32, Whitcomb is averaging a career-high 12.3 PPG and is the WNBA’s most efficient shooter. She’s making 65% of her 2-point attempts and 45% on 3s, hitting a league-high 43 of them, to post the league’s best true shooting percentage at .688. — Pelton
Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks: Yes, she last played June 1 and has just five games under her belt this season. But averaging 16.4 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 58.6 percent from the field, she looked to be her normal dominant self in that short window. In her 10th WNBA season, Ogwumike has been one of the most consistent performers in the league in a long time. — Voepel
Which player was the toughest decision?
There was some controversy, as is usually the case, with the selection of the 12 players who will represent the United States at the Olympics. Team USA is seeking its seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal, and the strength of the talent pool is so great that deserving candidates always get left off the team.
Los Angeles Sparks coach Derek Fisher ripped USA Basketball for its decision to leave forward Nneka Ogwumike off the U.S. women’s basketball Olympic squad, calling the ongoing omission of the six-time All-Star and former MVP a “travesty.”
Should Ogwumike be an All-Star? Hey, there are good reasons — which we’ll also get to — to say no. But it’s not just a sentimental choice to include Ogwumike because she was left off the Olympic team for the third time, the only league MVP in WNBA history who hasn’t had that honor. There’s also the fact that if the league is looking for more drama and competitiveness for the All-Star Game, Ogwumike’s inclusion could bring both.
She’s not the type to talk negatively about USA Basketball, but there’s no doubt she was surprised and hurt to not make the U.S. team. She might not outwardly display the fire that might be burning in her in that regard, but it would be something to spark the All-Stars.
Yes, this is an exhibition, but the stakes might feel a little higher if Ogwumike is on the team. Of course, all this is provided that she is healthy enough to play. If she isn’t, commissioner Cathy Engelbert can pick a replacement. — Voepel
The case against including Ogwumike: Ogwumike undoubtedly is one of the best players in the league, but she has only played five games and is currently injured. She went down with a knee injury in early June for 4-6 weeks and still has no timetable for her return. Sure, she was averaging 16.4 PPG and 7.0 RPG in those games, and sure, the Sparks have struggled without her, but there are players who are not injured who have been playing that well all season. The injury is not Ogwumike’s fault, but healthy players should get the nod here over her. — Cohen
What other guards did you consider?
For a good stretch of the early season, Dallas’ Marina Mabrey’s play was on par with the best in the league. Through the first eight games of the season, Mabrey was averaging 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game. But a changed role with the Wings due to the return of teammates like Satou Sabally and Alisha Gray, and inconsistent shooting displays, hampered Mabrey’s chances a bit. Still, she has showed she’s capable of those big-game performances, most recently dropping 28 in a win against Minnesota on June 19. She just missed this list. — Hurd
Chennedy Carter is such a joy to watch. In just her second WNBA season, she’s averaging 16.8 PPG and 3.4 RPG. Those aren’t the flashiest numbers, and the Atlanta Dream are not having the best of seasons, but she came back from an injury setback this season and has been playing great basketball since. — Cohen
Los Angeles’ Erica Wheeler has had a lot on her shoulders with all the injuries that the Sparks have dealt with, and she has been a big part of keeping them afloat as much as possible. Wheeler is averaging 13.1 PPG and 4.4 APG. Her 3-point percentage (28.6) is a ways off the 38.4% she shot from behind the arc in 2019, when she was the All-Star Game MVP. But without Wheeler, the Sparks could be in worse shape than their current 6-8 record. — Voepel
What other frontcourt players did you consider?
I thought Stefanie Dolson should have been strongly considered in the frontcourt. She was named to the US 3×3 Olympic team! She’s back and healthy and has been part of the reason Chicago has turned around its season. — Cohen
I favored another Sky player, one who is eligible as either a frontcourt or backcourt choice. We mentioned Chicago’s balanced offense earlier, and leading the way in that is guard-forward Kahleah Copper. She is tops for the Sky in minutes played (32.2) and scoring (13.9). — Voepel