Saturday, July 2, 2022

2022 WNBA season: Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart among key players returning from injuries

As the 2022 WNBA season inches closer and teams have gotten a better look at their rosters with training camp and preseason games, it’s a good time to make note of who fans should be keeping an eye on this summer. CBS Sports already studied the incoming players by grading the draft, now it’s time to look at a different set of players.

There are more than a handful of talented players who missed a part of or all of last season whether it was due to injury, suspension or another reason. Here is a list of returners who are ready to make a comeback and could make a significant impact on their respective teams.

Elena Delle Donne – F, Washington Mystics

There is no doubt Delle Donne can be considered one of the best players in the league, although ongoing back issues have certainly limited her in the last few years. She sustained a back injury in Game 2 of the 2019 WNBA Finals and had to go through two back surgeries because of it. She opted out the entire 2020 season and only appeared in three games last year. Delle Donne finally stepped back on the court during the Mystics 78-66 win over the Lynx on Wednesday’s preseason game and it was almost as if she never left. The 6’5″ forward showed off her offensive versatility by registering 21 points in 18 minutes while going 9-of-13 from the field, including three successful shots from beyond the arc. 

Breanna Stewart – F, Seattle Storm

The 2021 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup MVP suffered an injury on Sept. 7 during the Storm’s 105-71 win against Washington. She underwent surgery for a minor repair and reinforcement of the Achilles tendon in her left leg, which led to her missing the last two games of that regular season and the postseason. It appears the offseason gave her more than enough time to recover. She had a solid performance on her first game back with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting during Seattle’s 81-69 preseason win over the LA Sparks on April 23. Steward, a two-time WNBA Finals MVP, has proven to be a big factor in the Storm’s success and a key reason as to why Seattle is one of the preseason favorites.

Emma Meesseman – F, Chicago Sky

Meesseman had been with Washinton since the 2013 season but signed as a free agent with the defending champion Chicago Sky in February. The 2019 Finals MVP skipped the 2021 season to take a much needed break after participating in the European Championship and the Tokyo Olympics. The Belgian forward’s return to the WNBA puts Chicago in a great spot as the team lost Diamond DeShields and Stefanie Dolson. Meesseman is the third former Finals MVP on the Sky roster along with Candace Parker and Kahleah Copper. Through her seven seasons playing in the league, Messseman is averaging 11.3 points on 51.3 percent shooting, as well as 5.3 rebounds per game. She scored 24 points going 10-of-15 from the field in the Sky’s 92-77 preseason loss to the Dallas Wings on April 25.

Alysha Clark – F, Washington Mystics

The two-time WNBA All-Defensive team selection sat out the entire 2021 season after she suffered a Lisfranc injury on her right foot while playing in France during the offseason. Clark spent her first nine seasons with Seattle but signed with the Mystics during the 2021 free agency period. She did not participate in the first two Washington preseason games but it appears she is getting close to returning. Due to the severe nature of the injury, she is expected to continue rehab throughout the season. 

Alyssa Thomas – F, Connecticut Sun

Thomas tore her Achilles tendon while playing in the Czech Republic early in 2021. It took her almost nine months to get back on the court, so she only appeared in two regular season games and the playoffs. Having her for a full season will be beneficial for the Sun as she had been showing noticeable improving every year until her injury. In 2020 she averaged 15.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Thomas also made the All-Defensive First Team that year — she had made the second team twice already in 2017 and 2019. 

Angel McCoughtry – F/G, Minnesota Lynx

The two-time Olympian and five-time All-Star left the Las Vegas Aces and signed with the Lynx in February. McCoughtry appeared in only one game last season due to a torn ACL in her right knee that occurred less than three minutes into the Aces’ preseason game against Los Angeles. While she didn’t get to participate last season, her potential for a strong return is there. McCoughtry was coming off a 2020 season in which she registered the best shooting percentages in her WNBA career by making 51.8 percent of her shots, including 47.1 percent from three-point range. She also had her career-best 88.2% from the charity line.

Asia Durr – G, New York Liberty 

The former Louisville Cardinal was selected No. 2 overall in the 2019 draft but their experience in the league has been limited since then. They appeared in 18 games during her first season and averaged 9.7 points per game, however, they missed 16 games after suffering a hip injury and has not played since. Durr tested positive for COVID-19 in June 2020 and struggled with recovery so they opted out as a medical high risk player. In November 2021, Durr was finally cleared to return to the court.

Gabby Williams – F, Seattle Storm

Williams represented France in the Tokyo Olympics and did so in a terrific manner. She averaged 10.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game to help the French earn the Bronze medal. Williams did not participate in the 2021 WNBA season as Chicago put her on a full-season suspension for not making the Sky a “priority.” She was later traded to the Sparks and then acquired by the Storm in February. Even with that suspension, Williams is coming in hot. She just led Sopron Basket to their first ever EuroLeague championship with an average of 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 steals throughout the playoffs. Unsurprisingly, Williams was named the Final Four MVP.

Chennedy Carter – G, Los Angeles Sparks

Carter has only played 27 games in the WNBA, but right away she showed her potential. During the 2020 season with Atlanta, the 5’9″ guard became the youngest player in WNBA history to score 30 points at 21 years and 266 days of age when she registered 35 points against Seattle. She played 16 games that season and missed six due to an ankle injury. Last season Carter was on the court for only 11 games due to a hyperextended elbow, and later because of suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team.” She registered double-digits in eight of the games she did play with four of those being 20+ point performances. If she can stay out of trouble and out of injury, Los Angeles will benefit greatly from her talent. 

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