The WNBA semifinals are wide open with four teams that each have a legitimate shot at winning it all. That’s because they each have a ton of talent. And in the case of the Aces/Storm series there are seven former No. 1 draft picks participating.
The Storm know very well the value of loading up on No. 1 picks. They drafted back-to-back No. 1s in 2001 (Lauren Jackson) and 2002 (Sue Bird) and that duo led them to championships in 2004 and 2010. The Storm won again in 2018 and 2020 with three No. 1 picks: Bird, Jewell Loyd (2015) and Breanna Stewart (2016). The Minnesota Lynx dynasty that won four championships from 2011 to 2017 also featured multiple No. 1 picks: Seimone Augustus (2006) and Maya Moore (2011), as did the 2014 champion Phoenix Mercury: Diana Taurasi (2004) and Brittney Griner (2013).
In all these cases, the team won the championship within three years of drafting the second No. 1 pick: Storm 2002 to 2004 and 2015 to 2018; Lynx 2011; Mercury 2013 to 2014. The 2022 Aces are a year behind schedule as it has been four years since they picked up their second No. 1 pick and three years since they picked up their third. But the Aces have been in the mix for a title both of the past two seasons. They were the No. 1 seed in 2020 and made it all the way to the Finals and then were heavy favorites to win it all entering 2021 and ended one win away from returning to the Finals.
Now, the Aces are again the No. 1 seed and are expected to make the Finals, where some expect them to fall to the defending champion Chicago Sky, though they beat the Sky in this year’s Commissioner’s Cup. 2018 No. 1 pick A’ja Wilson has been the best player in the league this season and has a good shot at winning her second regular-season MVP award. Meanwhile, Vegas’ two other No. 1 picks — Kelsey Plum (2017) and Jackie Young (2019) — have not had as great careers as Wilson, but both joined her as superstars in 2022 with Most Improved-caliber seasons. Though the Aces had better winning percentages in 2020 and 2021, many feel they have played their best basketball in franchise history with Wilson, Plum and Young leading the way in 2022 — better than the way they played when Liz Cambage was Wilson’s co-superstar and Plum and Young had lesser roles.
Meanwhile, the Storm have added yet another No. 1 pick to give them four total. It wasn’t through the draft; 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles came to the team after a midseason contract divorce with the Mercury. Charles is considered to be the greatest WNBA player without a championship and she has been hopping around the league trying to land on a contender ever since her dream of winning a title for her hometown New York City ended when the Liberty traded her to the Washington Mystics prior to the 2020 season. The Mystics were the defending champions at the time and it seemed like Charles teaming up with Elena Delle Donne would allow them to repeat. But Charles and Delle Donne ended up playing just one game together over the course of 2020 and 2021 and Charles elected to switch over to the 2021 runner-up Mercury, thinking that they would be a super team with herself, Griner, Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. But Griner was wrongfully detained in Russia all season and even with Taurasi, Diggins-Smith and Charles, the Mercury were struggling. Charles saw a better opportunity in Seattle.
Bird allows this four-No. 1 pick team to be possible by still being in the league in her 19th season at age 41. And she is still contributing in a big way, especially in Game 2 of the first round when she had 18 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three and 10 assists. Charles, age 33, has had some big games for the Storm too, including a 27-point, 15-rebound performance on July 24, though she is adjusting to not being the No. 1 scoring option for her team for the first time in her career (not counting half a season in Phoenix). That No. 1 option would be Stewart, who has been in the MVP conversation every year she’s been healthy since winning the award for the first time in 2018. She is the main reason Seattle has a chance to upset Vegas and is backed up by arguably the best second-best player in the league in Loyd.
The Storm’s quartet of No. 1 picks has a combined 29 All-Star appearances and 23 All-WNBA selections. The Aces’ trio has six and two, respectively, but if we’re just going by this year, they had more All-Star starters (three) than Seattle (two). Plum and Young both joined Wilson as starters. Plum ended the regular season second in the league in scoring behind Stewart and both she and Young put on a clinic from beyond the arc, shooting 42 and 43.1 percent from out there, respectively. They have truly earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Bird, Charles, Stewart, Wilson and Loyd, and for Plum that also means she is living up to her college success — she is NCAAW Division I’s all-time leading scorer. Young was not as hyped up as a No. 1 pick, instead being selected by Bill Laimbeer because she was a good fit for the Aces at the time and not because she had the electrifying scoring skills of an Arike Ogunbowale (her Notre Dame teammate who went fifth in the same draft). But Young, as mentioned, is a superstar now and has helped the Aces to the brink of a first championship.
We’ll see if the three most recent No. 1 picks in this series can take care of business against the lethal duo that is the 2015 and 2016 No. 1 picks combined with two legendary vets who went No. 1 in 2002 and 2010, respectively.
No. 1 seed Aces
Kelsey Plum (2017)
1 All-Star appearance
A’ja Wilson (2018)
4 All-Star appearances, 2x All-WNBA, 2020 MVP
Jackie Young (2019)
1 All-Star appearance
No. 4 seed Storm
Sue Bird (2002)
13 All-Star appearances, 8x All-WNBA
Tina Charles (2010)
8 All-Star appearances, 9x All-WNBA, 2012 MVP
Jewell Loyd (2015)
4 All-Star appearances, 2x All-WNBA
Breanna Stewart (2016)
4 All-Star appearances, 4x All-WNBA, 2018 MVP