2021 WNBA Free Agency: Players who earned money in the Wubble
The WNBA's bubble provided players with an opportunity to earn a big pay raise. These players did just that.
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With WNBA Free Agency upon us, plenty of players are about to get PAID. The league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement provides for higher salaries, so 2020 represented the first chance for many players to earn a big raise. Here are some players who took full advantage of that opportunity by balling out in the Wubble.
Quick Disclaimer: I picked players that I felt actually increased their contract value in the 2020 season, not just players who played well in a contract year. For example, Chelsea Gray is not on this list despite a great season because she would have likely received a max contract regardless.
This list could easily start and end with Betnijah Laney. But then it wouldn’t be much of a list. After the Indiana Fever cut Laney in training camp, the 27-year-old put up BY FAR her best season ever with the Atlanta Dream en route to winning the Most Improved Player award.
Due to injuries, Laney cemented herself as a key piece of the Dream early on, and just kept getting better. She finished second on the team with 17.2 points per game, and she made the WNBA All-Defensive First Team. She did everything the team asked of her in the Wubble.
On offense, Laney can hit threes at a great rate, even if she regresses from her 40% mark last year. Laney doesn’t need the ball to be effective, but can also handle it fine when needed to. With Atlanta, she discovered her passing ability by assisting on 20% of her teammate’s scores. Her previous career-high in assist rate was 10%.
In terms of her fit with the Dream, though, Laney’s turnover issues (16.6% TO rate) may not make her the best fit with Chennedy Carter, Courtney Williams and/or the returning Tiffany Hayes. She may also not get as many minutes, considering the glut of wings if Hayes comes backs as expected. However, Laney clearly works well with coach Nikki Collen and brings great energy to the team.
Laney may also seek a bigger role now that she has proven herself worthy of it. Regardless of her decision on where to play, Laney has gone from getting cut to signing a minimum contract to being a highly sought-after free agent. Hopefully, her rise only continues after she gets this payday.
Like Laney, Cheyenne Parker’s growth this season had much to do with opportunity from other players being out. After coming off the bench for the vast majority of her first five years in the league, Parker started 13 of the 20 games she played in 2020 due to Jantel Lavender’s absence, Stefanie Dolson’s nagging injuries, Astou Ndour’s departure and Azura Stevens’s late-season injury.
While it took a lot for Parker to get the starting role, she absolutely thrived in it. She put up career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game. Parker did it with remarkable efficiency as her points per scoring attempt (1.03) and effective field goal percentage (59.7%) ranked among the league’s best. She also showed some stretchy-ness by tripling her three point rate and led the team in defensive win shares and defensive rating.
Due to Parker’s stellar season, Chicago head coach James Wade has crowned her as the team’s center going forward. To that end, Parker has already told Madeline Kenney of the Chicago Sun-Times that she wants to return to the Sky.
It seems like the only question is how much it will cost. In our mock offseason, Parker got a three-year max contract (starts at $190,550) to stay put. Unless Parker is willing to take a discount (WHICH NO PLAYER SHOULD EVER DO), a max deal seems possible and a big raise seems inevitable.
Brittney Sykes may have earned a lot of money from just one play this season.
Sykes had a litany of highlight blocks throughout the season thanks to her ridiculous athleticism. But we already knew about her athletic ability. What Sykes showed in the Wubble was that she can be a top-end role player on a contending team.
Her counting stats (except for steals) all fell off a bit with the Sparks, but her efficiency skyrocketed. Sykes posted career highs in points per scoring attempt, effective field goal percentage and free throw rate. Despite not shooting much or well from three, she still commands attention off-ball from defenses as a cutter and offensive rebounder.
Sykes’ value is mainly on the defensive end. She made the All-Defensive Second Team in 2020 and ranked 10th in steal percentage. She also finished second on the team in defensive rating, only behind Defensive Player of the year Candace Parker. Despite the accolades, Sykes still has room to grow on defense. Still, she may end up being a premier wing defender in the WNBA if she can foul less and stop taking too many chances.
The catch for Sykes is that she is a restricted free agent. LA’s match rights might depress her market a bit, especially if contending teams spend their money on big names. However, it seems likely that at least one team will chase her and that she will get a sizable contract.
Brionna Jones is another player who stepped up for an absent teammate. She started every game but one in the Wubble due to Jonquel Jones opting out. Bri Jones acquitted herself very well, helping the Connecticut Sun get within one game of the WNBA Finals, and proved herself as a starting center in the WNBA.
Jones averaged 11.2 points per game while shooting 60.5% from the field, which was the third-best mark in the league. In fairness, almost 80% of her shots came within the paint. But she still showed a knack for finding gaps to catch passes. She also was an offensive rebounding machine, which helped the Sun’s offense immensely.
Jones was very stout defensively as well. She stole the ball on 2.9% of opponent possessions. Only four players in the WNBA had a better steal rate. Her block rate was not impressive, but her presence in the paint allowed the Sun’s perimeter defenders to press their assignments.
Bri Jones, like Cheyenne Parker, showed that she can be a starting center in the WNBA. Now, it’s time for her to get paid like one.
Honorable mention--Everyone in this thread:
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what about Jordin Canada? she is very very underrated, we NEED her, especially if we lose Sammi