The WNBA is inundated with early-season injuries, and it could be a sign that the league's schedule needs adjusting
- More than a dozen WNBA players have sustained injuries just two weeks into the 2021 season.
- Stars like Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, Elena Delle Donne, and more are out early in the year.
- The WNBA's injury epidemic is raising questions about the league's preseason schedule.
WNBA players are dropping like flies.
More than a dozen top players are sidelined with injuries just a few weeks into the league's highly-anticipated 2021 season. From rookies to key role players and former MVPs, stars across the WNBA's 12 teams are set to miss time after getting banged up in the course of play.
-Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) May 26, 2021
For a league with roughly 144 players in total, the number of athletes relegated to their teams' benches due to injury is staggering. There are a handful of factors that leave the WNBA's stars partciularly vulnerable to bodily harm, but none more damning than their preseason schedule - or lack thereof.
The vast majority of top women's basketball players spend the WNBA offseason playing abroad, where they typically command considerably higher salaries. But without a break between their campaigns overseas and in the WNBA, players often endure significant wear and tear on their bodies.
The physical consequences of skipping recovery can be stark. The Liberty's Jocelyn Willoughby suffered an Achilles tear after spending the offseason in Israel. Sky sharpshooter Allie Quigley is struggling with a hamstring strain after winning Russian and Euroleague titles with UMMC Ekaterinburg this spring. The Sun's Briann January tweaked her ankle after returning stateside from a full season with Hungarian squad Sopron Basket.
Aerial Powers. Natasha Howard. Bria Hartley. Natisha Hiedeman. The list goes on.
But even the WNBA's biggest names - the ones who can afford to spend their offseasons resting and recovering - aren't exempt from the injury onslaught. Diana Taurasi - who is widely considered the WNBA's greatest of all time - sustained a sternum fracture that'll keep her off the court for at least a month. Newly-minted Chicago Sky superstar Candace Parker has a gnarly-looking ankle injury. And two-time league MVP Elena Delle Donne is still recovering from back surgery.
The league's short preseason is likely to blame. The 2021 WNBA preseason - from the start of training camp to tip off of the regular season - was just 19 days in total. And that's on par with past years, before COVID-19 was a factor in determining the league's schedule.
Even for athletes in peak physical shape, three weeks is hardly enough time to prepare for the strain placed on the body during the WNBA season. And it's even worse for athletes who join their teams straight from overseas, or arrive late to training camp, or jump into regular-season play without any preseason at all.
There's no apparent, immediate answer. The league can't afford to bump salaries enough to disincentivize overseas play at present, and moving the season to a different time of year would introduce a slew of unrelated complications.
Still, the need for a solution is evident as more players get hurt and more teams lose key pieces. And until the WNBA finds a way out, it'll continue miss crucial opportunities to showcase its stars.
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