Three East teams land in top five spots

Updated: May 16, 2006, 10:19 AM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

We'll know a lot more about how the WNBA's 10th season might shape up in a week, after the first handful of games are played. But until then, here's an early prediction of who has the power heading into the 2006 season, based on the teams' finish last summer and personnel changes since:

2006 PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
  RANK   TEAM REC. COMMENT
Shock 1   Shock 16-18 The Shock have great experience and perhaps the most talented starting five. Swin Cash is back at 100 percent, and Katie Smith lost 15 pounds in the offseason and looks fantastic. Having Kedra Holland-Corn back is a big boost, too. Detroit has it all; the only question mark is whether all these great players can come together.
Monarchs 2   Monarchs 25-9 Although the defending champions lost defensive stalwart Chelsea Newton in the expansion draft, they get every other key part of last season's title team back. The one mystery, however, is forward DeMya Walker's status. She gave birth to a daughter on April 11, and there is no timetable set for her return.
Sun 3   Sun 26-8 Nobody has greater offensive balance in the half court. The Sun have tremendous perimeter scoring, a great inside-out game, height, and the ability to run and defend. But point guard Lindsay Whalen's health is a big concern. Already coming off left ankle surgery, she has been having trouble with her right Achilles.
Storm 4   Storm 20-14 They still have the game's best 1-2 punch in Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson and are very athletic and disciplined. But Seattle seeks some depth and is trying to fill some holes defensively and find some more shooters -- and still is looking for a backup point guard.
5   Fever 21-13 Call it "Extreme Makeover: WNBA Edition." The Fever had the busiest offseason of any team and have more versatility than ever before to complement Tamika Catchings. With Tan White's improved range and the addition of Anna DeForge, this is Indiana's best shooting team in its history. But after the Fever lost both Natalie Williams (retired) and Kelly Schumacher (free agency), their post game will be played by committee -- and must produce.
6   Comets 19-15 The Comets are loaded with some of the game's best and most savvy veterans (think reigning MVP Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Dawn Staley and Tamecka Dixon). But can they overcome their age? Are they willing enough to push tempo? Can they be diversified enough to be more than just a half-court team? Houston also must defend.
Sparks 7   Sparks 17-17 Everything will continue to run through Lisa Leslie and Chamique Holdsclaw, who will get the bulk of the touches. The Sparks lost point guard Nikki Teasley but got a fabulous leader to take over the reins in Temeka Johnson. The key for L.A. is to find that third or fourth scoring option. Mwadi Mabika, who had the worst season of her career in 2005 while limited with a knee injury, needs to be the answer.
Mystics 8   Mystics 16-18 The league's most intriguing team at this point, the Mystics are loaded with talent, have a true star in Alana Beard and have a great coach in Richie Adubato. Washington has all the potential needed to reach the playoffs … but can the team shake off its well-deserved underachieving reputation of the past? Still, at this point, the Mystics are garnering very high expectations if everything comes together.
Mercury 9   Mercury 16-18 Under Paul Westhead, the Mercury will pour in points. But will they be able to rebound and able to play good enough defense at the other end? Rookie Cappie Pondexter and guard Kelly Miller help make up for some devastating losses in the backcourt (Penny Taylor is taking a year off, and DeForge was traded to Indiana), but in a surprising move, Pondexter -- one of the college game's top point guards last season -- primarily is playing the 2 behind Diana Taurasi. Also, the Mercury do not have a dominant big player.
Lynx 10   Lynx 14-20 "We had no answer for her." That already has been the standard postgame comment from opposing coaches and GMs after facing rookie Seimone Augustus, the No. 1 overall pick last month, this preseason. She'll have no problem adjusting to the pro level and fits well into a well-coached program with plenty of talent. The Lynx just need time to pull things together and find their chemistry.
Sting 11   Sting 6-28 The Sting should be a lot more consistent. Allison Feaster is back after giving birth in February; last year's No. 1 overall pick Janel McCarville's back is finally better; and Muggsy Bogues is on board from the start (he was hired for the Sting's final 10 games in '05). Helen Darling, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Sheri Sam must have big games every night, and Kelly Mazzante must step up her game after being a nonfactor a year ago. Rookie Monique Currie has looked great and might end up averaging bigger numbers than she did at Duke.
Silver Stars 12   Silver Stars 7-27 Injuries really hurt San Antonio last season when both former first-round picks Kendra Wecker (ACL) and LaToya Thomas (shoulder) were lost early on. And although Marie Ferdinand is pregnant and expected to miss at least most of the season, the Silver Stars had a great draft, adding Baylor star Sophia Young and Tennessee's Shanna Zolman, who might end up being the steal of the draft (she was 5-for-7 from downtown in one preseason game and is shooting 47 percent on 3-pointers through three games). Bringing in Vickie Johnson is another great move.
Liberty 13  Liberty 18-16 Four starters (including two perennial All-Stars) who combined for 40.1 points and 20.1 rebounds per game last season are gone, lost to free agency or to overseas commitments. Although guard Sherill Baker from Georgia is a solid draft pick, the Liberty are truly suspect in the post. Kelly Schumacher and Barbara Farris, the Liberty's two big inside additions via free agency, combine for only a 4.3 career scoring average. It's time for third-year player Shameka Christon to make the transition from "role" player to "impact" player.
Sky 14   Sky N/A* Dave Cowens did as well as he could in the expansion draft and free agency. This is a young team that will push tempo and get after its opponent. But overall, Chicago just doesn't have the talent the other teams in the league have.

* This is Chicago's first season.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.

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