Five burning questions before the 2016 WNBA season tips

Rookie Aerial Powers and the Wings open the season at Indiana on Saturday. Dallas' home opener is May 21 against San Antonio. Jeff Haynes/NBAE/Getty Images

This is going to be a summer of reflection for the WNBA and its followers as the league celebrates its 20th season. And while looking back is an important and necessary thing for the still-young WNBA to do, there also is a great deal to look forward to.

There's the excitement of having Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor back in Phoenix after resting last season. The buzz about how various rookies, including No. 1 pick Breanna Stewart of Seattle, will transition to the pros. There's a team in a new city, as the Wings are introduced to Dallas. And a legend, Indiana's Tamika Catchings, will be saying farewell at season's end.

There's Chicago's Elena Delle Donne trying to repeat as MVP, while Minnesota attempts a repeat as WNBA champion. There are Olympic medals at stake -- including a possible sixth consecutive gold for the United States -- in the Rio de Janeiro Games. And a new playoff format will combine some NCAA tournament-style one-and-done drama with best-of-five series.

The WNBA tips off with five games Saturday, including a matchup of the past two champions as Minnesota hosts Phoenix (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET).

There are a lot of things we're eager to see, but for now, let's look at five of the biggest questions heading into the 2016 WNBA season:

1. How might the Olympics affect this season?

There is a major international competition -- either the Olympics or FIBA World Championship -- every other year. So WNBA teams have gotten used to dealing with those events and what impact they might have on personnel.

But knowing it's coming doesn't lessen the fact that it's a time-and-effort commitment from those participating in the Olympics that could affect how fresh certain teams feel in the playoffs.

The last WNBA games before the Olympic break are on July 22. The season will then resume on Aug. 26. Teams will work to stay sharp during that time but also will take advantage of the opportunity to rest their players.

In the case of the Sparks, the fact that star Candace Parker didn't make the Olympic team could end up being to their advantage. Parker is one of the premier players in the league. At 30, she knows very well the importance of rest, diet and all the other factors that go into trying to be at your best at the most important time of the season.

Disappointed as Parker is to not be on the Olympic team, she can narrow her focus this summer to the Sparks and her quest for her first WNBA title.

2. Will any of the non-playoff teams from 2015 be a lot better?

Key here is "a lot." That's a tall order. But there should be definite progress, at least, for two of the squads that didn't make the postseason last year: Seattle and Connecticut. We're not so sure things will improve in Atlanta and San Antonio, though.

First, the Storm. Getting their second No. 1 pick in a row has to make them better, especially since that player is Stewart. She right away makes Seattle stronger on both ends of the court.

Stewart won't turn 22 until late August, but she already has shown great maturity in how she handled herself during four championship seasons at UConn. There's also some interesting symmetry: Stewart is about the closest thing the Storm could have gotten in regard to trying to replace the productivity and versatility of Lauren Jackson, the three-time WNBA MVP who retired this year.

Obviously, Stewart can't step in and be vintage LJ right away. But being a big woman with a variety of skills and the mentality to be a "franchise" player means Stewie could develop much like Jackson did on her way to two WNBA titles.

As for Connecticut, Stewart's former teammate, Morgan Tuck, is one of the rookies out to help a young Sun team return to the playoffs after a three-year absence. And 2014 rookie of the year Chiney Ogwumike returns as well after missing last season after surgery.

3. How will the Dallas metroplex respond to the Wings?

The move of the former Shock from Tulsa to Big D -- actually the Wings will play in Arlington, Texas -- was prompted by the ownership's belief that the team would be more sellable and sustainable in a larger area.

That's one of those things that sounds good in theory, but it remains to be seen how it will play out. The Wings were a playoff team last year even after losing Skylar Diggins to a knee injury in late June and not having Glory Johnson (pregnancy) at all. What will Dallas' chemistry be like this season?

As for more fan support, just being in a far larger metro area doesn't guarantee that, of course. The Wings will need to work very, very hard on marketing and making their games a real draw to a lot of different demographics.

So much of pro sports teams' success is that supporting them is a habit-forming activity for fans, and the Wings are starting at ground zero in regard to that and fans in the metroplex. Winning will be a big help, of course.

4. Who are MVP front-runners?

Seven players have won the award in the past eight years, and six of them are still outstanding competitors in the league. Jackson (a three-time MVP, most recently in 2010) is the only one not still playing in the WNBA.

Parker, who won the award as a rookie in 2008 and then again in 2013, put up MVP-like numbers in the second half of the 2015 season after resting. She's going to be in the mix again.

Same for Taurasi (2009 MVP), New York's Tina Charles (2012), Minnesota's Maya Moore (2014), and Delle Donne. As for Catchings (2011), we can expect a very strong closing chapter for her. But it might be tough for her to put up numbers that match up with some of the other superstars in regard to winning the MVP.

Who might join these likely candidates? Maybe Phoenix's Brittney Griner? Dallas' Diggins? And let's not rule out that Stewart could make a push for the honor if she has a season anything like Parker did back in 2008 when she won rookie of the year and MVP.

For what it's worth, Cynthia Cooper is the only player to win back-to-back MVP honors; she did it at Houston the first two years of the WNBA.

5. What will be the effect of the new playoff format?

The East and West still exist for scheduling purposes, but the WNBA will have a more balanced schedule now. And when it's all said and done, the league will send its eight best teams (record-wise) to the playoffs, regardless of conference. And that makes a lot of sense.

Same for the fact that it's now possible for two teams in the same conference to meet in the WNBA Finals. The best thing for any league is to have the most competitive final series possible, and this format does more to facilitate that in the WNBA.

That said, the downside for some about this new system is that the first two rounds of the postseason are single-elimination, with best-of-five series only for the semifinals and finals. Thus, there is an enormous benefit in being the No. 1 or 2 seed because those two advance automatically to the semifinals.

There might not be much talent difference between the top two seeds and the 3- and 4-seeds, but the latter two will each have to play a single-elimination game -- facing the teams that win the two first-round games.

At some point down the line, the league might take a look at revising single-elimination. But the league decided it's at least worth trying.