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A favorite, a sleeper, and a longshot for the WNBA Championship

The W was going to have a transition season anyway, and that was before they locked all the players in a Bradenton, Florida high school.

Tiffany Mitchell of the Indiana Fever handles the ball during practice on July 22, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Fever Practice Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA offseason saw more superstars change teams than at anytime in league history. Youngsters like Skylar Diggins-Smith (from Dallas to Phoenix) and veterans like Tina Charles (from New York to Washington) and Angel McCoughtry (from Atlanta to Las Vegas) were just some of the unprecedented turnover.

It certainly looked like the Washington Mystics were the favorite to repeat, but when Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders decided not to enter the “wubble,” a team that was an astounding +15.6 points per 100 possessions last season lost 13.5 win shares and most of its punch.

And with return of so many stars that missed the 2019 season (Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, McCoughtry, Diggins-Smith), the league already looked as unpredictable as ever. But then Covid-19 hit, and they stuck everyone in one of the world’s most diverse athletic facilities that is home to a high school, the US men’s soccer youth national teams, has Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova as graduates, and Chris Weinke and Shaun King are the football coaches.

If there’s ever been a season in any sport where unpredictable is the order of the day, this will be it. But there are futures odds to be had, so let’s find some value.

Here are the preseason odds from DraftKings Sportsbook on the WNBA Champion:

Seattle Storm +300
Los Angeles Sparks +400
Washington Mystics +550
Connecticut Sun +600
Las Vegas Aces +600
Phoenix Mercury +600
New York Liberty +1500
Chicago Sky +1800
Minnesota Lynx +3000
Indiana Fever +5000
Dallas Wings +6000
Atlanta Dream +6600

Favorite: Seattle Storm +300

They’ve got the GOAT point guard in Sue Bird — well-rested after missing last season with a knee injury — and maybe the future women’s basketball GOAT in Breanna Stewart coming off an Achilles injury. Add in the 2019 Defensive Player of The Year in Natasha Howard, shooters like UCLA’s Jordin Canada, and it’s almost unfair how loaded they are if they stay healthy.

If the Storm can get 22 healthy games plus the playoffs out of their starting five, they’re clearly the favorite. Jewell Lloyd and Morgan Tuck were two outstanding college All-Americans, and they’ll struggle to get on the court with this team. But Bird will be 40 later this year, and her fellow UConn alum and pick-and-roll partner in Stewart had one of the toughest injuries to recover from in the game.

A bet on the Storm is a bet on their training staff. The rehab facilities at IMG are quite good. We think they hang on and take the whole thing. And the biggest loss of this season is not getting a Storm-Mystics Final, which would have been incredible basketball and really helped the league reach the next level.

Sleeper: Phoenix Mercury +600

Can you have the best women’s basketball player that’s ever lived and still be a sleeper? Diana Taurasi wears that crown for the only WNBA team she’s ever played for in her 15-year career. She’s still got a 6’8 post Brittney Griner for one of the most dominant inside-outside tandems in women’s basketball history. And the Mercury are going for it this season, sending three first-round picks to Dallas for Skylar Diggins-Smith, who took last year off via maternity leave. It’s almost an unfair amount of offense.

If SkyDigg and D can figure out how to play with only one ball, this team should be a spread-the-floor nightmare. They can shoot, drive, kick, and even dunk. The question is can they figure out how to put the pieces together in just a 22-game regular season?

Longshot: Atlanta Dream (+6600)

Because the W is just a 12-team league, the talent tends to consolidate more easily than in the other pro basketball league in America. So it’s hard to find a team in the weeds that can make a run. But rallying around hating their owner can’t hurt, and they will certainly be able to score.

Rookie Chennedy Carter will get to the rim, Kalani Brown from the Sparks will finally get the burn she didn’t in LA, and Courtney Williams from Connecticut is one of the most exciting players in the league from midrange. Glory Johnson has been an All-Star. They might be a sieve on defense, but sometimes you can win just by making shots. And this island of misfit toys is very young, might come together and start to scare some of the better teams in the league via effort.

This is for sure a stretch, and it’s a league where upsets will be hard to come by. But their win total is just 6.5, and we’ll be on the over.

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