The WNBA season starts tomorrow, so we asked two of our biggest WNBA fans on staff to take a crack at a season preview. Here’s a look at our picks for what will happen during the 25th anniversary campaign, with some best bets and advice thrown in as well from college sports editor Collin Sherwin and staff writer Jovan Alford.
Collin Sherwin: Jovan, as two Philadelphia sports fans in the largest market without a WNBA team ever, it is kind of weird we’re such fans of This League. Maybe it’s because there’s only 12 teams — so even the bad teams are usually pretty good — which makes the basketball extremely watchable? Or it’s the 40 minutes with much better rules and officiating than the college game?
Either way, this should be a breakout year for the W. The Wubble was well-received, the NCAA Tournament saw ratings skyrocket, and women’s basketball is having A Moment. Let’s hope not too much of one so that the bookmakers actually start paying attention and setting good lines, as I’ve got a better win rate lifetime on the WNBA than any other sport as a bettor.
So let’s get this thing started: Who’s taking home the trophy? Will the playoffs look like the Seattle Storm Invitational again? Is there anyone that can challenge Suey and Stewie for the crown?
Who wins it all?
Jovan Alford: Collin, I for one, cannot wait for Philly to get a WNBA team because I already know how the city will embrace them. But for now, all we have is those cool expansion team mock uniforms from The Jersey Club and an exciting 25th season of the WNBA, which starts on Friday night.
The Philadelphia Bells pic.twitter.com/SBc8RiRAH2— The Jersey Club (@TheJersey_Club) April 14, 2021
When we look at who can win the title this season, I don’t believe that this will be the Storm Invitational. Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart were outstanding last season in the Wubble. But I think they will miss Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark a lot. Now granted, the Storm do have Candace Dupree, who is a Hall of Fame player and will be an instant contributor. However, I think this is the year the Aces finally get their title.
A’ja Wilson dominated the Wubble without the likes of Liz Cambage, who is returning this season and Vegas added Chelsea Gray at point guard, which is an upgrade! They did lose Kayla McBride in the offseason, which hurts their three-point shooting. It also hurts that the Aces will not have Angel McCoughtry, who will be out with a torn ACL and meniscus. But somehow, some way, Bill Laimbeer’s crew gets the job done. Who do you think will bring home the crown this season?
Collin: I like the jerseys, but they’re a bit Iverson-era Sixers for my taste. Also while Philly very much needs a team (that plays some weeknight games in the Palestra perhaps??), Tampa needs to be in the next wave of expansion as well. The largest market without the NBA, an empty downtown arena with no summer sports on the Tampa side of the bay, and no summer sports anywhere as of 2028 (see ya, Rays).
Attendance at South Florida Bulls games is some of the best in the country for a G5 program. We’ll miss the lowly Raptors down here, but newly-legalized sports betting in Florida might help get a team.
And I’m with you on the Aces, as putting Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson in the same frontcourt is borderline unfair if you want to play man-to-man. Dearica Hamby is also low-key one of the most efficient players in the league, and if Bill Laimbeer wants to go big, good luck to everyone else at the rim.
Losing McCoughtry is for sure a blow, but I’ve always been a huge Kelsey Plum fan and think her situations have limited her ability to be great. If she emerges, they can absolutely win this thing.
But my down-the-board pick is the Chicago Sky at +1000, having Candace Parker pair with America’s second-favorite female athlete couple in Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot (Note: If we ever decide to have a royal family in America, I will accept no other choice than Bird and Megan Rapinoe).
Chicago could already shoot the lights out, and now they add the Defensive Player of the Year from last season and a true legend. Three women in their mid-to-late 30’s with plenty of game and something to prove that seem to fit from a basketball chemistry standpoint. And a deep roster filled with Geno Auriemma alumni. Give me all of this.
But you bet against the Point GOAT and the Center GOAT at your peril. Bird looked 29 last year at 39, and Stewart’s Achilles is no longer a problem. Plus this roster is just loaded with ideal role players for the league. Jewell Loyd is a superstar anywhere else. Epiphanny Prince, Jordin Canada, Candice Dupree ... yes losing Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard stings, but they’ll still be ready to go. And adding Katie Lou Samuelson gives them a lights-out specialist shooter.
Who wins the MVP?
Jovan: You make a compelling case on why the Storm could repeat as champs and why the Sky could be a sleeper to win the entire thing. I’m in the same boat with you regarding the Sky, who are better than their 12-10 record last season. That being said, if the Storm were to win it again or the Sky wins, do you think either Stewie or Parker win the league’s MVP? Or do you have someone else in mind?
Collin: It would be hard to vote against Stewie or CP if they win their respective conference. Stewart is the best player on the planet right now, and coming for the best-ever spot (better make another run this season, Diana Taurasi). But as strange as it would be to have two separate MVP’s on the same team in consecutive years ... how can you bet against Liz Cambage in the WNBA?
When she wants to be here, she’s an absolute force of nature. And she’ll have something to prove this season because she’s once again using her platform to say things that have meaning to her. This was less than three years ago, and now she’s got much better teammates? And somehow she seems to play better when the spotlight on-and-off the court is brightest.
She’s +1400 to win MVP, and that’s the value play to me. Who you got taking home the trophy? And who you got for Rookie of the Year as well if Sabrina Ionescu’s 2.5 games last season make her ineligible this year?
Who will be Rookie of the Year?
Jovan: I got to agree with you about Cambage. When she and Wilson are playing in perfect harmony and in sync, they are tough to stop. I think Liz is on a mission and is ready to stake her claim as one of the best players in the W. However, I do have a sleeper for MVP, which is a super long shot, but watch out for Arike Ogunbowale. She took her game to another level last season and gave us something to watch on a nightly basis with the Dallas Wings. If she can get the Wings into the playoffs, which is not an easy ask, then you got to put her in the convo.
In regards to Rookie of the Year, I’m not as well versed as you are when it comes to this year’s class. However, would it be a surprise to see DiJonai Carrington win the award? I know the Connecticut Sun are already a good team with Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner leading the way. But with Alyssa Thomas out for the entire season, they’ll need someone else to step up to fill that void. Why not Carrington? I know she was a second round pick, but recording 16 points and five rebounds in your preseason is not too shabby. Who do you have coming up with the ROY award?
Collin: I was in the gym when Arike missed the free throw in the 2019 national championship game, and it was one of the most heartbreaking basketball moments I’ve ever seen in person (this will always be the No. 1 in the category). But mercy she was so good that tournament, and unlike so many pure scorers she makes her teammates better. I can for sure see her making a run at the trophy.
But as the guy that 1000% nailed the Rookie of the Year last season, I’m going for the repeat. There’s not a truly special player in this class, and I’m not yet sold on Charli Collier as a future superstar. I’m fading Carrington too because she went to Baylor, and the only thing that shoots under Kim Mulkey is her mouth. Carrington was 28.5% from three-point range last season, and that won’t change in one training camp.
As a college WBB fan, the foreign kids that come over tend to dominate as freshmen because of how they’re coached in the non-scholastic systems of Europe. My alma mater has had up to 10 foreign flags hanging in the practice gym, and those kids are often ready even before they understand what an idiom is. I’ve never seen No. 2 overall pick Awak Kuier play in a game, but she’s 6’5 and here’s her highlight tape. It’s good enough for me. She could be a super-duper star someday.
Overrated - Underrated - Best Bet
Jovan: I’m going to try and keep it short and simple. I think that the Los Angeles Sparks are underrated, which is weird to say based on their history. But they still have a good team and will have the Ogwumike sisters leading the charge. The only person that stands in their way is head coach Derek Fisher.
Overrated team, I’m not exactly sure. I’ll leave that one to you. But for my best futures bet, I’m going with Liz Cambage for MVP (+1400). She’s unstoppable and with the way she played last season in the WNBL, I think she carries that over to this season in the WNBA.
Collin: If you’re betting on Derek Fisher, call me Matt Barnes because I’m coming for you. I love all things Ogwumike, but this is a team that let one of the best players in history, and the reigning No. 3 player in MVP voting, walk for nothing. Candace doesn’t leave if all is right under the hood. Plus who else is going to score? Chelsea Gray is gone too, and Seimone Augustus is 37 years old.
My undervalued teams: Minnesota and Chicago. Overvalued? Los Angeles and Indiana, if it’s possible to overvalue the worst team in the league.
As for a longshot bet I love: Besides Cambage for MVP, a parlay on both Dallas (+120) and New York (+290) to make the playoffs at +758 sounds pretty good to me. Both teams are young, camera-friendly (I think stars get calls in the W more than even the regular NBA), and making the top eight is a reasonable goal for both.