With plenty of intrigue surrounding the WNBA season, the SI staff makes their picks for 2019 MVP, Rookie of the Year and who they think will win the championship.
The WNBA—and women's basketball in general—has gained a lot of traction the past couple years and this season is shaping up to be the most competitive in recent memory. We have major names missing—Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Angel McCoughtry and Maya Moore are among the players we won't see for quite some time—that leave plenty of questions for who will step up this season. With the season nearly upon us, we gathered a few writers to gauge some of the biggest questions looming over this league, including which rookie will stand out the most in a class crowded with talent, who will take home the MVP and which team will win it all.
1. With such a strong class coming into the league, who do you think will win Rookie of the Year this season?
Laken Litman: New York desperately needs second overall pick Asia Durr to have a big rookie season. And given her skill set—she’s fast, a threat from the perimeter, can pull up from mid-range, can beat defenders one-on-one—Durr should adjust to the pro game quickly. And she’ll have plenty of opportunities to contribute—the Liberty finished 2018 ranked second-to-last in points per game and offensive efficiency with only one player averaging in double figures (Tina Charles at 19.7). At Louisville, Durr was a two-time ACC player of the year and scored 2,485 points and grabbed 453 rebounds over four years. She’s a powerful player and a natural leader who also has a knack for keeping a short-term memory. For example, Durr had an awful start to her final college game against Connecticut in the Elite Eight, missing her first eight shots and going 1 for 10 at halftime. But she ended up shooting the Cardinals back into the game in the second half, scoring a team-high 21 points and nearly coming back to win. Pick: Asia Durr.
Kellen Becoats: There’s so much talent in this year’s rookie class that it’s hard to choose one but I’m going with Napheesa Collier. After Maya Moore’s decision to sit out the 2019 season, the Lynx are going to need some production from the forward spots and I think Collier fits that bill perfectly. She’s a multi-level scorer who led UConn with 20.8 points last season and should help a Minnesota team looking for buckets outside of Sylvia Fowles. If Collier can keep improving her three-point shot and help expand the scoring capabilities of a team that was tied with the Sparks for third-fewest points per game in 2018. The only two teams lower than the Lynx? The Liberty and the Fever. Collier showed us what she was capable of with the Huskies last season. I’m counting on her to keep getting better in Minnesota as the team tries to stave off a rebuild and stay competitive. Pick: Napheesa Collier.
Trisha Blackmar: There are three strong candidates for this award in Jackie Young (Las Vegas), Asia Durr (New York) and Napheesa Collier (Minnesota). I would give Durr the nod right now as it’s easy to see her earning a starting spot and having a real impact on the Liberty. Collier also has an opportunity to shine with the Lynx who are searching for a new identity without Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. Young is undeniably talented but there is so much star power in Vegas that I just don’t see her getting the ball very much. Pick: Asia Durr.
2. Who do you think will win WNBA MVP this season and why?
LL: After being unanimously selected as the 2018 Rookie of the Year, 23-year-old A’ja Wilson is poised for an MVP season in 2019. Last year, Wilson averaged 20.7 points (tied for third in WNBA), 8.0 rebounds (sixth) and 1.67 blocked shots (sixth) per game while starting every game for Las Vegas. As a basis of some comparison, Breanna Stewart averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks when she won MVP last year. She was also 23 years old. There’s one caveat: Wilson has a new teammate in Liz Cambage, whom the Aces recently acquired in a trade with Dallas. Cambage was MVP runner-up last year after leading the league with 23.0 PPG, and will be paired with Wilson, who has similar size and skill. There are two ways this can go: the players will work together to lead the Aces to become title contenders, or their big personalities will clash. Expect the latter and that Wilson will be even more clutch than she was a year ago. Pick: A'ja Wilson.
KB: This was a toss-up between A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage but I think this award is Wilson’s for the taking. After being an absolute menace in her first season in the WNBA on her way to being named the 2018 Rookie of the Year, the Aces came just short of a playoff spot to the Dallas Wings. Now the Wings’ best player from last season will be playing her home games at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, transforming Las Vegas from plucky upstart to championship contender. Wilson and Cambage should bring the best out of each other and make life significantly easier for their teammates. Cambage made the point at her introductory press conference that teams won’t be able to double her because it leaves too many of her more-than-capable teammates open to go to work. Still, I expect her to command much of the opposing defense's attention, opening up Wilson to be even more dominant than she was last season and helping lead her team to contend for a championship. Pick: A'ja Wilson.
TB: So many stars will be MIA to start the season. And two of the biggest—Elena Delle Donne and Liz Cambage will not be starting the season at full strength. I think EDD will get rolling quicker, so she gets my vote for MVP. Pick: Elena Delle Donne.
3. What team do you think will win the WNBA title this season?
LL: This could be the year the Washington Mystics win their first championship. Coach Mike Thibault returns his core group from last year’s finals run, including stars Elena Delle Donne (20.7 points per game in 2018) and Kristi Toliver (13.9 PPG), plus Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders. Heading into this year, Seattle was projected to be repeat champions. Then reigning WNBA and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles playing in the EuroLeague Championship game. Delle Donne wasn’t 100% last season, yet still led her team to the title game with a knee injury. Now, if she and the rest of her team can stay healthy, they’ll be a threat to win it all. Pick: Mystics.
KB: It’s awesome when you can look at a league and conceivably see four or five teams winning it all. I’m tempted to pick the Sparks and their gargantuan frontcourt of stars but instead I’ll take the Mystics to avenge their Finals sweep last year. Elena Delle Donne is a frontrunner for MVP who, if she can shake off her knee injuries, is more than capable of leading this team back to the WNBA Finals.
The team is returning a ridiculous amount of the roster that nearly won it all last year. Ariel Atkins was spectacular in her rookie season, showing a nose for the ball that should frighten anyone looking to dribble the ball anywhere in her vicinity this season. Kristi Toliver is still a massive threat from three despite a down season last year while LaToya Sanders and Natasha Cloud round out a potent starting five. Kiara Leslie’s injury is a huge downer but the return of Emma Meesseman from Belgium should ease the pain. There are certainly spicier names in contention for the title, but I think it’s Mike Thibault and the Mystics’ time. Pick: Mystics.
TB: The lineups that the Sparks and the Aces have put together are intriguing, but it’s hard to see how all the pieces are going to fit together. The Mystics made it to the Finals last season and have the experience and the talent to finish the job in 2019. Pick: Mystics.