THE WNBA SEASON STARTS TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!! The Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream will kick off the 2019 season at 7:30 pm tonight on WNBA League Pass. An amazing opening weekend of basketball will follow, headlined by the Ogwumike sisters and the Sparks headed to Vegas to take on Liz Cambage and the Aces.
For us at WNBA insidr, the new season is bringing a new name (Winsidr), a new website (Winsidr.com), and some new characters to our writing staff slack (Me for example). It’s such an exciting time for us and really the entire WNBA community, as this year starts with as much coverage and fanfare as any in recent memory. We’re glad you’re here with us for the ride!
While we’re staying in the moment, we are also looking ahead to the end of the season. Our writers picked who will win each award as well as the teams with the best and worst regular records. Here is how the voting shook out: (I will let you know my votes, but keep everyone else’s a secret.)
MVP—Brittney Griner: 4 votes; Liz Cambage: 2; Jonquel Jones, A’ja Wilson, DeWanna Bonner, and Elena Delle Donne: 1
This year’s MVP race has the potential to be wild, as Drew Ivery wrote last week. With so many huge stars out including last year’s winner Breanna Stewart, the crown is anyone’s to win. I went with what I thought was the obvious pick in Delle Donne. She is a former MVP, the unquestionable leader of a team that went to the Finals last year and got better, and she has rested all offseason.
Even though many outside the Insidr community (the Outsidrs if you will) agreed with me, our staff went with Brittney Griner and it’s clear why. Without Diana Taurasi for the first half of the season most likely, Griner (and Bonner) have a chance to put up huge numbers. Griner can build an early lead on everyone else and, if the Mercury are in the hunt for top 4 seed, it will be hard to not vote for the machine behind their success. My only worry for her candidacy is that Griner and Bonner will cannibalize each other’s votes.
Defensive Player of the Year—Natasha Howard: 4; Alana Beard: 2; Jessica Breland, Tiffany Hayes, Kayla Thornton, and Sylvia Fowles: 1
I, along with the majority, took Natasha Howard for DPOY. But honestly, I’m having second thoughts with Sue Bird sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury. Without Stewie, the Storm still looked strong enough to compete for a playoff spot. But now without Bird as well, it will be very difficult for the Storm to make the playoffs and Howard will have to shoulder more of the offensive burden. Only one player has ever managed to win DPOY without making the playoffs: Teresa Witherspoon in 1997 for the Liberty when just four teams made the playoffs.
Alana Beard is going for her third DPOY in a row, which has never happened before in the WNBA and has only happened once in the NBA (Dwight Howard in 2008-11). It’d be an amazing accomplishment and with the offensive talent on the Sparks, Beard will be asked to use most of her energy on defense. I think she has a great shot. But anything is possible this year and don’t be shocked to see any of the other names on the list or even a darkhorse no one is talking about win the award.
Most Improved Player- Diamond DeShields: 3; Azurá Stevens: 2; Allisha Gray, Kayla Thornton, Gabby Williams, and Ariel Atkins: 1
Diamond DeShields fits the mold of a MIP winner. 3 of the last 5 winners of the award were second year players who stepped up to a bigger role. Jonquel Jones and Skylar Diggins-Smith both used the formula to win in 2017 and 2014. The WInsidr staff, myself included, expects DeShields to follow in their footsteps.
Now, DeShields will have to post some serious numbers to eclipse what she did last year (14/5/2 per game). Her usage was already pretty high (24.1%), so she will likely have to be more efficient to substantially increase her productivity. She’s a great player with a chance to become a leader on the Wings. I feel confident in her.
Wow I just noticed that four of the six names on this list are Dallas Wings. That’s weird, but not irrational. Dallas has a lot of production to replace, so there will be plenty of opportunity for players to improve.
If the Sky make strides defensively, then I bet Gabby Williams will get a lot attention for MIP. The same for Ariel Atkins if the Mystics are dominating early on.
Rookie of the Year—Katie Lou Samuelson: 4; Asia Durr: 3; Teaira McCowan 1
You gotta score to win ROY. Only two players have ever won the award without averaging at least 10 points (Temeka Johnson in 2005 and Armintie Herrington in 2007). All three of these women have a chance to do that in abundance in 2019.
Katie Lou fits in so perfectly to the Sky’s system that it is a little scary. She’s going to be running and gunning with Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot. I think she’ll be scoring in bunches for Chicago and get a lot of votes for ROY if they make the playoffs.
Asia Durr is my vote for ROY because she’s going to be the best scorer in the Liberty’s backcourt on Day 1. I love the fit of her and Tina Charles playing off each other and she’ll be empowered to do her thing in New York’s rebuilding process.
Teaira will also get a lot of opportunities to score in Indy. The Fever were just awful in the post both offensively and defensively last year. McCowen has a chance to eat all she can on both ends and, if the Fever improve, it will likely be because of her in large part.
Sixth Woman of the Year—Chiney Ogwumike: 4; Odyssey Sims: 2; Essence Carson, Amanda Zahui B, Brittney Sykes, and Karima Christmas-Kelly: 1
I picked Essence Carson here, but lord this was a hard award to pick. I love the Chiney pick that my colleagues made, but I just don’t know if she will actually be a 6th woman. Last year, Jonquel Jones won the award despite starting almost half the season. So maybe my worries were misplaced? I’m not sure.
But if Chiney comes off the bench, she’ll be very very difficult to beat. She’s one of the best players in the league and she’ll likely be contributing on one of the league’s best teams. Carson could have a similar case of contributing to a contender, but again it’s unclear what her role will be.
The 6th Woman award is always very hard to project. But with so much uncertainty this season, I found it impossible to pick.
Best Record—LA Sparks: 6; Phoenix Mercury: 2; Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics: 1.
THE WINSIDR STAFF DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOUR CHEMISTRY CONCERNS. Just kidding, of course the staff knows has considered the potential issues with the Sparks playing together. But they are bullish on the Sparks bonding quickly and having the talent advantage this season. With Candance, Nneka, Chiney, Alana, and Chelsea Gray, this team is primed for a huge year.
I went with the Mystics because if EDD is going to win the MVP, it’ll be because the team is doing great. And I believe they will do so. It’s mostly the same cast that got a top 4 seed and made the finals. After adding Emma Meesseman back, they should improve and I think they will get to the top this year.
Phoenix was an interesting pick to me. The Mercury could win the title, but DT is out for a good chunk of the year and this group knows how to win a title. They might coast in the regular season and turn it on when DT gets back.
Worst Record—Indiana Fever: 6; Dallas Wings: 2; New York Liberty: 1
Tough stuff for the Fever. They were just so bad last year that it is hard to see them moving up the standings this season. McCowen will help certainly and the team is super young, so improvement is certain (can’t get much worse right? *he said hopefully*). But it’s just hard to see who they will jump.
The Wings are on here for obvious reasons in losing Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith being out for a while. It’s been a mixed bag when you talk about the Wings with people this year. Either they think the team will bottom out as a couple of our writers do, or they think Dallas will see improvement from other players (see, MIP above) and get back to the playoffs. My guess is they will be closer to the bottom than the top, but it could go any direction.
New York is also in the Fever’s situation: Who will they get better than? The ownership situation is handled and Asia Durr can hopefully flash star potential immediately. But they are rebuilding and, frankly, being bad isn’t the worst thing in the world. If the Fever don’t finish last, I suspect it will be because the Liberty did.
Coach of the Year: Derek Fisher and Bill Laimbeer: 3; James Wade 2; Sandy Brondello and Brian Agler: 1
My favorite quote from the WInsidr slack for the awards came from a person voting for Bill Laimbeer: “I’ll also probably be mad about Laimbeer winning.” I feel that because I also have concerns about Laimbeer coaching in this era. But Laimbeer is a championship winning coach and has a championship caliber team. If they do well, he’ll no doubt get a ton of (deserved) credit for fitting Cambage and Wilson together.
I picked James Wade because I believe the Sky will make the playoffs and, as a first-year head coach, he will get credit for turning around the team’s culture. Wade seems like a good basketball mind and will hopefully implement a good system for the Sky to succeed.
Fisher’s case is basically the combination of Wade’s (first-year coach with improvement) and Laimbeer (has a great team). It’s probably the most logical pick especially if you believe the Sparks will have the best league’s best record, which our staff does.