2019 Playoff Predictions

Well, here we finally are. The 2019 Playoffs start tomorrow night with the first two of four controversial single elimination games: Minnesota at Seattle and Phoenix at Chicago. I am not a fan of the single elimination games, I am however a pretty ok fan of the first and second round byes for the top two teams. Sorry not sorry. Anyway, let me tell you what I think is going to happen in the playoffs this year, and you can laugh about how wrong I probably am.

First Round Game 1: Mercury at Sky

My first impressions of this game are that the Sky will ultimately win this game with their offense. The Sky are really surprisingly, yet not surprisingly good this year. They boast the second best offense in the league, and they are the second best passing team in the league, which isn’t surprising since Courtney Vandersloot handed out a league record 300 assists, 98 more than the second place runner up Chelsea Gray. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised how good the offense is, because with Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Stefanie Dolson, Diamond DeShields, and Jantel Lavender, etc, you have a core group of really talented, somewhat underrated players that have always had to potential to be this good. New head coach James Wade has turned this team into a playoff team once again, and you have to be excited for the next several years in Chicago.

The Mercury, on the other hand, to use a bad pun, are in retrograde. Griner and Bonner put up MVP caliber numbers, and Mitchell filled in for Taurasi so well that she is likely going to win Most Improved, but beyond that, this team does not have enough to be highly competitive in the playoffs this year. Briann January, Essence Carson, Yvonne Turner, Camille Little and the rest of the young core are only averaging about 4 to 6 points a game each, and Phoenix needs more if they expect to win in the playoffs. Would a healthy Taurasi have been the difference this season? That’s very likely, but you also have to wonder how much longer she has.

Prediction: Chicago Sky win it with their offense.


First Round Game 2: Minnesota at Seattle

Last year’s champs are back in the playoffs thanks to the absolutely MVP caliber season of one of the best two way players in the league: Natasha Howard. Howard has a case for winning both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award, although the consensus seems to be that she will take home Defensive Player award honors and not MVP. She has stepped up big time in the absence of last year’s Breanna Stewart, and while Jewell Loyd’s numbers certainly took a dip this year, she has still been effective. Jordin Canada has, like Mitchell in Phoenix, done a great job replacing Taurasi’s best pal Sue Bird, another legendary point guard who could have really helped guide this team to more wins. Canada has put up Most Improved Player numbers, and though I doubt she takes the award, her play in just her second year has to be commended. Strong contributions from veterans like Alysha Clark and younger players like another Most Improved Player candidate Mercedes Russell and Sami Whitcomb have kept the Storm competitive all year long to the surprise of just about everyone in the league, except the probably the entire Storm roster and head coach Dan Hughes.

The Minnesota Lynx on the the hand, like their long time rivals the Mercury, look like a team in transition. But like their opponents in Round 1, they are team that have surprised me, and I would wager plenty of others in how they stayed hungry and have won themselves a playoff spot with an 18-16 record. Head Coach Cheryl Reeve has relied heavily on Rookie of the Year candidate Napheesa Collier, who has played more minutes than anyone else in the league all season long, and has been a highly impressive cog in the Lynx system. Odyssey Sims has been a Most Improved Player candidate and is the team’s leading scorer at 14.5 points per game, while also averaging 5.4 assists per game. Former MVP center Sylvia Fowles has also put up solid numbers to help anchor both sides of the floor. Danielle Robinson and Damiris Dantas round out the starting rotation and both average about 10 points per game. Without Maya Moore who is sitting this year out, the Lynx look like a team who, like the Mercury and the Storm, could really use their best player at the start of what looks to be a very competitive playoffs. With that said I believe that Seattle will get it done at home, although I think this will be a very good, hard fought game by both teams.

Prediction: Seattle wins by a slight margin at home.


Round 2

So what happens in Round 2 after the reseeding? Well, if my choices hold, that means the Storm will move on to play the Los Angeles Sparks and the Sky will move on to play the Las Vegas Aces.

Seattle vs Los Angeles

Both recent WNBA title winners, the Sparks have been the better overall team this season as well as most of the last 5-6 years. If the Sparks can’t beat the Storm in a single game elimination game series, I’d place the blame squarely on new head coach Derek Fisher, but I don’t see that happening. The Ogwumike sisters, Chelsea Gray, Candace Parker, Riquna Williams, and newly added Tiara Ruffin-Pratt all add up to a team that is about the third best offense and third best defense in the league, which could be very dangerous in any later 5 game series. Either way, the Sparks are moving on to Round 3.

Prediction: Sparks win with big second half.

Las Vegas Aces vs Chicago Sky

The Aces stumbled into the playoffs at the end of regular season, going 6-4 in their last ten games. But they are in the playoffs for the first time in just the team’s second season, thanks in large part to the trade that brought highly coveted center Liz Cambage from the Wings. Cambage immediately transformed the Aces from not quite playoff contenders to sudden Finals bound favorites. Cambage has held up her end of the deal in transforming Bill Laimbeer’s team into the best defense and one of the best rebounding teams in the league. A’ja Wilson has continued her progression from her Rookie of the Year season a year ago, Dearica Hamby is the 6th Woman of the Year in what appears to be just about everybody’s book, Kayla McBride continues to be one of the best wings in the league and Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young round out a solid if not highly consistent starting backcourt.

So what can we expect in a game with one of league’s best offenses versus the league’s best defense? I think we can expect Chicago’s guards to play very well, while I am betting that the Aces to dominate the paint, not unlike these two teams’ regular season meetings. Dolson is going to have to step against Wilson and Cambage if the Sky want to win this game, Plum and Young will have to really up their play more than once to stop Quigley and Vandersloot, but ultimately I think the Aces defense wins this game.

I don’t know that the Sky have an answer for McBride, and I don’t know that the Aces have an answer for DeShields, so I’m betting those two players are two big X-factors for either team. Although, with the added pressure of the playoff stage, big role players like Dearica Hamby and Tamera Young for the Aces and Kahleah Copper, Cheyenne Parker, and Astou Ndour will all have to step and play their hearts out if they want to help their team win.

Prediction: Aces win thanks to their stellar defense and scoring down low.


Round 3: Aces vs Mystics & Sparks vs Sun

Round 3 will be a wild ride, that’s all I can really say. The Mystics’ record setting #1 offense versus the Aces #1 defense, where every game will be a battle. And the Sparks versus the Connecticut Sun, which honestly figures to be the most competitive series of the entire playoffs. The Mystics will likely out pass and simply out-shoot the Aces from behind the 3-point line, and their bench will provide the minutes and scoring to simply wear down the Aces starters and the rest of their rotation. I think the Mystics are so hungry and so finely tuned, that unless an injury hits the starting five, they make it past the Aces in a few close games, but get big blowout wins at home when the Aces are tired.

Prediction: Mystics in 4 games.

Los Angeles Sparks vs Connecticut Sun

The Sparks and Sun series is going to be all out war, because the Sparks still have everything to prove along with the talent to win, and the Sun are staring down the opportunity to finally have a trip to Finals after so many years of early round playoff heartbreak. Chiney Ogwumike may well turn her game up to 11 in a bid for some kind of revenge against her former team, but the Sun may be just as hungry to exact a bit of retribution on the player that seemed to have left abruptly with little in return other than a first round pick in the 2020 draft. But then again, a somewhat diminished role in Los Angeles alongside her sister Nneka, may mean that Chiney’s contributions to this series are no more than what we might expect, 10 points per game and 6 rebounds. That stat line won’t likely add up to the difference for the Sparks winning any games, as I suspect it’s going to come down to Candace Parker showing up big time, as well as the guard Riquna Williams and Chelsea Gray.

On the other side of the court stand the Sun, who are are team that plays fast and gets everyone involved basically every single game they play. You can almost always bet on all five of Connecticut’s starters scoring 10-12 points a night and using their speed and ability to steal the ball to win games. The Sun rebound very well, second best behind the Aces, and they don’t turn the ball over very much, but the same could be said for the Sparks, they usually take care of the ball and they rebound pretty well, too. I don’t know who the X-Factors in this series are. Both of these teams, in my mind, are pretty evenly matched, and have plenty of talent and ability up and down their respective rosters. I would say that for the Sun, it will come down to Jonquel Jones staying healthy and out of foul trouble. If she can score inside the paint and outside on the perimeter like we know she can, and if Courtney Williams and Jasmine Thomas can distribute the ball and keep the pace high, than the Sun ultimately win this series.

However, the Sparks have more playoff experience, and they have Chelsea Gray, Candace Parker, and Nneka Ogwumike who can all put up really big numbers any given night. I can say they same for Alyssa Thomas, Jonquel Jones, and Courtney Williams, but not with the same level of confidence as with Los Angeles’ stars.

Like I said in the beginning, in my mind, this will be the most competitive series in the entire playoffs, so I have a very difficult time decided who ultimately wins this series.00 but over the course of an entire 5 game series, I say Connecticut, hungry as ever, barely edges out Los Angeles in an insanely tough group of games.

Prediction: The Sun keep it together, play fast, rebound the ball, and ultimately prevail in very tough 5 games.


The 2019 WNBA Finals: Washington Mystics vs Connecticut Sun

This year, East Coast rivals meet up in a Finals that sees two teams that have both been here before, neither having been able to reach the summit to actually win an WNBA Championship. Both are hungry and full of talent. Both have great head coaches, one with most in WNBA history; the other an up and coming talent who won Coach of the Year honors just two years ago. Both teams will come into this series having been tested all season long, and both will be ready to play and willing to put everything on the line for their team. The Sun will look to push the pace, as the Mystics will want to play a slightly more half-court game. The Sun will also look to cause a lot of turnovers, because if they don’t, they will suffocate under the crisp passing and shooting that the Mystics have proven they can defeat anyone with on any given night. The Mystics, of course, will look to shoot a whole heck of a lot of three-pointers, and if they don’t shoot well, look for the Sun to take advantage on the defensive glass to again, push the tempo and score in transition on the opposite end. Look for the Sun to try to stop everyone else but Elena Delle Donne, believing that they can do to a healthy Delle Donne the exact opposite of what the Storm did to an injured Delle Donne in last year’s Finals: let her do her thing and hope everyone else on the team doesn’t show up. But I think the Mystics know who they are this season as opposed to last season. They know they can out play anyone in the league right now. They know that Delle Donne is only the top player in a long rotation of offensively supercharged players. And that’s just the facts for both these teams coming into the Finals. The Mystics know, and the Sun know, and everyone else in the league, from the coaches to the players to the fans to the media know one thing for sure: the Mystics look like an absolutely unbeatable juggernaut this season. The time is now for Elena Delle Donne. The time is now for Mike Thibault, the time is now for everyone on this team, and the time is now for the Washington Mystics to finally win a WNBA championship.

Prediction: Mystics offense overpowers the Sun in 4 games.

Slightly Too Early Season Awards

Ok, so there are still several games left in the 2019 regular season, but that isn’t going to keep me from saying who I think have been the best players in 2019. All the awards have been tightly contested this year, and the debates on social media concerning MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc. have all been fascinating, enlightening, and fun. With that said, let’s look at who I believe will win each award:

MVP: Elena Delle Donne, F Mystics

Delle Donne, like in her previous MVP winning season in 2015, has been the “do it all, every game” MVP in 2019. She has lifted the Mystics to a higher plane than ever before, and thus far, has proved to be the best player on the best team night after night. And even though it’s not just Delle Donne doing all the work, the entire team is playing insanely well offensively, she is the unquestionable leader of this Washington squad, and simply the best player in the league right now.

Most Improved: Leilani Mitchell, G Mercury

An absolute bounce back of a season for a player that has always been slightly underrated in my opinion, and this is even taking into consideration that she won this same award nearly a decade ago in 2010. The resurgence is due in part to Mitchell’s much larger role with the absence of Diana Taurasi. But the numbers don’t lie, and Mitchell’s stats from last year and this year are the most impressive out of any other potential winners. Averaging nearly ten more points per game than last season, and doubling her averages in nearly every other category, Mitchell is clearly the most improved player this season.

Rookie of the Year: Napheesa Collier, F Lynx

This award has been the most talked about an argued over award all season long. But if I am redoing the 2019 draft, I’m taking Collier as the first pick. Does that mean she has the same year with the Aces as she has had with the Lynx? No, but with time travel logic is the first thing that gets thrown out the window, and I’m telling you, no matter who I am I want Napheesa Collier on my team right now and for the future. She is another all around fantastic player who has the potential to lead Minnesota to a new dynasty.

6th Woman: Dearica Hamby, F Aces

Hamby has been absolutely crucial to Bill Laimbeer’s rotation in 2019, and she has relished her role off the bench and as a part time starter when A’ja Wilson was out. She is one of the candidates for Most Improved, but I like her winning this award more, because she provided the minutes and scoring, as well as rebounding that every team needs off the bench to win games.

Defensive Player: Jonquel Jones, F Sun

Jonquel Jones will win this award, but
If I’m being honest, Natasha Howard is just as likely to take home the MVP as she is to win Defensve Player of the Year. But despite having the exact same defensive rating according to the league website, I give Jones the slightest of edges due to her better defensive rebounding over Howard, as well a her better block percentage. Is Howard getting more steals? Yes. But I think the controversy surrounding her off the court issues, right or wrong, guilty or innocent costs her this award this year.

Coach of the Year: James Wade, Sky

This award is harder to pick than any other award this year. Cheryl Reeve, as always, has done an amazing job this season with an almost completely new group of young players. Dan Hughes has also taken a team that shouldn’t have played anywhere as well as they have this year and kept them in the playoffs. Mike Thibault has pushed his Mystics to even greater heights and has them on the cusp of the #1 seed and another Finals berth. Bill Laimbeer, another long time WNBA head coach has turned this Aces team into one that just barely missed the playoffs to one of the best, scariest and toughest teams in the league. But James Wade showed up to his first head coaching job and proved that he can absolutely coach in this league for years to come. He has motivated, pushed, driven, and willed his team to more wins than they have had in several years. He has changed the mentality of the Chicago Sky from underachievers to down right winners in 2019. I love what he’s done for this incredible group of players.

The Wrap Up

This was a weird season. With so many of the league’s top stars out with injuries and other commitments, we had no idea what to expect. I think the same can be said about the awards that will be handed out this year. I really have no idea what voters will decide to do in just about every category. It will be very interesting to see what ultimately transpires. Here’s wishing good luck to every candidate out there in 2019!

2019 Season Midpoint Review

Logopit_1563512002451We are halfway through the season and thus far, it has been a pretty wild ride. Looking back on my preseason predictions, I am reminded as to why I don’t like predictions: because I am terrible at them. But we press on! We press on into the All-Star break and we have all sorts of questions in our minds. “Who will win MVP?”, “Who will win Rookie of the Year?”, “Who is the best team in the league?” and perhaps most troubling of all, “Will there be any players left to suit up for the playoffs uninjured?”

Seriously, if we are going to talk about anything, let’s talk about how players from across the league just seem to keep getting injured, week in and week out. Even when we knew players that were going to be out for much or all of the year before it started, we have continued to see players go down for significant amounts of time. Sancho Lyttle, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Jewell Loyd, Asia Durr, Elena Delle Donne, the list goes on with so many players out with injuries throughout this year. You cannot help but feel for players who get her and have to miss games for their teams. I hope the second half of the season is healthier for everyone across the league.

Now, besides injuries, there has been a fair amount of off the court drama, with players embroiled in domestic disputes, etc. I will only say that I hope the WNBA can come to some sort of consensus on dealing with these matters the right way. I would hope that when concerns are raised, that teams, management, and league leadership listen to those involved and that they take appropriate action. One of the very first articles I wrote for this site was how I felt that the WNBA could be at the forefront of dealing with off the court issues the right way, to lead by example and to show other sports leagues how to handle different issues on and off the court. I talked only briefly about how the league could try to really openly and honestly deal with off the court issues, and how they needed to be prompt in dealing with said issues. Some will say they have not done a very good job this season with the issues that have arisen, while others will say we shouldn’t speculate or give too many opinions on matters we don’t fully understand or have the whole story on. I would agree that as fans, we should wait for the whole story before forming opinions or commenting one way or the other. My only hope is that the league does it’s best, in a timely manner, in any and every situation to help ANYONE affected by any situation involving the league, its employees, its personnel, and its players.

So beyond injuries and off the court drama what has actually been happening on the court in the WNBA this year? Let’s break it down by category:

THE BEST TEAMS: Washington Mystics (9-6) and Las Vegas Aces (11-6)

The Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics look like the two best teams in the league.

For the Aces, Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, and Kayla McBride are averaging 15 points a game each and will all be All-Stars on their home court next week. The Aces are the #1 team in the league in rebounds and assists. They are the highest defensive rated team in the league. The Washington Mystics are the best shooting team, they score the most points per game, they are second in steals and blocks. They are first in turnover average, and third in assists. They also commit the least amount of fouls per game.  The Mystics and the Aces have the best plus-minus ratings in the league. It will be interesting to see if both teams can stay healthy and continue to play well until the end of the season. The Mystics want another shot at the title, they want to return to the Finals. The Aces are a young, hungry team proving that they are ready to take on the entire league. They have 3 of the best players in the league right now, but ratings-wise the Mystics absolutely have a complete roster of some of the best offensive players in the league this year. Delle Donne, Toliver, Meesseman, Hawkins, Cloud, Sanders, Powers, Walker-Kimbrough all have an offensive rating of 104 or higher. That means 9 of the top 12 offensive ratings belong to Mystics players. That is tough beat, but maybe the Aces top-rated defense can do just that come playoff time.

THE BEST PLAYERS: Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Howard, DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones

I’m not going to quote a bunch of stats in this section. I’m too tired. But you probably already know, Delle Donne is playing extremely well this season. Howard is breaking out into a bonafide MVP candidate, Bonner is the low key MVP because she is putting up nutso numbers on a team that had more or less struggled without their leader Diana Taurasi. Jonquel Jones is a standout on the boards and is currently the most efficient player in the WNBA. Someone like Tina Charles or Liz Cambage could go nuts the rest of the season and leapfrog everyone to take the award, but that seems unlikely.

However, I have no idea who will ultimately win the MVP award. Howard will be possibly embroiled in off the court issues, Delle Donne may not be healthy, Bonner may be overlooked because of the Mercury’s overall record, and Jonquel Jones may take a dip with her numbers. Like I said at the beginning of the season, we simply cannot predict what is going to happen in 2019. This is a season of incredible uncertainty that has made for a challenging if not exciting and very interesting MVP race.

THE MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Odyssey Sims, Mercedes Russell, Kia Nurse, Jordin Canada

This is one of the hardest categories to try to choose an overall winner of. My vote right now is Odyssey Sims, not only because of her stats but because of that fact that I was personally rooting for her to have some kind of career revival with her move to Minnesota. Mercedes Russell looks like a player who was not going to last in the league as a rookie in 2018. As LWPRODUCTIONS pointed out on Twitter, she has totally transformed her game this season and looks ready to be a solid player for the surprising Storm as the season goes on. Like Russell, Kia Nurse is another second-year player who looks like she is here to stay. She was one of my favorite rookies last year, but she, unsurprisingly had an up and down year stats wise. She looks more solid and more ready to take some of the offensive load that has been weighing down Tina Charles for several seasons. Jordin Canada is another player that has seen more minutes due to injuries in Seattle. She is having a breakout year but that comes as less of a surprise because was such a dynamic force for UCLA in college. All of these players are deserving of the Most Improved Player award, but we will have to wait to see how it all plays out at the end of the year.

THE BEST ROOKIES: Napheesa Collier, Arike Ogunbowale, Asia Durr

I think people are realizing that Collier was the steal of the draft. I think I’m realizing it just now typing it. I think the only person not realizing it is Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve because she knew all along and that’s why Minnesota drafted her. Ogunbowale has been pretty darn impressive at times in her rookie season, but I just don’t like her shooting percentages and would love her to pass first and shoot second. Asia Durr can be the 3rd or 2nd go-to scorer on a New York Liberty team that really needs a 2nd or 3rd go-to scorer behind Charles and Nurse. I like all three of these players. People must think I have some deep, strange bias against Arike, but I just like Collier’s all-around game in the first half of 2019. I would like to see other rookies like McCowan, Kalani Brown, and Jackie Young have a more lasting impact on their teams in the years to come, and I think like some of the Most Improved players we talked about earlier, they could certainly have breakout sophomore efforts and go on to have very good WNBA careers. I wish nothing but the best for this rookie class because it was so full of talent you couldn’t help but want to cheer for every single rookie that made a team in 2019.

CONCLUSION

I have enjoyed the season so far, and I hope you have as well. I haven’t been able to follow as closely as I have in years past, but it has been a very interesting year all around the league, and I hope the second half is as wild and fun as the first. Everyone make sure to tune in to the All-Star Game in Las Vegas on July 27th! As always, thank you for reading!

 

Saturday 25 May 2019

Want to know what to be watching out for in the WNBA this year? Which players are going to have breakout seasons and really shine? Who’s going to take up the MVP mantle? Which rookie will meet or exceed expectations? Which younger veteran will have a career year? Which veterans will surprise the heck out of everyone and lead their team to a deep playoff run? Which team is going to take home a championship trophy? The answer to all these questions is the same: Everyone and anyone!

You cannot predict what is going to happen this year, at all. NOBODY has a clue as to whether or not the Phoenix Mercury or the Las Vegas Aces or the Seattle Storm or the Washington Mystics or the Connecticut Sun or the Atlanta Dream or any else is going to win it all this year.

No one has a clue as to whether or not Brittney Griner, Liz Cambage, DeWanna Bonner, Tiffany Mitchell, Courtney Vandersloot, Elena Delle Donne, Nneka Ogwunike, A’ja Wilson, Jonquel Jones, Jewell Loyd, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles or any number of players will win the MVP award. If they knew they’d have already placed their bets.

Who’s going to be the best defender this year? Will Alana Beard win ANOTHER DPOY? What about Griner? Well heck, don’t forget Fowles or Meesseman or Elizabeth Williams or Jonquel Jones or Natasha Howard or A’ja Wilson or about 10 other players that could come out of nowhere to take the award. I HAVE NO IDEA, but neither does anyone else if we are all being honest.

Who’s going be Coach of the Year? Brian Agler could really take a Wings team that people have been writing off in the off-season and get to the playoffs, but so could Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx, so could James Wade and the Sky, but they might just as soon give it to Curt Miller or first year coach Derek Fisher. Heck the Liberty could get their stuff together and have Katie Smith winning the thing. But so could Pokey Chatman, Nikki Collen, and basically any coach in the league at this point.

And that is ALL exactly why this season is going to be amazing and completely unexpected and unpredictable. Because everything that has happened this off-season has been unexpected and unpredictable. Oh, Breanna Stewart’s out for the season, but wait, so is Sue Bird?? Anyone see that coming? How about the Sparks getting rid of Brian Agler and hiring Derek Fisher of all people? Anyone predict that before it happened? How about Chiney Ogwunike working a deal to leave Connecticut and join her sister on the Sparks? Wouldn’t have dared dream that one up. How about Liz Cambage actually getting traded to the LAS VEGAS ACES?? After everything else that was happening, you called that trade, eh? That was a surefire bet right? How about the league hiring an actual commissioner and getting advanced stats on THEIR WEBSITE FINALLY? Wouldn’t have put money on that if my life depended on it. But guess what? It all happened and now the season is starting this weekend and we all should be jumping for joy and just how wild and crazy and unpredictable and insane and fun this season is going to be! I can’t wait to see who the most improved player is, or who 6th woman of the year, or LOOK AT THIS ROOKIE CLASS?! WHO IN THE WORLD is going to be Rookie of the Year??? IT COULD BE SO MANY DIFFERENT PLAYERS!

So please, buy the dang WNBA League Pass, it costs as much as you were going to spend on breakfast this morning. Please buy tickets and go to games if you live near teams. Buy merchandise from the WNBA team stores. Shout out and retweet you favorite people, teams, and players on Twitter and Instagram every game. Watch all the teams. Watch every award race. Read the stats. Support the WNBA because it’s going to be more fun and crazy than you can even imagine this year!

2019 Season Predictions

If you follow me regularly you know I hate predictions due to their fickle, insane nature. But here we are. Best of luck to every single player and team this year. It is going to be a wild ride.

Here are my predictions for the 2019 Season:

MVP: Elena Delle Donne

Champions: Phoenix Mercury

Rookie of the Year: Katie Lou Samuelson

Most Improved: Odyssey Sims

Defensive Player: Brittney Griner

6th Woman: Emma Meesseman

Coach of the year: Nikki Collen

Some back up choices just to make it fun:

MVP: Liz Cambage

Champions: Atlanta Dream

Rookie: Alanna Smith

Most Improved: Kelsey Plum

Defensive Player: Ariel Atkins

6th Woman: Alex Bentley

Coach of the year: Brian Agler

The 12 Players to Watch in 2019

As the season gets underway, let’s take a look at one player from each team you should keep an eye on during the season, whether they are a perennial MVP candidate, a brand new rookie, or an up and coming sophomore star.

1. Brittney Griner, F/C Phoenix Mercury

With Diana Taurasi gone for much of 2019, Griner has yet another chance to prove she is capable of carrying Phoenix by herself into another deep playoff run. If she can actually develop an outside game, which she appears to be doing this off-season, and continue to dominate defensively in the paint, her offense and her health will be key to another chance to win an MVP trophy.

2. Elizabeth Williams, F/C Atlanta Dream

The Atlanta Dream are full of exciting, fun to watch players, so it is hard to choose just one to be on the lookout for. But Williams stands out to me as a player to watch this season because she will need to step up offensively if the Dream want to make it back to the playoffs and have a chance to win more games throughout the season. Strong in the post defensively, she should have a good opportunity to get back to averaging double digits scoring this season.

3. Cheyenne Parker, F Chicago Sky

Parker should continue to rise up towards stardom as she has a cast of talented teammates that are a mix of youth and experience. If she continues to produce offensively, she will find more starting minutes. She can be an anchor and an asset next to Stefanie Dolson who will also need to step up her game if the Sky want to win. Narrowly missing the 6th woman of the year award last year, don’t surprised if Parker is in contention for Most Improved Player this year.

4. Odyssey Sims, G Minnesota Lynx

The Lynx are a team in transition. They have a lot of the old guard now missing, but they have made one of the bigger moves of the off-season in trading for Odyssey Sims from the Sparks. Sims and Skylar Diggins-Smith were an outstanding backcourt for the Tulsa Shock/Dallas Wings, but she lost her footing after moving to Los Angeles, never quite fitting into that roster. Can she revive her career on a new team and in a new city? She’ll be the player to watch on a Lynx team hoping to replace her former rival Lindsay Whalen as the point guard of the foreseeable future in Minnesota.

5. Teaira McCowan, C Indiana Fever

The Fever need new star power, and they need it fast. McCowan has the personality and the talent to make an immediate impact, not unlike A’ja Wilson did last year for the Aces. It will be interesting if McCowan can adjust to the WNBA, and if she does, watch out, because she will be a force in the post on both ends of the floor.

6. Myisha Hines-Allen, F Washington Mystics

The second year player out of Louisville could have a breakout sophomore season. With Emma Meesseman back, the Mystics will be likely tinkering with the starting lineup throughout the year, so don’t be surprised to see Hines-Allen with more opportunities, not only to start games, but more minutes off the bench as well. She will add depth to a strong squad as the Mystics look to get back to WNBA Finals.

7. Jackie Young, G Las Vegas Aces

In the WNBA, you always have to watch to see what the #1 pick can do in their rookie season. What Jackie Young will be hoping to do is play well enough to get starting minutes and lead this team to a playoff berth. She is a versatile guard, and the Aces should be able to fit her into their system. How it will all play out with Kelsey Plum and the rest of the team is going to very interesting this year. There is plenty of talent out in the desert, especially with the starting rotation, and you can’t help but wonder if Coach Laimbeer will get it just right to have this team winning more games in 2019.

8. Jonquel Jones, F Connecticut Sun

All eyes in Connecticut should be on Jones and whether or not she can get back to the starting lineup and lead this Sun team to playoff success. The talent and coaching are all there, but the Sun seemed to hit a roadblock in their rise up the ranks in the WNBA. Jones will have to continue to be the inside-out all around player that they need on both ends. Already an amazing rebounder, consitency will be key for her on the offensive end as she looks to lead the fastest team in the league towards playoff wins.

9. Kia Nurse, G New York Liberty

Nurse had an interesting rookie season, she played in all 34 games, starting in the final 7 games of the season. She averaged a good 20 minutes per game, and often came off the bench early and scored efficiently. She had several breakout, high-scoring games early on in the season, went through a real lull in the middle, and then found her groove again at the end of the year. She could be the absolute future of this franchise, so it will be very exciting to watch what she does in her second year.

10. Arike Ogunbowale, G Dallas Wings

Selected 5th overall by the Wings, Ogunbowale hopes to prove that she can shine not only in college and on the biggest stage in the Final Four, but in the pro ranks as well. She will be lead by new head coach Brian Agler, who is hoping she will be strong enough to start in a rotation without Skylar Diggins-Smith at the beginning of the season. With Cambage likely out for the year, the Wings are looking at Glory Johnson to start at center, so Arike and the rest of the back court will need to gel quickly and be able to shoot the three and play and outside to inside game. If she can adjust to the WNBA, she can be a star, but may be a rough go with the roster as it stands at the start of the season.

11. Jewell Loyd, G Seattle Storm

Loyd will be without the MVP half of her dynamic duo in Breanna Stewart this year. She now has to step up and help Sue Bird lead this team every single game. She will look to the league’s 2018 Most Improved Player Natasha Howard to feed the ball to inside, and she herself will need to continue to work her way into the paint and find ways to score and get to the free throw line. This lineup was one of the best, if not the best three point shooting team last year, and if Loyd can continue to improve in all the little areas of her game, the Storm still have a chance to repeat what they did last year in winning the WNBA title.

12. Chiney Ogwumike, C Los Angeles Sparks

It’s a good thing Chiney moved to L.A. with her sister, because she has a flair for drama. Off the court, on the court, these sisters know how to stand out, and if they can find their rhythm together, and play well without Candace Parker to start the season, they can find themselves at the top of the league. Folks around the league will be keeping watch on Chiney as she hopes to finally get to the WNBA Finals. Can she play well with an all new, star-studded cast? Can she stay healthy and provide points in the paint night in and night out? Only time will tell if this trade will have actually paid off for Chiney and the Sparks.

2019 WNBA Pre-Season Power Rankings

The 2019 WNBA Season is underway this week with our first group of preseason games featuring the Liberty taking on China, the Mystics taking on the Lynx, and the Sparks taking on the Mercury. Now that the draft is over and moves and roster cuts continue to happen, let’s rank each team as they head into what looks to be a very interesting and uncertain WNBA season. This is a tough list because almost every team should be ranked in a tie for 4th place given all the talent and potential each roster has going into the season.

1. Washington Mystics

The Mystics are looking to make back to back trips to the WNBA Finals in 2019 after being swept last year by Seattle. With Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver, LaToya Sanders, Emma Meesseman, Natasha Cloud, and plenty of other young talent, I expect them to get there. Delle Donne has to stay healthy, and Meesseman has to contribute off the bench immediately. The team needs to rebound better and get more assists, and they have to continue to be the best free throw shooting team in the league. If they can do everything they were doing at the end of the last year, they will be a strong contender to make the Finals once again.

2. Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks got Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike on the same team. They traded Odyssey Sims for Alexis Jones. They got Tierra Ruffin-Pratt in free agency. They lost Essence Carson to Phoenix. They probably won’t get Liz Cambage. But this roster is still one of the most talented in the league. Candace Parker, Chelsea Gray, who they just re-signed, Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, the newly drafted Kalani Brown, Alana Beard, and Jantel Lavender look to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing season in 2018 and get back to the WNBA Finals. They have a new head coach in long time NBA star Derek Fisher. They made have some ups and downs as they adjust to a new coach, but I believe with this roster, they have a great chance this year at another title run.

3. Connecticut Sun

Still young and full of talent with a great coaching staff, the Sun are also looking to bounce back from a frustrating 2018 season. Jonquel Jones has to return to form, and the team will need to continue to be the fastest offense in the league. If they can continue where they left off in 2017, they will be back in the playoff hunt, hopeful to get over their past playoff disappointment.

4. Seattle Storm

The Seattle Storm surprised everyone by jumping leaps and bounds forward in the play of their young stars Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. They won the off-season by trading for Natasha Howard who turned into the Most Improved player of the year along side Stewart. Key players like Alysha Clark and rookie Jordin Canada played important roles starting and coming off the bench. And leading the Storm was the always amazing, ageless wonder Sue Bird. Her play during the regular season and heroics and leadership in playoffs were some of the most important factors in bringing Seattle it’s third WNBA title. Unfortunately Breanna Stewart got hurt overseas and will miss all of 2019. Without her, the Storm will really need to conjure up something special to repeat what they did last year.

5. Phoenix Mercury

No Taurasi? No problem. DeWanna Bonner, Yvonne Turner, Briann January, and rookie Sophie Cunningham can step up with Griner in the post to continue to be a force in the Western Conference. Taurasi will be back just in time to continue to push the Mercury into yet another playoff run. Maybe….

6. Atlanta Dream

Another team loaded with talent yet missing their best player, the Dream hope they can continue to improve and win games without Angel McCoughtry. With a roster of Elizabeth Williams, Brittney Sykes, Renee Montgomery, Tiffany Hayes, and Alex Bentley, the Dream should be able to continue to find ways to win with transition play and hard defense.

7. Chicago Sky

Like the rest of the league, the talent is there on the roster for the Sky. The question is whether or not it translates to wins in 2019. Cheyenne Parker is breaking out, as is Diamond DeShields. Recent addition Kahleah Copper, last year’s other rookie Gabby Williams, and veteran post Stefanie Dolson should all be ready to help their two backcourt leaders in always underrated Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley improve and get back into playoff contention. Alaina Coates could be another important young player to have a breakout season for Chicago, as could rookie Katie Lou Samuelson from Connecticut. Rookie Chloe Jackson could see minutes behind Vandersloot or Quigley, but only time will tell.

8. Las Vegas Aces

A’ja Wilson, Kayla McBride, Kelsey Plum, Moriah Jefferson, and new #1 draft pick Jackie Young. The Aces are another team with a really good looking young roster brimming with potential. But like the Sky, the Sun, and even the Dream, Las Vegas is a team that can really go either way this season. Veterans like Dearica Hamby, Tamera Young, and new trade addition Sugar Rodgers will look to provide leadership on and off the court for a team that missed the playoffs by just a few moments in the final game against the Wings last season.

9. Minnesota Lynx

Yet another team that will miss their star player with Maya Moore sitting out the season, the Lynx dynasty looks headed for a rebuild. Brunson may or may not be back, and Lindsey Whalen has retired. Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus are, as Kelsey Plum so succinctly put it “old”. But you can’t buy wisdom and experience, and youthful additions Lexie Brown from the Sun and Odyssey Sims from the Sparks are looking good in training camp. The Lynx Dynasty as we knew it may be close to over, but with this front office and coaching staff, you cannot count this team completely out.

10. Dallas Wings

New head coach Brian Agler has question marks staring at him in his first season in Dallas. The biggest one is will Liz Cambage ever play for the Wings again, and second when will Skylar Diggins-Smith be back after giving birth in the off-season? Beyond that, that still have the veteran strength of Glory Johnson and young stars like Allisha Gray and Azura Stevens to continue to make progress towards winning in the regular season and winning in the playoffs. Rookies Arike Ogunbowale and Megan Gustafson will also help to add depth to a team that needs help on both ends of the floor.

11. Indiana Fever

Ever since Tamika Catchings retired, the Fever have been in a continuing rebuild. With last year’s rookie standout Victoria Vivian’s out with an ACL injury, the Fever are going to need a boost of offense if they want to try to turn things around this season. Rookie Teaira McCowan from Mississippi State should be the answer for the size under the basket they have been desperately needing the past couple of years, while Kelsey Mitchell and Tiffany Mitchell will need to continue to develop and grow in the backcourt. The future is there for the Fever, but it is still in the future. Playoff hopes are dim at the start of this year.

12. New York Liberty

A new owner in Joseph Tsai certainly seems to brighten the future for the New York Liberty. After last season’s dismal performance however, any news seems like good news. The Liberty will continue to play home games at the unfit Westchester County Center , which drove down attendance and only made things worse for a team seemingly at the beginning of a real transition under new Coach Katie Smith. Last year’s rookie gem Kia Nurse will now team up with fellow guard Asia Durr, and Tina Charles will only hope that Durr can take some of the offensive load of of her back. No team in the league depends on a single player more than the Liberty do with Tina Charles. But it’s not just Durr she’ll be hoping to have contribute more; rookie Megan Huff and other young players Kiah Stokes, Bria Hartley, Amanda Zahui B, and Brittany Boyd will all need to step up their games if they want to start winning more games and get back to the top of the Eastern Conference.