Ahead of the WNBA Playoffs, our writers sat down to discuss the biggest questions coming into the postseason: Who’s winning it all? On whom should you wager your money? Is this a season for underdog highlights or heavy favorite finishers?
Here’s what they had to say…
Who do you have as WNBA champion and finals MVP?
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: The Las Vegas Aces started the season off on a tear, overwhelming teams with their fast-paced, high-tempo offense. They hit a few bumps in the middle of the season, but have since returned to form — scooping up the top seed. The short bench has been a concern all season, and is made worse with Dearica Hamby being out, but I think Becky Hammon has figured out some rotations that work and the starting five are clearly on a mission. That’s why I’m going all-in on the Aces finally getting over that championship hump, and A’ja Wilson will win Finals MVP.
Chantel Jennings: I’m sticking with my preseason pick … the Seattle Storm. I don’t love the depth of this team, but it feels as though the unit — with Tina Charles moved in the starting line up — has really gelled during these past few weeks. And for Finals MVP, I’m going with Jewell Loyd. She has had an up-and-down season, but I think as this group comes together and goes for title No. 5, it’ll be Loyd who’s knocking down the biggest shots.
Cole Huff: Such a tough question to answer. Do I go with the defending champs (Sky), the Big 3 that has never come up short when healthy (Storm), or some underdog? Neither. I’m rolling the dice (see what I did there) with the new-look Aces. Although Hamby’s injury kills their already-thin bench depth, their offense shouldn’t take too much of a hit. I think Vegas’ offensive firepower is more lethal this time around under Hammon’s modern approach to basketball, and it’ll be Chelsea Gray repeatedly giving us WNBA Finals MVP performances.
Which of the bottom three seeds are you most comfortable betting your money on to shock the world and win a championship?
Cole: I think Dallas has the best shot at doing the unthinkable. Teaira McCowan’s emergence over the second part of the season was eye-opening and gave the Wings a bit more variance in how they can play on both ends of the court. If the Wings can somehow get past the Sun, whom they beat two out of three times this season, maybe Arike Ogunbowale makes it back for the next rounds to add to Dallas’ momentum. Big if, but this is hypothetical.
Lyndsey: I’m going with the Wings. Their first-round matchup against the Connecticut Sun couldn’t be better. Dallas beat Connecticut twice in three tries in the regular season. The Wings are also playing with so much confidence, and they’ve seemed to figure out a better offensive balance between guard play and getting the ball inside. McCowan has stepped up at the perfect time.
Chantel: The Wings. While the Liberty have the best record of those three teams over the last 10 games, I’m sticking with the team that has already beaten the top competition in the league this season. Dallas has wins over Las Vegas, Chicago, Connecticut (twice), Seattle and Washington this season. Have they shown they can play at that level consistently? Hell no. But they’ve at least done it, which isn’t something I can say for New York or Phoenix.
There’s a legitimate chance that the winner of the 4/5 first-round matchup between Seattle (+500) and Washington (+900) could end up being the eventual 2022 champion, making either of the two a great team to bet on. Which team gets your money and why?
Lyndsey: Both teams are definitely worth betting on, but I like the Washington Mystics as a dark horse team in these playoffs. They are a better team with Elena Delle Donne on the court, and after resting/sitting out games this season she should be in top form. The Mystics have the best defensive rating in the league (93.8), and the Storm are close behind in third (95.3), so it’s going to be a great defensive battle either way. Delle Donne won’t be able to shoulder the offensive load herself, but I think the rest of the Mystics and their deep bench are capable of stepping up.
Cole: I’ll go with Seattle. Both squads are deep, have multiple ways to win games and are oozing with championship DNA. However, the Storm mostly bottled up Washington’s offense during the season series, and if the Mystics can’t score I don’t trust that even their league-best defense can contain Seattle’s firepower well enough to compensate for their own offensive struggles. Oh, and the Storm have Breanna Stewart, who should be the best player on the court each time these two teams go to battle. That’s enough for me to give Seattle the slight edge (and my money).
Chantel: Seattle. Through the final five games of the season, the Storm led the WNBA in scoring (95 points per game), 3-point shooting percentage (43 percent) and assists (27 per game) and were second in rebounds (36 per game). That’s momentum. And that’s what matters in the playoffs.
The Las Vegas Aces enter the playoffs with the shortest odds at BetMGM (+150). Based on what you’ve seen from them all year, would you consider them the team to beat this postseason?
Chantel: We’re in uncharted waters. In the past, top seeds — because of the format of the playoffs and the byes for top-seeded teams — had a huge advantage. That advantage is now gone. Sure, the Aces get home-court advantage, and that matters, but that lack of depth could come into play more seriously, especially as the Aces get deeper into the playoffs and those legs get even more tired.
I’ll feel better about the Aces if/when Hamby — who suffered a bone contusion on August 9 and is expected to be out two to four weeks — is able to get back into the rotation. That said, there are depth and health questions for a lot of top teams (notably: Seattle, Connecticut and Washington), so the Aces aren’t unique here. But they do have the No. 1 seed and have wins over Chicago, Connecticut and Seattle in their last meetings against each team.
Lyndsey: It’s so close at the top of the standings heading into the playoffs that it’s hard to pick a secure frontrunner. Yes, the Aces are the No. 1 seed but the Sky, Sun, Storm and Mystics all have legitimate shots at winning the title. All four teams are much deeper than Las Vegas and that could pose a problem for the Aces. Really, there isn’t just one team to beat. It’s more like a Royal Rumble to see who’s the last team standing at the end.
Cole: I would not, despite their odds and spot atop the WNBA standings. It still feels to me like Chicago is the team to beat until it isn’t. The Sky followed up their championship season by piecing together a better roster and having an even better regular season.
Last season, the Aces and Sun dominated the regular season. Yet, both disappointed in the playoffs and failed to even make the Finals. Does Vegas (+150) or Connecticut (+400) have more to prove this year? And which of the two would you be more comfortable wagering on?
Cole: Although both have been equally as unlucky during recent postseasons, it feels like the Aces’ shortcomings have been harder to stomach, given the hype surrounding them. Also, it feels like there’s greater expectations for the Aces than the Sun this year. So, I’ll go Aces, even with Hamby injured.
Chantel: Connecticut has more to prove. It hasn’t played up the disrespeCT angle much this season, but I think it’s still there. However, if I’m betting on a team (between these two), it’s definitely Vegas, even if my return isn’t as great. The Aces have been more consistent throughout the season.
Lyndsey: There’s more pressure on Connecticut for sure, especially after last season’s letdown in the semifinals. That matchup against Chicago was not favorable. And unfortunately, the Sun’s first-round matchup against the Wings isn’t ideal, either. I like the Aces’ chances overall, and their first-round matchup against a limited Phoenix squad is the better bet.
Which one or two non-2022 All-Stars could become difference makers in the actual W playoffs?
Lyndsey: Shey Peddy has had to put up points and lead an embattled Mercury team down the stretch of the season after Diana Taurasi was unable to finish the regular season due to an injury and Skylar Diggins-Smith took time away from the team for her mental and emotional well-being. Peddy was a big factor in propellant Phoenix into the playoffs for a league-best 10th season in a row, averaging 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the last five games of the season. And she’ll need to be big in the first round against the Aces for the Mercury to have a chance.
Cole: My player is Kayla Thornton of the Dallas Wings. She really came on towards the end of the season and averaged 14.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and shot 44.4 percent from deep over a recent Wings five-game winning streak that locked up the No. 6 seed. Aside from the stats of her, I really like her demeanor of her and how hard she plays. You can see the fans and Thornton’s teammates rally around her when she’s on the court — the energy is contagious. For that, she’s a game changer.
Chantel: Chelsea Gray feels like a cop-out answer here simply because it’s mind-blowing that she wasn’t a part of the All-Star selection this season. But for a non-cop-out answer: I’ll go with the Liberty’s Marinene Johannès. If she can be a player who’s consistently hitting (or even threatening to hit) five to six 3-pointers a game, opponents are going to need to account for her, which would open up opportunities for both her and her New York teammates . If the Liberty offense gets rolling (thanks in large part to how their shooters can open up the floor from the outside), they could really shock the Sky in the first round.
What storyline, in particular, will you have your eye on during the playoffs?
Cole: Maybe this is wrong, but I’m really looking forward to learning more about Phoenix’s 2022 season once it’s over. From how they rallied behind Brittney Griner’s wrongful detainment, to Charles’ departure and some of the player-player or player-coach interactions we’ve seen televised, I’m just interested in finding out what things were like over in the desert this season .
Lyndsey: I agree with Cole. I think there’s a lot more that’s going to come out in the coming weeks regarding the Mercury and everything the team went through this season. I also believe there’s more to come from the Los Angeles Sparks as well, from Liz Cambage leaving to Chennedy Carter’s puzzling limited minutes to whether the Ogwumike sisters (Chiney has since said they are a packaged deal) stay for a rebuild.
Chantel: Without byes built in for the top seeds, I’m curious to see how coaches — especially with teams that rely so heavily on starters — balance their best players’ playing time over the series. I think we’re going to see coaches make some pretty strategic decisions when it comes to player usage in this first year of the format, especially given how much these players have played (in a short amount of time) coming into the postseason.
Kahleah Copper had massive performances in the playoffs last year and came back in 2022 as the Sky’s highest-paid player. Which free agent will most raise their stock in this playoff?
Chantel: Courtney Vandersloot. Elite point guards are already at a premium in this league, but a few teams are going to be looking for a floor general heading into the 2023 season and Vandersloot will be an unrestricted free agent. Does she stay in Chicago? Or is she the grass greener elsewhere?
Lyndsey: Brionna Jones. Her stock has been on the rise for a couple of years now, and even if the Sun make it back to the WNBA Finals it’s a foregone conclusion that Jones will be a highly sought-after free agent in 2023. Still, there’s a good chance her profile could rise to another level in these playoffs.
Cole: Coming out party for Azurá Stevens. I’m calling it. She had a really good season in a sixth woman kind of role and if she sustains that level of play or even kicks it up another notch in the postseason, she’ll have a fun 2023 free agency period.
(Top photo of Seattle’s Breanna Stewart: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)