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WNBA 2022 season predictions: Champion, MVP, breakout team and more

Reigning WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones leads the Connecticut Sun into the 2022 season. (Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA’s 26th season tips off with a quadruple-header on Friday night, ushering in another year full of on- and off-court intrigue. As teams take the next step in their rebuilds, and others make a push for championship contention, the league is on the cusp of one of its most competitive seasons yet.

Just Women’s Sports WNBA experts Rachel Galligan and Lyndsey D’Arcangelo got together to break it all down, analyzing the impact of teams’ offseason moves and making their predictions for WNBA champion, individual awards and other fun categories. Let’s get to it.

Prediction for champion

Chicago Sky

It is nearly impossible at this stage to determine who will win it all between the Connecticut Sun, Chicago Sky and Seattle Storm. I give the nod to the Sky based on their experience winning the 2021 championship and their free-agent acquisitions of Emma Meesseman and Julie Allemand. Did the Sky just catch lightning in a bottle when they peaked in the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and won it all last year? I don’t think so, and I don’t expect a team led by Candace Parker, Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot to be complacent. We have yet to see this team be consistently dominant over the course of a season, as Parker alluded to earlier this week. This season could be it. — Rachel Galligan

Connecticut Sun

The Sun have been in the championship conversation for the past few seasons, making the WNBA Finals in 2019 and the semifinals in 2020 and 2021. This year could finally be their breakthrough. Jonquel Jones is primed to be a frontrunner again for MVP, Alyssa Thomas is healthy, Courtney Williams is back with the team for another run and the entire roster is as solid as it has ever been. If Connecticut can find a second gear in the playoffs and capitalize on their fine-tuned regular season chemistry, a WNBA trophy will be the result. — Lyndsey D’Arcangelo

Prediction for MVP

Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm

Sue Bird’s final ride is motivation enough for the Storm to be a favorite to win it all, and I expect Breanna Stewart to be back at 100-percent superstardom after signing a one-year deal of her own in the offseason. Stewart’s 2021 season was cut short when she suffered a left foot injury in early September, and the Storm stumbled into a fourth-place finish and single-game elimination in the playoffs. Stewart has a track record of bouncing back from injuries, most recently when she was named 2020 Finals MVP after missing all of the 2019 season. — Galligan

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Tina Charles joins a superteam in Phoenix after leading the WNBA in scoring last season. (Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tina Charles, Phoenix Mercury

The Brittney Griner situation is delicate, and with each day that passes, the urgency to secure her safe return home grows. The U.S. State Department recently reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained” by Russia. Basketball, of course, is secondary to her well-being. But in her absence, the Phoenix Mercury will need to rely more on Tina Charles in the post, and Charles is used to fulfilling that role. Last season, she was the go-to player for the injury-riddled Washington Mystics and led the league in scoring with 23.4 points per game. With Charles having already teamed up with Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith on Team USA, chemistry shouldn’t be an issue for the Mercury. The 6-foot-4 center will get plenty of looks and opportunities to dominate in the lane. — D’Arcangelo

Prediction for Defensive Player of the Year

Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx

Even as she enters her farewell season in the WNBA at 36 years old, Fowles is still playing some of the best basketball of her career, especially on the defensive end of the floor. The 14-year veteran’s imposing size, agility, rim protection and rebounding abilities are tough for any opponent to match up with, and I expect her to leave it all on the line for the Lynx this year. — Galligan

Sylvia Fowles, Lynx

How cool would it be if Sylvia Fowles added yet another Defensive Player of the Year honor to her resume in her last season in the WNBA — bringing her grand total to five and tying the legendary Tamika Catchings? Fowles has been one of the most dominant and versatile defensive players in the league during her career. She not only blocks shots, but she also excels at bodying-up opponents, making them uncomfortable in the lane and forcing them into bad shots. Every game day is just another one at the office for Fowles. — D’Arcangelo

Prediction for Rookie of the Year

Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream

Rhyne Howard, the No. 1 pick in last month’s draft, enters a situation in Atlanta that’s perfectly suited for the 6-2 guard to gain valuable minutes, experience and confidence on the floor. And as we learned from her stellar career at Kentucky, when Howard gets minutes, she racks up points. As the franchise looks to rebuild from the ground up, Howard should have the ball in her hands often with every opportunity to make her mark on the WNBA. — Galligan

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The Dream are set to build their franchise around 2022 No. 1 pick Rhyne Howard. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rhyne Howard, Dream

In the past couple of seasons, we’ve seen the Rookie of the Year award come down to which player gets the most playing time and opportunities to impact the game. This year, there will be plenty of rookies thrust into larger roles, notably the Indiana Fever’s five rostered draft picks, but Howard could have the biggest effect of them all. She’s going to have a chance to showcase her talent in full capacity for the Dream, and she has all the tools to make the most of it. — D’Arcangelo

Prediction for Coach of the Year

James Wade, Chicago Sky

Chicago had a rollercoaster 2021 regular season, following up a seven-game losing streak at the beginning to the season with a seven-game win streak and entering the playoffs as the No. 6 seed before winning it all. I do not expect that to be the case this year. James Wade has the entire package of superstar talent, veteran experience, chemistry and confidence to keep his team near the top of the standings all season long. His offseason acquisition of Messeeman immediately enhances this roster. — Galligan

Sandy Brondello, New York Liberty

The Liberty are ready to take that next step, and Brondello has the experience and coaching pedigree to get them there. Sabrina Ionescu was considered a franchise player when she entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2020, but experienced a setback when she suffered an ankle injury early in her rookie season. With Brondello at the helm (and Ionescu saying she finally feels healthy), the guard could have the kind of breakout season Liberty fans have been waiting for. — D’Arcangelo

Team with most breakout potential

Dallas Wings

In 2021, the Wings emerged as one of the most dangerously young and talented teams in the WNBA, capable of causing opponents fits on any given night. With another year of experience, I could see the Wings taking the next step in their progression, from a seventh-place finish last season to a top-five team in the league and a playoff contender. To get there, they will need to improve most drastically on the defensive end of the floor. — Galligan

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Sabrina Ionescu spent this past offseason fully rehabbing her injured ankle. (Jesse Louie/Just Women's Sports)

New York Liberty

I agree with Rachel that the Wings are primed for a breakout season, as they have been on the cusp for a couple of years now. But the Liberty are also ready to raise their game to another level, especially with Stefanie Dolson in the mix and Natasha Howard healthy. This team has a lot of weapons, and although the bulk of the roster is still young, there’s a good balance of experienced vets who can help lead the way. — D’Arcangelo

High-risk, high-reward team

Los Angeles Sparks

In 2021, Los Angeles battled injuries, inconsistencies and an inability to score the basketball. Derek Fisher and the Sparks’ front office addressed those shortcomings with some of the biggest moves of the offseason, signing Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter and Katie Lou Samuelson. When you combine the newcomers with the veteran returners, the Sparks have an extremely talented roster on paper. How quickly the Sparks can build chemistry and gel on the floor will make or break them this season. — Galligan

Los Angeles Sparks

Los Angeles took a big swing in free agency, bringing in Cambage and trading for Carter and Samuleson. All three players have the potential for breakout offensive performances, which the Sparks desperately need after finishing last in the league in points per game in 2021. Still, the combination of big personalities like Cambage and Carter has the potential to backfire, because what happens in the locker room directly impacts the outcome on the court. But if the Sparks can mesh as a team and work together toward a common goal, the payoff could be a playoff appearance and possibly more. — D’Arcangelo

Best comeback story

Alysha Clark, Washington Mystics

The Mystics’ success this season hinges on the health and consistency of their roster, and that starts with Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark. Clark missed the 2021 season with a foot injury she sustained while playing overseas, and the former Storm guard has yet to play a game in a Mystics jersey. While recovery from any season-ending injury requires patience, if Clark is back to playing her best basketball mid-season, she can help lead the Mystics on a deep playoff run with her tenacity on defense and versatility on offense. — Galligan

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Elena Delle Donne said she's entering the season with "newfound joy" after multiple back surgeries. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Elena Delle Donne, Mystics

The Mystics were just not the same team without Delle Donne on the floor the past two seasons. After the 2019 MVP underwent multiple back surgeries to repair herniated discs, what happens from here is anyone’s guess. But if Delle Donne can stay on the court and dominate the way she is capable of, alongside an equally healthy Clark, Washington has a legitimate chance to not only make the playoffs this year, but to compete for another WNBA championship. — D’Arcangelo

Biggest impact on a new team

Liz Cambage, Los Angeles Sparks

While the Sparks won’t need to pound the ball inside to Cambage over and over, like we saw with the Wings in 2018, the center has the opportunity to thrive in an offensive system designed to put her in situations where she’s at her best. That includes playing with her back to the basket, facing up and owning the paint with Nneka Ogwumike. The Sparks made sure to add 3-point threats in the offseason between Samuelson and their draft class, which should allow them to challenge defenses and open up the floor for Cambage to do damage down low. — Galligan

Indiana’s rookie class

We’ve never seen a rookie class like the one the Indiana Fever have put together this season. NaLyssa Smith, Emily Engstler, Lexie Hull, Queen Egbo and Destanni Henderson are essentially a college All-Star team, and Fever interim general manager Lin Dunn has stressed that these players were drafted to play a lot of minutes away. For a team in the midst of a long rebuild, how can they not have an impact? — D’Arcangelo

Other storyline you have your eye on

Connecticut finally at 100-percent health

We have yet to see the Sun’s vision for their Big Three of Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner come to fruition. Jones missed the 2020 bubble season, and Alyssa Thomas missed the majority of the 2021 season while recovering from a torn Achilles. Finally at full strength, the Sun are poised to make a run at their first WNBA championship if they can stay healthy. — Galligan

Brittney Griner

As the WNBA season gets underway, Griner’s situation hangs over the games. The league stated earlier this week that getting the Mercury center home is paramount, and throughout the season, her initials and numbers will be displayed on every team’s court. The gesture is a show of solidarity and offers a constant reminder that Griner is on everyone’s mind. — D’Arcangelo

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

USWNT Looks to Extend Winning Streak in Final Olympic Send-Off

USWNT striker Sophia Smith dribbles through Costa Rican defenders during a 2022 Concacaf W Championship game.
The USWNT last took on Costa Rica at the 2022 Concacaf Championship semifinal. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The USWNT’s last tune-up match before the Olympics has arrived, with the FIFA world No. 5 US looking for an 18th-straight all-time win over No. 44 Costa Rica tonight at Washington, DC's Audi Field.

Just three days after a redemptive 1-0 victory over No. 29 Mexico, head coach Emma Hayes’s Paris-bound roster appears to be finding its stride. Calling Saturday’s win "a step in the right direction," Hayes went on to say, "I think we’re only scratching the surface. I think there’s a lot of layers to go from everyone."

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The new-look USWNT is looking to hit its stride after several matches under Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Hayes's USWNT is still finding its footing

With their first Olympic group stage game against No. 64 Zambia slated for July 25th, the new-look USWNT — which features the youngest roster in 16 years — is working to define its style of play.

While the USWNT’s signature ability to score in transition remains a strong point, the team also acknowledged their shaky first half on Saturday, with midfielder Rose Lavelle commenting that they're "working on being a little more tactically flexible... We’re trying to, as a group, learn how to adjust on the fly and be a little smarter with our adjustments during the games."

The patience required to choose their moments, along with the team’s ability to read and anticipate each other's movements, is clutch to increasing effectiveness in the areas where the USWNT appeared most disjointed against Mexico.

At stake is an Olympic podium finish, where the US hopes to improve on their bronze medal performance in Tokyo — but the team also aims to make a splash amidst their increasingly sophisticated opponents.

Costa Rica captain Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez chases the ball during a match against Panama in 2020.
Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez, Costa Rica's captain, is the only NWSL on their Olympic roster. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Rodriguez leads a rising Costa Rica team

If improving offensive unity and production is tonight’s goal, Las Ticas could provide the ideal matchup: In their 17 previous meetings, the USWNT has outscored Costa Rica 90-2 overall.

That said, Costa Rica has switched things up since the sides last met in July 2022, with the US defeating the Central American squad 3-0 in the Concacaf Championship semifinal. Las Ticas competed in the 2023 World Cup and reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals earlier this year, where they narrowly fell to No. 8 Canada in extra time.

Costa Rica is captained by 30-year-old Angel City midfielder Rocky Rodriguez, the lone NWSL player on their roster and, in 2015, the first Costa Rica national to ever score in a Women's World Cup.

In addition to maintaining a perfect record against Costa Rica, the USWNT will look to extend their current unbeaten streak to nine, which includes three shutouts in Hayes’s first three matches at the helm.

Lindsay Horan drinks water before the USWNT's match against Ireland in April 2023.
An excessive heat warning is in effect for Washington, DC today. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Where to watch the USWNT vs. Costa Rica friendly

Expect some hydration breaks due to DC's scorching temperatures during tonight’s 7:30 PM ET match, airing live on TNT and streaming on Peacock.

TruTV and Max will simultaneously air the first-ever USWNT altcast, hosted by retired USWNT star Sam Mewis, former USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, and Men in Blazers founder Roger Bennett.

Sizing Up USWNT’s 2024 Olympic Competition

Germany's Giulia Gwinn steps to the ball while Iceland's Sandra Jessen slides in during Friday's UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match.
Germany lost their Euros qualifier against Iceland 3-0 on Friday, less than two weeks before Olympic football begins. (Hulda Margret/Getty Images)

With Olympic soccer kicking off in just over a week, the USWNT isn't the only national squad prepping for the podium with a series of pre-Paris matchups. Both international friendlies and important qualifiers are on the docket, with several European teams competing for a spot in the UEFA Women's EURO 2025.

Regardless of the stakes, these performances might provide some insight into what the USWNT can expect once the Summer Games begin.

Czechia national soccer team celebrates as Spain women's national soccer team defender Laia Aleixandri leaves the pitch
FIFA World No. 1 Spain fell to Czechia on Friday in a 2025 Euros qualifier. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Pre-Olympic matches expose problems for top teams

Of the 12 Olympic teams, recent outings from FIFA world No. 1 Spain and No. 4 Germany featured the most shocking outcomes.

Despite dominating possession behind an opening goal from 2023 Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí, the 2023 World Cup winners fell 2-1 to No. 30 Czechia in Friday's Euros qualifier — their first loss of 2024. They managed to bounce back on Tuesday, however, beating Belgium 2-0 to finish out the league stage on top with 15 points.

Spain heads into the Summer Games aiming to become the first women’s team to win a World Cup and Olympic gold back-to-back, though they’ll need to reclaim their composure to achieve that feat in the face of an Olympic group that includes Japan, Nigeria, and Brazil.

France defender Sakina Karchaoui celebrates her opening goal during Friday's 2-1 win over Sweden.
Defender Sakina Karchaoui scored the opening goal in France's 2-1 win over Sweden on Friday. (ARNAUD FINISTRE/AFP via Getty Images)

No. 2 France took down No. 6 Sweden 2-1 in Friday's Euro qualifier, but flipped the script on Tuesday with a 3-1 loss to last-place No. 25 Republic of Ireland, who notched their first win. However, thanks to England's 0-0 draw with Sweden — also on Tuesday — France still topped their qualifying group with 12 points. Les Bleus will look for more consistent results going into the Olympics, where they're set to face Colombia, New Zealand, and Guinea in the group stage.

But it was Germany who stumbled the hardest, losing out 3-0 to No. 14 Iceland in their own Friday qualifier. After the match, Germany's head coach Horst Hrubesch didn’t mince words.

"We have to assert ourselves from the start in the individual battles. The way we played just wasn’t good," Hrubesch told reporters. "We deserved to lose. We handed them all three goals on a plate."

Tuesday also saw improvement for Germany, as they routed Austria 4-0 to claim first place in the group standings with 15 points.

But the earlier loss was still foreboding for this German squad. The two-time world champions fell to 3-2 to Zambia just weeks before the 2023 World Cup, before failing to advance past the World Cup group stage for the first time in the tournament’s history. Germany also faces some tough Olympic group stage competition, battling Australia and the USWNT before crossing paths with Zambia once again.  

Team Canada celebrate their victory in the 2020 Olympic Gold Medal Match with Sweden
Team Canada has their work cut out for them if they want to repeat their Tokyo gold medal run. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Friendlies rally Olympic teams outside Europe

Defending Olympic champs FIFA World No. 8 Canada defeated No. 12 Australia 2-1 on Saturday, with KC Current forward Nichelle Prince and ex-Gotham striker Evelyne Viens both scoring in the friendly. Canada will play world No. 36 Nigeria in a closed-door friendly on Wednesday before kicking off their Olympic campaign against New Zealand on July 25th. 

For their part, No. 28 New Zealand drew 1-1 in a friendly with No. 64 Zambia on Saturday, while non-Olympic-bound Ecuador handed No. 22 Colombia a 2-1 send-off loss.

Liberty, Aces Surge Ahead of WNBA All-Star Weekend

NY Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu dribbles up the Chicago Sky court on Saturday.
NY Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu is scoring a career-high 19.4 points per game on the season. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty head into the last week of regular play prior to WNBA All-Star Weekend — and the subsequent Olympic break — firmly ahead of the pack with the WNBA's best regular season record, becoming the first team this season to reach 20 wins on Saturday.

With Breanna Stewart briefly sidelined, Sabrina Ionescu led the Liberty to a two-game sweep of the Chicago Sky, topping the score sheet in both games. Ionescu is currently averaging 19.4 points per game, the highest in her career (not including her three-game rookie year).

Las Vegas center A'ja Wilson shoots over Atlanta center Tina Charles on July 12th, 2024.
A'ja Wilson posted her third-straight 25-point, 15-rebound performance last weekend. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Aces excel behind WNBA MVP favorite A'ja Wilson

The Aces continued climbing the table behind A'ja Wilson's record-breaking run, finishing the weekend in third with a record of 16-7. On Sunday, Wilson became the first player in WNBA history to register three consecutive 25-point, 15-rebound performances.

With Sunday's 89-77 victory over the Mystics, Las Vegas has won 10 of their last 11 games following the return of starting point guard Chelsea Gray. The third-place Aces are now nipping at the heels of the Liberty and second-place Connecticut Sun (18-5), with the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm tied for fourth at 16-8.

The push for playoff positioning grows fierce

Amidst the looming Olympic break, further down in the WNBA standings, sixth-place Phoenix dropped to 12-12 on a two-game skid, while Indiana won eight of their last 10 games to capture seventh.

Eighth-place Chicago currently holds onto the final playoff spot, with double-double machine Angel Reese boosting the Sky's stats despite back-to-back losses.

Speaking of double-doubles, Reese's record-breaking double-double streak came to an end after Saturday's loss to the Liberty.

A frontrunner for WNBA Rookie of the Year, Reese finished with eight points and 16 rebounds against New York, falling just a couple points short of what would have been her 16th-straight double-double. The LSU grad's record stands as the longest double-double streak in WNBA history, surpassing previous record-holder Candace Parker by three games.

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Next up: WNBA All-Star Weekend

Regular season WNBA play extends through Wednesday, with all eyes turning to the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game this upcoming weekend. The highly anticipated matchup between the US Olympic squad and WNBA All-Stars tips off on Saturday, July 20th in Phoenix.

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