All Scores

WNBA anonymous poll: Award picks, expansion and offseason outlooks

Emma Meesseman, Candace Parker and the Sky are hanging onto the top seed for the WNBA playoffs. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA playoffs and end-of-season awards are right around the corner. With five playoff spots secured, and five other teams vying for the final two slots, it’s time to address some of the biggest debates in our anonymous poll.

We contacted 20 league personnel consisting of general managers, head coaches, assistant coaches and PR representatives from all 12 franchises to get their take on 11 important questions.

Who is league MVP so far this season?

A’ja Wilson, LV: 8
Kelsey Plum, LV: 6
Breanna Stewart, SEA: 3
Candace Parker, CHI: 1
Courtney Vandersloot, CHI: 1
Sylvia Fowles, MIN: 1

While this year’s MVP race does not feel as clear as those in recent memory, the results at the top were somewhat definitive, with Las Vegas Aces teammates A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum making up 70 percent of the vote.

Wilson, drawing eight of the twenty votes in our poll, is second on the Aces in scoring at 19.6 points per game, the third-highest mark of her career. The 2020 WNBA MVP has also shown off her expanded game this season, shooting a career-high 50.1 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from 3.

img
Teammates A'ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum have each made strong cases for the MVP award this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Plum leads the second-place Aces in scoring at 19.9 points per game this season. Her efficiency from beyond the 3-point line and ability to create for her teammates, evident in her career-high 5.1 assists per game, makes Plum a true MVP contender.

There is also a clear MVP case for Stewart, who accounts for 27 percent of the Storm’s points per game and leads the WNBA in win shares, though she received only three votes here. The overall lack of votes for players on the reigning champion Chicago Sky is also surprising given how much Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot have contributed to the team’s league-leading 25-9 record.

Sylvia Fowles is having a memorable farewell season, but she doesn’t stack up with the rest of the top contenders, mainly due to the Minnesota Lynx’s middling record.

Who is the Most Improved Player so far this season?

Jackie Young, LV: 5
Kelsey Plum, LV: 5
AD Durr, ATL: 2
Natisha Heideman, CON: 2
Aari McDonald, ATL: 2
Azurá Stevens, CHI: 1
Natasha Howard, NY: 1
Teaira McCowan, DAL: 1
Victoria Vivians, IND: 1

You can make a strong case for all nine of the players who received votes for Most Improved Player, but it’s still clearly a two-person race between Plum and Jackie Young. Let’s take a look at some of their side-by-side statistics from last season to this one.

img

The most glaring difference to me is the increase in Plum’s minutes from 2021 to ‘22. The guard is playing an additional seven minutes per game this season, and with the ball in her hands more thanks to first-year coach Becky Hammon’s offensive system, it’s less of a surprise that her numbers have increased as a result.

Meanwhile, in just 2.6 more minutes per game, Young has made her biggest improvement in 3-point shooting, averaging 44.1 percent in 2022 compared to 25 percent last year. That level of efficiency, combined with her overall production for the 24-10 Aces, gives her the slight edge in my book.

Who is the Coach of the Year so far this season?

James Wade, CHI: 7
Becky Hammon, LV: 6
Tanisha Wright, ATL: 5
Mike Thibault, WSH: 1
Curt Miller, CON: 1

Three years after winning his first and only Coach of the Year award, James Wade leads our anonymous poll with seven total votes. Hammon, in her first year coaching Las Vegas, follows closely behind with six. Tanisha Wright rounds out the majority with five, while reigning Coach of the Year Curt Miller and Mike Thibault each received one vote.

It’s hard to argue against the coach who has led his team to a 25-9 record and the top of the league standings, one game ahead of the Aces. Wade and the Sky won the championship last year after a below-average regular season, and they have maintained that dominance consistently in 2022.

Beyond Wade, Tanisha Wright deserves major consideration for the way she has turned a young Atlanta Dream team from a league bottom-dweller into a playoff hopeful in her first season at the helm.

Who is the Defensive Player of the Year so far this season?

Alyssa Thomas, CON: 9
Breanna Stewart, SEA: 3
A’ja Wilson, LV: 2
Natasha Cloud, WSH: 2
Emma Meesseman, CHI: 1
Jonquel Jones, CON: 1
Skylar Diggins-Smith, PHX: 1
Brittney Sykes, LA: 1

I was surprised by these results because I personally do not see the DPOY race as clear-cut as this list indicates, but our respondents sure did.

img
Alyssa Thomas ran away with the votes for WNBA DPOY. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Leading vote-getter Alyssa Thomas has been a force in her first full WNBA season since 2019 after dealing with multiple injuries. She’s contributed in every area for the third-place Connecticut Sun, even recording her first two triple-doubles this season.

The forward is averaging 1.7 steals and 8.2 rebounds per game, with 6.1 of those coming on the defensive glass. Her 93.4 defensive rating is seventh in the league and has helped pace the Sun, who lead the league with 8.9 steals per game and are allowing a third-best 77.9 points per game. As a team, Connecticut has maintained a 94.8 defensive rating, the third-highest in the league.

Which team is having the most disappointing season so far?

Phoenix Mercury: 6
Minnesota Lynx: 6
Los Angeles Sparks: 3
Dallas Wings: 2
New York Liberty: 2
Indiana Fever: 1

It’s hard to argue against the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx being at the top of this list. Both teams finished in the top five of the league standings last year, with the Mercury making it all the way to the WNBA Finals.

The Lynx dealt with a revolving door of injuries and signings early on in the season that dug them a hole so deep, it didn’t look like they’d even have a shot at returning to the playoffs for the 12th straight year. They’ve rebounded in the second half of the season, and with Napheesa Collier returning to team up for one final run with Fowles, they could surprise some people if they secure one of the final two spots. They inched ever closer Wednesday night with an 86-77 win over Phoenix, and now sit tied for seventh with four other teams.

The saga of the Mercury started with a coaching change and the absence of Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years by a Russian court last week while being wrongfully detained on drug charges. Losing Griner altered the entire makeup of the team — on a physical and emotional level — and disrupted any consistency they had built from last year’s deep playoff run.

Despite that and the midseason contract divorce with Tina Charles, the Mercury have been resilient behind the play of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi and have a shot to sneak their way into the playoffs (while hoping Taurasi recovers from a quad strain).

Which team has been the most surprising this season?

Atlanta Dream: 15
Chicago Sky, Dallas Wings, Las Vegas Aces, New York Liberty: 1
None: 1

This is perhaps the least shocking result of our poll. With a new ownership group, front office and coaching staff, the Dream have completely revamped their culture in one year. They added a franchise cornerstone in 2022 No. 1 pick Rhyne Howard, and the future is bright, if not here already.

img
Rhyne Howard has helped lift the Dream into the playoff conversation in her rookie season. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

After a hot start to the season, Atlanta was hanging around the top four through the first half of the season. Now at 14-20, they’re tied for seventh and have an opportunity to secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2018.

The voter who chose the Sky said it was due to the fact they went from a .500 regular-season team last year to the best record in the league this year. And one voter was not surprised by anything that transpired this season.

Should the WNBA expand?

Yes: 18
No: 1
Roster expansion first: 1

Based on the results, it is clear that the majority of those involved in the league believe the WNBA is ready for expansion, as more talented players get pushed out of the league each year due to a limited number of roster spots. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said as much, revealing during All-Star weekend that the league will add up to two teams no later than 2025. She has also said that 10 to 12 cities are on the league’s short list for possible expansion markets.

One respondent believed the WNBA should hold on expansion, while another voted for roster expansion as a bigger priority than team expansion at this time.

Which city would you most like to see the WNBA expand to?

Bay Area: 7
Toronto: 3
Nashville: 3
Philadelphia: 3
Houston: 1
Denver: 1
Charlotte: 1

That brings us to our next hot topic of where the league should next establish its roots. The Bay Area remains a heavy favorite between fans and team personnel, earning the most votes in our poll. Engelbert said during All-Star weekend that she considers the Bay Area a “top candidate” for expansion.

Which team will be the last one to make the 2022 WNBA playoffs?

Liberty: 7
Dream: 6
Lynx: 4
Sparks: 1
Mercury: 1
Winner of ATL/NY

The majority of voters feel the Liberty have what it takes to inch into the playoffs. Two straight losses had dropped the Liberty out of the top eight, but they rebounded Wednesday night with a 91-73 win over Dallas and still have an opportunity with two games remaining against the Dream. One voter noted that the final spot will come down to the winner of Atlanta and New York in their regular season finale.

img
Sabrina Ionescu and the Liberty are looking to make the playoffs for the second straight season. (Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images)

Which team will just miss out on the 2022 WNBA playoffs?

Sparks: 8
Dream: 6
Lynx: 4
Mercury: 2

Things are certainly grim in Los Angeles for the Sparks, who have lost seven of their last eight games and are slipping out of the playoff picture at 13-21. That streak has transpired since Liz Cambage’s unceremonious departure from the team on July 26. Chennedy Carter, the Sparks’ other big offseason acquisition, has also raised questions while getting little playing time this season. Los Angeles is currently on the outside looking in of the four-way tie for seventh place and has two games left to try to grab the final playoff spot.

Which franchise has the biggest uphill battle after this 2022 season?

Fever: 9
Sparks: 8
Mercury: 2
Dream: 1

The majority of our respondents agreed that the Fever and the Sparks have the most work to do in the offseason. Both teams dealt with midseason coaching changes — the Fever from Marianne Stanley and the Sparks from Derek Fisher — and a rebuilding roster.

The Fever are a bit further along after completely tearing things down last offseason to build from the ground up. Their 5-29 record and 16-game losing streak is not a reflection of the strides this team has made this season with competitive rookies who have gained valuable experience.

The Sparks traded away valuable assets and their 2022 first-round draft pick to secure Cambage and Carter in free agency. After agreeing to a contract divorce with Cambage and getting limited minutes from Carter, this upcoming offseason will be one of the most critical periods in Sparks franchise history. The good news is Los Angeles will always be a destination for free agents, especially once they name their new coach and GM. The majority of players on the current roster will also be free agents after this season, leaving the team with the cap space to make key signings.

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.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.