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WNBA preseason predictions: MVP, champion and other award picks

The day has arrived. The 2021 WNBA season opens Friday night with a four-game slate, beginning with the Indiana Fever at the New York Liberty in Barclays Center.

We’ve brought you our preseason power rankings, the storylines we’ll be following and the five players with the most breakout potential this season.

Now, let’s get to the big reveal. What follows are our predictions for the WNBA season, from all of the top award recipients to playoff teams and the champion.

MVP: Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm)

It’s as simple as this: When Stewart is healthy, she wins. That’s come in the form of four NCAA championships at UConn, four NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player awards, two WNBA championships, two WNBA Finals MVPs and one WNBA MVP — all before she turns 27. So, as the Storm look to capitalize on this championship window, I’m not betting against her.

Runner-up: Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun)

Rookie of the Year: Charli Collier (Dallas Wings)

I had my doubts about Collier’s ability to transition quickly to the WNBA level after an inconsistent run through the NCAA Tournament with Texas. Take what you will from WNBA preseason, but Collier then posted a double-double in Dallas’ only exhibition game, and I think she’ll get enough opportunities with a young Wings team to make her mark early and often.

Runner-up: Aari McDonald (Atlanta Dream)

Defensive Player of the Year: Natasha Howard (New York Liberty)

Since Tina Charles’ departure, the Liberty have lacked an enforcer in the paint. I expect Howard, the winner of the DPOY award in 2019, to assume that role right away while playing more minutes for New York than she did for Seattle.

Runner-up: Candace Parker (Chicago Sky)

Sixth Woman of the Year: Dearica Hamby (Las Vegas Aces)

As long as Hamby is coming off the bench for the Aces, there is no one who can compete with her for this award, which she’s won the past two years. There’s a chance she enters the starting lineup with Angel McCoughtry sidelined for the season, but I think coach Bill Laimbeer likes the energy she brings as a reserve too much to mess with the system now.

Runner-up: Jordin Canada (Seattle Storm)

Most Improved Player: Ezi Magbegor (Seattle Storm)

I will admit, I originally had Diamond DeShields winning this one. But on second thought, I don’t think a former All-Star is really eligible for this award, even if she’s coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued 2020 season. That brings me to Magbegor, whose talent we’ve been talking about for years now. The 6-foot-4 center has drawn comparisons to fellow Australian Lauren Jackson and shown glimpses of star potential. I think this is the year she starts to put it all together.

Runner-up: Bridget Carleton (Minnesota Lynx)

Coach of the Year: Mike Thibault (Washington Mystics)

Thibault pulled the Mystics out of seeming oblivion last season to earn the final spot in the WNBA playoffs. Now, he’s entering this one without Alysha Clark and Emma Meesseman and with Elena Delle Donne not yet at full strength. I think Thibault works his magic again to get this team back into the playoffs and in a position to contend despite the adversity.

Runner-up: James Wade (Chicago Sky)

Playoff teams (seeded 1-8):

Las Vegas Aces
Seattle Storm
Minnesota Lynx
Connecticut Sun
Chicago Sky
Phoenix Mercury
Washington Mystics
Los Angeles Sparks

Championship: Las Vegas Aces over Seattle Storm

You wanted to see a new team in the Finals? Tough luck. While I think the Lynx, Sun or Sky have a chance at upsetting one of these teams in the semifinals, they don’t have the same level of depth and foundational chemistry as the Aces and Storm. So, bring on a 2020 Finals rematch. And this time, with Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum back to support reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, the Aces come out on top.

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

Lilia Vu adds Meijer LPGA Classic to tour wins record

Lilia Vu won in her first tournament in two months. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lilia Vu won her fifth LPGA Tour event on Sunday, taking home the Meijer LPGA Classic title in her first tournament since March. 

The world No. 2 had been sidelined with a back injury, but returned with a vengeance. She began the day eight shots back of leader Grace Kim, and survived a three-hole playoff against Kim and former champion Lexi Thompson to take the title. 

“I think this is the most meaningful win,” said Vu, “because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain.”

A two-time major champion, Vu hadn’t before won the Meijer LPGA Classic, but a birdie on the third playoff hole helped secure it. She’s now 2-for-3 in LPGA Tour playoffs. 

She said on Sunday that being unable to defend her title at the Chevron Championship was the “breaking point” in her season.

“Not being able to compete there really killed me,” she said. “I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple months off and reevaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.

“And we did the right thing and took two months off. I think it hurt me not to play competitive golf because I literally live for competitive golf, but we did the right thing and that’s why I’m here today.”

Top tennis players pull out of Olympics citing health reasons

Aryna Sabalenka will not play in the Olympics. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka joined a growing list of tennis stars opting out of the Olympics on Monday.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion and world No. 3, told reporters in Berlin that she was looking after her health while citing WTA tournament participation requirements. The Belarusian had struggled with a stomach bug during the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a major for the first time since 2022. 

“Especially with all the struggles I was having last month, I feel like I need to take care of my health. … It’s too much with the scheduling,” Sabalenka said. “It’s just too much. I made the decision to take care of my health.”

Similarly, Jabeur cited the health risks that come with the change of surface. The world No. 10 has been battling knee injuries this season, and lost in the French Open quarterfinals to Coco Gauff. 

Players will spend the next few weeks playing on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, while the Olympics will be played at Roland-Garros and be held on clay. 

“After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season,” Jabeur posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition, However, I must listen to my body and follow my medical team’s advice.”

The two join Emma Raducanu in opting out of the Olympics. Raducanu – who has dealt with a number of injuries since her US Open win in 2021 – cited the changing surface as “not worth the risk.”

Jaedyn Shaw Breaks NWSL Record for Most Goals Scored as a Teenager

Jaedyn Shaw of the san diego wave
Jaedyn Shaw is now holds the record for most NWSL goals as a teenager. (Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw continues to make NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman for the most NWSL goals by a teenager on Saturday. 

She did it in a game against Rodman's Washington Spirit in the 20th minute of the 1-1 draw. It brings her total to 13 league goals, after making her NWSL debut at 17 years old in July 2022. 

The goal is her third this season. Shaw currently leads Wave alongside Makenzy Doniak. 

Shaw has also been a member of the USWNT, alongside Rodman, netting seven goals over 14 national team appearances. If she gets called up to this summer’s Olympics under Emma Hayes, it will mark her first official tournament with the USWNT.

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