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
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.