Liberty steal Game 1 from Sky: Can they complete the upset?
The Liberty need just one more win to send the reigning champions home.
If you’ve followed our WNBA coverage over the last eight months, you know we’ve added betting analysis as one way to help grow the game. We kicked it off with our primer heading into last year’s playoffs, which is a great place to start if you’re new to the betting scene.
This year, for the first time, we’ll be rolling out betting coverage right from the beginning of the season.
We aren’t likely to have game lines until the regular season tips off on Friday, but we do have championship futures and trends from last year. So, let’s go ahead and break those down as we count down the hours until the season openers.
Several books have had these posted for months, and they have been continuously adjusting throughout the offseason as league news has affected the landscape.
For example, the Mystics were listed at around +3000 in most places before the draft lottery, but after they landed the No. 1 pick (which they later traded), those odds dropped to +2000 or even +1800 at some books.
Likewise, teams like the Sparks and the Mercury, who added big names such as Liz Cambage and Tina Charles during free agency, saw their odds move. Kudos to you if you were able to snag any of those bets at the previous odds.
At this point, the next event to affect the odds will probably be the games themselves. For now, here are where the odds stand at a few of the biggest books.
There should be more value in a couple of weeks (more on that later), but as it stands, the Liberty at +3000 on FanDuel and the Sun at +400 on DraftKings may be solid bets.
In New York’s case, the roster didn’t change a whole lot from last season’s playoff team, but the coaching staff did. Sandy Brondello is a proven winner who should know how to get the most out of the talent on this team.
The one big change was the Liberty’s addition of Stefanie Dolson. It may not have been as splashy as the Cambage or Charles signings, but Dolson is a two-time All-Star in the prime of her career who brings championship experience at the college, WNBA and EuroLeague levels. Her screening ability was one key reason Courtney Vandersloot was able to do so much damage in the pick-and-roll over the last several seasons. Sabrina Ionescu could see similar success in that department.
Connecticut, meanwhile, upgraded its roster by virtue of health. Yes, Alyssa Thomas returned at the end of last season, but having her back from the start will make a huge difference next to Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner. This will be the first year that those three will get to play together all season, despite it being the third season that they are all under contract for the Sun.
And we can’t forget about the return of Courtney Williams. Bringing her back into the mix means the only difference between this year’s starting lineup and the one that pushed the Mystics to the brink in the 2019 Finals will be Bonner (in place of Shekinna Stricklen).
Not only is Williams an upgrade, but the absences of Jones and Thomas over the last couple of years have allowed players like Brionna Jones to step in and gain valuable experience, which should make this team deeper than that 2019 squad was.
FanDuel is the only book with MVP odds at the moment, but more and more should pop up in the next week or two. Here are FanDuel’s MVP odds.
There is a pretty clear “big three” this year, although a few others have a path to that top tier at some point. If Tina Charles or Sylvia Fowles can carry their respective teams in the absence of Brittner Griner and Napheesa Collier, their stock could rise. Elena Delle Donne’s could as well if she can stay healthy for the first time since 2019.
As far as the current top tier, Breanna Stewart seems like the best bet. Jonquel Jones is coming off of a remarkable season, but she’ll lose a little bit of scoring volume to Alyssa Thomas, and voter fatigue generally makes it tough to repeat for any award in any sport.
A’ja Wilson should take off in Becky Hammon’s new system without Liz Cambage stealing paint touches, so she deserves to be the favorite. The gap between her odds and Stewart’s is enough that the latter may be a slightly better value though.
Last year, the first few weeks of the season provided tons of value in terms of futures betting. Both championship odds and MVP odds stayed relatively stagnant while we started to gain information about teams and players through the first handful of games.
There was a window of time to bet on breakout stars like Betnijah Laney for MVP or upstart teams like the Sun (whose odds were in the middle of the pack early on as everyone overestimated the impact of losing Alyssa Thomas to injury). While Laney didn’t win the MVP and the Sun didn’t win the title, both looked much more likely to do so a month into the season than they did on opening day. Naturally, those bets had good value, and at sportsbooks that allow midseason cashouts, it was possible to still profit from that value.
Keep an eye on the odds during May: If there’s a 2022 version of Laney or a Connecticut to bet on this year, those who pay the closest attention will have a leg up on beating the books to those bets.
For a lot of people, betting unders isn’t as fun as betting overs. The average fan doesn’t usually enjoy a game filled with bricks.
If you want to take advantage of a couple of areas that have been misjudged by sportsbooks, however, consider back-to-back unders and fourth-quarter unders.
Back-to-back unders come into play during the second of consecutive matchups between the same two teams. Last season, this happened 47 times, and the under hit in 26 of those (55.3 percent). Since you only need to win around 53 percent of your over/under bets to be profitable, you would have come out ahead simply by betting the under in every single second leg of a back-to-back.
Part of this is simply a matter of rest. Almost all of those back-to-backs were played with just one off day in between, leaving players a little more tired and less likely to push the pace in the second game.
Of course, that would be true of any game in which the teams were playing on short rest, but there’s an added component at work when the short-rest games are between teams that just met two days prior: scouting report familiarity. Put those two factors together, and you have a recipe for a game that was lower-scoring than the first matchup.
The other type of under bet that’s worth monitoring was even more profitable last season. Fourth-quarter unders went 119-72 with one push in 2021, cashing out well over 60 percent of the time.
Basketball games at almost any level tend to slow down a little bit as the game goes on — legs aren’t as fresh 35 minutes in as they were at the tip. This leads to lower-average scores in each successive quarter. While free throws at the end of close games do sometimes drive the fourth quarter scores up, the effect isn’t large enough to buck the overall trend; fourth quarters have still been historically the slowest and lowest-scoring quarters of the game.
For whatever reason, sportsbooks haven’t seemed to figure that out yet. These lines vary, but often you can find a fourth-quarter over/under that’s at one-fourth of the game over/under or even slightly higher. For instance, in a game that has an over/under set at 160, a fourth-quarter line of 40 or 41 may be worth taking the under on.
The more people bet on a sport, the more people watch the sport, and the more the sport grows. As part of our efforts to grow the WNBA, we’ll be keeping you updated on the betting trends and futures odds with regular analysis throughout the year, so stay tuned all season long.
Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats, CBS SportsLine and FiveThirtyEight. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.
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