May 6, 2022 

The Next’s 2022 WNBA preseason awards and predictions

What will shape the 2022 WNBA season, in handy graph form

Happy Friday! Welcome, at last, to the 2022 WNBA season, a monumental year for which we’ve waited far too many months. After a crazy offseason, the league’s landscape has been reaffirmed, and now as many as 10 teams are vying for the title. And we here at The Next are as dedicated to as diverse coverage as ever. Will Sue Bird go out with a record fifth championship ring? Will Diana Taurasi call it quits as well? How does #LizAngeles work out? We convened over a dozen of our staff to answer all these questions, pick awards, and more!



The all-important leadoff:

Who are the title favorites?

There’s a couple ways to measure a championship outlook. The easiest is just predicting a champion:

Graph showing Seattle at 8 votes, Chicago at 6, Connecticut at 2, and Las Vegas and Phoenix each at 1

Another way is asking our writers to rank the couple teams they felt most likely to win it all. Here’s how each team’s vote share ended up (where 100% = a unanimous pick):

Graph showing Seattle at 50%, Chicago at about 33%, Connecticut at 25%, Las Vegas around 22%, Phoenix around 15%, Washington around 10%, and each of Atlanta and Dallas and Indiana and Los Angeles and Minnesota and New York at 0%

Who are the lottery favorites?

Of course, for a team to finish first, another has to finish last. And we think that team is going to be…

Graph showing Indiana at 13 votes, Atlanta at 5, and Dallas at 1

Yikes. At least they’ll get Aliyah Boston — she seems like a decent consolation prize.

And in terms of share of the vote:

Graph showing Indiana around 78%, Atlanta around 55%, Dallas around 10%, and Los Angeles around 5%

Oh hey, LA. We’ll get to you later.

Who’s winning MVP?

Chart showing A'ja Wilson at 8 votes, Breanna Stewart at 5, Jonquel Jones at 2, Tina Charles at 2, and each of Jewell Loyd and Kahleah Copper at 1

There hasn’t been a repeat MVP since Cynthia Cooper-Dyke won the first two in league history, per Across The Timeline. And while a couple writers think Jonquel Jones could be the second ever to do so, a plurality expect A’ja Wilson to join the ranks of Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Lauren Jackson, Candace Parker, and Elena Delle Donne as a multi-time MVP.

Who’s winning Defensive Player of the Year?

Chart showing Sylvia Fowles at 5 votes, Brianna Turner at 3, Jonquel Jones at 3, Alyssa Thomas at 2, and Brittney Sykes at 2, with each of Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud and Natasha Howard and Teaira McCowan receiving votes

W history is filled with unexpected and controversial Defensive Players of the Year, but our staff favors the greatest defensive center in league history to take home a Tamika Catchings-record-tying fifth award.

Who’s winning Most Improved Player?

Chart showing Sabrina Ionescu at 4 votes, Aari McDonald at 2, Jordin Canada at 2, Rebecca Allen at 2, and each of Brianna Turner, Chennedy Carter, Gabby Williams, Jackie Young, Kelsey Mitchell, Marina Mabrey, Natasha Cloud, Satou Sabally, and Stefanie Dolson receiving votes

There are generally two categories a Most Improved Player falls into: second-year player adjusting to the speed of the pros and a bigger role, or a random breakout by a second-contract veteran. Given that Sabrina Ionescu barely played in her official rookie season, she and Aari McDonald fall into the former category, while most of the other players on the list fall into the latter.

Who’s winning Sixth Woman of the Year?

Chart showing Brionna Jones at 4 votes, Gabby Williams at 3, Kelsey Plum at 3, and Marina Mabrey at 2, with each of Azurá Stevens and Chiney Ogwumike and DiDi Richards and Shey Peddy receiving votes

With rosters in flux for the first month of the season, teams often have players who start in May and come off the bench every month after, as more players return from offseason commitments. So we tried to vote on how lineups are expected to end up, rather than how they’ll start out. (For example: Dallas is currently missing both Satou Sabally and Arike Ogunbowale, so Marina Mabrey is starting until they return.)

What matchups are we most looking forward to?

Chart showing Chicago-Phoenix at 7 votes, Seattle-Las Vegas at 5, Seattle-Phoenix at 4, Chicago-Connecticut at 3, Chicago-Los Angeles at 3, Los Angeles-Atlanta at 3, and Seattle-Washington at 3, with Seattle-Chicago and Las Vegas-Los Angeles and Phoenix-New York also receiving multiple votes

There’s no doubt that this year’s schedule has plenty of dates worth circling. A rematch of the 2021 Finals is a must-watch; as are renewals of the Storm-Aces and Storm-Mercury rivalries, both with All-WNBA matchups in Breanna Stewart-versus-A’ja Wilson and Jewell Loyd-versus-Skylar Diggins-Smith.

And speaking of All-W…

Who’s making All-WNBA First Team this year?

Chart showing Breanna Stewart at 18 votes, Jonquel Jones at 13, A'ja Wilson at 11, Courtney Vandersloot at 11, and Jewell Loyd at 10, with each of Sylvia Fowles, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Arike Ogunbowale, Tina Charles, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu also receiving multiple votes

Few surprises here, as each of these players made an All-W team last year. Courtney Vandersloot is working on a streak of four-straight All-WNBA honors, while Stewart has received such an award in four of the five years that she’s been healthy.

And to rounding out the individual awards we voted on:

Who’s winning Executive of the Year?

This is essentially our way of taking a straw poll on which teams we think improved the most this offseason.

Chart showing Lin Dunn at 4 votes, James Wade at 3, Natalie Williams at 3, Derek Fisher at 2, Jim Pitman at 2, and Mike Thibault at 2, with each of Cheryl Reeve, Dan Padover, and Talisa Rhea receiving votes

Nearly every team in the league got some love here, with many thinking that the Fevers’ tank job would earn some respect, while others look towards James Wade taking a reigning-champion Sky and somehow improving or to Natalie Williams and the refocused Aces. Don’t sleep on the quality of a job that Derek Fisher has put in for the Sparks over the past couple of years.

There’s a couple more-renown individual awards we didn’t vote on, in Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year. But the the former always ends up coming down to “which team overperformed expectations the most,” which is intrinsically impossible to predict, and the latter would almost always be favored to the No. 1-overall draftee.

But that’s enough about that. We didn’t pull together this many dedicated writers just to make some lists. Let’s get to the real analysis.

Who’s going to have the best offense? Who’s going to be the worst?

Two graphs, the first labeled "Best offense" and showing Chicago at 6 votes, Las Vegas at 4, Phoenix and Seattle at 3, Washington at 2, and Dallas at 1; the bottom is labeled "Worst offense" and shows Indiana at 13 votes, Atlanta at 3, and each of Dallas and Los Angeles and Phoenix at 1

No surprises here, and the Mercury and Wings each receiving votes for both the best and the worst offense in the league just feels right.

Speaking of things that just feel right:

Who’s going to have the best defense? Who’s going to be the worst?

Two graphs, the first labeled "Best defense" and showing Connecticut at 10 votes, Washington at 3, Minnesota and Seattle at 2, and each of Chicago and Los Angeles at 1; the bottom is labeled "Worst defense" and shows both Indiana and Atlanta at 7 votes, Dallas at 3, and each of New York and Washington at 1

The Sun may have lost a top-tier defender in Briann January and replaced her with a bottom-tier defender in Courtney Williams, but they still feature up to four All-Defense-level starters, with another coming off the bench. On the flip side, marginal improvements from Atlanta and more focused tanking from Indiana now have them neck-and-neck for the worst defense in the WNBA. And Washington getting votes for both the best and worse defense in the league feels right.

Which free agent move is going to make the biggest impact?

Table showing Tina Charles at 8 votes, Emma Meesseman at 6, Liz Cambage at 4, and Angel McCoughtry at 2

A former MVP and reigning Second-Team All-WNBA player, a former Finals MVP, and the most dominant at-rim force in the league. Oh, and Angel frickin’ McCoughtry.

What trend is going to define this season?

Chart showing "five-out lineups" at 5 votes, "more threes" and "faster pace" at 4, and each of "the mid-range" and "point guard-less lineups and "one-guard lineups" and "load management" at 1

The league has been moving in a pace-and-space direction for years now, and that’s unlikely to slow down any time soon. The down-ballot votes are particularly interesting, with writers expecting some new trends:

  • One said teams like Chicago and Connecticut and Los Angeles are likely to roll out three-big lineups, something we haven’t regularly seen in years
  • Another expects the amount of lineups without a true point guard to increase, as teams continue to scheme up looks for off-ball guards and wings while the W collectively struggles at backup point guard
  • “Load management” has been a hot-button issue in the NBA for a few years now, and one analyst expects that W teams will start reducing their stars’ workloads more often

How will this year’s rookie class compare to last year’s?

Pie chart showing "much better" as almost half of the responses, "somewhat better" as about one-third, "about the same" as about one-fifth, and "somehwat worse" as a small sliver

Last year’s draft class was historically bleak, and so far, there’s been strong progress from this year’s crop.

Who will finish higher in the standings: New York or Los Angeles?

This is the most specific question asked of our staff. New York and Los Angeles both sit right on the cusp of the bottom of the lottery and the back-end of the playoffs, but have taken quite different roads there; the Liberty have emerged from three-straight years with a top-two draft pick, while the Sparks seemed ready to collapse after squandering the finals years of the Candace Parker-Nneka Ogwumike-Chelsea Gray trio but have fought hard to stay relevant. With both teams expected to be healthy this year (unlike 2021), how will this narrative progress?

Pie chart showing New York around 60% and Los Angeles around 40%

Well there you have it, folks.

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the Seattle Storm and college basketball for The Next, while also writing for The Chronicle, Duke's independent student paper

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