May 18, 2023 

The Next’s 2023 WNBA preseason awards and predictions

MVP, ROY, and a ton of fun off-the-wall questions asked and answered

Happy Thursday! Welcome, at last, to the 2023 WNBA season, following one of the craziest offseasons in W history. Two superteams stand above the rest, a third contender might have the greatest defensive lineup ever, and the two biggest dynasties of the past several years are gunning for the lottery. And we here at The Next are as dedicated to as diverse coverage as ever. But first: some fun predictions. Who wins the third playoff installment of “Stewie vs. A’ja?” How many times will Diana Taurasi be ejected? Will the Wings have to field a lineup of only forwards? Can Cathy Engelbert trim (or expand) the list of cities considered for expansion? We convened over a dozen of our staff to answer all these questions, pick awards, and more!

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Who are the 2023 WNBA championship favorites?

There are two ways we like to pick our favorites. The first is simply the one team each writer thinks will win it all:

Championship votes

To little surprise, the Aces are significant favorites, returning the entirety of a lineup that dominated its 2022 Finals matchup and adding none other than Candace Parker and Alysha Clark. The Liberty, despite adding two former MVP-winners and arguably the best point guard in league history, come in second. There’s also the Wings — a bold choice, I’ll give it that!

The other way we like to pick our top contenders is by having each writer pick their top two teams in the league, and then looking at the share of votes each team got. So where 100% means a unanimous title favorite:

Championship shares (100% = unanimous favorite, 50% = unanimous No. 2)

We can again see that Las Vegas is our favorite, but not overwhelmingly so over New York. Dallas again garners some optimism, but not much more than Los Angeles or Washington, in a year where neither the Aces nor the Liberty winning would probably be the biggest upset in league history.

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…

Last-place votes

… the Indiana Fever, for the third-straight year! The 2024 draft class at least promises to be one of, if not the best in WNBA history, so maybe the Fever will be good after that. The Storm appear to be succeeding in their not-so-subtle tank as well, heading into the season as a surefire lottery team.

But when we look in terms of the vote share for teams finishing at the bottom of the standings, the only thing we can say for sure is that we can’t say anything for sure:

Last-place vote shares (100% = unanimous worst-in-the-league, 50% = unanimous second-worst)

Almost double the number of teams received votes to finish in the bottom two of the W standings this year as compared to last, showing just how muddled the picture is outside the five teams we know are going to be good. Indiana is once again the favorite to get the top odds in the lottery, but by a much smaller margin than last year. Seattle and Minnesota are the only other teams we can say are going to be out of contention with any sort of confidence!

Which leads us to…

Which matchups are we most looking forward to?

Maybe the biggest superteam matchup in league history is what everyone is looking forward to this season. The Curt Miller Revenge Game should be a fun affair as well, as will most battles involving some combination of Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Elena Delle Donne, and Brittney Griner!

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We’ll get back to team breakdowns in a minute. But now onto the reason you’re probably here, the real awards:

Who’s going to be MVP?

Preseason MVP voting

No surprises here, as the clear-cut best three players since Maya Moore’s retirement lead the way. Voters expect Parker and Kelsey Plum to eat into Wilson’s vote more than her Aces teammates did last year, whereas Stewart leading the Liberty’s return to contention should pull the narrative back her way.

A couple of voters also thought overhauled rosters and new coaching could boost Alyssa Thomas and Nneka Ogwumike into the upper echelon this season.

Who’s going to be Defensive Player of the Year?

Preseason Defensive Player of the Year voting

Thomas is already regarded as one of the best defenders in the W, having finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2022. And with Jonquel Jones taking a quick move down the Connecticut Turnpike, Bruckner and BQE, there’s suddenly a lot more defensive responsibility for an elite player like Thomas to account for. Rounding out our voting are the reigning DPOY (Wilson), a four-time All-Defense selection with two top-five DPOY finishes in the past three seasons (Stewart), and a player whose block numbers have already earned her two such pieces of hardware (Griner).

Who’s winning Sixth Player of the Year?

Preseason Sixth Player of the Year voting

Talk about throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks! The W is so talented these days that there aren’t enough starting spots to handle all of it: Marine Johannès is the league’s best off-ball perimeter threat, Alysha Clark was the best 3-&-D guard of the past near-decade, Dana Evans could be a premier scoring threat, and Kayla Thornton is one of the best connective role players in the league. The length of the others receiving a vote just underscores the depth of talent here, after four years of Aces and Brionna Jones dominating the award.

Who’s winning Most Improved Player?

The hardest award to gauge, none of us picked eventual winner Jackie Young this time last year. We did get two of the top-five finishers, though, and our other top picks both made big gains. So who are we anticipating will Make The Leap in 2023?

Preseason Most Improved Player voting

A healthy mix of young players poised for breakouts, rising stars a year removed for possibly underrated leaps and veterans in improved contexts make up our list. Our leading vote-getters are: Evans, who had a monstrous pair of games to open Chicago’s 2022 season before returning vets pushed her to the back of the bench, and has shot 38.5% from three on big volume this preseason; and Ezi Magbegor, who was an inner-circle DPOY contender last year before Seattle’s addition of Tina Charles pushed her to the bench, and has quietly become one of the few best pick-n-roll (PnR) bigs in the league.

Who are the best players in the W? (All-WNBA)

My favorite player-centric question is always the All-WNBA team; nothing paints a better picture of the truly top tier of players in the league. And for the third year in a row, two players stand out above the rest:

Preseason All-WNBA voting

Stewart and Wilson are the true successors to Magic and Bird, a top two with a rivalry that’s continued to grow throughout the past eight years dating back to college. Plum and Sabrina Ionescu come in third, as the best scoring guard in the league and the young rising star most likely to compete for that accolade. And our five-player lineup expands due to a tie between Thomas and Delle Donne, the latter of whom is poised for another dominant healthy season.

If All-WNBA isn’t my favorite question, then this next pair is for sure…

Which team is going to have the best offense this year? Which is going to have the worst?

Votes for best and worst offenses in the WNBA

Las Vegas returns five of the top six players that contributed to the second-best offense in WNBA history, and replaces its worst shooter among those six with Parker; suffice it to say the Aces will be pretty good at getting the ball in the hoop. So will the Liberty, who may lack an offensive scheme as good as Vegas’ Mike D’Antoni-inspired run-and-gun system, they make up for it with probably the best Big Three or Four this side of the Houston Comets.

On the other hand, Seattle has gone from starting four or five different plus scorers to starting two centers and zero point guards, and its rotation may end up the most midrange-dependent in the league. Indiana has individual scoring talent, but does it have the experience and discipline necessary to avoid the offensive basement this year? Atlanta has many of the same scoring issues as Seattle.

Which team is going to have the best defense this year? Which is going to have the worst?

Votes for best and worst defenses in the WNBA

Relative to league average, the 2022 Mystics had up the 17th-best defense in league history (per Her Hoop Stats and my spreadsheet), and replaced the least-great guard defender in their starting lineup with the 2021 DPOY runner-up (Brittney Sykes). Washington may have one of the best defenses in league history.

On the other end of the spectrum, Minnesota’s rebuild this year means there’s just one plus defender in the Lynx’s starting lineup (Napheesa Collier), and maybe only one or two in their whole rotation. Phoenix is, as always, led by maybe the worst defender in the league (Taurasi), a center with gaudy block numbers and little else, and turnstiles on the wings.

Those are the things that really factoring into determining…

Who’s going to win Executive of the Year?

Votes for Preseason Executive of the Year

Hard to be surprised by the overwhelming EOY favorite being general manager of the team that added three top-10 players, including two of the past three MVPs (Stewart and Jones), as well as stealing a valuable role player away from the Wings to its bench (Thornton). Dan Padover is once again a contender here as well, having added a starting point guard and one of the better wings in the league this offseason.

If you needed further evidence of Jonathan Kolb’s candidacy:

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

Votes for the most impactful free agent move

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2023 New York Liberty.

If you’ve stuck around here this long: congratulations, you’ve made it to the (even more) fun part! A miscellaneous mix of analysis and questions follows:

What on-court trend is going to define the 2023 WNBA season?

The W has been a league heavy on hedge coverage for the past several years, but with some teams rocking more versatile lineups and others simply lacking the kind of defenders necessary for that, we may see more switching throughout the season. The variety of unique rosters across the WNBA also means that we may be seeing some unique lineups, from small ball in Seattle and Atlanta to jumbo lineups in Dallas and New York and Los Angeles.

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

Between Rhyne Howard and Shakira Austin, last year’s rookie class included two of the best first-year players in recent memory, both All-Star level talents from the moment they stepped on the floor. NaLyssa Smith promises big things as a unique offensive threat, and there’s another half-dozen draftees looking like long-term role players.

That’s a lot for Aliyah Boston and co. to live up to. So how do we think this cohort will compare to their 2022 counterparts?

It’s safe to say we’re cautiously optimistic. Aliyah Boston is going to be Aliyah Boston, but look out for Diamond Miller and Jordan Horston early on to bolster this rookie group.

Which coach will be the worst at challenges?

The WNBA added coaches’ challenges to the 2023 season. Successful challenges will certainly be monumental in at least a few games this year — but just as important are the challenges that fail miserably. Who is going to abuse this system the most? Who is highest on their own supply or listens to their players’ futile pleas for reviews too often?

James Wade is certainly known for his on-court demeanor, and Vanessa Nygaard is nothing if not her players’ coach.

Speaking of which…

Will any coach or GM be fired during the season?

Two head coaches were fired during the middle of the 2022 season. Will anyone suffer the same fate this year?

Opinions are mixed, to say the least.

Who will lead the WNBA in technical fouls?

No comment.

Please excuse my janky attempt at graphically representing our final question in our predictions:

How many cities will Cathy Engelbert narrow expansion down to by October?

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.


  1. MICHAEL E SHOLLER on May 18, 2023 at 11:22 am


    Superior Journalism

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