As the WNBA enters its 26th season, the Chicago Sky look to do what no team has done in 20 years: repeat as champions.
But with the talent pool in the league overflowing — to the point where recent first-round draft picks and rookies of the year can’t even stick on rosters — the competition is tough across all 12 teams. Connecticut and Phoenix will look to avenge their postseason defeats to Chicago, while Seattle and Minnesota have retooled in the (supposed) final seasons of superstars of Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles.
To try to make sense of what is to come, we asked our staff to make predictions for the 2022 season. Picks are made by Sabreena Merchant, Zack Ward, Avery Wiggins, Eric Nemchock, Cat Ariail, and Ricky O’Donnell. If you’re curious, here’s how we did last year.
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Which 2021 lottery team (if any) will crash the 2022 playoffs, and in whose place?
Avery: The Washington Mystics will bounce back this year with the return of Elena Delle Donne and several new additions. They will take the place of the Dallas Wings in the playoffs.
Cat: Presuming Elena Delle Donne is on the court for the majority of games, it’s gotta be the Washington Mystics. Not only is the 2019 MVP expected to be back on the court, but we also get to see Alysha Clark in DC red, white and blue for the first time. Combined with a continually improving Ariel Atkins, a Myisha Hines-Allen with an expanded role, an intense floor general in Natasha Cloud and a sturdy defensive presence in Elizabeth Williams, among others, Mike Thibault has the pieces needed to vault his squad firmly into the playoff picture. In contrast, questions persist about how the Dallas Wings personnel fits together, which could lead the Wings finding themselves back outside the postseason.
Eric: The Washington Mystics. A lot went wrong for Washington last season, and while the Mystics certainly don’t look bulletproof entering 2022, they’ll have a much better chance at making the playoffs if Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark are in better health. A team that could fall out of the playoff picture is New York; the Liberty only barely made the postseason last year and didn’t do much to address their ineffective defense.
Sabreena: The Sparks and Mystics will both join the postseason party in place of the Liberty and Wings.
Zack: I think the Mystics will make the playoffs if Elena Delle Donne is healthy. But for now, I’ll go with the Sparks replacing the Wings. Dallas got better, but LA improved even more with the additions of Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter, Katie Lou Samuelson and Jordin Canada.
Ricky: It’s a boring pick, but the Mystics seem like the obvious pick among the four teams who missed the postseason last year. Elena Delle Donne can still be one of the very best players in the world if she’s healthy, and there’s more than enough talent in her supporting cast to crack the top-8.
Which player will be a first-time All-Star?
Zack: Myisha Hines-Allen. She made the All-WNBA Second Team in 2020 when there wasn’t an All-Star Game. Her numbers were down last year, but, with Tina Charles off to Phoenix, she will play a big role on the Mystics in 2022, and I expect her to reassume star status. She can play point-forward and do it all on offense.
Avery: Former No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu will finally take a big leap this year and become an All-Star for the Liberty. She’ll become a more efficient shooter and increase her scoring average and become the kind of star that everyone was hoping that she would be out of Oregon.
Cat: Kelsey Plum has the potential to crash the All-Star party. Coming off a Sixth Woman of the Year campaign and a 3x3 gold medal, and an appearance on Wild ‘N Out, Plum has the public profile, in addition to the on-court production, that often correlates with an All-Star honor. The Las Vegas Aces getting off to a hot start to the season could further enhance Plum’s chances.
Eric: Chennedy Carter. The Sparks showed faith in Carter by trading for her this past offseason, and with world-class frontcourt talent like Nneka Ogwumike and Liz Cambage, Los Angeles seems like the ideal place for the dynamic point guard as she enters her third WNBA season.
Sabreena: I had four players on my WNBA top 30 (check out the full Swish Appeal list!) who haven’t been All-Stars, and the one I had ranked highest was Allisha Gray. Dallas has a ton of guard depth and bigs, but not much on the wing behind Gray. That makes her super important to the Wings, and a strong start after 3x3 success a year ago will get her to the All-Star Game.
Ricky: Kelsey Plum. The former No. 1 overall pick finally lived up to her pre-draft hype in her fourth WNBA season last year. Plum averaged double-figures (14.8 points per game) in scoring for the first time in her career, and did it on impressive 58 percent true shooting. While she’s still projected to come off the bench, there should be more offensive opportunities in Vegas this year with Cambage’s departure. Plum’s three-level scoring ability is as impressive as any player in the league who hasn’t yet been an All-Star.
Who is Chicago’s biggest threat to repeat?
Sabreena: The Aces. I don’t think Las Vegas is necessarily the favorite to win the title, but I don’t like this matchup for Chicago at all. The Aces have strong defenders everywhere on the court and can play a variety of different defensive styles. They also have the size up front to contend with the Sky’s frontcourt. Chicago should hope to avoid Las Vegas in the postseason.
Zack: Connecticut. I think the Sun have the best top 5 in the league: Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner, Courtney Williams and Brionna Jones. I know they fell to the Sky in the semifinals last year, but I think they have what it takes to overcome that mental hurdle and challenge Chicago.
Avery: I know that this is the easy pick, but it is true that the Connecticut Sun are the biggest threat to the Chicago Sky’s chances of repeating. The Sun have the talent that matches that of the Sky. The only questions are can they get it done when it matters and do they have the depth for a deep playoff run?
Cat: It’s the team that Chicago upset in their run to the title: the Connecticut Sun. The Sun have improved their talent and depth and, presumably, learned from last season’s shortcomings.
Eric: The Seattle Storm. It’s a star-driven league, and the Storm have arguably the best duo in the WNBA in Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. With Sue Bird and Briann January likely retiring after the season and a potentially volatile free agency period on the horizon, you can bet the Storm will do everything in their power to win one more ring with their current core of players.
Ricky: Seattle. This pick mostly comes down to Breanna Stewart still being my pick for the mythical title of ‘best player in the world’ + Jewell Lloyd arguably the best second option in the W. Their depth is a bit worrisome, but I’m thinking this could finally be the breakout year for Gabby Williams. Can you imagine Sue Bird going out with a title? It would be a proper ending for an all-time great. We just might get it.
Awards picks: MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Woman
Eric: MVP: Breanna Stewart, COY: Noelle Quinn, ROY: Rhyne Howard, Sixth Woman: Azurá Stevens
Sabreena: MVP: Breanna Stewart, COY: Noelle Quinn, ROY: NaLyssa Smith, Sixth Woman: Chennedy Carter
Zack: MVP: Breanna Stewart, COY: Sandy Brondello, ROY: Rhyne Howard, Sixth Woman: Brionna Jones
Avery: MVP: Breanna Stewart, COY: Becky Hammon, ROY: Rhyne Howard, Sixth Woman: Brionna Jones
Cat: MVP: A’ja Wilson, COY: Becky Hammon, ROY: Rhyne Howard, Sixth Woman: Rebecca Allen
Ricky: MVP: Breanna Stewart. COY: Becky Hammon, ROY: Rhyne Howard, Sixth Woman: Kelsey Plum.
Give me one bold WNBA prediction
Cat: Questions will begin to be raised about Sabrina Ionescu and her expected “superstar” upside. At moments, Ionescu has looked like the triple-double queen she was at Oregon. However, largely due to injury and a prolonged injury recovery, Ionescu has not established herself as the “face of the league”-caliber player she is imagined to be. After a healthy offseason and with a new, experienced head coach, the time is now for Ionescu to become that player. If not…
Sabreena: I’m worried about the Minnesota Lynx. I shouldn’t be, considering Sylvia Fowles and Cheryl Reeve are still there, but pinning all their point guard hopes on Odyssey Sims concerns me. Granted, Sims was great in 2019 during her first stint in Minnesota and only really faltered in 2020 after giving birth shortly before the WNBA bubble. But she's the lone lead guard on this roster, and if she plays like she did in Atlanta, the Lynx are in trouble.
Zack: The Liberty will finish in the top half of the league. I picked them to finish seventh last year based on the potential of their big three (Betnijah Laney, Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu). Ionescu had an underrated season last year and is poised to break out even more this year. Plus, the team has added Stefanie Dolson.
Avery: The Aces will the league’s top scoring team. Becky Hammon was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs under head coach Gregg Popovich, who were known for their team-oriented offense. That, combined with superstars like A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray as well as promising young players, should make Las Vegas an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses.
Ricky: The Sparks’ season will mirror the Lakers’ in terms of a star-studded disappointment in LA.
Who meets in the Finals and who wins?
Avery: No surprise that I think that the final two teams will be the Chicago Sky and the Connecticut Sun. It will be quite the battle, but I believe that the Sun will prevail in the end.
Cat: Give me the two teams that experienced playoff disappointment last season in the Connecticut Sun and the Las Vegas Aces, with the Sun, finally, finding a way to win the franchise’s first championship.
Zack: Chicago and Phoenix. I think it will be a rematch of last year even with the Mercury missing Brittney Griner. Tina Charles was at her best last regular season and Diana Taurasi was at her best last postseason. I’m also a big fan of the Sky’s top 7 players, including additions Emma Meesseman and Julie Allemand.
Sabreena: Seattle and Connecticut. As long as Breanna Stewart is around, I’ll keep picking the Storm.
Ricky: Sun vs. Seattle. Give me the Storm and a Hollywood ending for Sue Bird.