A lot is uncertain entering the 2019 WNBA season. Between several star players going down with injuries, new coaches around the league and a handful of teams whose rosters are almost unrecognizable compared to last season, it’s difficult to predict exactly how this season will shake out.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try! From profound disagreement in some areas to more of a healthy two-part split in others, here are Swish Appeal’s picks for the 2019 WNBA season awards. Feel free to share your own picks in the comments.
Cat Ariail: Brittney Griner. The absence of DT means more opportunity for BG. Entering her peak prime, I anticipate Griner will steer the Mercury to the top of the West. Even after the GOAT returns, BG should assume a larger offensive role, allowing Taurasi to be at her freshest down the stretch.
Jim Savell: Elena Delle Donne. She finished third in last year’s voting and the Mystics have the type of team to finish at the top of the league.
Zackery Rogers: I agree with Jim. Last year did not end the way Elena Delle Donne envisioned. With more of a responsibility and the power shifting in the league due to injury, Delle Donne will rise to the occasion and elevate her play to another level.
Albert Lee: Liz Cambage. She was second in MVP voting and appears motivated to make a strong impression on the Wings where she will form a fearsome frontcourt duo with A’ja Wilson.
Eric Nemchock: Brittney Griner. She’ll be expected to carry the Mercury on both ends of the floor, and Phoenix can now surround her with enough shooting to maximize her talents. She’ll have a strong case if the Mercury can finish near the top of the standings with Diana Taurasi missing significant time.
Tamryn Spruill: If the Aces make the playoffs and Liz Cambage leads the league in scoring (which she did in 2018) and ranks in the top three in rebounding, she will get the crown she probably felt she deserved last year.
Christine M. Hopkins: Fully agree with Albert and Tamryn here. If the Aces as a whole can live up to all the potential they’ve been teasing, Liz Cambage should be a league-wide standout once again — enough for the ultimate honor.
Rookie of the Year
Cat: Jackie Young. Based on preseason play, it seems the Aces will empower Young. Her versatility could make the No. 1 pick a do-it-all glue-gal who puts up complete box scores as Las Vegas first meshes, and then thrives.
Jim: Arike Ogunbowale. Ogunbowale will be the starting point guard and has shown the ability to get points while running the offense. With no other true No. 1 on the floor, look for Ogunbowale to shine.
Zackery: Arike Ogunbowale will have the ball in her hands even more without Skylar Diggins-Smith in the lineup (for now). Ogunbowale is a solid playmaker who understands offenses and defenses. Not to mention she will have the green light to score in her rookie season.
Eric: Asia Durr. The Liberty made it a point of emphasis this offseason to clear playing time for their first-round pick, so I imagine she’ll be getting plenty of reps at both guard positions. This is a player her team wants to build around, and they’re going to give her every possible opportunity to succeed.
Tamryn: Any rookie who steps up for a team that is down a star player and/or in the middle of a rebuild will get the sympathies of the voters. I’d bet on Teaira McCowan (Indiana), Katie Lou Samuelson (Chicago) or Napheesa Collier (Minnesota).
Christine: I can’t zero in on just one player, but I do like what I saw from Arike Ogunbowale and Katie Lou Samuelson in the preseason. Both should be consistently good this season, if not ROY-caliber.
Defensive Player of the Year
Cat: Brittney Griner. By facing off against the the supersized Sparks’ and Aces’ twin towers, BG will have multiple opportunities to show her defensive mettle. In doing so, she can join Lauren Jackson (2007), Sheryl Swoopes (2000) and Yolanda Griffith (1999) as the only players to achieve the MVP-DPOY double.
Jim: Tiffany Hayes. Hayes was third in the 2018 voting, with her teammate Jessica Breland right behind her in fourth. Atlanta is one of the top defensive teams in the league and Hayes is at the forefront as a lockdown defender.
Zack: Sylvia Fowles. The new faces on the roster will force the defensive scheme to change a little. Minnesota drafted some size and speed, so Fowles will be able to recover from the weak side quicker (block city!).
Eric: Brittney Griner. This is a tough award to win if your team’s defense isn’t up to par, but I think the Mercury can get back there this season. There’s no question that Griner is their anchor. If the Mercury can finish in, say, the top third of the league in defensive efficiency, Griner’s routinely stellar blocked shot numbers will hold much more weight.
Tamryn: I am utterly fascinated by the possibility of a guard like Tiffany Hayes winning it! But if it has to go to an Atlanta Dream player, I’d pick Jessica Breland. My hope, however, is that Brittney Griner will have a resurgent season for a third DPOY award.
Christine: Here for the Brittney Griner block party to continue all the way to even more DPOY honors. With the Mercury poised to put together another strong season, and with the competition she’ll be facing that much tougher, there’s no reason Griner shouldn’t be able to have a standout 2019 herself.
2019 WNBA Champion
Cat: Phoenix Mercury. As evident, I see a big season from BG. I’m also increasingly bullish on the idea of a refreshed and roaring DT coming back midseason to spur a title run. But it will be DeWanna Bonner — who, incredibly, keeps getting better — capturing the Finals MVP.
Jim: Washington Mystics. I view it as a three-team race between Washington, Los Angeles and Atlanta with two of these three teams meeting in the WNBA Finals. The Mystics have all the pieces to get this done.
Zack: Welcome to Washington, D.C. The Mystics will win their first title due to last year’s nightmare ending. With a stacked roster and the rest of the league beaten up, the Mystics have a chance to win it all.
Albert: The Mercury. The Mystics are the favorites on paper. But ultimately, I’m not convinced that Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman can coexist on the court. As for Phoenix, Griner and Bonner are in their primes and played consistently together for a longer period of time. Taurasi will return this season and have fresher legs in the playoffs. Finally, Phoenix has gradually improved its win totals in each of the last three seasons.
Eric: Washington Mystics. They have shooters at every position, and young players like Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud still have room to improve. Washington is also the one team I have confidence in to overcome all the enormous frontcourts out West with the way it will be able to space the floor.
Tamryn: With Delle Donne dealing with yet another injury days before the regular season tips off, I question her ability to stay healthy. Maybe Meesseman can carry the Mystics if Delle Donne cannot? But a question mark that large about Washington’s personnel tips my vote to Phoenix Mercury all the way!
Christine: Phoenix. That scoring trio of Taurasi, Griner and Bonner was scary last season, and even with Taurasi out to start the season, Griner and Bonner definitely appear ready to get back to work. That kind of consistent presence — even as a duo — in a season where so many teams are missing their stars will take the team a long way.
Coach of the Year
Cat: Cheryl Reeve. I expect the retooling Lynx to surprise this season, resulting in Reeve establishing herself as the WNBA’s Gregg Popovich, proving that her team can win consistently regardless of challenges and changes. For what it’s worth, she also would make a better presidential candidate than Pop.
Jim: Pokey Chatman. I think the Indiana Fever can make the playoffs. If the Fever do that coming off of a six-win season, then Chatman is easily the most deserving of the award.
Zack: Derek Fisher. This may be an unpopular opinion, but the Los Angeles Sparks front office built a championship team. If Fisher can beat last year’s record and advance to the Finals, he has a solid shot. The city of LA needs a title desperately from any major sport.
Albert: Bill Laimbeer. I think the Aces are bound to make an eight to ten regular-season win improvement over their 2018 season. If they can get there, Laimbeer will be in a great position to win it.
Eric: Curt Miller. Much of this award is about exceeding preseason expectations. There’s a lot of noise coming out of Las Vegas and Los Angeles right now, and the Sun came out on the wrong end of the Chiney Ogwumike trade. I just think a lot of people are sleeping on the rest of Connecticut’s talent. If it can finish in the top four again, Miller will have a strong case here.
Tamryn: If Indiana makes the playoffs (which I’m not sure I see happening), Chatman would get it. But if Chicago also makes the postseason, the edge would go to James Wade because voters seem to cherish rookie coaches. See Nicki Collen (2018) and Curt Miller (2017).
Christine: I know some people are skeptical of the Fever for playing a relatively weak preseason schedule, but I think 3-0 is a good showing for anyone, regardless of who or where you play. So to borrow Eric’s logic for my choice, I think if Pokey Chatman can keep this apparently doubted momentum going and sneak the Fever into the playoffs, she has a good chance of winning the award.
Most Improved Player
Cat: Brittney Sykes. With the uncertainty surrounding Angel McCoughtry’s availability, Slim will step up, providing the Dream with a consistent secondary scoring threat alongside Tip Hayes.
Jim: Odyssey Sims. Her scoring has declined year-to-year, but she just lit up the preseason, averaging 22.5 points over two games. I think with the extra defensive attention in the post, Sims could increase her shooting percentage and get back into double-figure scoring.
Zack: Brittany Boyd. Boyd seems refreshed this season after watching a few preseason games. She will have the ball in her hands more and will feed off of Tina Charles and Asia Durr.
Albert: Kia Nurse. She has started the preseason on a strong note averaging 17.25 points a game in four games while playing less than 25 minutes in all but one contest. I don’t think she’ll average these kinds of numbers with Tina Charles and Asia Durr on the Liberty’s roster, but there’s no reason why Nurse can’t be a strong third option for New York.
Eric: Diamond DeShields. She finished last season on a very strong note, and with a new coaching staff that will do whatever it can to lead the Sky back into the playoffs, I think we’ll see DeShields take that next step in her ascent to stardom.
Tamryn: Courtney Williams. No Chiney Ogwumike may present the chance for Williams to increase production and efficiency alongside the ever-consistent Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas.
Christine: I really like Kia Nurse or Diamond DeShields for this one. Both had solid rookie seasons and seemed to fold into the league pretty seamlessly. With that experience propelling them this season, especially for two teams on a mission to break out of that bottom four, their star power will really start to shine through.
Sixth Woman of the Year
Cat: Until the unfortunate Sue Bird news, I was ready to spot Jordin Canada as the league’s best sixth woman. With Canada likely elevated to a starting role, I’ll go with Lexie Brown. She should wreak havoc (in a good way) for the Lynx’s second unit.
Jim: Alex Bentley. She was quite the steal when she was traded for in the middle of the regular season. I expect Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes to start for the Dream, and Bentley coming off the bench is an extreme luxury.
Zack: Sugar Rodgers. Rodgers in the backcourt off the bench will only help this team. She is probably one of the best scorers off the bench for the Aces.
Albert: I was also ready to peg Jordin Canada as the Sixth Woman until Bird’s injury news. Now that that’s happened, I agree with Jim and believe Alex Bentley has a strong shot at being the Sixth Woman behind two already strong guards in Montgomery and Hayes.
Eric: Odyssey Sims. If there’s one thing the Lynx preseason games showed us, it’s that Sims is ready to put up a lot of shots off the bench. I think Cheryl Reeve has enough confidence in Sims to begin phasing out the aging Seimone Augustus, and Sims’ ability to play both guard positions will make her that much more important to this team.
Tamryn: Chiney Ogwumike! Derek Fisher brought her off the bench in the preseason. If he sticks with that during the games that count, it will be a situation resembling the NBA’s Warriors sending longtime starter Andre Iguodala to the second unit. They made it to the Finals each year since beginning in 2015, winning three trophies in four seasons and now going for their third straight.
Christine: I’m just saying, with the starting lineup in flux in Seattle, why not ... anyone on their bench? If the Storm stay competitive and relatively deep this season in spite of what they’ve lost, this year’s Sixth Woman award could double as something of an intra-squad MVP for them.