Most Valuable Player
In trying to come up with a shortlist of MVP candidates, I only ended up with eight names that seemed plausible. Obviously injuries can push certain players to the fore, or take them out of the running entirely, but with so many players sitting out or taking time off this year it cuts down on the candidates. And if you think anyone on the rosters in Washington, Connecticut, Seattle or San Antonio have a realistic MVP shot then you’re more positive about their chances than I am.
That left me with, in alphabetical order, Tamika Catchings, Tina Charles, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins, Brittney Griner, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Nneka Ogwumike. I don’t trust Catchings to stay healthy and play close enough to 34 games. It’s probably too soon for Diggins, plus the Shock may not be good enough (it takes something extraordinary to win an MVP on a poor, or even mediocre, team). Charles’s focus and intensity has been too inconsistent in recent years, although she should pile up raw stats this year in New York. Ogwumike may take a little time to settle in as a more central offensive figure in Los Angeles without Candace Parker around, and Parker’s possible return could affect her as well.
That leaves four. Moore will inevitably be a strong candidate again, and her history suggests breaking down due to injury is unlikely. Oddly, winning consecutive MVP awards is very rare in the WNBA – despite multiple multi-time winners, no one’s won two in a row since Cynthia Cooper in the league’s first two seasons. But breaking records and accomplishing unusual feats is nothing new for Moore. McCoughtry is apparently more settled and focussed this year, according to media reports, after talking openly about her sexuality. She should be as impressive as ever on the floor, although her base shooting percentages can count against her. Griner will be more in the spotlight than ever this season, with Diana Taurasi out of the picture and her marriage splashed across the news. Missing seven games due to suspension at the start of the season will make it difficult for her to win MVP though, even if she’s exceptional for the rest of the year. That’s 21% of the season she’s missing, right off the bat. Delle Donne will have to take on more of the load in Chicago this year with Sylvia Fowles out, and looks a strong contender – assuming she stays healthy. That has obviously been a significant concern in previous years.
So, boringly, I’ll take Maya Moore to repeat. Delle Donne second, McCoughtry third, for what that’s worth. It should be fun seeing them all fight it out.
Well I made most of the arguments for this in the MVP discussion above, so let’s just skip to the picks:
Angel McCoughtry (yes, I fully expect them to fudge the positional requirements)
Elena Delle Donne
Defensive Player of the Year
It’s Brittney Griner again. The seven games obviously count against her, but assuming she’s healthy for most of the remaining 27 it’s still hers to lose. There’s just no one who impacts the game defensively in the same overwhelming way that she can. If she misses more games, then Angel McCoughtry’s waiting in the wings to win one of these eventually, more for her reputation and steals numbers than actual defensive performance on the floor.
Please bear in mind that these are my predictions for who I think will win, not who I feel should win. Different lists.
Rookie of the Year
The top two picks in the draft both should have plenty of opportunities to showcase their talents and rack up some decent numbers. Tulsa needs help down low, so Amanda Zahui B. will get chances, and someone’s going to have to score and create for Seattle, which is where Jewell Loyd come in. I’ll take Loyd, but not by much. If it’s anyone outside of those two, it’ll be a surprise.
Opportunity is probably the biggest factor in this group. It typically goes to the five rookies who’ve actually played enough for anyone to notice, if there are even five who reach that category. Therefore…
Amanda Zahui B.
And if there were a second team…
Sixth Woman of the Year
There are some painfully weak benches around the league this year. It could be a pretty thin list of candidates come the end of the season. Allie Quigley could be involved again, as could Jia Perkins or Danielle Adams in San Antonio. Riquna Williams, if healthy, could rebound in Tulsa. Monica Wright is always a useful backup in Minnesota. Elsewhere, it’s hard to know who might be coming off the bench all season and therefore become a candidate. I’ll take Perkins, but without much confidence. It’s an open race.
Coach of the Year
This usually goes to a coach whose team exceeds preseason expectations, or one that takes a big leap from previous seasons. Or just the coach of the best team. So Cheryl Reeve has her usual shot in Minnesota. If Fred Williams can finally turn Tulsa around, he’d be in the mix. Brian Agler leading a Parker-less Sparks to near the top of the West would put him in it. And the coach of whichever team emerges from the morass in the East. Let’s say Reeve. She hasn’t won it since 2011, so the voters might think it’s her turn again if no one else jumps to the front of the line.
Most Improved Player
Every voter and prognosticator hates this award. It’s wildly unpredictable, and because different kinds of players make different kinds of leaps, they’re often not all that comparable even once the season plays out. Second-year players are usually a safe bet (as we saw with Diggins last year), which would suggest names like Odyssey Sims, Kayla McBride, Alyssa Thomas and Shoni Schimmel. Washington will be hoping for a big step forward from Emma Meesseman. Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender could both make jumps forward with Parker out of the way in LA, although they may already be too good to contend for this award. Out of hope more than expectation, I’ll take Alyssa Thomas. The path is open for her in Connecticut this year with all their injuries, and if she’s worked on her jump shot the road to significant improvement is certainly there.
Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award
Swin Cash, because it usually goes to someone old with a reasonably high profile.
Eastern Conference (which is an absolute crapshoot)
New York Liberty
Western Conference (which feels a little more predictable)
Los Angeles Sparks
San Antonio Stars
Atlanta 2-1 Indiana
Chicago 2-1 Washington
Minnesota 2-0 Tulsa
Los Angeles 2-1 Phoenix
Atlanta 2-1 Chicago
Minnesota 2-1 Los Angeles
Minnesota 3-1 Atlanta
And that’s your lot. I won’t be recapping games every day this season, but I will be writing articles on a regular basis (at least once a week). So please keep checking back for updates, or follow me at @RichardCohen1 where I link to every piece. Enjoy the season.