The defending champion Seattle Storm were clear-cut favorites entering the 2019 WNBA season. But all that changed April 14 when reigning MVP Breanna Stewart suffered a torn Achilles while playing in Russia. The 26-year-old will miss the entire season, which begins in late May, and it now opens the door for a handful of teams to compete for a title.
There has been an increase in parity in the league over the past decade. The Minnesota Lynx won titles in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 – but the Indiana Fever, Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm have also all won championships in that span.
What’s more, in that eight-year span the Atlanta Dream (twice), Chicago Sky and Washington Mystics have all advanced to the WNBA Finals. That’s eight of the 12 teams in the league making a Finals appearance over the past eight seasons. Given Stewart’s injury, the door is open for that number to increase in 2019.
Mystics Become New WNBA Title Favorites
It’s not surprising that Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics are the new favorites to win the 2019 WNBA title. They advanced to their first Finals last season before Stewart and the Storm swept them 3-0 in the best-of-five series. All of Washington’s heavy hitters, led by Delle Donne, are back in 2019.
The three-headed monster of Delle Donne, Kristi Tolliver and Natasha Cloud should have the Mystics in contention for their second straight Finals berth.
Their three-year progression suggests that they could reach the mountaintop in 2019:
- 2016: 13-21 record, missed playoffs, No. 6 offense, No. 10 defense
- 2017: 18-16 record, semifinals berth, No. 5 offense, No. 7 defense
- 2018: 22-12 record, WNBA Finals berth, No. 3 offense, No. 6 defense
Delle Donne’s arrival has given the franchise new life, and Stewart’s season-ending injury has vaulted them to +250 favorites among top bookmakers.
L.A. Sparks Make Major Splashes
The NBA’s Lakers weren’t the only Los Angeles pro basketball team to have a wild offseason. The Sparks trading for Chiney Ogwumike may not have the same effect as the Lakers signing LeBron James, but it does put them in serious title contention.
Ogwumike averaged 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season for Connecticut. She joins her sister, Nneka Ogwumike, who averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. They’ll team with five-time All-Star Candace Parker to form the league’s best frontcourt. Add two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard and this team is loaded.
If they can somehow trade for Liz Cambage, last year’s MVP runnerup for Dallas who demanded a trade to Los Angeles in January, they’d probably overtake the Mystics as favorites. They’ve also got a champion in the locker room after hiring Derek Fisher as head coach this offseason. For that reason, they provide excellent value at +500.
Sun’s Balanced Offense Could Carry Team
There wasn’t a more efficient or balanced offense in the WNBA than Connecticut’s last season. The Sun led the WNBA in points per game (87.6) and were decimal points behind Seattle’s league-leading offense. They had a whopping six players average double-figure scoring per game.
They’ll try to replicate last year’s 21-13 without Chiney Ogwumike. But there’s still plenty to like about the Sun. Minus their leading scorer and rebounder from a year ago, the Sun will rely on Jasmine Thomas (12.9 points, 4.8 assists) and Courtney Williams (12.6 points, 5.9 rebounds) to pick up the scoring slack.
Jonquel Jones was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player in 2017, then was named Sixth Woman of the Year in 2018. She could step into a starting role in 2019 and give Connecticut another efficient scoring option after averaging 11.8 points on 55 percent shooting last season.
Lastly, they drafted center Kristine Anigwe, who led the NCAA with an incredible 16.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks as a senior at California. That should help make up for Ogwumike’s absence on the interior. All the pieces are there for the Sun to make a run at a Finals berth. They’re solid value at +500.