The 2022 WNBA season is finally upon us. We certainly haven’t been left twiddling our thumbs in a jam-packed offseason that saw a few MVPs re-sign with their teams, several league scoring champions head elsewhere in free agency, some young stars get traded and the return (and rebirth) of a former first-round pick. But all of that gets taken to the court when the season gets underway this weekend.
Without further ado, Sports Illustrated’s WNBA staff makes their picks, predictions and more ahead of Friday’s tipoff.
1. What story line are you most looking forward to watching heading into the season?
Ben Pickman: What will the revamped Sparks look like? I’ve already mapped out my five burning questions, but this is a bonus. L.A. hasn’t missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since the first two years of the WNBA. But after missing last year’s postseason, it made two splashy moves this offseason, adding guard Chennedy Carter via a trade with the Dream and center Liz Cambage in free agency. How both mesh with Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike will be fascinating and must-watch, especially considering all the personalities on the roster. But if it’s successful, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Sparks back toward the top of the playoff picture.
Elizabeth Swinton: Many eyes will be on Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird, two league legends who will likely be playing their final WNBA seasons. Emotions will be high as the two are honored throughout the year, but both players have something to compete for, too. Fowles and Bird will have plenty of fans and teams showing their appreciation this season, and their journeys will be fun to watch.
Julie Kliegman: An underrated story line I’m excited about is Fowles’s final season. I have no idea what the hell the Lynx are doing, and Napheesa Collier might miss the whole campaign, but it’s impossible not to root for a legend, though I worry she’ll be overshadowed by Bird’s and Diana Taurasi’s potential swan songs.
Wilton Jackson: All signs point to Elena Delle Donne returning from her back injury in the form of the 2019 MVP. Even if she doesn’t, this is a Mystics team three years removed from a WNBA title. The roster looks a little different this time around, with the departure of Tina Charles, but with Delle Donne in tip-top form, along with Natasha Cloud and the growth of Ariel Atkins, Washington could restore itself as an Eastern Conference threat.
2. Who will overachieve?
Pickman: Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray. If you told me both players would average career highs in points and assists this season I wouldn’t be shocked. Under first-year coach Becky Hammon, look for Las Vegas to play a style of basketball that brings out the best in its top two guards. Star forward A’ja Wilson seems poised to have another standout season, but so does the team’s backcourt.
Swinton: Hammon begins her new challenge as coach of the Aces, but she is fit for the pressure. Her career trajectory is unlike any other, and her experience can translate to immediate success in the WNBA. The Aces fell in the semifinals last season, but Hammon can overachieve by leading Las Vegas to the finals in her first season at the helm.
Kliegman: The Liberty. I swear I’m not a homer (O.K., I am), but first-year coach Sandy Brondello PLUS healthy Sabrina Ionescu and All-Star Betnijah Laney? The return of my largest adult daughter Han Xu? There’s also the possibility of an AD comeback narrative. Sign me up.
Jackson: A young Liberty team filled with talent. New York has complete game-changers in Ionescu, Laney, 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard and reigning Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere. Not to mention, Stefanie Dolson came over in free agency as a big asset that will help anchor the Liberty’s offense. However, the most important piece to the team’s potential overachievement starts with Brondello, who comes to the Liberty fresh off a WNBA Finals appearance with Phoenix after entering the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. If Brondello gets her players to buy into her coaching scheme and avoid any major injuries, it could be a recipe for stellar achievement in the Big Apple.
3. Who will underachieve?
Pickman: Lynx. Uncertainty regarding whether, and when, Collier may return to play makes me worry about Minnesota’s ceiling, as Collier is expected to miss the start of the year and perhaps all of it due to the upcoming birth of her first child. Of course, under coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota has not missed the playoffs since 2010 and this season will be the last for Fowles, a future Hall of Famer who is still playing at an elite level. Even so, Minnesota will have to rely a lot on their role players if Collier is out for an extended period and could slide down the postseason, or out of it entirely.
Swinton: Can the Sky follow up their title with another strong campaign? Though Candace Parker is sure to deliver, Chicago will again face tough competition against the Storm, Sun and Mystics, to name a few. The Sky have proven they can surprise and overcome, and they will have to do so again this season in their quest to repeat.
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Kliegman: The Sparks. On paper, the roster looks super impressive: Carter, Cambage and Katie Lou Samuelson are all joining the fold. But Cambage may prove to be more trouble than she’s worth, and union hero Nneka Ogwumike can’t be counted on to stay healthy.
Jackson: Minnesota will be a team without the 2019 Rookie of the Year in Collier, who is due to have her first child this month. Of course, the Lynx still have legends in Fowles and the addition of five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry, who will greatly impact the team. But Collier’s absence will definitely require other players on the roster to step up and play bigger roles.
4. Who will produce the best meme?
Pickman: Taurasi and Bird. This could be Taurasi’s last season, even though she said last week she plans on “playing for a while.” And it will very likely be Bird’s last season, though she too has been publicly noncommittal on the topic. The result of both factors—or just the latter one—could make for some viral moments when the two teams meet (first on May 11, then on May 14 and July 22). During the women’s Final Four, we were given tremendous TV on their alternative broadcast. We’re due for a few more entertaining outings between these two this season.
Swinton: Kahleah Copper seems fit to continue producing viral moments, whether that be with her play or while staring down her opponents (sorry, Sophie Cunningham). The reigning Finals MVP has plenty more to give this season, and opponents will be on high alert to not end up on the wrong side of a meme.
Kliegman: Ooof, a tough one. Is it a cop-out to say Copper for the repeat? Yes. Maybe Ellie, the Liberty’s mascot? I enjoy her dance moves a lot, and they deserve to be GIF’d.
Jackson: This might be the hardest question of them all. It could be Cambage, it could be Copper, A’ja Wilson, Arike Ogunbowale or even a rookie player like Destanni Henderson or Kierstan Bell. To be honest, #WNBATwitter is so entertaining. It’s hard to choose. I won’t take any bets there.
5. What is your Finals prediction?
Pickman: Sun over Storm in four games. With Breanna Stewart now healthy, Jewell Loyd continuing to ascend and a likely swan song for Bird, Seattle seems poised to make another deep playoff run. (Remember, they were the WNBA’s top team heading into the Olympic break last year.) But the Sun, led by their overpowering frontcourt, have both too much talent and too much depth for the Storm. Connecticut lost in its first three Finals appearances, but led by 2021 league MVP Jonquel Jones, that drought will end this fall.
Swinton: Sun over Aces in five. This is the year that Connecticut translates regular-season success to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Storm will be a force in Bird’s final year, but the Aces have a high ceiling in Hammon’s system. The field is open for many teams, but it would not be surprising to see the Sun and Aces as the last ones standing.
Kliegman: Storm over Sun in five. Seattle will get its storybook ending before Sue Bird likely retires and Stewart heads to New York (dear god, I hope). But it won’t come easily—not if Jonquel Jones has something to say about it.
Jackson: Storm over Sun in five. Even with injuries last season the Sun posted a stellar regular season campaign fueled by Jones. This season, with Jonquel Jones, Jasmine Thomas, Alyssa Thomas, Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner, barring no major injuries, the Sun are my pick out of the East. In the West, it’s tougher for me. However, Stewart is on a mission in her return. In what will likely be Bird’s final season, the Storm may not end up as the best team in the regular season but I think Seattle makes a deep run in the postseason to get to the Finals for Bird’s farewell.
More WNBA Coverage:
• Top Players, Sleepers, Rookies to Target in Your WNBA Fantasy Draft
• Power Rankings: How Each Team Stacks Up Ahead of 2022 Season
• Five Biggest Questions Ahead of 2022 Season
• The Return and Rebirth of AD
• Ahead of 19th Season, Sue Bird Reflects on How WNBA Has Evolved