2019 WNBA award predictions: Jonquel Jones for MVP; Asia Durr wins Rookie of the Year; Mystics finally get first title

The 2019 WNBA season has arrived. Opening night is on Friday, with a doubleheader featuring the Dallas Wings facing the Atlanta Dream and the Indiana Fever taking on the New York Liberty. Those games tip off a six-game weekend that will see all 12 teams in action, including a Saturday night contest between the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx that will be the first game broadcast on CBS Sports Network as part of the new broadcast partnership.

Ahead of the new season, here are some predictions and picks for major awards, standings and the Finals.

MVP: Jonquel Jones, Sun

Last season's Sixth Woman of the Year, Jones is primed for a dynamite 2019 season. After the Sun traded Chiney Ogwumike to the Sparks in the offseason, Jones will be back in the starting lineup alongside Alyssa Thomas, which is one of the most frightening frontcourt pairings in the league. An athletic, 6-6 center, Jones has an elite offensive game due to her versatility. She's an elite outside shooter -- 46.7 percent on over three attempts per game last season -- but also more than capable scoring inside on either drives to the rim or post-ups. Now well established in the league, this feels like the season Jones takes things to another level. And it won't hurt that she's playing on a strong Sun team as well.

Rookie of the Year: Asia Durr, Liberty

This is a tricky one because while this year's class is deep, there isn't one standout, runaway best player like there was last season with A'ja Wilson. Over half a dozen players have a legitimate chance to win the award, but the safest bet may be Durr. She was an elite scorer at the college level and will have plenty of chances to show she can do the same at the pro level. Durr will play heavy minutes for a rebuilding Liberty team that is thin in the backcourt and in desperate need of a perimeter player who can create her own shot. She may be inefficient at times, but she's going to score, and that often wins you this honor.

Defensive Player of the Year: Brittney Griner, Mercury

Griner is one of the best interior defenders the league has ever seen. She's led the league in blocks every season since she entered the WNBA in 2013, and her list of records regarding that category is too long to print here. Whether she's defending one-on-one in the post -- she allowed just 0.75 points per possession on post-ups last season -- or coming over as a help defender, it's awfully tough to score inside when Griner is around. She's been a staple on the All-Defensive team, but hasn't won DPOY since 2015. That will change this season.

Most Improved Player: Diamond DeShields

The second-year wing seems like the runaway choice here for MIP. DeShields is coming off a strong rookie season and has the size and athleticism to blossom into a star. She's already a menace in transition and one of the best players in the league in terms of creating her own shot. There's no question she's going to be able to score at this level, but her true ceiling will come down to efficiency and how well she develops other aspects of her game, which we saw glimpses of in her rookie season.

Sixth Woman of the Year: Alex Bentley, Dream

It didn't take long for Bentley to fit in with the Dream after being traded to Atlanta in the middle of last season, and she had some big games for them in the playoffs after Angel McCoughtry went down. With McCoughtry expected to miss considerable time this season, Bentley will once again take on an important role in the Dream's offense. She may not always be the most efficient offensive player, but she can create her own shot and will have plenty of chances to score as the leader of the second unit.

Coach of the Year: Bill Laimbeer, Aces

Laimbeer is no stranger to this award, as one of the five coaches in WNBA history who have won it multiple times. This season, he has a good chance to tie Van Chancellor and Mike Thibault as the only coaches to win it three times. This is Laimbeer's second season in charge of the Aces, and the young team is all of a sudden among the title contenders after acquiring Liz Cambage. There may be some growing pains in the first few weeks, but if Laimbeer guides this young team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 when they were still playing in San Antonio, this award seems like his to lose.

Final standings

  1. Washington Mystics

  2. Connecticut Sun

  3. Los Angeles Sparks

  4. Phoenix Mercury

  5. Las Vegas Aces

  6. Atlanta Dream

  7. Minnesota Lynx

  8. Chicago Sky

  9. Seattle Storm

  10. Dallas Wings

  11. New York Liberty

  12. Indiana Fever

Finals prediction: Mystics over Mercury in five

The Mystics are one of the few teams not dealing with any significant injuries or absences, and former All-Star Emma Meesseman is back, which makes them perhaps the safest bet to snatch a crucial top-two seed and avoid the single-elimination rounds. Once in the playoffs, they have a superstar to carry them offensively in Elena Delle Donne, a strong backcourt of Natasha Cloud, Kristi Toliver and Ariel Atkins, plenty of 3-point shooting and playoff experience. Their defense could be a question mark, but in this wide-open season, no contender is perfect. 

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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