Spring has finally arrived, and brought with it another new WNBA season. The 2022 campaign will tip off on Friday night with a four-game slate that features the defending champion Chicago Sky against the new-look Los Angeles Sparks. Two legends will also being their retirement tours, as Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm host Sylvia Fowles and the Minnesota Lynx.
Before those games begin, it's time for a classic preseason exercise: awards and Finals predictions. Sure, these will probably end up being wrong, but if they're right we get to spend a few days bragging about how smart we are, and what's better than that?
- Jack Maloney/Jasmyn Wimbish: A'ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
It's easy to say that a player is a perennial MVP candidate, but few put it into practice like Wilson, who began receiving votes for the award in her rookie season, has never finished worse than eighth and took home the trophy in 2020. She scores, she rebounds, she defends and at 25 still has plenty of room to improve. With the departure of Liz Cambage and the arrival of new head coach Becky Hammmon, this season could be Wilson's best yet.
Rookie of the Year
- Maloney/Wimbish: Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream
The No. 1 overall pick has won Rookie of the Year 12 out of 24 times, and Howard feels like a strong bet to continue that tradition. A two-way wing who can score at all three levels and defend multiple positions, she was the best prospect in this class and has the physical attributes to make a strong transition to the pros. She's also joining an Atlanta team in the early stages of a rebuild, which means she'll have plenty of minutes and opportunities to produce.
Defensive Player of the Year
- Maloney/Wimbish: Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
In the last four seasons that she's played, Jones has won Most Improved Player, Sixth Player of the Year and MVP. The one major honor she's missing from her resume could be added this season. Jones has established herself as an elite defender thanks to her length, athleticism and versatility; she protects the paint and can hold her own on the perimeter when necessary. With Jones leading the way, the Sun had the best defense in the league last season by some margin. It feels like just a matter of time before she takes home DPOY for her efforts.
Most Improved Player
- Maloney: Teaira McCowan, Dallas Wings
This is always the trickiest award to try and predict; you almost have to just assemble a group of younger players who have shown potential and throw a dart. To that point, one potential candidate here is McCowan. She's coming off the best statistical season of her career, during which she nearly averaged a double-double and was top-five in rebounding and blocks. Plus, after an offseason trade from the Fever to the Wings, she's in a much better situation. Perhaps this is the summer she truly breaks out.
- Wimbish: Chennedy Carter, Los Angeles Sparks
Carter's getting a fresh start in L.A. after being traded by Atlanta in the offseason, and she's joining a team with a wealth of veteran experience that she can lean on to help grow her game. She'll no longer be the focal point on offense, but that might benefit her. Carter's explosiveness and ability to beat nearly anyone off the dribble will come in handy in whatever role she fills on this Sparks team.
Sixth Player of the Year
- Maloney/Wimbish: Emma Meesseman, Chicago Sky
An Aces player has won this honor in each of the last three seasons, but Emma Meesseman has a chance to put that reign to an end. After sitting out last season to rest and focus on her international commitments with Belgium, Meesseman returned to the WNBA and signed with the defending champion Sky in free agency. The former Finals MVP is a bit overqualified to be a reserve, and her savvy, versatile game should be a perfect fit in Chicago.
Coach of the Year
- Maloney: Noelle Quinn, Seattle Storm
Quinn helped this Storm core win a title as a player in 2018, and then again as associate head coach in 2020. Now, in what will be the final season together for this group, she'll try to do so again as head coach. With Sue Bird's impending retirement, and Breanna Stewart set to be a free agent next winter, there will be tremendous pressure on the Storm this season. If Quinn can guide them to another deep playoff run, and possibly another ring, she's a good bet for Coach of the Year.
- Wimbish: Becky Hammon, Las Vegas
After years of interviewing for head coaching gigs in the NBA, and serving as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs, Hammon gets her first shot at running a team in Las Vegas. And what better place to start than helming a consistent title contender with a player that registers in at No. 3 on our annual Top 25 list. I think Hammon will make a splash in her first head coaching gig, and lead the Aces to another successful season. I'm not sure if they'll win it all this year, but you definitely can't count them out.
- Maloney: Storm over Sun
There are a number of genuine contenders in the league this season, but it's hard not to just fall back on the Storm. Breanna Stewart, who is once again healthy, is the best player in the world; Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird round out a talented and experienced big three that knows how to win in the playoffs; offseason additions like Gabby Williams and Briann January should make them elite on the defensive end. This group has a real chance to win its third title in five years and become the first franchise with five rings.
- Wimbish: Sun over Storm
After finishing last season with the best record in the league and getting upset by the Sky in the semifinals, I expect the Sun to come back this season with vengeance on their mind. The Sun return the reigning MVP in Jones, get a healthy Alyssa Thomas back who looked impressive at the end of last season and bring Courtney Williams back into the fold. Throw in DeWanna Bonner, and the 2021 Most Improved Player Brionna Jones and Connecticut has a loaded team again. They have a real shot at winning the franchise's first championship.