After a unique 2020 season spent inside a bubble down in Florida, the WNBA will (mostly) return to normal this summer. The 25th season in league history is set to tip off Friday, May 14, and fans will be in attendance as teams play 32 regular-season games -- a slightly lesser number than usual due to the Olympic break -- before a normal postseason format.
Ahead of each new season, one of the most enjoyable exercises is trying to predict which players will win the major awards, as well as which team will win the title. It usually ends up being a fool's errand, because things never play out quite how we expect, but that's the beauty of sports. And now, without further ado, here are our experts' picks.
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Most Valuable Player
- Jack Maloney: Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx
This might be a little ambitious so early in her career, but Collier is on the path to stardom, thanks to her two-way ability. Consider that last summer, in just her second season in the league, Collier put up 16.1 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Only five other players -- Lisa Leslie, Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Breanna Stewart -- have ever recorded a 16/9/3/1/1 season, and they're all former MVPs. If Collier makes a leap and has the Lynx in title contention, she just might be able to join them.
- Jasmyn Wimbish: Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas Wings
Coming off a season in which she led the league in scoring at 22.8 points per game and boasted the second-highest usage rate, Ogunbowale is certainly going to have the statistics to be in the MVP conversation. She finished sixth in voting for the award a year ago, and if she can will this young, rebuilding Wings team to the playoffs, that would only add to her case.
Rookie of the Year
- Maloney: Charli Collier, Dallas Wings
There really isn't an obvious candidate in this draft class, so we'll just go with Collier, who seems like the safest pick. She'll be able to compete physically from Day 1, should get plenty of playing time in a Wings frontcourt that lacks depth, finishes efficiently in the paint and is a terrific rebounder.
- Wimbish: Aari McDonald, Atlanta Dream
It's true that McDonald is joining a crowded backcourt in Atlanta that boasts the likes of Tiffany Hayes, Chennedy Carter and Courtney Williams. But the Dream wouldn't have made her the No. 3 overall pick if they weren't going to play her, so McDonald should still get plenty of minutes and touches. She should do at least enough to win what should be a wide open Rookie of the Year race.
Defensive Player of the Year
- Maloney: Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
Jones sat out the 2020 season due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, but she's back and ready to go this summer. It shouldn't take her long to reclaim her place as one of the best defenders in the league. In 2019, she tied for the league lead in blocks per game, and was one of only four players to average a steal and a block.
- Wimbish: Brianna Turner, Phoenix Mercury
A quiet rookie campaign in 2019 could not have prepared us for the standout season Turner had on the defensive side of the ball last summer in the bubble. She finished tied for the league lead in blocks per game (2.0), fifth in rebounds (9.0) and second in block percentage (5.7 percent). In the process she earned an All-Defensive First Team selection and finished fourth in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. She made such a drastic leap from Year 1 to Year 2 that it wouldn't be unrealistic to expect her to go home with the trophy this season.
Sixth Woman of the Year
- Maloney/Wimbish: Dearica Hamby, Las Vegas Aces
It's maybe cheating a little bit to pick the reigning back-to-back Sixth Woman of the Year to win the award again, but she's so clearly the favorite. Hamby would be a starter on any other team, and always ends up playing starter-level minutes anyway. She impacts the game on both ends of the floor and her versatility gives the Aces so many different lineup options.
Most Improved Player
- Maloney: Kelsey Mitchell, Indiana Fever
Most Improved Player is always a tricky award to try and predict, but here's one candidate: Kelsey Mitchell. Her scoring and high-volume 3-point shooting were some of the few bright spots for the Fever last season, and she's on her way to becoming an elite offensive player. The biggest question for her now is whether she can show strides in other areas of the game.
- Wimbish: Kayla McBride, Minnesota Lynx
Hear me out. While it may be silly to pick a three-time All-Star for this honor, one of the major reasons McBride signed with the Lynx in the offseason was so she could "take another step" in her game. It will be interesting to watch how she evolves in Minnesota and tries to shed the label of being just a spot-up shooter.
Coach of the Year
- Maloney/Wimbish: Bill Laimbeer, Las Vegas Aces
Laimbeer has won Coach of the Year twice in his career, once with the Shock and once with the Liberty. This could be the season that he finally gets one with the Aces, who are the early favorite to win the title. If he does, he'll join Van Chancellor, Mike Thibault and Cheryl Reeve as the only coaches to win the honor three times.
- Maloney: Las Vegas Aces over Chicago Sky in 5
After some high-quality contests in the last years, the Aces and Sky have a nice little rivalry brewing. In 2019, Dearica Hamby hit one of the best shots in WNBA history at the buzzer to eliminate the Sky from the playoffs, while Chicago won both of its regular-season meetings last season with last-second shots. Each team made some high-profile moves in the offseason to improve, and enter 2021 as arguably the two best teams in the league. If that holds and they meet in the Finals it would be a treat.
- Wimbish: Chicago Sky over Las Vegas Aces in 5
What a great story it would be if Candace Parker returned to Chicago and brought her hometown team its first championship. When Parker chose to sign with the Sky, they immediately became title contenders, and for good reason. They've had the pieces to compete in the playoffs, but Parker has the star power to bring it all together. The Aces are the title favorite heading into the season, and as Jack mentioned, they made great moves in the offseason to earn that honor. But I think the Sky will outduel the Aces in five entertaining games.