Aces, Liberty Still Heavy Favorites Heading Into WNBA Tipoff

New York's Breanna Stewart and Vegas' A'ja Wilson are the top MVP candidates
2023 WNBA season preview

After a seismic offseason in which the WNBA saw its first “super teams” emerge, sportsbooks have had three months to consider their futures offerings heading into Friday night’s season openers, and they are largely OK with what they originally posted.

The 2023 WNBA season will be different for a few reasons, not the least being defending champion Las Vegas and New York playing the roles of overwhelming favorites in their respective conferences. This season has been lengthened to 40 games, four more than 2022, and even beyond the personnel moves by the Aces and Liberty, many notable faces are in new places.

For sports wagering purposes, it breaks down nicely ahead of tipoff: two heavyweights, two contenders that oddsmakers feel are capable of putting up a fight, and eight teams that have plenty of work to do.

Power lies in the desert and I-95 corridor

Despite winning its first title in franchise history, Las Vegas did not rest on its newly earned laurels, retooling its roster to add standout veteran Candace Parker (13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds with Chicago in 2022) to join A’ja Wilson in the front court. To make room for Parker, the Aces dealt Dearica Hamby to Los Angeles in January, a move Hamby alleged was done because she was pregnant.

The WNBA conducted a three-month investigation into the matter and determined Tuesday that the Aces violated league rules regarding impermissible benefits and workplace policies, resulting in a two-game suspension for coach Becky Hammon and the team losing its 2025 first-round draft pick. Hammon, who won the league title in her first season with Las Vegas, also remains among the names bandied about for current NBA coaching vacancies, as she has long been expected to be the first female head coach in league history.

Even with the Aces now villains of sorts and potential NBA suitors lurking for Hammon, they are near-unanimous favorites to repeat across most sportsbooks. DraftKings (+125) and Betfred (+120) have Las Vegas listed as a co-favorite with New York, with PointsBet joining DraftKings in offering the best value at +125. The market has tightened to a degree in the spring — the Aces could have been grabbed at +160 at DraftKings and Betway in February.

Las Vegas being loaded also means there are plenty of options for MVP futures. Wilson, who won the award for the second time last year after averaging 19.5 points and a career-best 9.4 rebounds while shooting 37.3% from 3-point range and 50.1% overall, is a consensus second choice behind New York’s Breanna Stewart and can be grabbed at +350 at both BetMGM and Caesars.

Teammate Kelsey Plum, who will provide perimeter counterbalance to Wilson and Parker, is also on a short list of five favorites expected to take home the award. Plum, named to her first All-WNBA First Team last season while averaging career highs of 20.2 points and 5.1 assists while making 42% of her long-range shots, has definite value at the +800 offered by BetRivers.

As the Aces are defending their first title in franchise history, the Liberty are seeking their first. New York made arguably the biggest offseason overhaul in league history, bringing in two-time champion Stewart (21.8 ppg and 7.6 rpg with Seattle in 2022) and top-tier point guard Courtney Vandersloot via free agency, as well as adding 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in a three-team trade with Connecticut and Dallas.

The trio is expected to coalesce quickly around Sabrina Ionescu, who averaged 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 6.3 assists while thriving in the off-guard position in Sandy Brondello’s offense. Vandersloot, who is the only WNBA player to record 300 assists in a season and ranks third all-time in league history, will also be reunited with former Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson from their 2021 title-winning team.

On paper, it appears the lack of visible cohesion — the teams play only two preseason games — is what separates the Aces from the Liberty in oddsmakers’ minds. New York’s band of offerings to win the WNBA title is almost as tight as Las Vegas’. PointsBet has the best play at +150, followed by FanDuel, bet365 and Betfred at +130.

Stewart is the odds-on favorite to win her second MVP award, with BetMGM the best play at +300, followed by Caesars and Betway offering +275. Ionescu, however, may be more rewarding as a sleeper pick. Plus-800 at BetMGM, BetRivers, and Betway is attractive for someone whose scoring average stands to climb with Vandersloot’s arrival as a pass-first point guard.

Are there value plays to be found?

Just like oddsmakers are convinced the Liberty and Aces will meet in the WNBA Finals, they remain equally confident that Washington and Phoenix are the two teams most capable of altering that narrative. The Mystics, led by Elena Delle Donne — fully healthy for the first time in three seasons — are a clear-cut third option and available at +1400 at Hard Rock, Betfred, FanDuel, BetMGM, Caesars, and BetRivers.

Delle Donne, a two-time MVP and 2019 WNBA Finals winner, played just 28 games the last two seasons due to injury but is still among the league’s best. She averaged 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 25 games in 2022 and is worth an MVP flyer at +800 at Betway.

The Mercury are the feel-good story for the league with the return of Britney Griner. The star center was released in December after being detained in Russia for 10 months, missing all of the 2022 season, so it would not be surprising to see her have some uneven performances early. The two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year was also shortlisted for the 2021 MVP Award when she last played after averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.

Griner will be joined again by Diana Taurasi, back for her 19th WNBA season at age 40. The league’s all-time leading scorer is 307 points shy of 10,000 and averaged 16.7 points in 2022 despite shooting 37.3%. Phoenix will also be counting on Sophie Cunningham and Brianna Turner to thrive while returning to their customary front-court roles with Griner’s return to the pivot.

Phoenix is available at +3000 at DraftKings and +2500 at both FanDuel and BetRivers. For those sentimental with a dollar or two, Griner’s top markets for MVP are at BetRivers (+1500), followed by BetMGM and Betway (+1400).

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images


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