Two cities known for bright lights and big dreams, Las Vegas and New York City, will be front and center in the upcoming WNBA season.
The standard offseason movement among the 12 teams in the league received a huge jolt as both the defending champion Aces and Liberty made substantial roster changes. For the Aces, they are preparing to defend their first WNBA title in franchise history. For the Liberty, an ambitious retooling has positioned them to be the favorites in the Eastern Conference and some oddsmakers’ top option to win it all.
The moves by the two perceived conference favorites also created a chasm in sports wagering futures odds in the WNBA. Las Vegas and New York are not only clear-cut favorites to win the title, but the only ones sportsbooks are realistically considering to accomplish the feat based on current odds ahead of the season opening in mid-May.
Aces add to championship pedigree with Parker
“Just to play alongside [@Candace_Parker] would be like a dream come true.” — @_ajawilson22 via The Shop pic.twitter.com/SsIUky4JBc
— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) February 5, 2023
Aces owner Mark Davis, who also owns the Las Vegas Raiders, made no secret of his desire to bring a WNBA title to Sin City when he hired Becky Hammon last season and signed her to a contract worth $1 million annually — the highest in league history for a coach. Hammon, long expected to be the first woman to helm an NBA team, lived up to her end of the bargain by guiding the Aces to a franchise-record 26 wins and their first title while claiming Coach of the Year honors.
Las Vegas, which is a near-unanimous favorite to repeat across sportsbooks, is stacked with star power. Forward A’ja Wilson averaged 19.5 points and 9.4 rebounds while winning her second league MVP award in three years. Kelsey Plum provided plenty of perimeter scoring, averaging a team-best 20.2 points while shooting 42% from 3-point range. Plum also chipped in 5.1 assists per contest, essentially co-directing the offense with Chelsea Gray, who averaged 13.7 points and 6.1 assists.
Jackie Young is the other sharpshooter, connecting on 43.1% of her long-range attempts, but the Aces still made a huge upgrade with the free agent signing of Candace Parker, who slots into the forward spot previously held by Dearica Hamby. One of the league’s all-time greats, the 36-year-old Parker won her second WNBA title in 2021 with the Chicago Sky and showed she has plenty of game left after averaging 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in a failed bid to repeat.
Hammon will also have some depth at her disposal, as Riquna Williams is expected to again be a top backcourt scoring option off the bench after averaging 6.7 points last season. In the frontcourt, Las Vegas added forward Aiysha Clark, who averaged 8.0 points and 4.5 rebounds as a starter for the Washington Mystics in 2022 and also won WNBA titles with Seattle in 2018 and 2020.
The best places to grab the Aces are at Betway and DraftKings, which both have the champs listed at +160 and co-favorites with the Liberty. Other books are ranging from +110 at Barstool Sportsbook and BetRivers to +135 at Betfred, with FanDuel and BetMGM close behind at +130. Caesars Sports is currently the only book listing the Aces as second to the Liberty, but barely at +125 compared to New York’s +120.
Liberty build around Ionescu with veteran trio
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) February 1, 2023
You know it’s a big deal when Kevin Durant is actively trying to recruit you to join him in New York, and that’s exactly what the Brooklyn Nets superstar did on social media as Breanna Stewart pondered her next move in the WNBA. The top free agent in this year’s class, Stewart averaged 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assist for Seattle last year and also helped the Storm win titles in 2018 and 2020 during her seven seasons in the Pacific Northwest.
While Stewart is indeed heading across the country, the Liberty went a more local route in landing 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, acquiring the forward from the Connecticut Sun in a three-team deal with the Dallas Wings. A four-time All-Star, Jones averaged 14.6 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 51.3% for the Sun last year in helping them reach the WNBA Finals. Kayla Thornton, who came to New York from Dallas in that deal, averaged 8.0 points and a career-best 5.9 rebounds for the Wings in 2022.
The arrival of Stewart and Jones means teams can’t focus solely on Sabrina Ionescu, as the guard averaged 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 6.3 assists after moving a more off-guard role in Sandy Brondello’s offense. That is going to continue this season with the Liberty’s other marquee free agent signing: Courtney Vandersloot. Stewart reportedly took less pay as a free agent to keep New York under the salary cap in order to sign the veteran point guard.
Along with Parker, Vandersloot was a driving force in Chicago’s 2021 title run and is arguably the best pure point guard in the league. She averaged 11.8 points and 6.5 assists, though the latter was her lowest season average since 2016, as she shared playmaker duties with Parker. The 34-year-old Vandersloot is the only player in WNBA history with 300 assists in a season and holds the league’s top five season assist averages.
Despite being the co-favorite with Las Vegas at +160 at both DraftKings and Betway, those books are still the best numbers for a futures wager on New York. PointsBet and BetMGM are next in line at +150, while FanDuel and Betfred both check in at +140.
Are Mystics the only hope for underdogs?
In addition to making Las Vegas and New York 1-2 in some order at every notable sportsbook, oddsmakers are also firmly convinced the team that could take down the Aces and Liberty is the Washington Mystics. They are a consensus No. 3 — also by a notably large margin — with +1200 odds at most books, though BetRivers and Barstool are offering +1400. To put their status in perspective, the only other WNBA team with shorter than +2000 odds among major books is the Phoenix Mercury at +1800 with Betfred.
This makes sense, given that star forward Elena Delle Donne was arguably the biggest name that stayed put this offseason after averaging 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds. Washington has gone all in with veterans, as Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and Ariel Atkins will be unrestricted free agents after this season, while Delle Donne, Cloud, and Kristi Tolliver are all 30 and older.
The Mystics are hoping offseason signing Brittany Sykes — the 2022 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year who averaged 12.7 points, 3.7 assists, and 2.0 steals — can take some of the offensive load off Delle Donne and combine with Atkins to form a formidable backcourt for first-year coach Eric Thibault.
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