The year 2023 will go down in WNBA annals as the first in which the league’s front offices wholly embraced an idea — that of the so-called “superteam” — that’s gotten rather stale in the male version of the sport since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh joined forces on the Miami Heat a decade ago.
In January, the New York Liberty swung a three-way trade that netted them 2021 league MVP Jonquel Jones. The 16-20 Liberty had barely made the playoffs the prior season, so scant attention was paid to the maneuver at the time.
Two weeks later, however, future Hall-Of-Famer Candace Parker sent shockwaves through the league by announcing her intent to sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces in free agency. Not to be outdone, the Liberty added perennial all-stars Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot through the same portal, seemingly promising a clash of the titans in the WNBA Finals come fall.
Autumn has arrived, and nothing the two teams have accomplished has done anything to dissuade that prediction. The 34-6 Aces are -160 favorites at both bet365 and Caesars Sportsbook to repeat as WNBA champions, while bet365 has the 32-8 Liberty at +140 to do the same. No other team has odds shorter than 20/1 (the Connecticut Sun at Caesars) to claim the crown.
To put things in narrower perspective, Caesars is offering -210 odds on the Aces and Liberty to play each other in the finals, with “any other matchup” among the eight playoff teams priced at +170. Gutsier still, DraftKings is offering an “Aces vs. the field” prop, with Las Vegas priced at -150 and the field at +125 in that context.
Here come the Sun?
Las Vegas and New York split their four regular-season meetings, but the Liberty gained an edge with a 82-63 throttling of the Aces in the midseason Commissioner’s Cup. New York was the only team to beat Vegas — which will likely have to defend its title without the services of Parker, who is out indefinitely after foot surgery — more than once this season. Washington, meanwhile, was the only team other than the Aces to defeat the Liberty on multiple occasions.
It’s compelling, then, that New York must face Washington (19-21) in the best-of-three first round. The Liberty are favored by 9.5 points at home in Friday’s Game 1, but Caesars gives the Mystics a puncher’s chance (35/1) of claiming the league title, a prospect that likely rests on the team’s perpetually balky health.
Asked which of the six non-superteams had the best chance of preventing what seems like the inevitable Vegas-NYC matchup in the finals, a bet365 spokesperson told Sports Handle, “Normally, I would say the Washington Mystics, but they have had too many injuries this season. It’s also a lot to ask of Elena Delle Donne, who is hampered by previous injuries.”
When confronted with the same question, David Lieberman, Caesars’ head pro basketball trader, said, “The Sun are probably the most well-rounded outside of those two. The Mystics might give the Liberty some trouble if Delle Donne is healthy. Neither team has a great chance to beat either in a three- or five-game series.”
On Monday, bet365 had the Dallas Wings as a 28/1 third favorite to win the WNBA title, slightly ahead of the Sun at 30/1. But by Tuesday, the two teams had flip-flopped, with Connecticut fetching a 25/1 price and Dallas positioned at 30/1.
“Looking at the most likely forecasted prices, as well as the upset factors it would take for either Connecticut or Dallas to make the finals, both are the main plays for those looking for offsets against earlier Las Vegas and New York plays — especially Dallas,” the bet365 spokesperson explained. “If Connecticut were to play Las Vegas in the finals, they would be bigger underdogs than if Dallas played vs New York.”
Taking stock of the Wings, the bet365 rep praised Alike Ogunbowale’s scoring and Satou Sabally’s “consistent contributions and presence.” He noted that the team finished first in team rebounding and third in scoring but said “their defense has leaks,” which will necessitate “high-scoring games from their best players” to prevail in the playoffs.
As for the Sun, the bet365 spokesperson feels they have the opposite problem.
“They have good overall team play, especially on the defensive side, and stars in Alyssa Thomas and Dewanna Bonner. But with a shared offensive style, the biggest question would be, ‘Can they score enough consistently?’”
WNBA handle ‘up quite a bit this season’
On Tuesday, it was announced that Stewart had edged out 2022 league MVP A’ja Wilson of the Aces for this year’s top individual honor. But bookmakers expect Wilson (+250 at bet365) to turn the tables and be named finals MVP over Stewart (+350).
Breanna Stewart is cooking. pic.twitter.com/5F0FiJrZ5R
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) September 6, 2023
After that pair, Aces guard Kelsey Plum (6/1), Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu (+650), Vegas guard Chelsea Gray (8/1), and teammate Jackie Young (+850) are the remaining players with single-digit odds. Should Connecticut, which beat the Aces once during the regular season, somehow advance to the finals and avenge last year’s loss there, bets on Wilson (28/1) and Bonner (33/1) could pay out handsomely.
Bet365 is offering a robust slate of player props and futures bets related to the WNBA postseason, something that would have been unfathomable just two seasons ago. The league has come a long way in a small amount of time in terms of attracting interest among mainstream sports bettors, something that’s been supercharged by the New York-Vegas arms race.
“WNBA handle is actually up quite a bit this season,” Lieberman said. “I think the two superteams play a part in that. The Aces are a pretty popular team as far as betting goes, and the Liberty becoming that second superteam has garnered a little more interest. I would say it’s definitely helped.”
“It’s fair to say that games involving Las Vegas and New York are the most popular plays all season,” said the bet365 spokesperson. “That also includes a very large amount of parlay tickets where these two teams would often be a short-priced favorite to bank on.
“The WNBA player prop action as a whole is not far behind the main game lines for overall handle. This gives many bettors the opportunity to back the players they like … instead of backing the team itself. Through that lens, on a nightly basis, New York and Las Vegas players see the most action amongst everyone else.”