MVP: Breanna Stewart
There are two candidates who both would be worthy winners of this award. A’ja Wilson very well may win as the best player on the #1 seed and would be a deserving winner. But for me, Stewart has been a bit better. Both had very efficient seasons, with nearly identical true shooting percentages, but Stewart was a hair better. Both players had positive assist to turnover numbers, but Stewart’s was better, 2.9 assists to 1.3 turnovers, with Wilson at 2.1 assists to 1.7 turnovers. They had identical free throw rates, something we typical think of as Wilson having an advantage at.
Team success doesn’t provide much of distinction for me either way. Kelsey Plum is on my all-wnba first team with Jackie Young a strong candidate for second team, even if she didn’t end up on it for me. Jewell Loyd has had a down year for her. Seattle ends up fourth and Aces first, makes sense.
On defense both are leading candidates for defensive player of the year, so not much of an advantage there. This is one of the closest MVP races one can imagine. Team record does not matter to me beyond a sort of minimum level. Any of the teams in the top 5 of the league have won enough to have a candidate.
All-in one stats have their limitations, especially the ones available to us in the W. But Stewart has the edge in whichever one you look at. Estimated Contribution’s WAR, Kevin Pelton’s WARP, , the WNBA’s own Player Impact Estimate , and even win shares. Plenty of issues with each of those, oh how I miss PIPM, and none of them are dispositive, but I do think it worth acknowledging when they all point in the same direction. If I had to bet money I would put it on A’ja winning at this point and I would be fine with that. She is an amazing player who I am lucky to get to watch, even if I chose Stewart for MVP.
DPOY: A’ja Wilson
Similar to MVP, this award comes down to Wilson vs. Stewart. I try not to let narratives influence who I pick for various awards, but it is possible I am giving this one to Wilson cause MVP went to Stewart. Just noting that, though I do think A’ja has been excellent defensively. Wilson had a heavier lift in keeping the Aces defense afloat than the other candidates. Dearica Hamby and Kia Stokes are good defenders, but neither are as good as Ezi Magbegor. Gabby Williams and Jewell Loyd are better than the respective Aces wing defenders. This does show in the overall team stats, the Aces are relatively low to have a DPOY winner, but the other teams win through a committee approach. Seattle with those mentioned, Washington with the three guards/wings all competing for first team all-defense, and Connecticut with Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones.
A’ja isn’t quite on the level of switching out on the perimeter as Stewart, but Wilson is no slouch and she can better hold up against the bigger centers like Teaira McCowan than Stewart. Stewart forces more steals, but doesn’t provide the same level of rim protection. Wilson’s ability to play the five with more limited defensive players allows the Aces to play their best 5 players, whereas Seattle felt it necessary to swap out a good offensive player in Katie Lou Samuelson for Gabby Williams. Like MVP, if Stewart wins this I would be fine with it, I very nearly chose her, but A’ja has this for me.
6th Woman of the Year: Brionna Jones
Brionna Jones played better than many starting bigs in the W, she just is behind two of the few who are better than her in Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones. More interesting than winning this award for Jones is who she will be playing for next season. As an unrestricted free agent, the Sun will not be able to keep her without her taking a discount on what she could get. My vote is either Minnesota if they don’t get Aliyah Boston or Dallas. Both of those places have players in Napheesa Collier and Satou Sabally who can stretch the floor at the 4 and let Jones do what she does in the paint.
Rookie of the Year: Rhyne Howard
Shooting 38% from 3 on nearly 8 attempts per game and blocking nearly a shot a game and getting 1.6 steals per game is the foundation of a player who can play a long time in the W. If that is all they do, every team can use wings who can defend and shoot. Howard can potentially do much more than that. A 2.8 to 1.6 assist to turnover ratio is very good for a rookie with a fairly heavy playmaking load. Especially on a Dream starved for offense at times, where Howard was regularly facing the other team’s best defender and at times double teams.
As the season progressed Howard improved her ability to work her way to the rim and collapse the defense. That is a very good sign as to whether she can drive elite offense by herself or will need to be matched with another offensive dynamo to challenge for championships in time. Either way, a hugely successful season.
Most Improved Player: Jackie Young
The past few Aces playoff runs one of the open questions was whether Jackie Young would be able to play. Each time, a player who was both reluctant to shoot from 3 and inaccurate was played off the floor. That should no longer be an issue for this year’s Jackie Young. While she is likely not a 43% 3 point shooter now, even just 35% from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game is more than good enough to force teams to take her seriously. Young has always had the playmaking and the ability to get inside. The ability to space the floor for her teammates is an important step forward.
All-WNBA First Team
All-WNBA Second Team
Final spot on the All-WNBA second team was the hardest award to figure out in this entire post. Meesseman got it for me for having an excellent season along with better defense than we’ve seen in the past. But both of her teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Kahleah Copper had good arguments. Jackie Young could have made it as well, but as good as finisher as she was she was fourth on the Aces team in terms of shot creation.
No Dallas Wings representatives for the 6th team is odd, but no obvious candidates jump out. Allisha Gray was the steadiest player and a bit more shot creation might have made it, but she excelled at playing off of Arike Ogunbowale or Teaira McCowan, who have defensive issues that kept them off for me. Ionescu isn’t a defensive whiz, but more consistently impactful than any of the Wings players.
All-Defense First Team:
Natasha Cloud -Guard
Ariel Atkins – Guard
Allisha Gray- Forward
Breanna Stewart – Forward
A’ja Wilson – Center
All-Defense Second Team
Brittney Sykes -Guard
Gabby Williams – Guard
Alysha Clark -Forward
Candace Parker – Forward
Jonquel Jones -Center
Cheating a bit by putting Clark at guard, but I could have put Clark there. Both of them guarded plenty of guards over the course of the season and both deserved to be on the team. Toughest omission was Alyssa Thomas. Over the course of the season may have been a better defender than Candace, but Candace’s peak in the games where she put forth maximum effort is higher. Jonquel is an impactful defender who uses her size to barricade the rim while being nimble enough to be ok in space. Her defensive rebounding is a plus as well. I said this on twitter, but the Jones vs. Thomas debate is a tough one and I am very prepared to be wrong. Defense is hard to measure.
Sylvia Fowles could have made it as she was still one of the best defenders in the league, but between games missed and the Lynx being near the bottom of the league in defense, I left her off. Kayla Thornton also had a good season and could have made it, but not quite over Clark or Parker. Thorton isn’t as good chasing perimeter players as Clark, nor does she provide rim protection like Parker. Ezi Magbegor had a case, especially when she was starting and playing heavier minutes, but only so many spots.
Apologies to Veronica Burton who ended strong but didn’t get enough playing time. Emily Engstler had a promising rookie season, but not better than her teammate Egbo.