Tips and Predictions for WNBA Awards SZN
This week, Above the Break takes stock of WNBA Awards races and adds a few new awards of its own to celebrate special seasons.
The regular season of the WNBA ends on Sunday. The last two playoff spots are still up for grabs through the weekend, with Minnesota, Atlanta, New York and Phoenix all vying for that spot.
It’s also a good time for us to consider WNBA awards. The official award voters are probably filling out their ballots now (I suppose at least – I just want to take a second to say that if anyone who works for the league is reading, I’d love to vote next year!), and we will soon know who wins things like MVP and DPOY.
So today I’m getting into the price game. Some of these will be real awards. Some of these will be fake awards that I wish were real. Let’s talk awards, y’all.
WNBA Awards: MVP
The way I see it, MVP is limited to two players at the moment: Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson.
There are good arguments for both players.
Stewart leads the league in points per game with 22.0, a career-high. She also adds 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Perhaps more importantly, however, Stewart had to do this on a Storm team that had become less and less talented over time. When Stewart won her first MVP, it was on a team with Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard. Now she’s doing so on a team where talent falls off a bit faster as you go down the list.
Then there’s A’ja Wilson. She is fifth in points per game, with one of her teammates, Kelsey Plum, ahead of her. But she’s also second in the WNBA in rebounds per game and leads the WNBA in blocks per game. Stewart is also a great defender but Wilson was incredible in that regard.
Ultimately, I am pulled in Wilson’s direction. For the reasons above, but also because Wilson had to do all of this while learning a whole new scheme. Normally, adjusting to a new coach wouldn’t matter much in something like this, but when you’re going from the old-school Bill Laimbeer system to the sprawling Becky Hammon system and you don’t miss a beat, it matters to me, especially in a tight one like this races like this.
WNBA Awards: Defensive Player of the Year
Oh hello! Another race between A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart.
What Stewart has done defensively with Seattle this year has been so impressive, but sometimes you have to lean back on the numbers. Stewart has 0.1 more defensive win percentages than Wilson this season, but Wilson’s shot blocking ability gives her a slight advantage here, just like in the MVP race.
But how great is it that the two MVP nominees are also the two DPOY nominees!
WNBA Awards: Sixth Player of the Year
Thats is quite easy. The Aces have had two consistent candidates for the role in recent years, but Becky Hammon decided to base their best players in Vegas, edging out Kelsey Plum and Dearica Hamby.
That means the runway is clear for Brionna Jones to go there and collect this award. She started seven games this year but mostly played off the bench. Jones averages 13.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
WNBA Awards: Seventh Player of the Year
This award goes to the best player who finishes seventh on their team in minutes per game. Unlike the 6POY award, I’m not basing this on whether a player launches games or not.
Rebekah Gardner receives this award. The 31-year-old, who also has the hypothetical Rookie of the Year Among Players Not Drafted In 2022 honor, has been a key play on both ends of the floor for the Chicago Sky. She averages 8.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game. She is second in the league in steal rate behind Brittney Sykes
WNBA Awards: Most Improved Player
These might be the toughest awards. Part of me wants to go with Teaira McCowan, but let’s save her for one more award. Part of me says I should check out Sophie Cunningham since her count has increased tremendously, but I’m partly wondering if that’s just because she’s getting more minutes. Being “Improved” means a player has gotten better, not just their numbers have improved. And I think there is someone who “improved” faster than Cunningham:
The former No. 1 overall shot 25 percent from the deep last year. This season she’s shooting 43.1 percent from behind the arc. Their points per game have gone from 12.2 to 16.4 and Young has gone from a rotation figure to a real star this season. Your true shot percentage has increased from 56.4 to 59.4 percent. Their win percentages per 48 minutes increased from 0.174 to 0.234. She more than doubled her offensive win shares from last season.
WNBA Awards: Most Improved Player (In-Season Edition)
As much as I want to call Teaira McCowan the most improved player, I really can’t because she barely spent the first half of the season on the pitch. However, I don’t think we should blame McCowan for the team’s rotations and I want to acknowledge how well she’s played in some form over the last month or so.
So we’ve received the Most Improved Player (In-Season Edition) award, which reflects the player who has progressed the most from the beginning of the season to the end.
In May, McCowan averaged 4.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. So far in August, she has averaged 18.2 points and 12.8 rebounds.
Early in the season, Dallas often played Izzy Harrison on the 5, which made sense because Harrison is really good. But the Wings acted for McCowan for a reason: They needed a long-term answer to the 5. And then they ignored that need for two months and didn’t really give McCowan a chance. I’m sure she was a liability in space on defense, but there’s literally nobody in the WNBA who can seal the paint like McCowan.
WNBA Awards: Retired Player of the Year
We have some players retiring this season and some other players who are rumored to be retiring. Not wishing to steer clear of rumours, players eligible for this award must have already announced that this is their final season, meaning Candace Parker is not eligible, although many people believe they will be done after that will this season.
That makes us decide between Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles.
Bird has played in 29 games this season, averaging 8.0 points and 6.0 assists per game.
Fowles missed time through injury, but he ended up catching Bird back and playing just one game fewer. Fowles is averaging 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game while shooting 63.6 percent from the floor.
Let’s continue with the numbers here and add another trophy to Fowle’s case.
WNBA Awards: Rookie of the Year
No disrespect to NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin who both had great seasons but my pick for Rookie of the Year goes to Rhyne Howard.
I’m not even sure I really need to explain this choice. Howard was the best player on a team that could still make the playoffs. Smith was really good for a struggling Fever team and Austin was a great character for a good Mystics team. In a normal year, these two would be locked in a great fight for the award, where we would end up having some in-depth conversations about how to score stats and win.
But with Howard, we can appreciate stats and win – or at least compete, as the dream will definitely finish below .500 and may yet miss the postseason.
Howard has averaged 16.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game. She wasn’t very efficient, only shooting 36.7 percent off the floor, but that inefficiency comes when a beginner has to do as much as Howard, and I won’t blame her for that. Howard had so many expectations to live up after being declared the #1 seed in 2022 as a freshman in Kentucky. She stuck to it.
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