The WNBA’s 26th season has lived up to all the hype thus far. Several contenders are packed in at the top of the standings and it seems as though we’re in for an exciting postseason this year.
At the All-Star break, statistical sample sizes are starting to become big enough to look at the season award races. Almost all of these award races are insanely close, and the second half of the season can certainly sway voters. I’m factoring in both where the races stand today, as well as what my crystal ball shows about the second half.
After checking out my selections, tell me how wrong you think I am on Twitter at @mike_hoopsocial. Let’s argue.
Rookie of the Year
After being selected number one overall, Howard has entered the league on a mission. Of all the award races, this one feels like the surest prediction.
Rhyne is averaging 15 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.6 assists and has been a crucial piece to the Dream’s turnaround overall. Howard has also been showing flashes of dominant perimeter defense, creating turnovers that often lead to dynamic fast break offense.
The biggest area of opportunity for Howard is improving shooting efficiency, especially inside of the three-point arc. Her dynamic shotmaking ability is already a headache for defenses- once she’s able to consistently finish at the rim, Rhyne will be impossible to defend.
Most Improved Player of the Year
The Aces are once again among the smallest inner-circle of true championship contenders. Coach Becky Hammond installed a new run-and-gun offense in Vegas and her shooters are shooting.
Among several players thriving in the new system, Jackie Young stands out the most and is featured prominently in the offense.
In just three additional minutes per game, Young is showing improvement in virtually every area.
- Points per game: 12.2 -> 17.1
- 3pt shooting: 0.6 attempts at 25% -> 3.2 attempts at 46.9%
- Free throws: 2.3 attempts at 83.3% -> 4.0 attempts at 84.8%
- Assists per game: 3.2 -> 3.9
- True shooting: 56.4% -> 60.9%
The leap from quality starter to star is a hard one to make, and Young has done just that.
6th Player of the Year
With the return of a healthy Alyssa Thomas, coach Curt Miller has the flexibility to bring Brionna Jones off the bench- a luxury that many teams could only dream of.
Brionna Jones leads the entire league in individual offensive rating at 128.4 and is second in win shares at 4.1. Her elite interior finishing ability coupled with rebounding and rim protection makes Jones a winning player that affects every game she’s in.
Miller will often close games with a jumbo lineup, featuring Brionna alongside Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas, and DeWanna Bonner, which is simply too much size for opposing teams to deal with.
Coach of the Year
Coach T’s group dealt with a string of injuries last season that was one of the worst in recent memory. Washington finished in the bottom of the league in almost every defensive metric, and found themselves unable to string together wins.
Despite not bringing back league-leading scorer Tina Charles, coach Thibault has rolled out a group that has emerged as a contender. The Mystics have gone from 10th to 2nd in defensive rating, and hold opponents to an impressive 75.5 points per game.
If Washington can claim one of the top four seeds in the playoffs this season, Mike Thibault will lay a strong claim to this award.
Defensive Player of the Year
The injury to Mercedes Russell in the offseason meant the starting job was Ezi’s, and the dynamic young center hasn’t disappointed. Fitting perfectly into Seattle’s loaded offensive lineup, Magbegor has become starred in her role and become one of the league’s most feared rim protectors.
Magbegor is currently first in the league in blocks per game (2.5) and block percentage (7.8%). Ezi’s blocks come in every fashion- from help side rejections to stuffing her matchup on a switch, and even posted a seven block game back in May.
DPOY is always one of the toughest awards to judge. Perimeter defenders like Brittney Sykes have been frozen out in recent years, and I’d be surprised if voters bucked that trend now.
Most Valuable Player
Stewie is back. The former league and two-time finals MVP is playing at her peak powers, and is well on her way to being named MVP again.
Seattle headed into the break at 15-8, good for third overall in the standings. Having recently required last year’s scoring champ Tina Charles, the Storm’s odds to lock in a top seed seem high.
Breanna not only leads the league in scoring (21.0 ppg), but also in win shares (5.1) and player efficiency rating (29.0).
Her dominant play on both ends and clutch shooting helped lead the Storm to a signature win against A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces just before the All Star break.
One more matchup against Connecticut, two against Vegas, and two against the Sky are left on the schedule for Seattle in the second half, giving Stewie multiple chances to step up in high profile situations.
2. A’ja Wilson
3. Nneka Ogwumike