Starting this week, the WNBA will start handing out the end of season awards. The league starts with the Peak Performers, awards handed out to the players who led the league in scoring (Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm), assists (Natasha Cloud, Washington Mystics) and rebounds (Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx.) The rest of the awards are voted on, and here’s how they should go.
Basketball Executive of the Year: James Wade, Chicago Sky
Wade is more known for his job as the Sky’s head coach, but he also serves as the team’s GM. This means it was Wade who convinced Emma Meesseman to sign with Chicago, where she went on to make the All-Star team for the first time. He also traded for Julie Allemand and signed 32-year-old rookie Rebekah Gardner, two players who have made a big difference for the Sky coming off the bench. Chicago’s depth is a huge reason why the team has a good shot at repeating as champs, and it was Wade the executive who found those players.
Rookie of the Year: Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream
As the first-overall draft pick earlier this year, Howard already had high expectations coming in. She immediately surpassed those, scoring 33 points in just her fourth game in the league. Even as the Dream dealt with a ton of injuries, and the team didn’t make the postseason, Howard continued to be a reason to tune in to Atlanta games. She finished the season with 16.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Coach of the Year: Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces
It’s not like the Aces were struggling with personnel, considering A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, and Kelsey Plum were on the team. What Hammon did when she replaced the retired Bill Laimbeer, though, was figure out the best way to turn those players into an offensive juggernaut. The Aces led the league in scoring with 90.4 points per game. Wilson and Plum made a new WNBA record, becoming the first teammates to score more than 700 points in a season, and they tied the Storm in 3-point percentage. Hammon had spent the last eight seasons as an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, and interviewed for an NBA head coach opening more than once. When she finally get the shot at the WNBA, she quickly showed how she can elevate a team.
Most Improved Player: Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces
Under Hammon, a more confident and effective Jackie Young emerged on the court. Her scoring, rebounding and assists improved. Young made her first All-Star team, and she was named the Western Conference Player of the Week in May. Young’s improvement is a major reason why the Aces are the top-seeded team going into the playoffs.
Sixth Player of the Year: Azurá Stevens, Chicago Sky
Stevens started much of the Sky’s run to the championship last season, but Meesseman’s arrival meant Stevens was starting the game on the bench. If she was upset about it, you wouldn’t know from Stevens’ sunny demeanor on the court, and inspirational quotes on Twitter. She instead became the first sub for the Sky, averaging 10.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. In fact, her 39 blocks put her in seventh place in the league. The Sky’s championship hopes rest on the team’s deep bench, and that bench is led by Stevens.
Defensive Player of the Year: Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
It’s not just that Thomas is ranked fifth in the league for rebounds, and second for steals. It’s not that she was named to the All-Star team this season or that she won two Player of the Week awards. It’s not just that the Connecticut Sun is second in the league for defensive rating, a mere 0.3 behind the Mystics. Nope, it’s how Thomas carries herself on the court, making it clear that anyone is shooting over her at their own peril.
Most Valuable Player: A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
How lucky is this league? Wilson and Seattle Breanna Stewart battled for this award all season long. This battle came down to the Aces-Storm game Sunday, the last day of the regular season. Wilson stuffed Stewart, which pushed her a nose ahead of Stewart in the imaginary WNBA MVP horse race in my head. Wilson nearly averaged a double-double, scoring 19.5 points and grabbing 9.4 rebounds per game. Throw in that she led the league in blocks with 75, and that her team has the best record and top seed in the playoffs, and Wilson wins the MVP in my eyes.