September 17, 2023 

The Next’s 2023 WNBA Awards: Sixth Player of the Year

Former starter Aces combo forward Alysha Clark earns the honor

Welcome to The Next’s official* 2023 WNBA awards, continuing with Sixth Player of the Year. A panel of 19 of our WNBA beats, analysts and reporters submitted full awards ballots, selecting their top three candidates for Sixth Player of the Year. We use the NBA’s method of scoring ballots, where players receive five points for a first-place vote, three for a second-place vote, and one for a third-place vote.

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With a solid 61.1% vote share (the percentage of the maximum possible points a player received), The Next’s 2023 WNBA Sixth Player of the Year is Las Vegas combo forward Alysha Clark. She earned nine first-place votes. Also receiving multiple first-place votes were Connecticut off-ball guard DiJonai Carrington with four and Chicago point guard Dana Evans with three. New York’s Kayla Thornton, Dallas’ Kalani Brown and Phoenix’s Sug Sutton also earned top votes.

Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous No. 1 vote, 70% = average of No. 2 per ballot, 50% = average of No. 3, 30% = No. 4, 10% = No. 5

Clark moved to the bench this season for the first time in a decade after earning back-to-back All-Defense honors in 2019-20 and ranking top-20 in 3-point percentage in WNBA history (minimum 100 made threes), per Stathead, making her an incredibly overqualified backup. Carrington broke out in her third WNBA season as an unstoppable dribble-penetrator with excellent finishing ability in addition to quality defense and 3-point shooting. Evans’ role grew through the course of the season as she provided consistent point-of-attack defense and playmaking, plus a killer downhill floater and off-ball shooting, a set of skills hard to reliably find in point guards.

With Brionna Jones and Azurá Stevens both having graduated to full-time starting roles, this season’s Sixth Player of the Year race was wide open in a way it hadn’t been since 2018. Clark marks the fourth time the Aces have won the award in the past five years, following Dearica Hamby in 2019 and 2020 and Kelsey Plum in 2021. She joins Brionna Jones (2022), Kelsey Plum (2021), Jonquel Jones (2018) and Renee Montgomery (2012) as Sixth Player of the Year winners who were full-time starters in their previous season.

Our voters also shared why they selected who they did atop their ballot:

The case for Alysha Clark

The 2023 Aces were one of the best teams in the history of basketball, despite a relatively short bench, and Alysha Clark was an integral part of how good they were offensively and defensively. Clark’s spot-up shooting, connective passing and ability to punish smaller guards who try to defend her in the paint played a massive role in keeping the Aces offense running on all cylinders. Her defensive versatility allowed the Aces to play smaller lineups that were still able to defend at a high level. AC’s addition to the Aces is one of the things that took them from “very good title-winning team” to all-time great team.

Sixth Player of the Year was far less obvious to evaluate this year than in previous seasons. There wasn’t a player this season that was putting off eye-catching numbers coming off the bench. But what stands out about Alysha Clark is how when she’s on the floor, spacing not only changes for Las Vegas, but [it is] also able to play much better on both sides of the ball. … [It] finished the regular season with the best defensive rating in the league, and while that could be connected to just more reps of chemistry, Clark’s ability to fit in seamlessly into Vegas’ switch=heavy defense has made a difference. According to PBP Stats, with Clark on the floor, the Aces have a 98.7 defensive rating and allow a 44.6% 2-point field goal percentage, both better numbers than when she isn’t on the floor. … DiJonai Carrington, Kayla Thornton and Marine Johannès all posted lower net ratings than Clark.

The case for DiJonai Carrington

Carrington is the energizer bunny coming off the bench for Connecticut.  She is good at running the floor, getting out in transition following deflections and can finish at the rim on the fast break. Averaging 8.3 points, she is aggressive on offense and defense, filling up the stat sheet on both ends of the floor.

The case for Dana Evans

Dana Evans was my Sixth Player of the Year because of her impact, averaging 9.0 points and 3.0 assists in 21.5 minutes, all career-highs. She’s been incredibly impactful on a Chicago team that fought its way into the playoffs and made the most of the opportunity she’s had this season.

The case for Kayla Thornton

The acquisition of Kayla Thornton by the New York Liberty in January [was] a game-changer for the team. She proved to be a valuable asset on both ends of the court … When Thornton [was] on the court, [the] Liberty’s defensive rating [was] 98.2, according to PBP Stats.

The case for Kalani Brown

Kalani Brown has been the best backup for Teaira McCowan, [depth] which the team has not had since [McCowan was traded to] Dallas. Brown has more range and there is no drop-off with the team offensively and defensively when she is subbed in.

The case for Sug Sutton

Sug Sutton was an unexpected star off of the bench for Phoenix. Averaging 8.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 4.8 assists this season, it is fascinating to see how her minutes per game steadily increased over the course of the season due to the impact she was having on the court, to the point that she played 39 minutes in their final game. In that game, she also recorded the first triple-double in Mercury history. She was a consistent scorer when Phoenix needed it the most.

* Official relative to our preseason and midseason awards. The Next’s 2022 WNBA Most Improved Player award is as official as The AP’s, which is to say it won’t show up on Across The Timeline.

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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