July 11, 2022 

The Next’s 2022 WNBA midseason awards

Stewart, Wilson in tight MVP race; Howard leads ROY pack

Welcome to the midpoint of the 2022 WNBA season, a year that’s featured a new level of parity (at least outside the Chicago Sky), arguably the most-anticipated coaching change in league history out in Las Vegas, and the greatest field of talent the W has even seen. And that’s just the backdrop to league legends retiring left and right, from Sylvia Fowles to Sue Bird, from Briann January to Kia Vaughn, and possibly even the likes of Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi joining that mix. We here at The Next are as dedicated to diverse and thorough coverage as ever. So we convened over a dozen of our staff, including our everyday on-the-ground beat reporters, to vote on the WNBA’s midseason awards!

Now let’s get to it:

Midseason MVP

Sideways bar graph showing <a rel=
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 70% = second place on the average ballot, 50% = average of third, etc.

Just a single total point separates Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson, inarguably the WNBA’s two best players all season long. That would essentially tie the 2005 MVP race as the closest on record, in which Sheryl Swoopes beat out Lauren Jackson by only two points, per Across The Timeline. (The vote share difference there was 0.4%, just 0.2 percentage points closer than this.)


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Wilson seemed a runaway favorite to start the year, leading the Aces to a 13-2 start with an excellent stat line of 18.5/9.5/1.8/0.9/2.5 (points/rebounds/assists/steals/blocks) on 58.6% true-shooting against only 1.5 turnovers. But after a slow start to her season, Stewart has averaged 21.2/7.2/3.1/1.8/1.3 on 58.5% true-shooting with only 1.0 turnover. As a result, not a single other player earned a first-place vote.

Chart showing <a rel=
First-place MVP votes

Candace Parker joins the top three, leading the best team in the league as its best defender and offensive connector. Rounding out the top five are Kelsey Plum, having one of the greatest WNBA offensive seasons by a backcourt player, and Nneka Ogwumike, herself most of the reason Los Angeles might make the playoffs. (And for SEO reasons, Jonquel Jones and Sabrina Ionescu.)

Defensive Player of the Year

Sideways bar graph showing Breanna Stewart at 32.9%, A'ja Wilson at 19.4%, <a rel=
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = second place on the average ballot, and 20% = average of third

Stewart and Wilson once again lead the pack. Stewart’s been the do-everything sun of the heliocentric Storm defense vying for an all-time status, while Wilson is a rim protector that rim-protects even out to the perimeter — though the Aces’ recent backslide has hurt her case. A human highlight reel of blocks named Ezi Magbegor rounds out the top three, the crucial backline help for that Seattle defense.

Voters also gave love to Connecticut, though they couldn’t decide between Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones, and Candace Parker.

Chart showing Breanna Stewart at 9 votes, A'ja Wilson at 4, and <a rel=
First-place DPOY votes

A couple voters also favored Seattle wing Gabby Williams and backup Washington center Elizabeth Williams.

Sixth Player of the Year

Sideways bar graph showing <a rel=
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = second place on the average ballot, and 20% = average of third

What happens when you take an All-Star, and move her to the bench? You get a runaway Sixth Player of the Year, that’s what. As the only backup in the W to be named a 2022 All-Star, Brionna Jones is the obvious Sixth Player. And Azurá Stevens, she of the 2021 Finals breakout, is a starting-caliber big often playing full-time minutes, making her a clear runner-up.

It gets interesting after Stevens. Han Xu has experienced a superb breakout for New York, as one of the Liberty’s five best players and a key to their diversified offense; Rebekah Gardner has been another Sky playing 20+ minutes, and as an excellent two-way contributor in them; and Aari McDonald has been a sparkplug in Atlanta’s closing lineup, thanks to a sophomore leap that’s established her as a building block for the Dream.

Chart showing <a rel=
Unsurprisingly, the 6POY first-place votes look like this

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And speaking of breakouts…

Most Improved Player

Sideways bar graph showing <a rel=
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = second place on the average ballot, and 20% = average of third

McDonald’s campaign has earned her a notable amount of votes for Most Improved Player, but it’s Jackie Young making the leap from solid role player to ninth overall in our MVP voting that wins MIP. As both the primary defensive stopper and most efficient qualified scorer on the No. 2 team in the WNBA, her case is clear. Ezi Magbegor blossoming from exciting bench big into the aforementioned defensive standout with a versatile offensive game gives her a leg up on the field to be the runner-up.

Kelsey Plum‘s graduation from elite bench scorer to fourth in MVP voting, as shown before, has staked her alongside her teammate. And the way Sabrina Ionescu has led New York to playoff contention has rightfully turned heads. But where they’re following the traditional path from quality contributor to true star before a big contract, Jessica Shepard‘s unique journey bears mentioning; missing most of her first two years, not even playing enough last year to qualify, and then earning good money the preseason before emerging as a valuable piece.

Chart showing <a rel=
First-place Most Improved votes

Now, where a MIP is someone making a leap from one professional year to the next, someone making that leap in their first year might be the…

Rookie of the Year

Sideways bar graph showing <a rel=
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = second place on the average ballot, and 10% = average of third

To say Rhyne Howard exploded out of the gate would be an understatement. The No. 1 overall pick jump-started by leading a team thought in contention for the top lottery odds to an upset over a reigning playoff squad. A couple weeks later, she scored 33 points to set a host of rookie records. After one month, that Atlanta team once bound for Boston was 6-3, with Howard averaging 17.4/3.8/2.7/1.7/0.8 on 55.7% true-shooting against only 1.1 turnovers. The only open question was whether she was Rookie of the Year and an All-Star, or Rookie of the Year and All-WNBA.

Since then, Howard’s remained an elite defender and excellent shooter and decision-maker, but her scoring efficiency has dropped to the 23rd percentile, per Her Hoop Stats. Meanwhile, there’s Shakira Austin, the player effectively traded for Howard. While Howard’s returned to Earth, Austin has emerged as one of the best defenders in the W. She’s forced an excellent defensive centers in Elizabeth Williams to the bench, ranks in the 75th percentile in scoring efficiency, and has even ramped up her offensive load when necessary. A perennial DPOY candidate for years to come.

Chart showing <a rel=
First-place Rookie of the Year votes

And that’s not even to mention NaLyssa Smith. The Baylor alum is rounding out this potentially historic top-three with a nasty offensive game; over the past month (that’s 11 games), she’s averaged 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds (2.3 offensive) while shooting 39.3% from deep on 2.5 threes a game.

All-WNBA

Chart showing both A'ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart at 17 votes, Kelsey Plum and <a rel=
All-WNBA voting

No surprises here, right? The two runaway MVP candidates are the lone unanimous picks, and are joined by the lone backcourt player in the top-six of our MVP voting, and the next-highest-voted big. Solidly there too is Skylar Diggins-Smith, who was third on my personal MVP ballot, despite Ionescu sitting ahead of her in MVP shares. Don’t ask me how we managed that.

All-Defense

Chart showing Breanna Stewart at 15 votes, A'ja Wilson at 11, and Alyssa Thomas and <a rel=
All-Defense voting

As usual, All-Defense varies a lot more than All-WNBA. Only two players received double-digit votes (once again our MVP favorites), no one was unanimous, and more than thrice as many players received multiple votes.

And yes, I did play around with the qualifications here in order to get the actual top-five vote-getters on the team. But Alyssa Thomas has genuinely played 22.1% of her minutes at guard when Connecticut’s been at full strength, per PBP Stats. I rest my case.

All-Rookie

Chart showing Rhyne Howard and Shakira Austin both at 17 votes, <a rel=
All-Rookie voting

Unsurprisingly, our two historically excellent rookies are unanimous selections, and Smith’s late surge gets her within one vote of that distinction. Gardner will someday make for an excellent piece of trivia as the league’s oldest-ever All-Rookie player, provided voters honor her distinction as an as-of-yesterday 32-year-old rookie. (Happy belated birthday, Bek!) Queen Egbo joins that quartet as an unlikely hit; her draft selection shocked most of the league, but she’s been a solid, W-caliber center for a center-desperate team.

The standout defense and excellent floor game of Emily Engstler earned her good consideration, as did Kristy Wallace‘s contributions to an Atlanta squad playing great defense and hitting threes.

Coach of the Year

Sideways bar graph showing <a rel=
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = second place on the average ballot, and 10% = average of third

Color me shocked! (Don’t, I’m not.) Becky Hammon became the first-ever coach to begin her career 9-1, her X’s-&-O’s vaulting the Aces to the 12th-best offense in league history, per Positive Residual. Every player has been having some kind of a career year, and despite ostensibly losing talent from last year’s squad, Las Vegas remains the No. 2-seed.

Chart showing <a rel=
First-place Coach of the Year votes

Also earning kudos have been James Wade of the top-overall Sky and Tanisha Wright of the shockingly-playoff-contending Dream. Wade has integrated a host of new faces throughout Chicago’s rotation while maintaining the dominance that gave it a gentleman’s sweep of the 2021 Finals; and Wright has had the island of misfit toys in Atlanta playing cohesively while maximizing their strengths on both ends of the court. A similar story — “team expected to be in the lottery is in line for the playoffs” — earned Sandy Brondello some votes.

Executive of the Year

Sideways bar graph showing James wade at 37.3%, Dan Padover at 20.7%, and Nikki Fargas, et al. at 13.3%
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = second place on the average ballot, and 10% = average of third

Those new faces that James Wade has brought in include All-Star and former Finals MVP Emma Meesseman; the aforementioned Gardner, who had gone 10 years out of college without making a WNBA roster; Julie Allemand, a former Wubble star who’s testing the human limits of shooting efficiency in her backup role; and Li Yueru, once thought of as a throw-in to let Lexie Brown play in Los Angeles this season. To fit them so seamlessly into a title favorite is certainly a typical way to win Executive of the Year.

Atlanta’s Dan Padover is earning significant consideration for a third-straight EOY, but this time for assembling a cast of character actors that have taken Atlanta from a historically bad defense into the league’s third-best. That’s enough to jump from the second-worst team overall to a likely playoff squad.

Chart showing James Wade at 9 votes, Dan Padover at 3, Nikki Fargas, et al. at 2, and Lin Dunn at 1
First-place Executive of the Year votes

The cohort of decision-makers in Las Vegas earned votes as well, thanks to a retooled roster on which Iliana Rupert and Theresa Plaisance and Kiah Stokes have been unexpectedly good bench contributors, despite the inevitable loss of Liz Cambage. Nikki Fargas leads this group, since she’s the lone name who was present for all their transactions; Bill Laimbeer was heavily involved, but has since fully retired, while current general manager Natalie Williams wasn’t hired until the day before the draft.

It may seem odd for a last-place team to warrant any attention, but the Indiana Fever are headed in a much clearer direction than last year. Their collection of young, improving talent is a major step up.

Who has been the most impactful addition from free agency?

Chart showing <a rel=

Backing up Wade’s Executive of the Year case has been the Meesseman signing. Moriah Jefferson has been a major boost to Minnesota on both ends, giving the Lynx something they haven’t had at the point of attack on either side in years. And Tina Charles was… certainly impactful in her own way.

Speaking of Phoenix:

Did Diana Taurasi deserve to be an All-Star?

Pie graph showing "Absolutely not" a shade under 50%, "No" a shade over 50%, and "Yes" without any share

All stats per Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the Seattle Storm and college basketball for The Next, while also writing for The Chronicle, Duke's independent student paper

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