July 26, 2023 

The Next’s 2023 WNBA midseason awards

MVP, Coach of the Year up for grabs; ROY is Boston's to lose

Believe it or not, we’re already a couple of games past midpoint of the 2023 WNBA season, a year that has featured Brittney Griner’s return, the most dominant team of all time (at least statistically) — one that was built through not one but two offseason scandals — plus a record-tying two midseason coaching changes. And that’s barely scratching the surface of what has been happening on the court, including the constantly changing standings of teams trying to sort themselves out, increasingly long injury reports and a rookie campaign for the ages (more on that later). 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 midseason WNBA awards!

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Now let’s get to it:

Midseason MVP

Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 70% = unanimous No. 2, 50% = unanimous No. 3

Last year was the third-closest MVP race in league history, per Across The Timeline, and it appears this year won’t be much different. Breanna Stewart opened her New York tenure as the MVP frontrunner after averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, nearly two steals and two blocks on 64% true-shooting through the first 10 games. But Alyssa Thomas took her game to another level after, two days later, Brionna Jones suffered a season-ending Achilles tear: since then, Alyssa Thomas has put up 15 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and nearly two steals per game — plus three triple-doubles! For the season, Thomas’ ranking in Positive Residual’s WAR is well within the margin of error for No. 1 in the league, which helps explains why she paced our staff in first-place MVP votes:

First-place MVP votes

The two players who rank an error margin higher than Thomas in pWAR are our next-higher vote-getters: A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young. Wilson has put up similar overall numbers to her 2022 MVP campaign, just with worse jump-shooting and less of the offense running through her. Young may no longer be scoring at a 70%+ true-shooting clip, but she’s still on pace for the most efficient scoring guard season in W history, in addition to playing all-league-level perimeter defense. Rounding out our notable MVP vote-getters is Jewell Loyd, who is having an offensive season comparable to only Diana Taurasi and Cynthia Cooper-Dyke.

Defensive Player of the Year

Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = unanimous No. 2, 20% = unanimous No. 3

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Alyssa Thomas, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart are among the leading contenders for Defensive Player of the Year. But this year is shaping up to be the one Thomas can finally win a Defensive Player of the Year award. The WNBA’s best all-around defender, she regularly alternates between defending guards at the point of attacking and protecting the rim on the same play, enabling the versatility and adaptability the Sun play with.

Wilson remains a premier rim protector even out to the perimeter, and Stewart has done little to drop the title of the W’s best weakside defender. Brittney Sykes, back in a starting lineup for the first time since 2021, is back earning DPOY votes for the first time since her second-place finish in 2021. Ezi Magbegor wraps up the top Defensive Player candidates in our WNBA awards as the No. 2 shot-blocker and No. 5 defensive rebounder in the league.

First-place Defensive Player of the Year votes

Sixth Player of the Year

Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = unanimous No. 2, 20% = unanimous No. 3

With perennial Sixth Player of the Year candidates Brionna Jones and Azurá Stevens having moved into starting lineups this year, the awards for the league’s best bench piece is now wide-open. But two players stand above the rest yet again: DiJonai Carrington and Alysha Clark.

Carrington is having a breakout season for Connecticut, and though she has had a strong year overall, she’s stepped up in a big way since Jones went down; over that nine-game span, Carrington’s played just over 20 minutes a night and has averaged 13 points and four rebounds on 60% true-shooting with an assist-to-turnover ratio over 2-to-1. Alysha Clark was a two-time All-Defensive selection not too long ago, and though she may have lost a step from her prime, she’s still a great and highly switchable defender — not to mention she’s rediscovered her 3-point shot and now ranks 11th league-wide in scoring efficiency, per Her Hoop Stats.

First-place Sixth Player votes

After those two is a who’s who of players having strong, under-the-radar seasons. Sami Whitcomb has averaged 11.6 points on 40.3% 3-point shooting over her past 10 games off the bench. Dana Evans has taken a big step forward as Chicago’s two best point-of-attack defenders and has developed a great floater. Kayla Thornton is hitting her stride in New York, and Sug Sutton ranks seventh in assist rate while being one of the W’s best bucket-getters.

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Most Improved Player

At this point last year, Jackie Young had more than double the vote share of the No. 2 vote-getter in the Most Improved race. It’s a little bit closer this year!

Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = unanimous No. 2, 20% = unanimous No. 3

Alanna Smith is a strong frontrunner for MIP, an impact starter for the Sky after being cut early in 2022 by an Indiana team that would go on to win just five games. She has more than doubled her per-game averages in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks while upping her true-shooting by almost 15 percentage points. Per ATT, just four players in the history WNBA awards have improved their scoring averages, rebounding and efficiency as much as Smith has; one won Most Improved Player and another was a close runner-up.

Jordin Canada leads the runners-up, now playing like an elite point guard after making such dramatic offensive strides that she is on pace to more than double her pre-2023 career 3-point makes on efficiency more than twice as good as her previous career mark. An extended streak of health has allowed Satou Sabally to turn what had been flashes of excellence into over 30 minutes night-in-night-out of high-level play. And if Ezi Magbegor’s initial breakout last year wasn’t enough, she has somehow gotten even better as a defender in nearly every aspect, in addition to regularly scoring off the dribble and being one of just three qualified centers shooting over 32% on at least two 3-pointers a game, per Stathead.

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

First-place Rookie of the Year votes
Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = unanimous No. 2, 20% = unanimous No. 3

Aliyah Boston was an All-Star this year and ranks second in the league in field goal percentage while scoring over almost any top center she’s gotten one-on-one. Her defense may not be quite as impactful as it projects to be in the future, but to say she has been anything less than excellent would be a lie.

Backing up Boston, No. 2 pick Diamond Miller has had a rookie season with flashes of scoring brilliance, impressive from 2-point range even as she’s struggled with overall efficiency. And did you know Jordan Horston leads the league in steal rate? She also ranks just outside the top 25 in block rate, a combination only four qualified players in the league can boast, per HHS. And Ivana Dojkić is shooting over 40% from deep while dishing out three assists a night in an environment that isn’t the most ideal for a rookie point guard.


All-WNBA voting

The five players earning midseason All-WNBA awards are the same five comfortably leading our MVP voting. In the words of Dance Gavin Dance, symmetry is bliss.


All-Defense voting

As usual, All-Defense varies a lot more than All-WNBA. Two players were unanimous picks, but no one else received as many votes as the last two names on our All-W team, and more than twice as many players received a vote. But all’s well that ends well: Our top four DPOY vote-getters make the All-Defensive team as well, with the Magbegor missing because of positional requirements. Young and Canada tie for the last spot and are widely and rightly viewed as two of the W’s elite perimeter defenders, Young boasting an unbeaten combination of size and strength and speed where Canada boasts premier ball pressure at the point of attack.

Coach of the Year

Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = unanimous No. 2, 20% = unanimous No. 3

There is no runaway favorite this year, as opposed to 2022, where Becky Hammon’s vote share was 50% higher than the No. 2 coach. But Stephanie White and Latricia Trammell have clearly separated themselves from the pack, and for good reason: White has not only survived the loss of her second-best player to a torn Achilles, but has rebuilt the Sun’s identity on the fly while running over several good teams in the process; and Trammell has taken a Wings roster considered something of an island of misfit toys, and has them sitting fourth in the standings, a ranking backed up by the underlying stats.

First-place Coach of the Year votes

Curt Miller, Becky Hammon and Christie Sides also earned votes up and down ballots for navigating historic injury misfortune, captaining the best team in league history, and turning the Indiana Fever into a true playoff contender, respectively.

Executive of the Year

Vote shares, where 100% = unanimous favorite, 60% = unanimous No. 2, 20% = unanimous No. 3

The only surprise here is that Jonathan Kolb did not receive an higher vote share. He signed or traded for three All-Stars and our midseason MVP, plus the No. 5 in midseason Sixth Player voting while navigating the French Federation of Basketball to get Marine Johannès stateside for what should end up being 36 games. Quality work, to say the least.

Backing up Kolb, a good distance from No. 3, is Darius Taylor. With his hand forced by Jonquel Jones’ trade request, the first-year general manager still managed to acquire a pair of key contributors who’ve played above expectations in Rebecca Allen and Tyasha Harris. Then traded a mid-round pick in a weak draft class for Tiffany Hayes, who has been one of the league’s best scoring guards, and was able to pick up breakout center Olivia Nelson-Ododa in a salary dump.

The second phase of Dan Padover’s Dream makeover has earned him top-three votes for yet another year. Between trading for Danielle Robinson and now-All-Star Allisha Gray, re-signing Nia Coffey to what now looks like a bargain of a one-year deal and drafting a pair of promising first-rounders back in April, Padover has continued to steer Atlanta toward future contention.

MVP, Coach of the Year up for grabs; ROY is Boston's to lose
First-place Executive of the Year votes

Lin Dunn, Natalie Williams and Greg Bibb round out the top vote-getters, for quality moves on the margins and not drafting someone other than Aliyah Boston at No. 1, adding arguably the greatest player in WNBA history and the best 3-and-D guard of the late 2010s in free agency, and assembling the No. 4 team in the league out of a combination of stars and castaways, respectively.

What are you most looking forward to over the rest of the season?

All stats per Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted

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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