September 2, 2022
The Next’s 2022 WNBA Awards: Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defense
Breanna Stewart rises to the top
Welcome to The Next’s official1 2022 WNBA awards, continuing with Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) and All-Defense. A panel of 13 of our WNBA beats, analysts and reporters submitted full awards ballots, selecting their top three candidates for DPOY and top 10 names for All-Defense, separated into two teams. We use the NBA’s method of scoring ballots, where players receive five points for a first-place Defensive Player of the Year vote, three for a second-place vote, and one for a third-place vote; and candidates receive two points for a First Team All-Defense vote and one point for a Second Team All-Defense vote. Each ballot’s All-Defense teams had to include two backcourt players and three frontcourt players.
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With a very strong 75.4% vote share (the percentage of the maximum-possible points a player received), The Next’s 2022 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year is Seattle’s Breanna Stewart. She more than doubled the total points of runner-up A’ja Wilson, who was neck-and-neck with Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas:
Unsurprisingly, The Next’s 2022 WNBA First Team All-Defense is led by those three DPOY contenders. They’re joined by Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud, the leaders of the top-ranked defensive team in the league:
Our Second Team All-Defense includes five players who received down-ballot DPOY votes — but not the players who finished fourth and tied for sixth in that race:
Stewart’s awards represent her fourth season earning defensive recognition, and the list of players in league history to win a Defensive Player of the Year award and four All-Defense honors includes the greatest defenders ever: Sylvia Fowles, Alana Beard, Brittney Griner, Tamika Catchings, Lisa Leslie and Lauren Jackson (per Across The Timeline).2,3 Wilson has received DPOY votes for the first time in her career, per ATT, and since her rookie season has now been named All-Defense in both years she played center full-time. Thomas’ top-three finish is the second of her career, after she came No. 3 in the voting after the Wubble season.
Were this the official WNBA award, Stewart would join Natasha Howard (2019) and Lauren Jackson (2007) as Storm players to win Defensive Player of the Year. This would also mark the ninth time someone playing the four has won the award (Candace Parker, 2020; Howard, 2019; Catchings, five times; Jackson, 2007).
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Our voters also shared why they selected who they did atop their ballot, for both Defensive Player of the Year honors and All-Defense:
Defensive Player of the Year: The case for Breanna Stewart
We wrote here last year that Stewart deserved more recognition as one of the couple best defenders in the league, and I think she continues to get better every year, just getting headier in jumping passing lanes or the finesse of guarding in isolation. Her main weakness last year was guarding post threats straight-up, and she’s gotten a lot better at that. Meanwhile she remains the best defensive four the W has had since Catchings; no one else comes close to her ability to defend bigs in the post, handle the point of attack, spring traps, direct complex switches, hit every rotation and help on every position, grab the boards and communicate all of this to her teammates. And she’s remarkably consistent too.
I think Stewie’s always been a great example of an all-around defender, but has really made a statement this year. She’s able to block or alter shots from players at any position, while also using her wingspan to play the passing lanes and grab steals. That combined with her ability to consistently make the right rotations and coverages makes her a cornerstone of the Storm defense. I think the main reason she stood out to me this year in particular, though, is that she’s been able to bring the versatility she has on the offensive end into her defensive game.
Defensive Player of the Year: The case for Alyssa Thomas
Alyssa Thomas found a way to take on some of the load that Jasmine Thomas had defensively after [the latter] tore her ACL. [Alyssa Thomas] has been able to impact games for the Sun guarding the point of attack while also recovering… Another aspect of AT’s defensive game is how well she’s able to get into and read the passing lanes of opponents… for me it’s super impressive how quickly Thomas rotates to create havoc on the defensive end.
I chose AT for DPOY because I think that she carries so much of Connecticut’s success defensively on her shoulders. Connecticut now has the second-best defensive rating in the league, passing Seattle, who has been really strong defensively this season, and I credit that to AT. Her stats speak for themselves…
Defensive Player of the Year: The case for A’ja Wilson
A’ja was asked to do a lot more defensively this year in Hammon’s scheme and rose to the challenge. She was the anchor on that defense and made other teams’ lives difficult anytime anyone drove in the paint. She did a great job guarding both out on the perimeter as well as in the post. She led the league in blocked shots and has become one of the elite defenders in our league.
A’ja Wilson has shown great defensive prowess this season, and also just intensely improved in her defensive efforts every year, and this year especially. She sits in the top five of almost every defensive statistical category, and holds together the entirety of the Aces’ defensive paint presence. But the most exciting part of Wilson’s defense is the energy and focus she brings.
All-Defense: The case for Ariel Atkins
After four-consecutive All-Defense inclusions, Atkins continued to show why she is one of the best defensive guards in the league. Her ability to pressure the ball, rotate with her teammates, nab steals and help lead the WNBA’s top defense makes her an easy All-Defense team selection.
All-Defense: The case for Natasha Cloud
Natasha Cloud’s constant ball pressure and energy got the Mystics going, and at 6’, she could regularly guard positions one through three and battle when she was switched onto frontcourt players… Minnesota guard Kayla McBride tweeted in July that opposing guards “just wanna take an open shot” against the Mystics — and Cloud’s relentlessness, physicality and IQ defensively were big reasons why they rarely could.
All-Defense: The case for Ezi Magbegor
Ezi Magbegor’s defensive anticipation and study of tendencies has been so impressive this year. Sure, she had the second most blocks per game and total blocks this season, but for me defense isn’t just about rim protection; it’s about stopping the ball, and that’s something Magbegor is able to do in so many different ways. If that means forcing the player she’s guarding to pass the ball because Magbegor creates angles that are hellacious to score on, or using her 6’7 wingspan getting in the way of an opponents eyes while taking a shot, the 23-year-old has put together all the building blocks of being an exceptional frontcourt defender in this league.
All-Defense: The case for Brittney Sykes
Sykes is a dawg, simple as that. Don’t dribble the ball around her because it will end up stolen or in the first row. She also makes some ridiculous blocks. Just an elite defensive player.
All-Defense: The case for Gabby Williams
Williams was already one of the best point-of-attack defenders in the W when she was in Chicago, and Seattle’s system has completely unleashed her. Among backcourt players, she’s neck-and-neck with Kahleah Copper as the best weakside defender in the league, and for my money she’s neck-and-neck with Ariel Atkins as the best help defender. She frustrated and turned over opposing players at quite literally every position.
All-Defense: The case for Allisha Gray
It’s striking to consider what Allisha Gray’s reputation would be if she’d been playing on winning teams since entering the league. I’ve watched her dominate on the defensive end for Dawn Staley, and take those lessons into the WNBA. Her game does not lend itself to showy moments or big awards. It’s just the quiet consistency at both ends, which perhaps prevents some from seeing that there may not be ten more valuable players in the league than Allisha Gray. And her defensive contributions are a huge part of that.
All-Defense: The case for Candace Parker
Simply put, Parker is the straw that stirs the drink for Chicago defensively. Her ability to impact the game on that end is at the top of the top in the WNBA.
- 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.
- Wilson winning the W’s official DPOY award this year means she’s almost certain to join this list within the next few seasons.
- Sheryl Swoopes and Teresa Weatherspoon both won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, but All-Defense teams did not exist when they were in their primes.