August 29, 2022 

The Next’s 2022 WNBA Awards: Most Improved Player

The Next’s 2022 WNBA Most Improved Player is Las Vegas’ Jackie Young

Welcome to The Next’s official* 2022 WNBA awards, continuing with Most Improved Player. A panel of 13 of our WNBA beats, analysts, and reporters submitted full awards ballots, selecting their top three candidates for Most Improved Player. 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.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today. Join today

With a solid 66.2% vote share (the percentage of the maximum-possible points a player received), The Next’s 2022 WNBA Most Improved Player is Las Vegas’ Jackie Young. She received a plurality of first-place votes with six, while Minnesota’s Moriah Jefferson and New York’s Sabrina Ionescu received two each. Seattle’s Ezi Magbegor, Minnesota’s Jessica Shepard and New York’s Han Xu all also received a first-place vote; however, Magbegor receiving the third-most votes overall gave her enough points for a top-three finish:

Chart showing a voting breakdown by player, total points, and the number of first-place, second-place, and third-place votes they got.
Sideways bar graph showing Jackie Young at 66.2%, Moriah Jefferson at 27.7%, Ezi Magbegor at 23.1%, and Sabrina Ionescu at 18.5%
Vote shares for The Next’s 2022 WNBA Most Improved Player

Young developed from a regular-season role player into the top defender and a key play-finisher on the top team in the league, with a jump in her true-shooting while improving her usage, assist, and turnover rates. ]Jefferson was cut by Dallas after averaging just 5.4 points in 17.2 minutes last year, then put up 10.8 points on 56.2% true-shooting, 4.9 assists, and 1.2 steals in 26.8 minutes with the Lynx. Ionescu improved her scoring average by nearly six points per game and raised her usage rate by five percentage points, and got significantly more efficient as a scorer. Magbegor went from a promising but mistake-prone prospect to a down-ballot Defensive Player of the Year candidate while adding some scoring. Shepard more than quadrupled her scoring average, tripled her rebounding, and raised her true-shooting by 12 percentage points while moving into a starting role. Han came stateside for the first time in three years, and more than doubled her minutes and scoring while significantly improving her efficiency and earning All-Star votes.

Young joins Las Vegas head coach Becky Hammon as award-winners for the Aces this year, Young’s breakout having no doubt played a large part in Hammon’s candidacy. The only previous winner to have been drafted No. 1-overall was Janel McCarville, who was a bench player in Charlotte before going to New York in the 2007 dispersal draft, where she became a starter and won that year.

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

The case for Jackie Young

Young was considered a project with an immense ceiling when she was [drafted] No. 1 a few years ago. After showing flashes of that ceiling for a while, she hit the consistently excellent level this year — both offensively, where she added the 3-point shot to her arsenal, and defensively, where she’s grown into a force.  

For me, I think Jackie has always been consistently improving throughout her career, but her game has just grown exponentially this season. In the past, she was in more of a supporting role for the Aces and she was never seen as an option of someone to make plays around; but this season, she has really proved herself as someone that can make a huge impact for the Aces and be a go-to scorer. I think she has brought the Aces’ success to a new level.

This year she went from being a role player to a two-way star. Her 3-point percentage increased drastically, she looks a lot more confident on offense, and she is being asked to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter play and doing a great job at that. She shut down the likes of Diana Taurasi, Jewell Loyd, and Kayla McBride to name a few. She made a large improvement in her entire game from last year to this year.

The case for Moriah Jefferson

To me, Most Improved Player is all about who had the biggest gap between themselves at the end of last season and this season — and Moriah Jefferson went from a bench shooter in Dallas to a borderline-All-Star two-way point guard in Minnesota. And that accolade only applies to three or four other point guards in the W. Young going from a very good regular-season-only player to a star, and Ionescu going from a promising and inconsistent leader to an offensive superstar, and Shepard going from reserve to a really good offensive cog are all quite impressive. But Jefferson went from a justifiable buyout in Dallas to likely “highly coveted free agent” status. Nothing beats that for me.

The case for Sabrina Ionescu

Sabrina Ionescu went from a not-100%-healthy player to a player who ranked third in WARP to the two MVP candidates (A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart). While she might not be the two-way player that Jackie Young is defensively… what makes Ionescu’s case stronger is how she has adjusted to being on top of the scouting report… Her points and rebounds per game rose from the 72th and 81th percentiles to the 94th and 91 percentiles, respectively, per Her Hoops Stats. She elevated herself from a talented young player with promise into one of the most impactful players in the league.

After sitting out the Wubble season and averaging just 11.7 points per game in her 2021 sophomore campaign, Ionescu had a breakout season and established herself as a rising star in this league. This season, her versatility translated to the pro level: Ionescu became the first player in WNBA history with 500 points, 200 rebounds, and 200 assists in a season.

The case for Han Xu

In her second WNBA season, Han went from a player who was basically out of then-head coach Katie Smith‘s rotation (averaging just 7.9 minutes per game in 2019) to an impact player who was receiving All-Star buzz this season. She carved out an impactful role off of new head coach Sandy Brondello‘s bench and improved nearly all of her per-40 minutes statistics. Her shooting percentage increased, her rebounding rate doubled, and her assist rate nearly quadrupled. She went from a player averaging slightly negative win shares per 40 minutes to a player making a significant positive contribution.

* 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.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Driver on August 29, 2022 at 8:10 pm

    Moe Jefferson lost the contest in the final week of the season she failed to produce during the playoff chase in the last five games

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.