September 16, 2023
The Next’s 2023 WNBA awards: Coach of the Year
First-year Sun head coach Stephanie White takes home the hardware
Welcome to The Next’s official* 2023 WNBA awards, starting off with Coach of the Year. A panel of 19 of our WNBA beat writers, reporters and analysts submitted full awards ballots, selecting their top three candidates for Coach of the Year. In accordance with how the NBA scores ballots, coaches received five points for a first-place vote, three for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote. (The WNBA only asks for one name per ballot in its official voting, which can skew how we think of runners-up.)
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With a solid 60% vote share (the percentage of possible points received), The Next’s 2023 WNBA Coach of the Year is Connecticut’s Stephanie White. She earned seven first-place votes and seven second-place votes. Dallas’ Latricia Trammell received five first-place votes, and Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve, Las Vegas’ Becky Hammon and Los Angeles’ Curt Miller split the rest of the top votes.
White inherited a Sun team that was coming off of four straight seasons ending in the semifinals or Finals. But losing its best player for cents on the dollar and jettisoning the franchise point guard in a salary dump suggested a tougher year ahead. Instead, Connecticut opened the year with a completely overhauled offense and swept an early two-game series against the mostly full-strength Mystics. After star center Brionna Jones suffered a torn Achilles a month later, White again revamped the playbook, rebuilt the team around 6’2 center Alyssa Thomas and rode that to a comfortable No. 3 finish in the standings.
Trammell led the Wings to finish right behind the Sun and well clear of the Nos. 5-8 seeds. Her Dallas team got better and better as the season wore on. She turned a franchise defined by baffling coaching into a cohesive force.
Reeve followed a similar story of in-season improvement, but did so with a team widely expected to finish in the lottery.
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If The Next‘s Coach of the Year award was official, White would be the third different Connecticut skipper to receive the honor, following Mike Thibault (2008) and Curt Miller (2017, 2020). With Hammon having won last year, It would also be just the second time women won the award in back-to-back years, following Reeve in 2012 and Carol Ross in 2013.
Our voters shared why they selected who they did:
The case for Stephanie White
If I told you the Connecticut Sun had lost Jonquel Jones, a former WNBA MVP, in the offseason and Brionna Jones, the reigning Sixth Woman of the Year winner, to a season-ending injury midway through the season, you would expect some regression from 2022, right? … A lot of credit [for the Sun’s success] goes to the two-way sensation of Thomas, but White’s ability to maximize the league’s most unique player with premier spacing and versatility deserves nearly as much credit.
White stepped into an organization that had turned over key pieces of its roster and blended together a group of players without experience acting as a unit. She then guided the team through the crucial setback of losing Brionna Jones, which at the time felt like a dagger through the heart of Connecticut’s season. White also demonstrated an ability to put her players in the best position to succeed, upgrading the firmware in the triple-double machine known as Alyssa Thomas and positioning role players like DiJonai Carrington to come off the bench and post career bests in points per game and win shares. And in her first year with the team, she managed to get the necessary buy-in from her players to accomplish all of this without a hint of friction emanating out of the locker room.
With the departure of Curt Miller, I think that many thought that there would be [a] slight rebuilding period, but Stephanie White has maintained the Sun’s identity as one of the top teams in the league. Connecticut is the exact same seed in the playoffs as [it was] last year, and Stephanie White’s leadership has gotten [it] there.
The case for Latricia Trammell
Trammell has implemented a culture shift in Dallas that propelled the Wings to a winning season for the first time since moving to Dallas and the franchise’s best winning percentage since [the] 2008 Detroit Shock. … The Wings have had a ton of potential for a while, and Trammell seems to be the person who has finally figured out how to unleash it. She has the team first [in the WNBA] in rebounding and third in offensive rating, and Dallas’ star players have clearly improved under her.
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The case for Cheryl Reeve
I think Minnesota is genuinely the most surprising playoff team of the bunch, especially after starting 0-6. To develop so many players, both in their roles and ascending past their prior spots, is a credit to good coaching. Other coaches did really nice jobs, but to me, Reeve and her staff clearly did the best.
The case for Becky Hammon
Hammon has created a special culture within that Las Vegas Aces franchise. She breathes a certain confidence into her players that shines on the court, allowing her players to shine in their roles, achieve individual goals [and] perform well to get the team [to] win.
The case for Curt Miller
Miller inherited a Sparks team that just looked downtrodden … and lost nine of their last 10 games in 2022. The team immediately had a different energy this year despite early-season absences of key players. Katie Lou Samuelson missed the entire season on maternity leave, and Lexie Brown missed 28 games due to illness. Chiney [Ogwumike] missed almost the whole season. Layshia [Clarendon] missed 16 games. It should have taken them all the way out. Ultimately, yes, the Sparks (narrowly) missed the playoffs. But they had 13 players start a game this year. Only one player (new-to-L.A. Dearica Hamby) played all 40 games. And perhaps most importantly, players like Karlie Samuelson, Zia Cooke and Rae Burrell stepped up into new roles, whether early on or late in the season, and they looked prepared when they got there.
* Official relative to our preseason and midseason awards. The Next’s 2023 WNBA Coach of the Year award is as official as The AP’s, which is to say it won’t show up on Across The Timeline.