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2013 WNBA award candidates: Most Improved Player, Sixth Woman, and Rookie of the Year

With the WNBA season winding down, we take a look at three awards races with clear top contenders.

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Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the year we've looked at the various candidates for the WNBA's postseason awards.

With voting season upon us, we take a look at a few of the awards with candidates that have made pretty clear statistical cases for being honored for their performance this season, including honorable mentions (or All-Rookie teams).

Rookie of the Year: Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky

(Rookie storystream)

No statistics really needed here: I KNOW WHAT I SEE!

(via Chicago Sky basketball)

Any questions?

Well, maybe one that came out of Arizona, which I'll just throw out there for the sake of generating conversation: Paola Boivin of AZCentral Sports wondered the other day whether Brittney Griner was the wrong choice for the Phoenix Mercury. In response to the inquiry, interim coach Russ Pennell shared what he has told Griner after he joined the team: "You’ve got to relax. The WNBA does not hinge on you. You’ve got to find your way." And she's probably not the only one who needs to hear that.

Ultimately though, Griner had a very good season and you have to wonder how she might have performed were it not for injuries and the turmoil in Phoenix that led to a mid-season coaching change. As for any question about whether Griner missed too many games to make the All-Rookie team, Danielle Adams made the 2011 squad after injuries limited her to 23 games.

Otherwise, the top All-Rookie candidates really haven't changed dramatically since we last explored the question.

All-Rookie team (alphabetical): Alex Bentley, Kelsey Bone, Skylar Diggins, Brittney Griner.

Sixth Woman of the Year: Monica Wright, Minnesota Lynx

(SWoY storystream)

There's a strong case for Wright to win this award, but it's not exactly going to be quite as uncontested as the Rookie of the Year race (should be).

Statistically, Riquna Williams had a very good season and has a strong case to win this award.




Williams, Riquna (Tulsa Shock)



Bass, Mistie (Connecticut Sun)



Bentley, Alex (Atlanta Dream)



Wright, Monica (Minnesota Lynx)



Lavender, Jantel (L.A. Sparks)



Mitchell, Leilani (New York Liberty)



Statistics for top Sixth Woman of the Year contenders as of 9/9/13 (ordered by MVP).

And with both Williams and Wright, there's a case to be made that they were in fact better as starters than as reserves, with Williams' recent 51-point outburst being the exclamation point (which will undoubtedly sway some voters in her direction).

But my argument for Wright remains the same as it has been all season: compared to those other candidates, Wright is by far the most versatile. Not just in terms of the positions she plays, but her ability to have an impact on both ends of the court to keep things going for the Lynx when Lindsay Whalen leaves the game. Williams, in contrast, is among the purest pure scorers in the league and shot just 38.6% from the field as a substitute this season. Although Williams has given the Shock exactly what they need - someone who can create their own shot from the perimeter - it should be clear which player allows their coach more flexibility with their rotation, which has to be taken into consideration with this award.

Clearly the case can be made for either player, but Wright adds a bit more to her team's rotation with her size and versatility in addition to learning how to play the point guard position this season. An impressive resume even if she doesn't have quite the gaudy numbers that Williams has.

Honorable mentions (alphabetically): Alex Bentley, Jantel Lavender, Riquna Williams

Most Improved Player: Shavonte Zellous, Indiana Fever

(Midseason MIP post)

The same case that I made for Zellous earlier in the season still stands: while one could argue that other players have made bigger leaps this season, Zellous made a leap from a below average starter to her team's leading scorer at one point. In a career-high 31.6 minutes per game, Zellous has improved her 3-point shooting to a career-high 35.5% and scored a career-high 15.1 points per game, emerging as the team's clear second scoring option with a usage rate of 23.8% (her highest in Indiana).

Yet I actually think there are a number of really strong candidates for this award.


VCR 2013




Griffin, Kelsey (Connecticut Sun)


+ 0.62



Hightower, Allison (Connecticut Sun)


+ 0.44



Appel, Jayne (San Antonio Silver Stars)


+ 0.43



Zellous, Shavonte (Indiana Fever)


+ 0.37



de Souza, Erika (Connecticut Sun)


+ 0.26



Robinson, Danielle (San Antonio Silver Stars)


+ 0.25



Hayes, Tiffany (Atlanta Dream)


+ 0.25



Statistics for top contenders for the 2013 WNBA Most Improved Player Award as of 9/9/13.

The argument against Zellous might be clear: this isn't overwhelmingly her best season, as it is for every other player on the list (based on PER). But where she might still have the edge is that the other top candidates who have made bigger statistical improvements than Zellous are mostly moderate to low usage players. Allison Hightower did improve significantly this year and was an important component of the Sun, but will finish the season having missed about 40% of her last-place team's games. In short, of the top (healthy) contenders for the award, Zellous was a bigger part of a playoff team.

There's an argument somewhere for any of the players on that list to win the MIP award - some of the leaps made are extremely impressive and three of those players have already been rewarded with All-Star nods this year. So I'd say this award race might be the least clear of these three. But in the end I think you have to honor Zellous for the combination of significant improvement while helping to keep a team beset with way too many injuries not just afloat but eventually to the third seed in the Eastern Conference as they look to defend their 2012 WNBA title.

Honorable mentions (alphabetically): Jayne Appel, Kelsey Griffin, Allison Hightower