clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Swish Appeal's 2014 WNBA awards: Newcomer and Comeback Player of the Year awards

New, 5 comments

Having already discussed our picks for the WNBA's official awards, today we recognize players for a few additional accomplishments that aren't normally acknowledged by the league.

Both L.A. Sparks post Sandrine Gruda and Phoenix Mercury wing Penny Taylor are among the WNBA's "comeback players".
Both L.A. Sparks post Sandrine Gruda and Phoenix Mercury wing Penny Taylor are among the WNBA's "comeback players".
Christian Petersen

A couple of weeks ago, a few of us got into a brief and mostly forgettable exchange about whether the WNBA should have a Comeback Player of the Year or Newcomer of the Year award.

Both Major League Baseball and the NFL have a Comeback Player of the Year award and the NBA renamed it to the "Most Improved Player". Major League Soccer has a "Newcomer of the Year" award.  Although a league with 12 teams doesn't necessarily need more awards, both seem to capture and honor the unique realities of women's pro basketball in the U.S.

In a league where it seems like a number of players every year miss the league's 34-game season or the majority of it for various reasons - some more controversial than others - a Comeback Player award could be used to honor those who, in the phrasing of the NFL's award, "...has shown perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the (league) the previous year, a severe injury..." but not simply for poor performance. For a league that not only has foreign players coming to the U.S. late in their careers but also young former NCAA players who get cut immediately out of college and work their way back into the league, the Newcomer of the Year award could be used to elevate those stories a bit.

So I created criteria for the two awards and asked our panel of voters to make their selections accordingly:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: A player who played less than 250 minutes in the previous season - for whatever reason - and made a significant contribution to their team in the current season.
  • Newcomer of the Year award: Similar to the MLS definition, a player not eligible for the draft preceding the current season who makes a roster for the first time but has professional experience in another league.

Our panel, resembling that used for the previous awards:

  • Albert Lee, Swish Appeal editor (and renowned tankologist)
  • James Bowman, credentialed writer covering the Atlanta Dream for Swish Appeal
  • Nate Parham, basketball junkie
  • Pat Friday, Swish Appeal staff writer

And now, the awards.

Comeback Player of the Year: Penny Taylor, Phoenix Mercury

Name

Comeback

Albert

Katie Douglas, Connecticut Sun

James

Penny Taylor, Phoenix Mercury

Nate

Penny Taylor, Phoenix Mercury

Pat

Penny Taylor, Phoenix Mercury

Commentary: There were actually a few legit candidates for this, including San Antonio Stars teammates Becky Hammon and Sophia Young-Malcolm. Becky Hammon would've been an excellent ceremonial choice for this award given her retirement and post-WNBA plans.

But Penny Taylor's season was impressive, as Pat described at length.

Penelope Jane Taylor. If you looked up "underrated" in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of PFT staring right back at you. The Phoenix Mercury have been the best team in the WNBA this year and several factors impacted it:

• Brittney Griner's growth and maturity

• Diana Taurasi's all-around greatness and will to win

• Coach Sandy Brondello's hiring brought stability, defensive focus and preparation that would make any organization proud

• Swapping Lynetta Kizer for Erin Phillips exchanged young potential for veteran leadership while also bringing an additional ball-handler, shooter and perimeter defender into the fold

• Signing seasoned vets like Mistie Bass, Shay Murphy and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota was crucial and allowed Brondello the comfort of knowing she had players ready to go into battle at any given moment

But one would be foolish to overlook the return to health of Taylor. She went into the starting lineup on June 15th against the Lynx and the Mercury sprinted to a 16 game winning streak. As a starter, Taylor has averaged 12.0 points, 3.2 boards and 3.4 assists while shooting 51% from the field -- including 35% from three -- in just over 25 minutes a night. Taylor is another player you can run the offense through as she's a fantastic and willing passer, has great body control and finishing ability and is the Mercury's all-time leader in 3pt FG% and second in makes. Hopefully this will be Penny's last return from injury and she can finish her amazing career on her own terms.

Newcomer of the Year: Anna Cruz, New York Liberty

Name

Newcomer

Albert

Damiris Dantas, Minnesota Lynx

James

Damiris Dantas, Minnesota Lynx

Nat

Anna Cruz, New York Liberty

Pat

Anna Cruz, New York Liberty

Commentary: So, we're obviously split here.

One way to approach this one is that Dantas was a starter on the league's second-best team for 23 games, as James described: "Damiras Dantas of the Lynx in a walk. She was a starter for much of the year, and she's a big part of the reason that Minnesota's record is so danged good." But even prior to missing time for personal reasons, Dantas slowly fell completely out of the rotation by the end of the season.

Cruz, in contrast, started all 34 games playing 27 minutes per game for a team that desperately needed help at point guard. Pat is maybe a bit higher on her than I am in putting her on his WNBA All-Defensive First Team, but she's an energetic defender (on a team that could use that) who got off to a good start this season despite becoming rather inefficient as point guard by the time it was all said and done.

So we have a tie...and rather than make up a tiebreaker for our made up award, I'll leave it to a vote in the poll below.