The 2018 WNBA season was one of the most competitive in the history of the league, making awards voting tough. But here’s a roundup of the winners:
Coach of the Year — Nicki Collen
Nicki Collen has been named Coach of the Year after guiding her Atlanta Dream to the second seed in her first year as a WNBA head coach. Collen started the season with a team that had finished the 2017 WNBA season out of playoff contention: 10th in the standings, with a 12-22 record.
With Atlanta Dream General Manager Chris Sienko, who has been named Basketball Executive of the Year, Collen brought in a key player at the start of the season to help build a crushing defense (see: Jessica Breland), made a key midseason trade for a player who can score 20 points off the bench on any given night (see: Alex Bentley) and signed three-time Player of the Week Tiffany Hayes to a multiyear extension.
The Dream also won season series against the league’s best teams, including the first-ranked Seattle Storm, and stayed strong contenders throughout a spate of injuries that took Hayes and Brittney Sykes out of the lineup for a stretch and saw Angel McCoughtry go down with an injury that ended her season.
But defense kept the Dream winning and should be considered one of Collen’s biggest accomplishments of the season, with the Dream leading the league “in defensive rating, allowing 97.1 points per 100 possessions, and block[ing] a league-high 5.29 shots per game” while also limiting “opponents to the lowest field goal percentage (42.3) and the second-lowest three-point field goal percentage (32.1)” this season.
How the Dream overcame adversity to keep the second-best record in the league won the respect of the national panel of voters made up of 39 sportswriters and broadcasters: Collen was awarded 37 votes, with Dan Hughes of the Seattle Storm and Mike Thibault of the Washington Mystics being awarded one vote each.
Curt Miller of the Connecticut Sun won the award last year.
Breanna Stewart — Most Valuable Player
The Seattle Storm forward has been on a quest since her rookie season to reclaim the dominance she once enjoyed at UConn, which amounts to winning everything in sight. In her pursuit to be the best, Stewart has improved her on-court production year-over-year and now, in her third WNBA season, has earned the Most Valuable Player trophy.
Stewart, the 2016 WNBA Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star, finished the season second in scoring behind Liz Cambage, with 21.8 points per game. She was third in rebounding behind Sylvia Fowles and Liz Cambage, who were first and second respectively, with 8.4 boards per game. Stewart achieved career-high percentages in field goals (52.9 — tenth in the WNBA) and three-point field goals (41.5 — eighth in the league) and she shot 82.0 percent from the free throw line.
Stewart earned 372 of the voting points. However, given the competitive nature of the 2018 season, she did not sweep the award by any measure, as Liz Cambage claimed 231 of the voting points and Elena Delle Donne earned 206 voting points. With other players finishing at the top of the league in scoring and rebounding ahead of Stewart, the panel of voters apparently factored in team standing and overall impact to team. The Storm finished in first place after the regular season, largely due to Stewart’s consistent production in each game, so she was deemed most valuable.
Stewart will celebrate her accomplishments with $15,000 and a trophy designed by Tiffany & Co.
Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx won the award last year.
Natasha Howard — Most Improved Player
Howard’s season with the Seattle Storm is a case of the right player finding the right situation at the right time. Her night-and-day turnaround from her Minnesota Lynx days is apparent in her production in most area of the box score.
During the 2017 season in Minnesota, Howard averaged “4.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.62 blocks and 0.53 steals in 11.7 minutes while coming off the bench in all 34 of her appearances.” In 2018, her first season with the Storm, Howard averaged career-high numbers in all categories: “13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.97 blocked shots (third in the WNBA) and 1.29 steals in 25.6 minutes while starting 33 of the 34 games she played.”
Howard blew out the competition with 29 votes. Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics finished second with 4 votes and Kayla Thornton and Courtney Vandersloot finished tied for third with 2 votes apiece.
Howard will celebrate with $5,000 and a trophy by Tiffany & Co.
Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun won the award last year.
Jonquel Jones — Sixth Woman of the Year
The Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones traded up this year. In 2017, she earned the not-shabby-at-all distinction of Most Improved Player, winning 32 of 40 votes from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. In just a season’s time, she has furthered her development, becoming a reliable shooter off the bench for the Sun capable of sparking energy and picking up the scoring load when called upon to do so.
Jones came off the bench in 18 of 34 games this season, and her production from there — 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.24 blocks and a career-high 1.7 assists per game this season — make her the player most worthy of the 2018 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year award.
Jones will celebrate with a Tiffany & Co.-designed trophy and $5,000.
Sugar Rodgers of the New York Liberty won the Sixth Woman of the Year award in 2017.
Sue Bird — Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award
For the second year in a row, Seattle Storm veteran and future Hall of Famer Sue Bird was lauded for exemplifying “the ideals of sportsmanship on the court, including ethical behavior, fair play and integrity” and was awarded the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship trophy.
Bird also won the award in 2011 (tied with Ruth Riley of the San Antonio Stars), making her a three-time winner.
“Bird received 16 votes from a national panel of 38 sportswriters and broadcasters,” according to the league. Courtney Vandersloot of the Chicago Sky finished second in voting, with five votes, while Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics, Jasmine Thomas of the Connecticut Sun and Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream each earned four votes.
As a member of the voting panel of sportswriters and broadcasters, I was granted the great privilege and honor to make choices about the players most deserving of the 2018 WNBA season awards in arguably the most competitive season in the league. With so many great performances throughout the season, the decisions were not easy. But after careful consideration over the course of weeks, here’s how I voted:
- Sixth Woman of the Year — Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun)
- Defensive Player of the Year — Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx)
- Most Improved Player — Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky)
- Rookie of the Year — A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces)
- Coach of the Year — Nicki Collen (Atlanta Dream)
- Most Valuable Player — Liz Cambage (Dallas Wings)
For the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award, I selected Jasmine Thomas (Connecticut Sun).
Here are my team selections:
- 2018 All-WNBA First Team — Breanna Stewart (Seattle Storm), Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics), Liz Cambage (Dallas Wings), Tiffany Hayes (Atlanta Dream), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury).
- 2018 All-WNBA Second Team — Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx), A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces), Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Kayla McBride (Las Vegas Aces), Skylar Diggins-Smith (Dallas Wings).