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:
A’ja Wilson — Rookie of the Year
A’ja Wilson had the kind of rookie season that puts other players and teams on notice. She was the only rookie to be named an All-Star, she earned the Player of the Week award for games played July 2-8 and she swept the Rookie of the Month awards for the 2018 WNBA season.
Wilson swept the Rookie of the Year voting, too — earning “all 39 votes from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.”
Wilson paced all rookies (and many veterans) with 20.7 points per game — tied with Diana Taurasi at third, after Breanna Stewart (#2) and Liz Cambage (#1). Wilson was fifth in the league for rebounding, with 8.0 boards per game, and sixth in blocks, with 1.7 denials per game. Thus, her performance wasn’t just good “for a rookie,” but damn good for any basketball player on the planet, especially in the ultra-competitive 2018 WNBA season.
Wilson leads the 2018 WNBA All-Rookie Team as one of three unanimous selections; the other two players to receive unanimous votes to the All-Rookie Team are Ariel Atkins (Washington Mystics — currently competing for a championship in the WNBA Finals) and Diamond DeShields (Chicago Sky). To round out the All-Rookie Team roster are Azura Stevens (Dallas Wings) and Kelsey Mitchell (Indiana Fever).
Fans of Wilson will not have to wait until the 2019 WNBA season to see her on the court, as Wilson is in the Team USA player pool and has been competing in exhibition games this September, with the FIBA World Cup in her horizons.
Wilson will celebrate her high achievements with a specially-designed trophy by Tiffany & Co. and $5,000.
In 2017, the Rookie of the Year trophy went to fellow University of South Carolina Gamecocks alum Allisha Gray (Dallas Wings).
Alana Beard — Defensive Player of the Year
Alana Beard has built a career on thwarting opponents’ efforts to advance and score the ball, and she has been awarded yet again. In an award repeat, Beard has been named the 2018 Defensive Player of the Year.
Beard won the award handily, receiving 16 of 39 votes from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters, with the remaining votes spread out amongst other defensive-minded players in the league: Sylvia Fowles, who led the league with 11.9 rebounds per game (9 votes); Tiffany Hayes, a three-time Player of the Week (4 votes); Jessica Breland, who ranked seventh in rebounding with 7.9 boards per game (2 votes); and Brittney Griner, who led the league with 2.6 blocks per game (2 votes).
Beard grabbed 1.47 steals per game this season, helping the Sparks to lead the league in pockets picked while limiting points allowed to 77 per game. The panel that cast ballots clearly voted for the intangibles Beard contributes each game — toughness and an ability to alter the game in ways that do not always wind up in the box score.
Beard also leads the All-Defensive First Team.
To celebrate her second consecutive DPOY achievement, Beard will receive a trophy designed by Tiffany & Co. and $5,000.
Nicki Collen — Coach of the Year
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).