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Sixth Player of the Year Debate: Do Dana Evans’ big-time buckets give her the edge?

Who is the WNBA’s best off the bench? While Dana Evans has served as a valuable bucket getter for the Chicago Sky, Alysha Clark and DiJonai Carrington have filled the 3-and-D role for the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun, respectively.

Chicago Sky v Seattle Storm
Is Dana Evans’ off-the-bench dynamism enough to earn her the Sixth Player of the Year Award?
Photo by Scott Eklund/NBAE via Getty Images

For the past five seasons, the winner of the WNBA’s Sixth Player of the Year Award arguably has been a starter-quality player who just so happens to come off the bench. More specifically, they’ve been a starter-quality player who just so happens to come off the bench for the Connecticut Sun or Las Vegas Aces, as the last five winners are:

  • 2018: Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun)
  • 2019: Dearica Hamby (Las Vegas Aces)
  • 2020: Dearica Hamby (Las Vegas Aces)
  • 2021: Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces)
  • 2022: Brionna Jones (Connecticut Sun)

This season, no player fits the starter-disguised-as-reserve archetype, which makes identifying the field of candidates—much less a favorite—a tough task.

Below, we do our best, with Eric Nemchock making the case for the Chicago Sky’s Dana Evans, Cat Ariail lobbying for the Las Vegas Aces’ Alysha Clark and Edwin Garcia giving credit to the Connecticut Sun’s DiJonai Carrington.

Dana Evans (Chicago Sky)

New York Liberty v Chicago Sky
Dana Evans.
Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

When you think of the ideal winner of Sixth Player of the Year, what typically comes to mind? Someone who brings a spark off the bench, obviously. A player who can get hot in a hurry and score in bunches. In the case of a guard, someone who picks up where the starters left off.

Evans has all of these qualities, and even that might be underselling her impact for the Sky. In her best WNBA season thus far, Evans is playing 20.8 minutes per game off the bench, and among players who have come off the bench in at least 19 of their games played (half of the regular-season schedule to date), she ranks first in scoring (8.6 points per game) and second in distributing (three assists). On the season, she’s scored in double-figures 13 times and hit two or more 3-pointers on eight occasions.

Evans’ defense has been crucial, too, especially for a Sky team that is shorthanded in the backcourt without defensive specialist Rebekah Gardner, who has missed all but two games this season with a foot injury. A pesky and aggressive defender, Evans changes games with her ball pressure; the Sky force turnovers at a slightly-higher rate with her on the court (18.1 percent) than off the court (17.2 percent). Evans isn’t just a shooter for Chicago, and her play on both ends of the court would make her a deserving recipient of the 2023 Sixth Player of the Year award. — Eric Nemchock

Alysha Clark (Las Vegas Aces)

Washington Mystics v Las Vegas Aces
Alysha Clark.
Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

Because she plays for one of the two teams that tends to win this award, I feel pretty good about making a case for Alysha Clark.

In contrast to Dana Evans, Clark is tasked with a more limited role: shoot 3s and play D. Yet, she fills this relatively narrow niche with such consistency that she provides Sixth-Player-of-the-Year value. There’s no thrills or flash to her case, just reliability and dependability.

Having started one game and missed another, Clark has otherwise come off the bench in all of Vegas’ games, totaling a league-leading 800 reserve minutes. She’s scored 242 points, third most among bench players. And most of these have come from behind the arc. Even as she is taking a career-high 5.3 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, she’s shooting almost 40 percent from 3,

When Clark replaces Kiah Stokes in the Aces’ Candace Parker-less starting lineup, Vegas doesn’t miss a beat, a sign of how Clark’s importance exceeds her counting stats. With Clark playing the 4 in a small-ball lineup alongside A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, Vegas posts offensive and defensive ratings that are nearly the same as the starting group’s marks. — Cat Ariail

DiJonai Carrington (Connecticut Sun)

Minnesota Lynx v Connecticut Sun
DiJonai Carrington.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

In her 30 games this season, Carrington is averaging 8.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. That’s a career high in points, and she’s flirting with career highs in almost every other statistical category.

As the Sun’s off-the-bench spark plug, Carrington has played her role masterfully. Before she was sidelined with a foot injury, she gave the Sun a boost of energy and speed that exceeded that of the starting unit. A phenomenal off-the-ball player, she understands how to get open or spread the floor for her teammates, whether by cutting to the basket in the half court or running to her spots for a 3-pointer or easy layup on the fastbreak. Carrington also has improved her 3-point shooting percentage every season, and 2023 has been no different. She’s shooting 40.4 percent from downtown this season.

Having a player like Carrington as a super sub is a luxury few teams have, and Connecticut is fortunate to have had her as a weapon for the majority of the 2023 season. There are plenty of teams where Carrington would have started or played more prominent role. But for now, she’s been the best player coming off the bench in the WNBA and, if she can get healthy, she will make the Sun that much harder to beat in the playoffs. — Edwin Garcia