“Defense wins championships,” the famous maxim declares.
Because of this belief, the WNBA, like the NBA, honors two All-Defensive Teams, but no All-Offensive Teams. While outstanding offense attracts more attention, determined defense earns more respect because it is understood as essential to winning basketball.
The members of the 2020 WNBA All-Defensive Teams put in the work on the less-glamorous end of the floor.
The First Team applied intelligence, effort and intensity to raise the defensive floors of their respective squads. Its members are:
Alysha Clark (Seattle Storm)
Betnijah Laney (Atlanta Dream)
Brianna Turner (Phoenix Mercury)
Alyssa Thomas (Connecticut Sun)
Elizabeth Williams (Dream)
The Second Team members maximized their physical gifts and basketball smarts to drive their teams’ defensive success. They are:
Breanna Stewart (Storm)
Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx)
Ariel Atkins (Washington Mystics)
Brittney Sykes (Los Angeles Sparks)
A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces)
All-Defensive First Team
For the second-straight season, the name of “The Eraser” will be imprinted in WNBA record books as an All-Defensive honoree.
This time, unanimously.
Over the past few seasons, appreciation for Alysha Clark has, deservedly, increased. She is a steady, stifling force for the Storm, the WNBA’s best defensive team. While she does not compile starry defensive playmaking stats, Clark is solid, the ultimate, if understated, compliment for a defensive player. She has established herself as the ideal 3-and-D player every team would love to have!
Dream head coach Nicki Collen signed Betnijah Laney for her defensive skills. Of course, Laney proved she is more than a defensive player and earned the Most Improved Player award for her unprecedented offensive leap. Laney’s explosion on offense did not come at the expense of her defense, however, and her first All-Defense Team selection is evidence of continued dedication to the defensive end of the court. Laney led the Dream with 1.6 steals per game.
This will likely be the first of many All-Defense Team honors for Brianna Turner.
Over the second half of her sophomore season, Turner emerged as an irrepressible, energetic defender who led the league in blocks and rebounds, swatting 3.2 shots per game and snagging 12.1 rebounds, including a league-best 8.8 defensive rebounds. For the season, her two blocks per game more than doubled her 0.7 blocks as a rookie. Her nine rebounds per game were nearly five more than her per-game rebounding numbers last year. Although Turner will not continue to improve at such an impressive rate, she has yet to reach her defensive ceiling.
For the third time in the past four seasons, Alyssa Thomas claims a place on the WNBA All-Defense Team. She was previously honored in 2017 and 2019.
Thomas is the core, both physically and spiritually, of a Connecticut defense driven by a perceived sense of disrespeCT. She led the league in steals per game and total steals, nabbing two per game and 42 for the season. She also relentlessly cleaned the glass, grabbing 7.2 defensive rebounds per game and nine total.
Over the second half of the 2020 regular season, Thomas’ Sun posted a defensive rating of 96.7, the second-best mark in the league during that time. In the playoffs, they are the best defense, sporting a defensive rating of 93.6.
For the first time in her career, Elizabeth Williams has received a well-earned an All-Defense award.
During her six-year tenure with the Dream, Williams has been a consistent, if consistently overlooked, defensive anchor. This season, on a Dream team featuring a slew of new players, in addition to encountering unfortunate illness and injury luck, Williams was a steadying force, leading with poise both on and off the court.
All-Defense Second Team
Brenna Stewart, famously, possesses a 7-foot-1-inch wingspan.
This season, Stewart effectively employed her enviable, extraordinary length. By enveloping opponents on the perimeter, disrupting passing lanes and swatting away shot attempts, Stewie earned a spot on the All-Defense Team for the second time in her career. She previously was honored for her defense in 2016.
Her dialed-in defensive effort helped the Storm surrender only 30 points in the paint per game, the top mark in the league. Stewie also tallied the best defensive playmaking stats of her career, with 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.
Even after Sylvia Fowles, one of the best defenders in WNBA history, went down with a calf injury, the Lynx maintained their defensive integrity much due to Napheesa Collier.
Although she again played the most minutes in the league and had significant offensive responsibilities, Collier still brought it on defense every game, showing why she already is one of the most well-rounded players in the WNBA.
Whether playing at the 3, 4, or 5, Collier combined her defensive instincts and intelligence to make good things happen on the defensive side of the floor. She averaged 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game and aggressively attacked the boards for an average of nine rebounds per game, including 6.3 defensive rebounds.
The third-year player now has a trio of All-Defense awards — quite the impressive feat!
On an underwomanned 2020 Mystics team, Atkins carried an increased offensive burden. Nonetheless, she remained committed to defense and averaged 2.1 “stocks” (steals + blocks) per game, the best total of her still-young career. Next season, expect Atkins to go four-for-four on All-Defense honors, as the return of Elena Delle Donne, among others, should allow her to devote her energies to the thwarting side of the court.
In her first season playing for the Hollywood team, Brittney Sykes unleashed some of the season’s starriest, most spectacular defensive plays. She swatted away the shots of numerous unsuspecting opponents and ferociously patrolled passing lanes and snagged seemingly impossible steals.
However, it was not highlight plays that earned Sykes her first All-Defense selection. Throughout the season, Sykes showed a more consistent dedication to defense. Among league-wide starters, Sykes registered the best defensive rating (86.0), and her 1.5 steals per game helped her secure this superb mark. Yet, it is also worth recognizing that the presence of Candace Parker — the Defensive Player of Year who was a curious omission from the All-Defense Teams — allowed Sykes to gamble as a perimeter defender.
The 2020 MVP can add an All-Defense Team award to her rapidly expanding trophy case.
While A’ja Wilson’s status as a singular, unstoppable force on offense was key to her MVP case, she is equally valuable for her defensive play. In fact, she unquestionably ascended into the MVP stratosphere because of her improvement on the defensive end. When she was off the court, the Aces had a defensive rating of 113.9 compared to a rating of 98.2 when Wilson was on it. Increased defensive playmaking stats explain these numbers — Wilson averaged a career-best two blocks and 1.2 steals per game and upped her rebounding numbers to seven defensive rebounds and 8.5 total rebounds per game.