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Inside The W with Michelle Smith: Midseason Awards Picks

Midway through the WNBA season and what’s abundantly clear is that a compelling second half after the Olympic break will be needed in order to get clarity.

While there’s much left to be figured out from a Playoffs standpoint, the outstanding individual performances have been coming fast and furious. Let’s take a quick look at the current contenders for the league’s top awards, including a wide-open race for the MVP Award among a group of the league’s most well-established post players.

Most Valuable Player

Tina Charles, Washington. The league’s leading scorer at 26.3 points a game, Charles is also pulling down 10 rebounds and being the consistent scorer in the Mystics offense while they wait for the return of Elena Delle Donne and potentially Emma Meesseman after the Olympics.

Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota. The Lynx center is playing some of the best basketball of her long career, averaging 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds. After playing just seven games last season, “Big Syl” is coming up big for the Lynx, with her best scoring and rebounding averages since 2018 and she became the first player in league history on June 25 vs. Las Vegas to put up 30 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks, four assists and four steals in a single game. With four double-doubles in the last seven games, Fowles is pushing the Lynx up the standings.

Jonquel Jones, Connecticut. Jones is back from EuroCup and in the lineup for the Sun and just in time for the Sun to reel off four straight wins. Jones is averaging 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds as the Sun are 10-3 with Jones’ in the lineup this season. Now that’s valuable.

Breanna Stewart, Seattle. Stewart, the 2019 MVP, ranks third in the league in scoring and fifth in rebounding at 21.6 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and she is again setting the pace for one of the league’s best teams.

A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas. The reigning WNBA MVP is having another stellar season for a team that looks to be hitting its stride right now. Wilson is averaging 19.4 points and 10.0 rebounds a game, numbers that are down a bit from last season, but she is now sharing the court with Liz Cambage.

Most Improved Player

Brionna Jones, Connecticut. Jones, whose role in Connecticut has been elevated this year in the absence of both Alyssa Thomas (for the season) and Jonquel Jones (in the short term), has made the most of the opportunity. Jones is averaging a career-best 15.0 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. On Thursday, after finding out she had been selected to the All-Star team, she punctuated the evening with a career-high 34 points against Indiana.

Marina Mabrey, Dallas. Mabrey is coming off tying a career-high 28 points on July 2nd against the Chicago Sky, further cementing her status as a front-runner for this award. Mabrey is 20th in scoring in the league this year at 13.9 points a game and has put up double-figures 14 times this season. Mabrey averaged 10.6 points a game last season in Dallas.

Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas. The former No. 1 draft pick is finding her footing in Las Vegas. Plum is averaging a career-best 13.5 points a game and has scored in double figures in six straight games for the Aces as they have gone 5-1 in that stretch.

Defensive Player of Year

Jonquel Jones, Connecticut. Jones ranks 12th in the league with 1.1 blocks per game to go with 1.1 steals and is a force on the defensive end.

Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota. Ranking in the top 5 in the league in both blocks (1.9) and steals (2.3) puts Fowles on this short list.

Candace Parker, Chicago. Can Parker pull off the repeat while having logged fewer games than some of the other top competitors for this award? Parker currently leads the league with a 90.1 defensive rating.

Breanna Stewart, Seattle. Stewart, for all of her offensive prowess, makes a huge difference on the defensive end as well, ranks fourth in the league in blocked shots at 1.7 per game, and leads with 8.4 defensive rebounds a game.

Brittney Sykes, Los Angeles. Sykes, the only guard in this bunch, is both tenacious and disruptive as a perimeter defender and ranks third in the league with 1.7 steals per game.

Coach of Year

Walt Hopkins, New York. It’s hard to dispute what a job Hopkins has done with this young team that won just two games a season ago. Even with injuries to Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu’s ankle continuing to nag, Hopkins has the Liberty playing competitive basketball.

Bill Laimbeer, Las Vegas. Laimbeer’s team is loaded with talent, no question with Wilson, Cambage, Plum, Jackie Young, and Dearica Hamby. But he has put them in a position to build chemistry with the additions of Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams.

Curt Miller, Connecticut. With Alyssa Thomas out of the lineup and Jonquel Jones returning for the first time to play alongside DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut wasn’t the most obvious choice as a title contender. But the Sun are 14-6 and won five of their last six heading into the break.

James Wade, Chicago. Last year’s Coach of the Year faced down a seven-game losing streak with his team and then rallied them to seven straight wins (and 8 wins in 11 games) for a quick ascent in the standings. If the Sky can sustain this, they will be right in the mix with the top teams come season’s end.

Rookie of Year

Aari McDonald, Atlanta. The star of the 2021 Final Four is improving in Atlanta and is now averaging 5.9 points and 1.2 rebounds a game.

Michaela Onyenwere, New York. The UCLA “tweener” is the clear front-runner here in a year in which young players have struggled to breakthrough. Onyenwere is a key part of the New York Liberty’s rise to the middle of the WNBA standings this season, playing consistently well on both ends of the floor and bringing high energy.

Sixth Woman of Year

Dearica Hamby, Las Vegas. Plum and Hamby both support a loaded team off the bench and Hamby has been doing it at a high level for a long time. Hamby is averaging 11.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a game and has pretty much perfected her role at this point.

Marina Mabrey, Dallas. Mabrey’s role off the bench (she has started just seven of 17 games) brings a much-needed offensive punch to the Wings’ lineup, complementing Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally.

Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas. Plum has been a starter every year since she came into the league in 2017, but this comeback year, where she has returned from the 2020 Achilles injury that cost her a season, she has been a sparkplug off the bench for Las Vegas and the role seems to suit her quite nicely.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.