The end of the regular season is here. In this year of celebration, there has been plenty to acknowledge, especially in the history of the WNBA. But for the season that was, who were the players and performances that stood out?
Here are my votes the WNBA’s major postseason awards.
Most Valuable Player. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut. Jones’ season for the Sun, who established themselves as the team to beat for a title in the second half of the season, has been stellar. After missing last season, Jones came back with a vengeance. She ranks fourth in the league at scoring at 19.4 points a game (the best of her career), and leads the WNBA in rebounding at 11.2 rebounds a game. She also has 2.8 assists per game, and 1.3 steals, which are also career highs. Jones is a double-double machine, with 18 so far this season and 12 games where she’s scored at least 20 points. Jones has also had a great season on the defensive end and is in the conversation for DPOY as well. Without Alyssa Thomas on the floor for most of this season, Jones grabbed the mantle as the team’s centerpiece player and it’s clear that Connecticut’s title run goes through Jones.
Rookie of the Year, Michaela Onyenwere, New York. In a tough year for first-year players, Onyenwere’s consistency and the size of her role on a young Liberty squad made her a standout. Onyenwere has played more minutes than any other rookie in the league by a wide margin this season and has averaged 8.6 points a game. Her athleticism and hustle make her a very valuable asset on the floor. Her rebounding numbers, as well as her offensive efficiency have room for improvement in year two, but she is off to a great start.
Coach of the Year, Curt Miller, Connecticut. While the Sun love to feed off their DisrespeCT, the truth is that the Sun weren’t necessarily anyone’s preseason pick to win it all for some pretty good reasons – Alyssa Thomas’ Achilles tendon injury, the unknown of how Jonquel Jones would return after taking a year off and a seeming lack of depth. After a bad loss in the Commissioner’s Cup against Seattle right after the Olympic break, however, anyone who thought the Sun looked shaky had it all wrong. Credit Miller for getting the best out of this team and for making Connecticut a title favorite heading into the playoffs.
Most Improved Player, Brionna Jones, Connecticut. In her fifth season in Connecticut, Jones made herself indispensable for the Sun this season, sharing paint space with Jonquel Jones and giving the Sun much-needed depth inside without Alyssa Thomas on the floor. Jones has established career-highs in scoring (14.7 ppg), rebounds (7.3 rpg), minutes (30.6 mpg), assists (1.8 apg). Two years ago, Jones was averaging 8.4 points and 3.5 points a game.
Defensive Player of the Year, Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota. Would Minnesota be where it’s right now – the No. 3 seed heading into playoffs – without Fowles, the 35-year-old veteran having a great season? Nope. Fowles has already won this award three times in her career. This year could be number four. She leads the league in defensive rebounds (247), is tied for first in steals (1.8 per game), ranks second in blocked shots (56), first in defensive win shares (2.8), and is second in defensive rating (90.1). Her great offensive season and leadership on the floor add to the overall package, but her defensive excellence is what makes Fowles such a a vital piece. Jonquel Jones also makes a strong case here, but Fowles gets my vote.
Sixth Player of the Year, Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas. This one is a slam dunk for this voter. Plum misses last season with an Achilles injury and comes back to have the best season of her professional career – both for the Aces and on the gold-medal-winning US 3×3 team. Plum is playing with the swagger and confidence she played with in college. She is averaging 14.8 points and 3.7 assists per game off the bench for Las Vegas in 25.5 minutes on the floor. She is shooting 94.4 percent from the free-throw line. In Vegas’s last six games, she is averaging 21.7 points per game and was named Western Conference Player of the Week. Since returning from Tokyo, she has put up at least 20 points in five-game, including a 30-point effort against Dallas last week. And when she’s hot, there’s not a better show in the league.
First Team All WNBA
C/F – Jonquel Jones. On the way to an MVP and maybe a title.
F – A’ja Wilson. Last year’s MVP still leading the way for the Aces.
F – Breanna Stewart. Would have been an MVP frontrunner if Seattle hadn’t slipped late.
G – Skylar Diggins-Smith. Been the Mercury’s most consistent player all season.
G – DeWanna Bonner. The complementary piece to Jones in the Sun’s title run. Double figures in 27 games this season.
Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.