Slightly Too Early Season Awards

Ok, so there are still several games left in the 2019 regular season, but that isn’t going to keep me from saying who I think have been the best players in 2019. All the awards have been tightly contested this year, and the debates on social media concerning MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc. have all been fascinating, enlightening, and fun. With that said, let’s look at who I believe will win each award:

MVP: Elena Delle Donne, F Mystics

Delle Donne, like in her previous MVP winning season in 2015, has been the “do it all, every game” MVP in 2019. She has lifted the Mystics to a higher plane than ever before, and thus far, has proved to be the best player on the best team night after night. And even though it’s not just Delle Donne doing all the work, the entire team is playing insanely well offensively, she is the unquestionable leader of this Washington squad, and simply the best player in the league right now.

Most Improved: Leilani Mitchell, G Mercury

An absolute bounce back of a season for a player that has always been slightly underrated in my opinion, and this is even taking into consideration that she won this same award nearly a decade ago in 2010. The resurgence is due in part to Mitchell’s much larger role with the absence of Diana Taurasi. But the numbers don’t lie, and Mitchell’s stats from last year and this year are the most impressive out of any other potential winners. Averaging nearly ten more points per game than last season, and doubling her averages in nearly every other category, Mitchell is clearly the most improved player this season.

Rookie of the Year: Napheesa Collier, F Lynx

This award has been the most talked about an argued over award all season long. But if I am redoing the 2019 draft, I’m taking Collier as the first pick. Does that mean she has the same year with the Aces as she has had with the Lynx? No, but with time travel logic is the first thing that gets thrown out the window, and I’m telling you, no matter who I am I want Napheesa Collier on my team right now and for the future. She is another all around fantastic player who has the potential to lead Minnesota to a new dynasty.

6th Woman: Dearica Hamby, F Aces

Hamby has been absolutely crucial to Bill Laimbeer’s rotation in 2019, and she has relished her role off the bench and as a part time starter when A’ja Wilson was out. She is one of the candidates for Most Improved, but I like her winning this award more, because she provided the minutes and scoring, as well as rebounding that every team needs off the bench to win games.

Defensive Player: Jonquel Jones, F Sun

Jonquel Jones will win this award, but
If I’m being honest, Natasha Howard is just as likely to take home the MVP as she is to win Defensve Player of the Year. But despite having the exact same defensive rating according to the league website, I give Jones the slightest of edges due to her better defensive rebounding over Howard, as well a her better block percentage. Is Howard getting more steals? Yes. But I think the controversy surrounding her off the court issues, right or wrong, guilty or innocent costs her this award this year.

Coach of the Year: James Wade, Sky

This award is harder to pick than any other award this year. Cheryl Reeve, as always, has done an amazing job this season with an almost completely new group of young players. Dan Hughes has also taken a team that shouldn’t have played anywhere as well as they have this year and kept them in the playoffs. Mike Thibault has pushed his Mystics to even greater heights and has them on the cusp of the #1 seed and another Finals berth. Bill Laimbeer, another long time WNBA head coach has turned this Aces team into one that just barely missed the playoffs to one of the best, scariest and toughest teams in the league. But James Wade showed up to his first head coaching job and proved that he can absolutely coach in this league for years to come. He has motivated, pushed, driven, and willed his team to more wins than they have had in several years. He has changed the mentality of the Chicago Sky from underachievers to down right winners in 2019. I love what he’s done for this incredible group of players.

The Wrap Up

This was a weird season. With so many of the league’s top stars out with injuries and other commitments, we had no idea what to expect. I think the same can be said about the awards that will be handed out this year. I really have no idea what voters will decide to do in just about every category. It will be very interesting to see what ultimately transpires. Here’s wishing good luck to every candidate out there in 2019!

Saturday 25 May 2019

Want to know what to be watching out for in the WNBA this year? Which players are going to have breakout seasons and really shine? Who’s going to take up the MVP mantle? Which rookie will meet or exceed expectations? Which younger veteran will have a career year? Which veterans will surprise the heck out of everyone and lead their team to a deep playoff run? Which team is going to take home a championship trophy? The answer to all these questions is the same: Everyone and anyone!

You cannot predict what is going to happen this year, at all. NOBODY has a clue as to whether or not the Phoenix Mercury or the Las Vegas Aces or the Seattle Storm or the Washington Mystics or the Connecticut Sun or the Atlanta Dream or any else is going to win it all this year.

No one has a clue as to whether or not Brittney Griner, Liz Cambage, DeWanna Bonner, Tiffany Mitchell, Courtney Vandersloot, Elena Delle Donne, Nneka Ogwunike, A’ja Wilson, Jonquel Jones, Jewell Loyd, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles or any number of players will win the MVP award. If they knew they’d have already placed their bets.

Who’s going to be the best defender this year? Will Alana Beard win ANOTHER DPOY? What about Griner? Well heck, don’t forget Fowles or Meesseman or Elizabeth Williams or Jonquel Jones or Natasha Howard or A’ja Wilson or about 10 other players that could come out of nowhere to take the award. I HAVE NO IDEA, but neither does anyone else if we are all being honest.

Who’s going be Coach of the Year? Brian Agler could really take a Wings team that people have been writing off in the off-season and get to the playoffs, but so could Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx, so could James Wade and the Sky, but they might just as soon give it to Curt Miller or first year coach Derek Fisher. Heck the Liberty could get their stuff together and have Katie Smith winning the thing. But so could Pokey Chatman, Nikki Collen, and basically any coach in the league at this point.

And that is ALL exactly why this season is going to be amazing and completely unexpected and unpredictable. Because everything that has happened this off-season has been unexpected and unpredictable. Oh, Breanna Stewart’s out for the season, but wait, so is Sue Bird?? Anyone see that coming? How about the Sparks getting rid of Brian Agler and hiring Derek Fisher of all people? Anyone predict that before it happened? How about Chiney Ogwunike working a deal to leave Connecticut and join her sister on the Sparks? Wouldn’t have dared dream that one up. How about Liz Cambage actually getting traded to the LAS VEGAS ACES?? After everything else that was happening, you called that trade, eh? That was a surefire bet right? How about the league hiring an actual commissioner and getting advanced stats on THEIR WEBSITE FINALLY? Wouldn’t have put money on that if my life depended on it. But guess what? It all happened and now the season is starting this weekend and we all should be jumping for joy and just how wild and crazy and unpredictable and insane and fun this season is going to be! I can’t wait to see who the most improved player is, or who 6th woman of the year, or LOOK AT THIS ROOKIE CLASS?! WHO IN THE WORLD is going to be Rookie of the Year??? IT COULD BE SO MANY DIFFERENT PLAYERS!

So please, buy the dang WNBA League Pass, it costs as much as you were going to spend on breakfast this morning. Please buy tickets and go to games if you live near teams. Buy merchandise from the WNBA team stores. Shout out and retweet you favorite people, teams, and players on Twitter and Instagram every game. Watch all the teams. Watch every award race. Read the stats. Support the WNBA because it’s going to be more fun and crazy than you can even imagine this year!

2019 Season Predictions

If you follow me regularly you know I hate predictions due to their fickle, insane nature. But here we are. Best of luck to every single player and team this year. It is going to be a wild ride.

Here are my predictions for the 2019 Season:

MVP: Elena Delle Donne

Champions: Phoenix Mercury

Rookie of the Year: Katie Lou Samuelson

Most Improved: Odyssey Sims

Defensive Player: Brittney Griner

6th Woman: Emma Meesseman

Coach of the year: Nikki Collen

Some back up choices just to make it fun:

MVP: Liz Cambage

Champions: Atlanta Dream

Rookie: Alanna Smith

Most Improved: Kelsey Plum

Defensive Player: Ariel Atkins

6th Woman: Alex Bentley

Coach of the year: Brian Agler

The 12 Players to Watch in 2019

As the season gets underway, let’s take a look at one player from each team you should keep an eye on during the season, whether they are a perennial MVP candidate, a brand new rookie, or an up and coming sophomore star.

1. Brittney Griner, F/C Phoenix Mercury

With Diana Taurasi gone for much of 2019, Griner has yet another chance to prove she is capable of carrying Phoenix by herself into another deep playoff run. If she can actually develop an outside game, which she appears to be doing this off-season, and continue to dominate defensively in the paint, her offense and her health will be key to another chance to win an MVP trophy.

2. Elizabeth Williams, F/C Atlanta Dream

The Atlanta Dream are full of exciting, fun to watch players, so it is hard to choose just one to be on the lookout for. But Williams stands out to me as a player to watch this season because she will need to step up offensively if the Dream want to make it back to the playoffs and have a chance to win more games throughout the season. Strong in the post defensively, she should have a good opportunity to get back to averaging double digits scoring this season.

3. Cheyenne Parker, F Chicago Sky

Parker should continue to rise up towards stardom as she has a cast of talented teammates that are a mix of youth and experience. If she continues to produce offensively, she will find more starting minutes. She can be an anchor and an asset next to Stefanie Dolson who will also need to step up her game if the Sky want to win. Narrowly missing the 6th woman of the year award last year, don’t surprised if Parker is in contention for Most Improved Player this year.

4. Odyssey Sims, G Minnesota Lynx

The Lynx are a team in transition. They have a lot of the old guard now missing, but they have made one of the bigger moves of the off-season in trading for Odyssey Sims from the Sparks. Sims and Skylar Diggins-Smith were an outstanding backcourt for the Tulsa Shock/Dallas Wings, but she lost her footing after moving to Los Angeles, never quite fitting into that roster. Can she revive her career on a new team and in a new city? She’ll be the player to watch on a Lynx team hoping to replace her former rival Lindsay Whalen as the point guard of the foreseeable future in Minnesota.

5. Teaira McCowan, C Indiana Fever

The Fever need new star power, and they need it fast. McCowan has the personality and the talent to make an immediate impact, not unlike A’ja Wilson did last year for the Aces. It will be interesting if McCowan can adjust to the WNBA, and if she does, watch out, because she will be a force in the post on both ends of the floor.

6. Myisha Hines-Allen, F Washington Mystics

The second year player out of Louisville could have a breakout sophomore season. With Emma Meesseman back, the Mystics will be likely tinkering with the starting lineup throughout the year, so don’t be surprised to see Hines-Allen with more opportunities, not only to start games, but more minutes off the bench as well. She will add depth to a strong squad as the Mystics look to get back to WNBA Finals.

7. Jackie Young, G Las Vegas Aces

In the WNBA, you always have to watch to see what the #1 pick can do in their rookie season. What Jackie Young will be hoping to do is play well enough to get starting minutes and lead this team to a playoff berth. She is a versatile guard, and the Aces should be able to fit her into their system. How it will all play out with Kelsey Plum and the rest of the team is going to very interesting this year. There is plenty of talent out in the desert, especially with the starting rotation, and you can’t help but wonder if Coach Laimbeer will get it just right to have this team winning more games in 2019.

8. Jonquel Jones, F Connecticut Sun

All eyes in Connecticut should be on Jones and whether or not she can get back to the starting lineup and lead this Sun team to playoff success. The talent and coaching are all there, but the Sun seemed to hit a roadblock in their rise up the ranks in the WNBA. Jones will have to continue to be the inside-out all around player that they need on both ends. Already an amazing rebounder, consitency will be key for her on the offensive end as she looks to lead the fastest team in the league towards playoff wins.

9. Kia Nurse, G New York Liberty

Nurse had an interesting rookie season, she played in all 34 games, starting in the final 7 games of the season. She averaged a good 20 minutes per game, and often came off the bench early and scored efficiently. She had several breakout, high-scoring games early on in the season, went through a real lull in the middle, and then found her groove again at the end of the year. She could be the absolute future of this franchise, so it will be very exciting to watch what she does in her second year.

10. Arike Ogunbowale, G Dallas Wings

Selected 5th overall by the Wings, Ogunbowale hopes to prove that she can shine not only in college and on the biggest stage in the Final Four, but in the pro ranks as well. She will be lead by new head coach Brian Agler, who is hoping she will be strong enough to start in a rotation without Skylar Diggins-Smith at the beginning of the season. With Cambage likely out for the year, the Wings are looking at Glory Johnson to start at center, so Arike and the rest of the back court will need to gel quickly and be able to shoot the three and play and outside to inside game. If she can adjust to the WNBA, she can be a star, but may be a rough go with the roster as it stands at the start of the season.

11. Jewell Loyd, G Seattle Storm

Loyd will be without the MVP half of her dynamic duo in Breanna Stewart this year. She now has to step up and help Sue Bird lead this team every single game. She will look to the league’s 2018 Most Improved Player Natasha Howard to feed the ball to inside, and she herself will need to continue to work her way into the paint and find ways to score and get to the free throw line. This lineup was one of the best, if not the best three point shooting team last year, and if Loyd can continue to improve in all the little areas of her game, the Storm still have a chance to repeat what they did last year in winning the WNBA title.

12. Chiney Ogwumike, C Los Angeles Sparks

It’s a good thing Chiney moved to L.A. with her sister, because she has a flair for drama. Off the court, on the court, these sisters know how to stand out, and if they can find their rhythm together, and play well without Candace Parker to start the season, they can find themselves at the top of the league. Folks around the league will be keeping watch on Chiney as she hopes to finally get to the WNBA Finals. Can she play well with an all new, star-studded cast? Can she stay healthy and provide points in the paint night in and night out? Only time will tell if this trade will have actually paid off for Chiney and the Sparks.

WNBA Awards Season

With the regular season over yesterday, the WNBA moves into the playoffs, and with that, comes awards season. The Most Improved Player award is probably the one I had the most trouble with, and the most fun choosing. After crunching the numbers, I found myself with a real dilemma. Atlanta’s Elizabeth Williams improved her game averages from last season with the Sun in points, rebounds, assists, and steals (not including her vast improvement in blocks) by a whopping 228%.

The Mystics Tayler Hill improved in the same statistical categories by 112%, and the Liberty’s Sugar Rodgers, along with last year’s rookie of the year, Seattle’s Jewell Loyd, both improved by 72.5 and 73% respectively.

So, the raw numbers tell us that Elizabeth Williams is by far the most improved player of 2016, right? Well, when I also calculated their individual increases in minutes per game, I saw that Williams increased her minutes by 192%, while Hill’s minutes increased by 72.3%, Rodgers increased by 66.8%, but Loyd’s minutes only increased by 23%. And all four players are playing pretty similar minutes this year, about 30, with Williams with the most at 34 per game.

So the question became, how do I reconcile a player’s improved stat line, when they’ve had a much greater increase in minutes to do it in, especially when you compare Williams with Loyd? I wondered, well, an increase in minutes could be because they steadily improved, and so they deserved more minutes, or they simply got more minutes because of a trade or injury to a starting player. A trade was the case with Williams, as she played a backup role in Connecticut last year, but got a starting role in Atlanta’s lineup this year. Either way, I never quite figured out how to compare the stats percentages with the minutes percentages. I figured someone else has already done this for me, say with Hollingers’s PER, but I’m still not certain if this kind of stat reflects the question I was asking myself. I am by no means a stats guru, and I was always terrible at math, but the older I have gotten the more I have enjoyed statistics and crunching simple numbers. So I just decided I would divide the average percentage of stats by the player’s percentage in increased minutes and make that a ratio. Again, perhaps I’m a simpleton when it comes to stats and this is something already in existence, but bear with me. The ratios that I came up when I did the division surprised me, as Loyd, despite the more modest increase in stats, seemingly improved at a better rate, or at least did so in less time than the other 3 players:

Stats% to Minutes Increased% Ratio:

Elizabeth Williams: 1.188

Tayler Hill: 1.556

Sugar Rodgers: 1.085

Jewell Loyd: 3.108

Is this kind of ratio absurd? Does it make any sense, or no sense at all? Is it already accounted for or dismissed by some Sports Stats Guru at ESPN? I honestly have no idea. But after looking at the players’ PER numbers from last year to this year, I am still not sure if there is a correlation of some kind, or if I simply have no idea what I am talking about. Obviously in this day and age of advanced stats, we can adjust the expectations we have for a player based on PACE, based on starting and bench roles, based on position, based on so many factors, so I still don’t know what to think of ratio I came up with.

Williams PER from last year to this year went from 17.9 to 15.6, Hill went from 13.5 to 17, Rodgers went from 14.1 to 15.3, while Loyd went from 14 to 18.3. ┬áSo, maybe there is a correlation, maybe there is none at all. But in trying to reconcile the idea of a player improving less, but seemingly more with the less increased time they had to do it in, I came to the conclusion, that ultimately, I can’t fault a player like Elizabeth Williams for getting more minutes, or getting traded into a starting role on a different team. I can’t really figure out if she got more minutes because she steadily put up better numbers, or if she put up better numbers simply because she had more minutes. I can only applaud her for her vast improvement in basically every major stat category, and on both ends of the floor. So in the end, I have to pick Elizabeth Williams as Most Improved Player of 2016.

Coach of the Year, for me, goes to Brian Agler and the part that he has played in turning the Sparks around this season. Everyone has stepped up this season on this roster, but the coaching staff has to be recognised for a job well done as well. This Sparks team has in my view played above and beyond, not perhaps their talent or potential, but certainly beyond the expectations I had for them at the beginning of the season. But do I think Coach Agler will win? No, I have no doubt it will go to Cheryl Reeve, who has done just as excellent a job as Agler, and who’s team is primed and ready to tie the Houston Comets for the record 4 WNBA titles.

Sixth Woman of the Year is without a doubt going to be Jantel Lavender. She had some pretty good competition in rookie Aerial Powers of the Dallas Wings, and Shavonte Zellous of the Liberty, but she was simply outstanding off the bench for the Sparks this season.

Rookie of the Year may well be a unanimous vote with Seattle’s #1 pick Breanna Stewart. Former UConn teammate Moriah Jefferson, now of San Antonio, Chicago’s Imani Boyette, Dallas’s Aerial Powers, and Indiana’s Tiffany Mitchell all had good rookie seasons, but they are all essentially in a race for second place.

Defensive Player of the Year is a category that is a tough choice, because I have to say the Breanna Stewart, along with the ROY award, probably also deserves this one as well. Who’s lead the league in defensive rebounds? Stewart. Who was third in block shots? Stewart. Who just set the record for most defensive rebounds in a season? Stewart. What’s more important than blocks, especially blocks that simply stop play, go out of bounds and keep the ball in the other team’s end of the floor? Defensive rebounds.

That brings us to the final award category: Most Valuable Player. Who’s my pick? Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks. Why? Because 6 Western Conference Player of the Week awards, 2 Western Conference Player of the Month awards, a season PER of 31.4, and an effective field goal percentage of .687, that’s why, Tina Charles. Sorry. I love you Tina, but Nneka is taking this one this year.

So those are my picks. I hope I haven’t disappointed or infuriated you too much. Stay tuned for a playoff preview!