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!

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2019 Season Midpoint Review

Logopit_1563512002451We are halfway through the season and thus far, it has been a pretty wild ride. Looking back on my preseason predictions, I am reminded as to why I don’t like predictions: because I am terrible at them. But we press on! We press on into the All-Star break and we have all sorts of questions in our minds. “Who will win MVP?”, “Who will win Rookie of the Year?”, “Who is the best team in the league?” and perhaps most troubling of all, “Will there be any players left to suit up for the playoffs uninjured?”

Seriously, if we are going to talk about anything, let’s talk about how players from across the league just seem to keep getting injured, week in and week out. Even when we knew players that were going to be out for much or all of the year before it started, we have continued to see players go down for significant amounts of time. Sancho Lyttle, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Jewell Loyd, Asia Durr, Elena Delle Donne, the list goes on with so many players out with injuries throughout this year. You cannot help but feel for players who get her and have to miss games for their teams. I hope the second half of the season is healthier for everyone across the league.

Now, besides injuries, there has been a fair amount of off the court drama, with players embroiled in domestic disputes, etc. I will only say that I hope the WNBA can come to some sort of consensus on dealing with these matters the right way. I would hope that when concerns are raised, that teams, management, and league leadership listen to those involved and that they take appropriate action. One of the very first articles I wrote for this site was how I felt that the WNBA could be at the forefront of dealing with off the court issues the right way, to lead by example and to show other sports leagues how to handle different issues on and off the court. I talked only briefly about how the league could try to really openly and honestly deal with off the court issues, and how they needed to be prompt in dealing with said issues. Some will say they have not done a very good job this season with the issues that have arisen, while others will say we shouldn’t speculate or give too many opinions on matters we don’t fully understand or have the whole story on. I would agree that as fans, we should wait for the whole story before forming opinions or commenting one way or the other. My only hope is that the league does it’s best, in a timely manner, in any and every situation to help ANYONE affected by any situation involving the league, its employees, its personnel, and its players.

So beyond injuries and off the court drama what has actually been happening on the court in the WNBA this year? Let’s break it down by category:

THE BEST TEAMS: Washington Mystics (9-6) and Las Vegas Aces (11-6)

The Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics look like the two best teams in the league.

For the Aces, Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, and Kayla McBride are averaging 15 points a game each and will all be All-Stars on their home court next week. The Aces are the #1 team in the league in rebounds and assists. They are the highest defensive rated team in the league. The Washington Mystics are the best shooting team, they score the most points per game, they are second in steals and blocks. They are first in turnover average, and third in assists. They also commit the least amount of fouls per game.  The Mystics and the Aces have the best plus-minus ratings in the league. It will be interesting to see if both teams can stay healthy and continue to play well until the end of the season. The Mystics want another shot at the title, they want to return to the Finals. The Aces are a young, hungry team proving that they are ready to take on the entire league. They have 3 of the best players in the league right now, but ratings-wise the Mystics absolutely have a complete roster of some of the best offensive players in the league this year. Delle Donne, Toliver, Meesseman, Hawkins, Cloud, Sanders, Powers, Walker-Kimbrough all have an offensive rating of 104 or higher. That means 9 of the top 12 offensive ratings belong to Mystics players. That is tough beat, but maybe the Aces top-rated defense can do just that come playoff time.

THE BEST PLAYERS: Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Howard, DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones

I’m not going to quote a bunch of stats in this section. I’m too tired. But you probably already know, Delle Donne is playing extremely well this season. Howard is breaking out into a bonafide MVP candidate, Bonner is the low key MVP because she is putting up nutso numbers on a team that had more or less struggled without their leader Diana Taurasi. Jonquel Jones is a standout on the boards and is currently the most efficient player in the WNBA. Someone like Tina Charles or Liz Cambage could go nuts the rest of the season and leapfrog everyone to take the award, but that seems unlikely.

However, I have no idea who will ultimately win the MVP award. Howard will be possibly embroiled in off the court issues, Delle Donne may not be healthy, Bonner may be overlooked because of the Mercury’s overall record, and Jonquel Jones may take a dip with her numbers. Like I said at the beginning of the season, we simply cannot predict what is going to happen in 2019. This is a season of incredible uncertainty that has made for a challenging if not exciting and very interesting MVP race.

THE MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Odyssey Sims, Mercedes Russell, Kia Nurse, Jordin Canada

This is one of the hardest categories to try to choose an overall winner of. My vote right now is Odyssey Sims, not only because of her stats but because of that fact that I was personally rooting for her to have some kind of career revival with her move to Minnesota. Mercedes Russell looks like a player who was not going to last in the league as a rookie in 2018. As LWPRODUCTIONS pointed out on Twitter, she has totally transformed her game this season and looks ready to be a solid player for the surprising Storm as the season goes on. Like Russell, Kia Nurse is another second-year player who looks like she is here to stay. She was one of my favorite rookies last year, but she, unsurprisingly had an up and down year stats wise. She looks more solid and more ready to take some of the offensive load that has been weighing down Tina Charles for several seasons. Jordin Canada is another player that has seen more minutes due to injuries in Seattle. She is having a breakout year but that comes as less of a surprise because was such a dynamic force for UCLA in college. All of these players are deserving of the Most Improved Player award, but we will have to wait to see how it all plays out at the end of the year.

THE BEST ROOKIES: Napheesa Collier, Arike Ogunbowale, Asia Durr

I think people are realizing that Collier was the steal of the draft. I think I’m realizing it just now typing it. I think the only person not realizing it is Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve because she knew all along and that’s why Minnesota drafted her. Ogunbowale has been pretty darn impressive at times in her rookie season, but I just don’t like her shooting percentages and would love her to pass first and shoot second. Asia Durr can be the 3rd or 2nd go-to scorer on a New York Liberty team that really needs a 2nd or 3rd go-to scorer behind Charles and Nurse. I like all three of these players. People must think I have some deep, strange bias against Arike, but I just like Collier’s all-around game in the first half of 2019. I would like to see other rookies like McCowan, Kalani Brown, and Jackie Young have a more lasting impact on their teams in the years to come, and I think like some of the Most Improved players we talked about earlier, they could certainly have breakout sophomore efforts and go on to have very good WNBA careers. I wish nothing but the best for this rookie class because it was so full of talent you couldn’t help but want to cheer for every single rookie that made a team in 2019.

CONCLUSION

I have enjoyed the season so far, and I hope you have as well. I haven’t been able to follow as closely as I have in years past, but it has been a very interesting year all around the league, and I hope the second half is as wild and fun as the first. Everyone make sure to tune in to the All-Star Game in Las Vegas on July 27th! As always, thank you for reading!

 

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!

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.  So, 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!