The 2022 WNBA regular season is over, and after all the drama on the final day, the playoffs are set.Postseason action is set to tip off on Wednesday night with two first round Game 1 games between the Chicago Sky and the New York Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces against the Phoenix Mercury.
But before we turn our full attention to the playoffs, it’s worth celebrating the best from the regular season. It’s time again to make a choice for each big prize. This may be the toughest award slot to fill in recent memory, especially since the competition for MVP and Player of the Year was so tight.
Without further ado, let’s get to the picks.
MVP: Aja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
This is a two-way race between Wilson and Brenna Stewart, and the voting numbers are tight — each has a compelling case, and anyone who tells you it’s not close in either direction is lying. Stewart has won her first goalscoring title, is a more efficient and versatile player and a better player. Wilson is a dominant interior force on both sides of the ball, leading the league in double-doubles and being the best player on the league’s best team.
You sit here for days debating the competition and digging into the smallest details, but eventually you have to make a decision. With that, the 2022 WNBA MVP should be Aja Wilson.
Simply put, this was Wilson’s season. She moved to the five after the departure of Liz Cambage and has excelled under new head coach Becky Hammon’s modern system, expanding her game on both sides of the ball. Although she was MVP before in 2020, this was the best she has ever seen.
She averaged 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from 3-point land. All of those numbers, save for points, were career highs, and she finished fifth in the league in scoring, second in rebounding and first in blocks. There was no other player in the top-five in all three categories. She also became the first player in WNBA history to record 700 points, 300 rebounds and 70 blocks in a season.
Everything for the Aces started with Wilson, and under her leadership, the team won a franchise-record 26 games and earned the No. 1 overall seed and home-court advantage in the entire playoffs. It’s not team success that matters, but it’s what matters, and Wilson beat four of his rivals in the final week of the season to claim first place.
Again, this was not an easy choice, and you could write several paragraphs about everything Swart accomplished this season. But when you combine individual and team success, Wilson wins by the narrowest of margins.
Rookie of the Year: Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream
Nalisa Smith and Shakira Austin have had their moments, but Howard is the clear winner here. She finished 11th in the league in scoring with 16.2 points per game and added 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals. She is first among rookies in scoring, sixth in rebounding, first in assists and first in steals. Few rookies in league history have made as immediate an impact on both ends of the floor as Howard. Here’s the full list of other starters who averaged at least 16 points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocks (steals and blocks): Aja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Chamique Holsclaw and Ruth Bolton, each of those players. He is or will be in the Hall of Fame, and has won five of his seven MVPs.
Player of the Year: Aja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Wilson’s move to the five this season has been largely heralded offensively, but she has also made impressive strides on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, she often held the Aces’ inconsistent defense together: their defensive rating with her on the floor was 98.5, and when she sat it was 107.3. The basic and advanced stats are clear: Wilson was second in the league at 7.6 per game, led the league in blocks at 1.9, 11th in steals at 1.4 and third in defensive wins at 2.4. But of course defense is more than numbers. It’s about hard work, intelligence, anticipation, versatility. Wilson checks all of these boxes. So do other players, and this was certainly not an easy decision. Ultimately, Wilson’s ability to guard the rim at an elite level for 30 minutes a night — arguably her most important defensive attribute — earns her a bit of a nod.
Most Improved Player: Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces
Jackie Young has been a solid player for a while, but she’s turned into an all-star this season. Some of it was the encouragement of independence she received from new head coach Becky Hammon, but Young worked hard to improve her game. The effort paid off as Young excelled in everything, averaging 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals. Perhaps she has turned into an especially good 3-point shooter. In her first three seasons combined, she made 77 triples and made 28.5 percent. This season she went 50 of 116 deep, good for 43.1 percent, the third-best mark in the league.
Sixth Player of the Year: Brionna Jones, Connecticut Sun
There is no argument here. After Alyssa Thomas returned, Jones returned to the bench and served as the Suns’ super-sub. Even though she played fewer minutes, Jones’ numbers remained the same as last season, when she beat a much-improved player. She averaged 13.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, while shooting 56.9 percent from the field. Among players with at least 100 goals, she is ranked third by Synergy Sports with 1.11 points. A free agent at the end of this season, Jones should be in line for a big payday.
Coach of the Year: Tanisha Wright, Atlanta Dream
Coach of the year is one of the most tangible awards; Do you respect a coach who led one of the best teams or helped improve an inferior team? This season, the award has to go to someone from the latter category: Tanisha Wright. The Dream was a disaster on and off the court last season, and hiring Wright was one of the first steps in their plan to completely rebuild. Wright led the dream team into their first playoff game since 2018, despite preseason predictions that they would be one of the worst teams in the league, and it turned out to be a good decision.
Note: All-WNBA teams are now ranked, so players are listed alphabetically
Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas AcesBreanna Stewart, Seattle Storm Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Suaja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix Mercury Jonkel Jones, Connecticut SunNneka Ogumike, Los Angeles Sparks Candace Parker, Chicago Sky Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky
All defensive teams
Note: All-defensive teams are ranked based on position, so players are listed by position.
Guard: Arielle Atkins, Washington Mystics Guard: Natasha Cloud, Washington Mystics Forward: Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun Forward: Breanna Stewart, Seattle Hurricanes Center: Aja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Guard: Rebecca Gardner, Chicago SkyGuard: Brittany Sykes, Los Angeles SparksForward: Gabby Williams, Seattle Storm Forward: Candace Parker, Chicago SkyCenter: Izzy McGegor, Seattle Storm
Note: The All-Rookie Team remains unranked, so players are listed alphabetically
Shakira Austin, Washington Mystic Queen Igbo, Indiana Fever Beckah Gardner, Chicago Skyrin Howard, Atlanta Dream Nalisa Smith, Indiana Fever