B/R Expert All-WNBA Awards Ballot: First, Second, Defense and Rookie Teams
This end-of-year awards ballot is a first in WNBA history. On August 5, the league announced a change that was welcomed all across #WNBATwitter. It was allowing the All-WNBA first and second teams to be positionless, a decision that reflected the direction the game has been moving in along with the fact that in 2022, a record-setting seven triple-doubles have been recorded. That's more triple-doubles than what the league had recorded from 2005 through 2021.
As promised, this second part of my WNBA awards ballot includes all of the team awards. The now-positionless All-WNBA teams are joined by the also positionless All-Rookie team and the position-still-required All-Defensive first and second teams.
The fact that the All-Defensive teams didn't change is puzzling, as league talent evaluators are valuing a defender's ability to guard multiple positions more and more.
- Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard
- Indiana Fever forward NaLyssa Smith
- Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin
- Chicago Sky guard Rebekah Gardner
- Indiana Fever center Queen Egbo
The first three players above were all in the Rookie of the Year race, with Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin all proving why they were lottery picks this spring. Howard could be a franchise two-way player, Smith's athleticism has cemented her as a catalyst in transition and a force on the glass and Austin has proved to be elite defensively with potential offensively.
On 53 possessions, Austin has scored 1.113 points per possession on pick-and-rolls as the roller. That's where she's shined offensively, and Synergy Sports has her in the 72nd percentile.
One of the Chicago Sky's main questions going into 2022 was who would back up Kahleah Copper once the Sky lost Diamond DeShields in a sign-and-trade to the Phoenix Mercury.
A week following the trade, general manager and head coach James Wade signed Rebekah Gardner, a 32 year-old undrafted rookie who he scouted while spending his offseason with his wife and child in France. He observed how on Spanish club Spar Girona, Gardner was able to guard and slash against other WNBA players who competed in EuroLeague.
Now, Queen Egbo has shocked me the most, as I believed she'd be a third-round pick in this year's draft. Egbo has shone on the defensive end, as her ability to use her length to protect the rim and guard players on post-ups has been impressive for a rookie.
Synergy Sports has her giving up 0.893 points per possession on shots around the basket, which puts her in the 70th percentile.
All-Defensive Second Team
- Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson
- Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker
- Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin
- Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray
- Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper
I had absolutely no hesitation in selecting the first four on my All-Defensive second team.
A'ja Wilson has been responsible for keeping the Aces defense in check when rotations are off, and her ability to rotate into help defense has been quite remarkable this season.
Candace Parker's hedging on guards all season has made their lives oh so difficult. Shakira Austin has given up 0.694 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports, putting her in the 95th percentile. She is a rookie!
Allisha Gray has proved she deserved to be the All-Star representative from the Dallas Wings this season and that she's a really good rim protector as a guard. She's mastered the element of using not only her athleticism to keep up with rim runners but also using her long arms to do so.
At first I had Kahleah Copper's teammate, Rebekah Gardner, as my pick. But while Gardner's ability to defend some of the best guards and wings one-on-one has been impressive, the Sky defense has been much better with Copper on the floor instead of Gardner, per PBP Stats.
Also, look at this clip below and focus on exactly how Copper can rotate so quickly to execute a switch with Courtney Vandersloot, denying any sort of pass to Katie Lou Samuelson.
All-Defensive First Team
- Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas
- Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart
- Seattle Storm center Ezi Magbegor
- Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins
- Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud
Each of these All-Defensive first-team picks comes from the league's top three defensive squads in the Washington Mystics, Connecticut Sun and Seattle Storm.
The Mystics have the most defensively sound backcourt, and the Storm have the most physically imposing defensive frontcourt, and my selections reflect those team trends.
Some might be shocked that Alysha Clark, the third head of the potent Mystics defensive backcourt is missing from this list. Clark has often been put on an opponent's small forward or point guard, the central nervous system of an offense. While she's one of the league's better defensive players, she wasn't playing like herself early on, as she was still recovering from a Lisfranc injury.
Breanna Stewart is tied for second with 1.7 steals per game, and Ezi Magbegor trails A'ja Wilson (2.0) for most blocks per game with 1.8, but that's not even my reasoning for having these two on my first team. Per PBP Stats, the Storm's defense is rated at 97.45 with both Stewart and Magbegor on the floor. Without them, it implodes to a defensive rating of 111.81. Their impact is massive.
What's impressive about Alyssa Thomas is she has found a way to succeed without Jasmine Thomas as the head of the snake of this Connecticut Sun backcourt defense. It makes sense, since Alyssa Thomas is often serving as the floor general in her fully realized role as a point forward without Jasmine able to play because of the ACL she tore in May.
Alyssa Thomas is second in the league in steals with 1.7 per game, behind Brittney Sykes' 2.0, and she's a forward. Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller discussed what has made her so lethal this year defensively. He chalked it up to her versatility guarding multiple positions in both the front- and the backcourts:
David Mendez-Yapkowitz @Dave_Yapkowitz
Cont. “But if you want to talk about defense or or guarding people, Alyssa Thomas is as versatile as anyone in the league. She guards as many positions and she guards them well. She’s our engine, literally at the defensive end. You saw her impact at ball screen points of attack.
All-WNBA Second Team
- Chicago Sky's Candace Parker
- Chicago Sky's Courtney Vandersloot
- Phoenix Mercury's Skylar Diggins-Smith
- Washington Mystics' Elena Delle Donne
- Los Angeles Sparks' Nneka Ogwumike
Before it was announced Thursday that Skylar-Diggins Smith wouldn't play in another regular-season game for personal reasons, I had her on my first team. While the bump down might be unfair, I'm not removing her completely. She's the reason her team is even in the playoff race.
But, other players will have a bit more data than she will and will have the benefit of some recency bias when it comes to which teams make the playoffs and which do not. The Mercury now have a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, and if she were playing, I'd assume that number would be higher with two games to go.
As for the duo from Chicago in Courtney Vandersloot and Candace Parker, they have come up in the clutch all season. Parker anchors the Sky defensively, and Vandersloot does the same on offense.
Also, Parker's ability to function as a point forward allows her to tag-team with Vandersloot in directing traffic offensively and knowing exactly what buttons to push to move the defense.
While these two aren't having the seasons that Breanna Stewart and A'ja Wilson are having when it comes to scoring, that's due to the composition of the Sky and a function of their collective depth. Parker is third in rebounds per game (8.7), and Vandersloot is second in assists per game (6.5).
Nneka Ogwumike has had a vintage Nneka season, and it came without a ton of help. The Sparks were eliminated from the playoff race with their 93-69 loss to the Sun on Thursday, but Ogwumike's efficient campaign—in which she scored 18.1 points and averaged 6.6 rebounds per game and shot 54.4 percent from the field, including 36.8 percent from three—should be lauded.
Similarly to Diggins-Smith's case, Ogwumike kept the Sparks in the race amid all of the shuffling they've dealt with this season in the form of a coaching change and the departure of Liz Cambage.
I went back-and-forth on whether to pick Elena Delle Donne because of her limited availability all season. But, as I wrote here, the gravity that Delle Donne brings to her team has placed the Mystics in the league's upper echelon.
Her numbers following the All-Star break, which included more minutes than she had before it, speak for themselves: 17.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, 47.6 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent shooting from three and 97.1 percent shooting from the line.
All-WNBA First Team
- Seattle Storm's Breanna Stewart
- Las Vegas Aces' A'ja Wilson
- Las Vegas Aces' Kelsey Plum
- Connecticut Sun's Alyssa Thomas
- New York Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu
Breanna Stewart and A'ja Wilson have been battling it out in this two-person MVP race all season, so their candidacy for the All-WNBA first team shouldn't come as a shock.
Notice that there isn't a true center on this ballot. That is the beauty of the new voting parameters. All-WNBA has essentially become an exercise in ranking the 10 best players in a season without juggling the nuances of whether "most valuable player" means the same as "most outstanding player" that are usually included in the standard MVP race.
Aces teammate Kelsey Plum is one of the main reasons I didn't vote for Wilson for MVP, and that's no knock on Plum at all. It's just that her production tips the scales more in favor of Stewart when you remember that MVP is about value to a team rather than just the overall best player in the league.
Plum will also be on a lot of MVP ballots, which elevates her case to be on the first team. She has been essential to the Aces' offensive identity. What has made them brilliant on that end is their ability to not only shoot the daylights out of the ball (a league-leading 35.9 percent from three) but also to create shots. The Aces are in the top four leaguewide in both percentage of unassisted two-point and three-point makes. That's Plum's game in a nutshell.
Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas and New York's Sabrina Ionescu have been the most valuable players on their own teams but haven't put up the same two-way dominance both Wilson and Stewart have exuded.
Thomas and Ionescu are two very different players but have both used their versatility—Thomas on defense and Ionescu on offense—to shape the style and identity of their respective teams.
Thomas' game is all about what she can do in transition, and Ionescu's is based upon pure shooting and finesse in a half-court offense. That's how both the Sun and Liberty function at their best.