SB Nation’s official WNBA awards ballot in the year of the Mystics

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Elena Delle Donne looks at Mike Thibault while sitting in chairs on the bench.

Elena Delle Donne, left, and coach Mike Thibault, right, are the masterminds of the Washington Mystics’ success. | Getty Images/SB Nation illustration

Let’s break down my media ballot for WNBA MVP, Rookie of the Year, and all the postseason honors.

The 2019 WNBA season could’ve felt like a drag. With so many of the world’s best talents out due to injury or other reasons, the season could’ve felt incomplete. Instead, the opposite happened.

We’ll remember this season as one where parity reigned, with eight solid teams set to play in the playoffs. One team — and one MVP — stood above the rest, but the breakout was progressive, and the top-5 seeds were all up for grabs into the final weeks of play. This season was as great as anyone could’ve hoped.

Now that we’ve reached the season’s end, it’s time to decide who deserves the league’s most prestigious awards. This is the first year I was asked to join the panel of WNBA media who vote, which felt dope! That is, until I had to actually sweat and shed tears over each decision.

Anyway, I like to be transparent about these things. So here’s who I voted for and why.

Most Valuable Player — Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics

There’s no controversy here. This decision should be unanimous. Delle Donne just posted a season in which she shot 52 percent from the field, 43 percent from three-point range, and 97 (NINETY-SEVEN!) percent from the free-throw line. She missed three free throws out of 117. She averaged 20 points, eight rebounds, and two assists for not only the best team in the league, but the best offense in WNBA history.

There’s nobody on Delle Donne’s level right now, healthy or injured. She’s the best player in the world.

Most Improved Player — Leilani Mitchell, Phoenix Mercury

I considered Seattle Storm big Mercedes Russell for this award, but Mitchell’s blown us all away all year, filling in a massive hole with the absence of Diana Taurasi. With Taurasi out for nearly the entire season due to a back injury, the Mercury could’ve folded, but Mitchell picked up the scoring slack. For the first time in her 11-year career, she averaged double-figures in scoring (13), and she also shot 43 percent from three-point range while dishing three assists per game.

Last year, Mitchell averaged four points per game on nine percent worse long-range shooting. That’s a glow-up.

Defensive Player of the Year — Natasha Howard, Seattle Storm

Over the past three years, Howard’s evolved from a reserve, to the Most Improved Player in the league on a title-winning team, to an MVP candidate and Defensive Player of the Year hopeful. The Storm has been an excellent basketball fit for Howard, who really stepped up with both Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird out due to season-ending injuries. Howard is only 6’2, but she can guard four positions comfortably, and her long arms helped her notch two steals and two blocks per game. She’s the clear DPOY to me, though I considered LA Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike here too.

Sixth Woman of the Year — Dearica Hamby, Las Vegas Aces

The Aces have underperformed this year due to the awkward on-court fit between the team’s best players, Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson. That said, Hamby’s been the glue between them. In her best WNBA season yet, she scored 11 points with eight rebounds and two assists. She played brilliantly during Wilson’s three-week absence due to injury, and Vegas doesn’t escape playing two single-elimination playoff games without her.

Rookie of the Year — Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx

I detailed the ROY chase weeks before the season’s end, and I still feel the same about it. Arike Ogunbowale was absolutely incredible the last two months of the season, and she’s already one of the league’s best scorers. She’s a star, a future all-star and a franchise cornerstone.

But she isn’t a better overall player than Collier right now. Collier is one of the league’s best defenders already, and she’s a solid scorer. She averaged 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, one block, and shot 36 percent from deep. Ogunbowale might be one of the league’s best shows to watch, but she doesn’t have Collier’s all-around game — at least not yet.

Coach of the Year — Mike Thibault, Washington Mystics

I’m not sure why there’d be any debate over this award, though I’ve talked to a number of media members who disagree. Thibault just coached the Mystics to play the best offense in WNBA history, and they finished with the best record in the league (26-8).

Also, he did it with maybe the third-most talent in the league. Seriously. Delle Donne is one of the best players ever, but after her, the roster’s filled with a few all-star level talents who wouldn’t be on every team in the league. Thibault turned Aerial Powers into a Sixth Woman candidate in one year. Ariel Atkins, a first-round pick who wasn’t even invited to the draft in 2018, is now one of the league’s best guards. Natasha Cloud’s an unsung hero. All-star point guard Kristi Toliver missed 11 games, and this team still rolled on.

Thibault constructed a beautiful system centered on ball movement and threes, and he created a masterpiece that scored 159 points more than the next-best scoring team in 34 games.

All-WNBA Teams

First

F Elena Delle Donne, Mystics
F Nneka Ogwumike, Sparks
C Jonquel Jones, Sun
G Odyssey Sims, Lynx
G Courtney Vandersloot, Sky

  • Choosing just two forwards absolutely sucked. Delle Donne and Ogwumike were clearly the best two in my eyes, though, which meant I had to bump Natasha Howard to the second-team. That feels unfair.
  • I debated Phoenix’s Brittney Griner over Jonquel Jones at center, but Jones’ defense gave her the edge.
  • Guards this year were tough since the top six or so were on similar playing fields. Vandersloot edged out the crowd because of her ever-astounding ability to create for teammates, and Sims was one of the most improved offensive players while maintaining her elite defense.

Second

F Natasha Howard, Storm
F DeWanna Bonner, Mercury
C Brittney Griner, Mercury
G Chelsea Gray, Sparks
G Courtney Williams, Sun

  • Howard and Griner dropped to the second team for the reasons I stated above.
  • The rest of the spots were super tough. I debated New York’s Kia Nurse, Chicago’s Diamond DeShields, Las Vegas’ Kayla McBride and A’ja Wilson, and Collier for those final guard and forward spots. Ultimately, I chose Gray even though her season was defined more by greater individual performances than a consistent full-season surge. She’s still performed like one of the league’s best PGs.
  • I chose Williams because she carried a lot of the scoring load for the Sun, and shot and rebounded well.
  • I chose Bonner because she was one of the best defenders and scorers in the league.

And, thankfully, that’s it. I need a year-long break from this.

Now for some fun stuff

This ref was extra as hell and also wrong

Kevin Fahy tossed Astou Ndour right in front of my face at the Mystics-Sky game and I had no idea why. I saw the replay and … still asked myself the same question.

The overreaction was real, and the league ended up correctly rescinding the technical that resulted in the ejection the following day.

A round of applause for Delle Donne’s 50+/40+/90+ season

In a face mask due to a broken nose and leg cast due to a deep bone bruise, too.

Legend.

Kelsey Mitchell dropped 30 in ONE HALF

The Indiana Fever guard set the record for most three-point makes in a game with nine on 13 tries! She scored 38 points on the night on 13-of-18 shooting.

It’s almost like she should’ve been starting all year …

Delle Donne’s 30th birthday on a yacht featured the best Thibault dance of all time

Coach. Of. The. Year.

Off we go to the playoffs. Let’s do this!

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