Elena Delle Donne for MVP and Other Award Predictions at Midway Point of the Season
Now that the hangovers from Las Vegas are dissipating and we have resumed play for the second half of the season, it’s time to take a look at who is in the lead for some of the season’s biggest awards. From some of the more straightforward—I think we all know who deserves MVP this year—to the dogfight that is the Coach of the Year battle. Let’s get into it.
Most Valuable Player: Elena Delle Donne
Did you expect me to pick anyone except the “Masked Mystic” for my MVP? In all seriousness, Elena Delle Donne has been absolutely incredible for Washington this season after her team fell just short in the Finals last year.
Name any offensive category and EDD is top 15 or not too far off it, including *takes deep breath* points per game, field goal percentage, threes made, three-point percentage, true shooting percentage, usage rate and offensive rating. Stated more clearly, she’s an offensive force, and one that has the Mystics sitting a half-game off the best record in the league. Washington is a very good team without Delle Donne, but with her, it’s a favorite to make another trip to the Finals. And this time, if EDD can stay healthy, the Mystics just might win the whole thing.
Defensive Player of the Year: Natasha Howard/Jonquel Jones
Defensive player of the year is a little harder to parse out.
Natasha Howard has taken a major step forward this season and is a huge part of why Seattle has the second-best defensive rating in the league. The problems she causes the opposing team’s bigs are impossible to ignore in this discussion and her effort paired with Jordin Canada’s quick hands and smart instincts have the Storm in control of their playoff fate when many wrote them off this season.
That being said, the domestic abuse allegations against Howard—that she has denied—are very serious and could potentially see her miss part of the back half of the season depending on the findings of the investigation. It’s not my place to judge innocent or guilty, but keeping the case in mind, I think that if Howard does miss time then Jonquel Jones has a huge case to win this award.
Jones has been a rock for the Sun and currently has Connecticut sitting atop the standings of the W. She currently leads the league in blocks per game at 2.4, her 91.4 defensive rating is quite impressive and her height and length make her a menace against other bigs trying to score against her.
If Howard plays the rest of the season and Seattle keeps its spot in the playoffs, expect her to take home the award. But Jones and the Sun are the current best team, record-wise, in the W and if she can keep them that way, we could have an exciting race as we creep toward the playoffs.
Rookie of the Year: Napheesa Collier
Look, there was only one rookie who was named an All-Star this season and she plays in Minnesota. That doesn’t make this an open-and-shut case but there’s just not many rookies doing what Collier is on a nightly basis.
Her scoring has cooled off a bit to just a shade above 11 points a game but she’s been indispensable for the Lynx this season. I picked her at the beginning of the year because I thought she’d fill the role that Minnesota needed well and that she was underrated during her last year at UConn. And halfway through the season, she’s done just about everything that Cheryl Reeve has asked of her while filling nearly every hole that the Lynx have plugged due to injury or absence.
Arike Ogunbowale and Teaira McCowan are her only true competition for the award and the Notre Dame flamethrower is simply being asked to do too much for Dallas while McCowan has been a monster on the boards but otherwise not outstanding for Indiana this season. Ogunbowale has the fifth highest (!!!) usage rating in the league and is being allowed to play through mistakes and essentially fire away at will and the Fever are fighting for a playoff spot.
Collier’s environment is much more controlled and it’s seen her shine. She has a great nose for the ball that’s seen her move into the top five in terms of steals per game, she’s second in points averaged for first-year players, she’s the most efficient rookie by a good margin and is shooting a reasonable 32% from three. So it looks like the player who was snubbed from the major awards during her last season in college will be able to claim this one with no problem. Somewhere, Geno Auriemma is smiling, drinking a glass of wine and saying that he told us so.
Coach of the Year: Dan Hughes
This may be the toughest award because there are just so many good coaches this season and so many storylines to look at. Bill Laimbeer has turned a squad that narrowly missed the playoffs last year into one of the best teams in the W who came into the year as the preseason favorite—well him, and a certain 6’8” Australian woman who will have to step up in A’ja Wilson’s absence. There’s Curt Miller leading the Sun to the best record in the league and Mike Thibault going about business as usual with the Mystics.
But I’m choosing Dan Hughes because who expected the Storm to be pretty solidly seated in a playoff spot and 2.5 games out of first place while missing the reigning MVP and their legend of a starting point guard? Oh and also Jewell Loyd and Canada have missed time this season due to injury. And yet Seattle keeps on chugging, continuing to use smart defense and the play of Howard, Canada and Loyd to keep winning ball games.
Oh, and Hughes returned to the sideline after beating freaking cancer earlier in the year and it only took him nine games to do so. Whether Sue Bird returns this season or not, it has been a massively successful year for Hughes and he deserves the award.
Sixth Woman of the Year: Dearica Hamby
So this one is kind of cheating because Dearica Hamby is sure to see plenty of minutes while A’ja Wilson is out but I make the rules here and I say she has this award all but sewn up. Hamby has taken a massive step this season, not just in terms of points scored and playing time, but in expanding her game.
The Wake Forest alum is now a capable three-point shooter—just ask the Storm and the Wings—and is averaging more points than two of the starters for the Aces. She rebounds well, can pass a little bit and is nabbing a steal per game. Expect her numbers to continue to increase until Wilson returns and for her to wrap up the award by year's end.