Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson named WNBA MVP

Sep 17, 2020


CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson was announced as the WNBA’s MVP on Thursday, while the Minnesota Lynx’s Crystal Dangerfield and Cheryl Reeve were named rookie and coach of the year, respectively.

Wilson was picked first on 43 of 47 ballots of a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters, who selected their top five for the award. Wilson was second on the other four ballots.

The Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart got three first-place votes, and 34 for second place. The Chicago Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot got the other first-place vote.

2 Related

Wilson, who was the league’s top rookie as the No. 1 pick in 2018 out of South Carolina, said knowing her name was now on the list with the WNBA’s all-time greatest was “something that a kid dreams of.”

Wilson was informed of the honor by WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert on Thursday in the league’s bubble at IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Wilson said. “I was probably crying before Cathy finished her speech. In the offseason, in quarantine, I really focused on my game without a lot of distractions because the world was stopped because of COVID. I got a chance to hone in on little things to help me be more consistent all the time.

“I needed my teammates to know I’m going to produce X amount of things every game, because that’s how you win, when you can count on people. That’s probably the biggest thing for me being MVP.”

The 6-foot-4 Wilson averaged 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocked shots in this, her third season in the WNBA. She led the Aces to the No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs; Las Vegas got a double bye into the semifinals and will begin postseason play Sunday.

Stewart, the 2018 MVP, led the Storm to the No. 2 seed after missing last season with a torn Achilles tendon. Both Las Vegas and Seattle finished 18-4 but the Aces beat the Storm twice for the tiebreaker. In August, Wilson turned 24 and Stewart 26, and both are expected to be Olympic teammates for the United States in 2021.

“There’s also a lot of good people up and coming,” Wilson said of the success of so many young players in the WNBA. “I think the league is in good hands.”

One of them is Dangerfield, by far the lowest draft pick ever to win WNBA rookie of the year. She was taken in the second round, at No. 16, out of UConn. The previous lowest pick to get the honor was No. 7 Tracy Reid in 1998, the first year the league presented the rookie award.

Injuries to other rookies, including No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu, who played just three games, helped open the door initially for Dangerfield to get into the rookie conversation. But she played so well for No. 4 seed Minnesota, leading the Lynx in scoring (16.2 PPG) and assists (3.6 APG), she earned the award regardless of who was out.

Dangerfield got 44 of 47 votes. Atlanta Dream guard Chennedy Carter, the No. 4 draft pick, was second with two votes, and Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally, the No. 2 draft pick, was third with one vote.

Dangerfield said she was proud if she could be an inspiration to other players who weren’t drafted in the first round.

“Absolutely, because everyone still has to go out there and play basketball,” she said. “What number you got drafted doesn’t really matter when you step on the floor. I had an opportunity to do my job, and that’s what I did.”

Dangerfield is the fifth Lynx player to win rookie of the year, joining Betty Lennox (1999), Seimone Augustus (2006), Maya Moore (2011) and Napheesa Collier (2019). She is the sixth player from UConn to get the award, joining Diana Taurasi (2004), Tina Charles (2010), Moore (2011), Stewart (2016) and Collier (2019).

“They try to make us grow up pretty quick there,” Dangerfield said of UConn’s success in preparing players for the pro ranks. “So it’s a credit to them.”

But Reeve, who won coach of the year for the third time, gives a lot of credit to Dangerfield’s ability to absorb information quickly and make adjustments in games, despite not having much practice time in the bubble.

Dangerfield said that Reeve sat her down during the season and told her, “‘You’re doing great, but if I’m not hard on you, we’ll regret it because we didn’t get the most out of you.’ She worked with me to get better, and I can’t ask for more from her.”

Reeve lost star center Sylvia Fowles (calf injury) for all but seven games of the regular season, and didn’t have last year’s team leader in scoring and assists, Odyssey Sims, until the ninth game of this season as she came to the bubble late after giving birth to her son in April. Yet Reeve led the Lynx to a 14-8 record and their 10th consecutive playoff appearance. Minnesota faces Phoenix in the second round Thursday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).

Las Vegas’ Bill Laimbeer was second in voting, and Los Angeles’ Derek Fisher and Washington’s Mike Thibault tied for third. Reeve became the third to win coach of the year three times, joining Van Chancellor and Thibault. She previously won in 2011 and 2016.

“This award is a reflection of our great staff, and the tremendous work we collectively put in to position the Lynx for success,” Reeve said, complimenting her assistants Rebekkah Brunson, Plenette Pierson and Katie Smith, all of whom are former WNBA players.

Source link

Leave a comment