The WNBA playoffs begin Wednesday, and the defending champion Chicago Sky, which enters the final two games of the regular season with the best record in the league, has secured at least the second seed in the eight-team group and can secure the top seed with a victory Thursday against the Aces in Las Vegas.
Beginning Monday, the WNBA will release its end of season awards over the next month, culminating with the MVP on September 7 and the All-WNBA First and Second Teams on September 15. The Sky, that on Sunday set a franchise record with his 25th winhas some contending candidates for hardware.
Here’s what to look for during awards season.
Wade has the WNBA Executive of the Year wrapped up.
Sky’s coach/general manager put together the most comprehensive roster in the league as he built toward the future. Wade retained his core of Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper and Allie Quigley while adding 2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meeseman. With little clout this offseason, he turned restricted free agents Diamond DeShields and Lexie Brown into Julie Allemand, Li Yueru and the Phoenix Mercury’s 2023 first-round pick. Mercury struggled without Brittney Griner and dealt with off-the-court drama all season, making the pick more valuable. That’s enough for Wade to win the award.
Coach of the Year is a more compelling battle. Becky Hammon took over the Aces, who had virtually the same roster as they did in 2021, and she transformed them into the best offense in the league, moving A’ja Wilson to center and playing more freely on the perimeter. It will most likely be a draw between Wade and Hammon, and Wade could have the upper hand after leading the Sky to a franchise record for wins.
Prediction: Wade will win both awards after building a first-place team without compromising his future.
If Meesseman ends up winning the award, it would be a shock. Looking more closely at the data, this should not be the case.
MVP is a narrative-driven award, and all the MVP talk has revolved around Breanna Stewart and Wilson of the Seattle Storm. Because of Sky’s egalitarian approach to offense, Meesseman’s traditional stats don’t stand out compared to those of Wilson and Stewart. But Meesseman quietly put together one of the best seasons. She is fourth in the league win over replacement Y fifth in winning shares. If he wasn’t playing on a team that has two other Finals MVPs and one of the best point guards in league history, Meesseman’s usage and numbers would increase.
Meesseman was an invaluable addition: His savvy for finding holes in the defense and cutting down open space is amplified in the Sky’s move offense. Meesseman is averaging 1,496 points per possession on postless shots around the rim, which ranks in the 100th percentile, according to Synergy Sports Tech.
Meesseman may not be named MVP, but her two-way play is one of the main reasons Sky looks down on the rest of the pack. She is not worried about recognition.
“I just want to win a championship,” Meesseman said. “I have never cared about individual awards. I only care about winning seasons and titles”.
Prediction: Wilson will win the MVP award due to his two-way impact on the elite and his national reputation.
This category is packed with worthy candidates, and Parker is among them. His shot blocking and a league-high 7.6 defensive rebounds per game help his case.
The Sky have a 97.5 adjusted defensive rating with her on the floor versus a 105.5 rating when she’s on the bench. Aside from missing four games, Parker didn’t do anything different compared to her 2020 season, when she won the award.
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Parker’s defensive contributions are well known, but all signs point to either Wilson or Stewart winning the award. Wilson is averaging two blocks and 1.4 steals, while Stewart has been a mainstay in the league. second best defense. Parker had more MVP rumors earlier in the season, but Sky have handled her minutes and voters are obsessed with traditional stats.
Prediction: Stewart will win after missing out on MVP.
The Sky wouldn’t be in first place without the non-stop activity that Copper and Gardner provided on the wing. With both on the floor this season, opponents are shooting just 29.4% from 3-point range. Wade turned to Gardner to close out games with Copper, and the Sky have a 75.6 defensive rating in the fourth quarter with them on the floor together.
One thing that would keep them from winning First or Second Team All-Defensive would be their reputation. Copper is more known for her offense, while Gardner is a 32-year-old rookie..
“First of all, I know they’re not sleeping with Bek, and if you sleep with Bek you’re crazy,” Copper said. “Rebekah should surely be on an All-Defensive team.
“Speaking of me, it is something that I also wanted last year, and it is not easy. There aren’t many players who can go out there and get you a bucket and defend the best player while you play 30 minutes. I’m still doing that.”
Prediction: While both deserve to be on this list, Gardner will be on the All-Defensive Second Team.
James Kay is a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune.