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The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Sept. 6, 2023

We have once again reached the time of year when I must decide how to fill out my 2023 WNBA awards ballot. To be clear: these are, ultimately, subjective awards, and while we use stats to help us decide, it’s worth remembering that everyone weighs different numbers differently. I’d just urge everyone to engage the debates in the spirit of fun they should be. Especially this year. Because it’s crazy how good some of these battles are.

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I have until Sunday to decide, and I always wait until the last minute to get every last bit of data. Here’s where I’m at right now.

Let’s get right to it, shall we? MVP! There are years where I not only know exactly who I’m going to vote for, I know it’s probably going to be unanimous. This year? We’ve got three legit candidates for MVP, all of whom have substantial support, differing cases, and a clear opportunity to end up taking home the hardware: Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Alyssa Thomas.

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Incidentally, we’re spending the whole week on this at Locked On Women’s Basketball and The Next in part because I’ve found these conversations so interesting, and came to the conclusion our readers and listeners would as well. Ultimately, I found the case for Stewart most compelling, with Wilson second and Thomas third. Had I been given the option, I’d have strongly considered splitting my first-place vote three ways.

But the past week really clarified things for me, with Stewart leading the Liberty to another win over the Aces on Monday, then a trouncing of the Sun on Friday. That’s a small sample, to be sure, and the Aces have beaten New York twice, while that Sun team was playing the second game of a back-to-back. But the performance of Stewart also soars above Wilson’s and Thomas’ numbers in head-to-head among the top three teams.

Against the Aces, Stewart’s net rating is 4.3. Thomas’ is -8.2. Against the Sun, Stewart’s net rating is 18.6. Wilson’s is 4.4. Against the Liberty, Wilson’s net rating is 4.0. Thomas’ is -17.8.

This reinforces what the eye test has told me — that in these biggest games, Stewart has been better than these other two top candidates. I do not think there is an incorrect choice among the three. And I agonized over this. But I am going with with Stewart. Satou Sabally and Chelsea Gray round out my five-person ballot, with the Gray/Jackie Young debate in my head still ongoing, and a chance with a strong weekend Nneka Ogwumike makes it on there as well.

For Coach of the Year, the decision was a difficult one, too. My metric, generally, is finding the coach whose team performance best outpaces its roster talent on hand. While Stephanie White has employed Alyssa Thomas, she hasn’t had Brionna Jones all year, the planned replacement for Jonquel Jones, who departed this past offseason. And Cheryl Reeve has her Lynx team most ticketed for the lottery in the playoffs, while Latricia Trammell still has her Wings positioned to finish with a top-four seed. I figured either of the latter two would be enough to get my vote. But what if they both happen? And how do I not vote for White? This one I’m still agonizing over.

I am choosing Alyssa Thomas for Defensive Player of the Year, though there’s a very strong case for Stewart, too, the only top-seven player in the league in both blocks and steals. I also strongly considered Brittney Sykes, Jordin Canada and Betnijah Laney for this award.

I’ll share a couple more, and the rest in the weeks to come, just so we’re clear on it. All due respect to some strong rookie work by Diamond Miller, Grace Berger and The IX correspondent Maddy Siegrist, but it took me the better part of three seconds to select Aliyah Boston for Rookie of the Year. And Alysha Clark continues the Bill Laimbeer tradition of having a player off the bench perform starter minutes with starter production, even years after Laimbeer has left Las Vegas. My all-rookie team: Aliyah Boston/Indiana Fever, Diamond Miller/Minnesota Lynx, Dorka Juhasz/Minnesota Lynx, Maddy Siegrist/Dallas Wings, Dulcy Fankham Mendjiadeu/Seattle Storm.

Anyhow, that’s where I am so far. I’ll be finalizing things like all-defensive teams and double-checking my work with some folks I trust both in front offices and among the media who do the work ahead of submitting. It’s an honor I take very seriously and I appreciate the opportunity, always.

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This week in women’s basketball

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Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.