2019 WNBA award picks, Finals prediction: Elena Delle Donne deserves MVP; Mystics over Sparks in Finals
The WNBA playoffs begin on Wednesday night with two single-elimination first-round games
Another WNBA season is in the books, and even with a number of top players missing out, the action didn't disappoint. Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics used their historic offense to secure the top seed, and the race for first-round byes went down to the final day of the season. Plus, a talented group of rookies entered the league, which resulted in one of the best Rookie of the Year races of all-time.
Now, with the playoffs, here's a look at who should win each of the major awards, as well as a Finals prediction.
MVP: Elena Delle Donne, Mystics
Many of the usual suspects missed either the entire season, or a large portion of it, and in their absence, Delle Donne ran away with the MVP. She was completely dominant this season, finishing second in scoring and fifth in rebounding, averaging 19.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. Along the way, she recorded the first 50/40/90 season in WNBA history, shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 43 percent from 3 and an astounding 97.4 percent from the line. She also led the Mystics to the league's best record at 26-8, and has them looking like the favorites to win the title.
Defensive Player of the Year: Natasha Howard, Storm
There will be plenty of focus on what Howard did on the offensive end, stepping up into a much bigger role in Breanna Stewart's absence. But her effort on the other side of the ball may have been even more impressive. Her combination of length and athleticism makes her super versatile; she can hold her own on the perimeter while also providing rim protection. She was second in the league in steals, third in blocks, was one of only two players to average at least one steal and one block per game and led the league in defensive win shares. Her play was one of the main reasons the Storm maintained an elite defense despite their injuries.
Rookie of the Year: Napheesa Collier, Lynx
Out of all the major awards, this was by far the closest and most interesting race. There were a number of strong performances from this rookie class, but Collier and Arike Ogunbowale stood out. But for as electric as Ogunbowale was down the stretch with her scoring, this award belongs to Collier. Averaging 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals, she was the best rookie since Day One, and far more consistent than her Wings counterpart. Collier was an elite defender and should make All-Defensive First Team, and was no slouch on offense herself, putting together one of the most efficient seasons in the league with a true shooting percentage of 57.6.
6th Woman of the Year: Dearica Hamby, Aces
This is another honor that really shouldn't be up for debate. The nature of the WNBA doesn't always lend itself to big bench production, but Hamby broke that mold this season. She put up nearly a double-double, averaging 11 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and one steal per game, but her impact went far beyond stats. On an Aces team trying to navigate Liz Cambage's arrival and the development of their young stars while competing for a title, Hamby was the glue that held everything together. She did whatever the team needed, and came up with more than a couple of huge performances.
Most Improved Player: Leilani Mitchell, Mercury
Most Improved Player isn't typically an award that players win multiple times in their career, regardless of the sport. In fact, it's never been done in the WNBA, but Mitchell might just become the first this season. She won the award way back in 2010 in her third season in the league, and has a tremendous case to take it home again in this, the 11th season of her career. Filling in for the injured Diana Taurasi for much of the season, Mitchell was one of the bright spots in a disappointing season for the Mercury. She averaged 12.8 points, four assists and three rebounds, all of which were career-highs, and finished third in the league in 3-point shooting at 43 percent.
Coach of the Year: James Wade, Sky
Coach of the year was one of the toughest honors to call, because there were a number of deserving candidates. Mike Thibault guided the Mystics to league's best record, while Cheryl Reeve led the Lynx to another winning season despite losing many key players. But in the end, it's first-year Sky head coach James Wade who deserves the award. Under his leadership, they exceeded every expectation. Not only are they back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016 -- and for the first time ever without Elena Delle Donne on the roster -- but they finished in fifth place and recorded just their third 20-win season in franchise history.
Finals: Mystics over Sparks in four
Trying to predict the WNBA Finals matchup can be tricky when three-fourths of the field has to navigate at least one single-elimination game to get there. This season, though, the eventual champion seems obvious: the Mystics. They have the best player in the league in Delle Donne, the most depth and a prolific offense. It's hard to see any team beating them three times in a series. As for who will meet them? That will be interesting, but the Sparks have the combination of talent and experience to get back to the Finals for the third time in four years. They struggled early in the season, but are healthy now and have been one of the best teams over the past few months.
Nneka Ogwumike was doing a television interview when the incident took place
The semifinal series will get underway on Tuesday evening
The Mystics and Aces will get their semifinal series underway on Tuesday night in D.C.
The WNBA postseason continues on Tuesday with two Game 1s in the semifinal round
The postseason action continues on Tuesday with Game 1 of each semifinal series
Hamby launched up a prayer from just inside halfcourt even though there was plenty of time...