NEW YORK — Breanna Stewart has taken her game to a new level this year to lead Seattle to the top spot in the league.
Her efforts earned her Associated Press WNBA Player of the Year honors on Tuesday. The award was chosen by the 14-member media panel that votes for the weekly poll.
Stewart averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and shot 52.9 percent from the field this season to help the Storm earn a bye until the semifinals of the playoffs. She received 12 of the 14 votes with Liz Cambage earning the other two.
“To be recognized as the best player is where I want to be and I want to continue to get better,” Stewart said in a phone interview. “The biggest change I made besides improving on the court was preparing myself off the court. Make myself strong and take care of my body nutritionally.”
Atlanta’s Nicki Collen was chosen as the AP’s coach of the year, receiving 13 of the 14 votes. In her first season as a head coach, she guided the Dream to a second place finish in the standings despite Atlanta facing a lot of injuries during the year. The team finished the season with seven wins in its final eight games.
“I am incredibly humbled to be named AP coach of the year. When I accepted the position in Atlanta I knew how important it was to hire a great coaching staff, and I am lucky to work daily alongside Mike (Petersen), Darius (Taylor), and Zach (Cooper),” Collen said. “I inherited a group of players who were hungry for success and have been easy to coach and I thank them for their belief in a rookie head coach.
“It wasn’t pretty in the beginning, but if there is one thing I am genuinely proud of is when we were working to figure it out, we never lost more than 2 games in a row which kept us moving forward. Our consistency at the defensive end gave us chances to win games, and when we found our offensive flow we truly became fun to watch.”
Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson was the unanimous choice as rookie of the year. She averaged 20.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Wilson said it is “humbling” to be selected as rookie of the year.
She was joined on the all-rookie team by Chicago’s Diamond DeShields, Indiana’s Kelsey Mitchell, Dallas’ Azura Stevens, New York’s Kia Nurse and Washington’s Ariel Atkins.
Other award winners include Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones, the sixth woman of the year; Seattle’s Natasha Howard, most improved; Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles, defensive player of the year; and DeWanna Bonner, comeback player of the year. Bonner missed last season while she was pregnant and gave birth to twins.
Stewart headlined the AP first-team All-WNBA. Also on the squad were Cambage, Elena Delle Donne, Diana Taurasi and Tiffany Hayes. The second team was Candace Parker, Maya Moore, Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
The Seattle Storm were the best team in the league all season and finished the year atop the AP Power Poll. The Storm received all 14 first place votes and held the top spot for the final seven weeks. Atlanta was second.
The Dream were followed by Washington, Connecticut Phoenix and Los Angeles. Minnesota, Dallas, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and Indiana rounded out the poll.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jonquel Jones averaged 23.3 points, eight rebounds and 3.7 assists to help Connecticut go 3-0 this week. Others receiving votes included DeWanna Bonner and Elena Delle Donne.