Breanna Stewart wanted to get closer to home after spending her entire WNBA career in Seattle so she signed with New York as a free agent in a seismic move during the offseason.
The decision has paid major dividends for Stewart and the Liberty.
She finished the regular season second in the league in scoring, averaging a career-best 23 points a game. She helped New York secure the second best record in the league and Tuesday became the first player to repeat as The Associated Press Player of the Year.
“To be honored as the AP Player of the Year is an incredible honor,” said Stewart, who also won the award in 2018. “It’s quite different after switching teams and coming to New York and having such a positive season going 32-8. It’s been a lot of amazing basketball going on this year and makes you feel good going into the playoffs.”
Stewart narrowly edged Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson by one vote from the 12-member media. Alyssa Thomas was third in voting. Stewart and Wilson finished one-two in the balloting last year also with the Aces’ star winning the league’s MVP award.
The WNBA will announce its awards over the course of the postseason which begins Wednesday. The league MVP will be announced on Sept. 26.
“We’re at a special place in women’s basketball when there are so many great players doing so many great things every single night,” said Stewart, who is the first three-time winner of the award since voting began in 2016.
Wilson was selected as the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, edging Thomas and Washington’s Brittney Sykes. Wilson anchored the Aces’ defense, averaging 2.2 blocks and 1.4 steals. Las Vegas earned the top seed in the playoffs.
Her Aces teammate Alysha Clark was chosen as the AP Sixth Woman of the Year. It’s the fourth time that an Aces player has won the award with Clark joining Dearica Hamby, who won it twice and Kelsey Plum. Clark consistently provided a spark on both ends of the court while coming off the bench for the Aces this season.
For the second consecutive year a former WNBA player won the AP Coach of the Year award with Connecticut’s Stephanie White receiving the honor. She led the Sun to the third-best record in the league despite the team losing center Brionna Jones to a torn Achilles a month into the season.
Other AP winners included:
— Rookie of the Year: Aliyah Boston. She was the No. 1 pick of the Indiana Fever and helped the team double its win total from last year. Boston averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 57.8% from the field.
— Comeback Player of the Year: Brittney Griner and Napheesa Collier. Griner missed all of last year after a spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. She averaged 17.5 points this year. Collier missed nearly all of last season after giving birth to her first child. She averaged 21.5 points and 8.5 rebounds to help Minnesota earn the sixth seed in the playoffs.
— Most Improved Player: Satou Sabally. After playing in just 44 games because of injuries her first three years combined, Sabally was able to stay healthy and played in 38 of the Dallas Wings’ 40 contests this season. She averaged a career best 18.6 points and had 8.1 rebounds.
— All Rookie Team: Boston was joined on the team by her teammate Grace Berger, Dorka Juhasz and Diamond Miller of Minnesota, Jordan Horston of Seattle and Haley Jones of Atlanta.
— All-WNBA Teams: Stewart, Wilson and Thomas were unanimous first-team selections. Joining them on the first-team are Seattle’s Jewell Loyd and Las Vegas’ Chelsea Gray. The second team: Jackie Young of Las Vegas; Sabrina Ionescu of New York; Arike Ogunbowale; Sabally and Collier.
AP WNBA POWER POLL
New York finished atop the power poll with Las Vegas second. Connecticut, Dallas and Washington followed the Aces. Atlanta and Minnesota were next. Chicago and Los Angeles rounded out the top nine. Indiana, Seattle and Phoenix finished off the poll.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Wilson earned the final AP Player of the Week honors after averaging 32 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals to help the Aces go 3-0 and clinch the top seed in the playoffs. Other players receiving votes included Ogunbowale and Kahleah Copper of Chicago.