Which Sky players are in the mix for WNBA honors?

  • Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot works against the Dream on Aug. 20 in Atlanta. Averaging just 11 points per game, Vandersloot would make an odd MVP candidate -- except for her remarkable 9.1 assists per game.

    Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot works against the Dream on Aug. 20 in Atlanta. Averaging just 11 points per game, Vandersloot would make an odd MVP candidate -- except for her remarkable 9.1 assists per game. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/30/2019 6:10 PM

It's almost playoff time in the WNBA.

And for the first time since 2016, the Sky will be joining the party.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Obviously, it's been a summer of team successes for the Sky, which ranks as one of the best offensive teams in the league in multiple categories including points per game, shooting percentage and assists.

But a collection of individual successes along the way has contributed to that team success. So with individual awards in the WNBA coming out soon as well, here's my take on the favorites, and where a few key members of the Sky fit into the mix.

Most valuable player

Some of the biggest names in the WNBA -- such as Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Angel McCoughtry, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus and Candace Parker -- were either out for the entire season or a majority of it due to injuries or other issues.

One wondered just how much star power the league would have this summer.

But other stars found a way to shine, including Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot.

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For the second year in a row, Vandersloot has been the leading playmaker in the WNBA, with an average of 9.1 assists per game. And for the second year in a row, Vandersloot broke the WNBA's record for assists in a season.

Vandersloot averages only 11 points per game, which is on the low side for your usual MVP candidates, but if voters can think outside the box and give her credit for her amazing passing and court sense, Vandersloot will have a shot.

Probably the leading candidate for MVP is forward Elena Delle Donne, who is second in the WNBA in scoring (18.8 points per game) and has led the Washington Mystics to the best record in the league.

Other candidates include: leading scorer Brittney Griner, leading rebounder and shot blocker Jonquel Jones, Nneka Ogwumike and Liz Cambage.

Sixth Woman of the Year

With only 144 players in the WNBA, the league is stocked with top-shelf talent. So it takes a special player to check her ego and come off the bench.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Sky has one of those selfless players who contributes like a starter, but whose attitude about coming off the bench couldn't be more positive.

Reserve forward Cheyenne Parker is having another big season. She turned the corner last year in her fourth WNBA season and has again been an impact player off the bench.

Parker plays about 20 minutes a game and averages 8.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. She also gets about 1.3 blocks per game, 11th-best in the league. She has had 11 double-figure games, including six in the last nine games. She's also had 6 double-digit rebounding games.

Parker is coming off one of her two 20-point games. On Tuesday in Minnesota, she scored 22 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 6 big blocks.

As the season has progressed, Parker has become more valuable to the Sky, particularly with the loss of starting center Jantel Lavender to a season-ending foot injury.

The leading candidate for Sixth Woman is Dearica Hamby of Las Vegas, who is averaging 11 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2 assists in 25 minutes per game. Hamby is an important weapon for one of the best teams in the league.

Other candidates include Ariel Powers of the Washington Mystics and Teaira McCowan, a part-time starter for the Indiana Fever.

Coach of the Year

It would be easy to make Mike Thibault of the Washington Mystics or Curt Miller of the Connecticut Sun the Coach of the Year and be done with it. Their teams have been atop the WNBA standings all season.

Bill Laimbeer of the Las Vegas Aces might also merit some consideration, considering he pulled off the biggest acquisition of the off-season in bringing all-star center Liz Cambage in from Dallas.

But Sky head coach James Wade should be in the mix, too.

Wade is not only in his first year with the Sky, he's in his first year as a head coach in the WNBA after years of being an assistant. And he has worked wonders with a Sky team that missed the playoffs the two previous seasons.

My picks for the other top awards are:

Rookie of the Year: Arike Ogunbowale

The Dallas guard torched the Sky for 35 points on Thursday and has been forced to be the top, and sometimes the only, option for a Wings team that has been decimated by injuries. That's not an easy position for a rookie and Ogunbowale has handled it well.

Most Improved: Leilani Mitchell

In her 11th season, Mitchell has stepped up for the Phoenix Mercury in the absence of Diana Taurasi and more than tripled her scoring and rebounding from last year and doubled her assists.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jonquel Jones

Jones leads the WNBA in rebounds (10.1 per game) and blocks (2.2 per game). She is a big reason the Connecticut Sun has the second-best record in the WNBA.

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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