NEW YORK — Sylvia Fowles had a stellar year to lead Minnesota to the top seed in the WNBA playoffs.
Her efforts earned her Associated Press WNBA Player of the Year honors on Tuesday. The award was chosen by the 15-member media panel that votes for the weekly poll.
Other award winners include Los Angeles’ Alana Beard, the defensive player of the year; Dallas’ Allisha Gray, rookie of the year; and New York’s Sugar Rodgers; sixth woman of the year; Epiphanny Prince, comeback player of the year. Prince missed most of last season while recovering from an ACL injury. She and Rodgers helped the Liberty to the third best record in the league.
Beard was the defensive anchor for the Sparks, who were second in points allowed, giving up just 75.2 a game.
Gray, a former Washington County and South Carolina star picked fourth by the Wings in the draft this past April, was joined on the all-rookie team by teammate Kaela Davis, Atlanta’s Brittney Sykes, San Antonio’s Kelsey Plum and Washington’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
“It means a lot,” Fowles said in a phone interview. “I think a lot of people forget the work you have to put in. Like I said before, by far this is probably the hardest job to keep up with the stats and playing good throughout the season. I credit the other MVPs and players of the year for helping me up my game.”
Fowles averaged 18.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and shot 65.5 percent from the field this season to help the Lynx earn a bye until the semifinals of the playoffs. She received 14 of the 15 votes with Candace Parker earning the other one. It’s the second year that the AP is giving out awards for the WNA.
Connecticut’s Curt Miller was chosen as the AP’s coach of the year, also receiving 14 of the 15 votes. He led the Sun to a fourth place finish in the standings after the team lost Chiney Ogwumike to an injury before the season started. The Sun lost five of their first six games before winning 17 of the next 21.
“I’m humbled because there wasn’t a lot of expectations on this group,” Miller said. “Such a credit to those players, every adversity we had, they responded.”
The Sun were led by Jonquel Jones, who won the AP’s most improved player. Jones broke the single-season rebounding mark becoming the first WNBA player to top 400 rebounds in a season. She finished the year with 403 boards.
“She’s a very special elite rebounder and she’s only scratched the surface,” Miller said of his second-year player. “She will get better defensively and offensively. She will only get stronger around the basket.”
Fowles headlined the AP first-team All-WNBA. Also on the first team were Tina Charles, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. The second team was Jones, Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi.
The Los Angeles Sparks finished the season where they started, atop the AP Power Poll. The Sparks received 14 of the 15 first place votes and held the top spot for the final three weeks of the season. Minnesota was second.
“Ever since the All-Star break we started to play better,” Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said. “Odyssey (Sims) has helped us lately and Jantel (Lavender) getting more minutes has helped as well. When you know you’re top seven are playing well that’s a good start.”
The Lynx were followed by New York, Connecticut, Phoenix, Washington and Dallas. Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and Indiana rounded out the poll.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Brittney Griner averaged 30.5 points, seven rebounds and shot 63 percent from the field to help the Mercury win both their games this week. Others receiving votes included: Minnesota’s Maya Moore and New York’s Tina Charles.