WNBA early award races: Alyssa Thomas, Caitlin Clark in line for some hardware

The two-time reigning champion Las Vegas Aces would hit the road for the opening round of the playoffs if they were to start this weekend.

It's been an eyebrow-raising start to the WNBA season, and already teams are into the second quarter of the schedule. The Sun set a franchise record, starting the season 9-0, and lead the standings. The Mystics started 0-12 before finally nabbing a win Tuesday over Atlanta. New York, Minnesota and Seattle fill out the top four, while Chicago, Los Angeles and Indiana battle for the final playoff spot. The All-Star Game is fast approaching on July 20 and fan voting opened this week.

With one month down and between 11-14 games into each team’s schedule, Yahoo Sports checked back in to see how the award races are shaping up.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports illustration)

Alyssa Thomas, Sun

It’s the three-headed MVP battle between Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas that we expected, plus the addition of Lynx forward Napheesa Collier. If the season ended today, Thomas would be my pick for the way the 11-year veteran packs the stat sheet. She is a master facilitator at the forward position (she leads the league at 8.1 assists per game), is the only player to average at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, and chips in 1.8 steals for the league’s best team. Her defense is her calling card, and she trails only Collier in defensive win shares.

The rest of the five on the ballot, in order: Collier, Stewart, Wilson and Kayla McBride. Wilson fell so low because of the Aces’ 6-5 record, but the two-time former MVP leads all scorers (28.3 points per game), ranks second in rebounds (11.4) and third in blocks (2.7). — Cassandra Negley

Alyssa Thomas, Sun

There is no denying how important Thomas is to the Sun. Her stats speak for themselves. MVPs, to me, should be impactful on both ends of the floor, and Thomas fits that bill. On offense and defense, Thomas spearheads Connecticut's attack, leading her team in rebounds, assists and steals. She also led the Sun to their best start in franchise history, and they currently sit atop the standings at 11-1. If the Sun keep up their winning ways and head into the postseason as one of the league’s best teams, it will be hard to see anyone else winning the award. — Eden Laase

Caitlin Clark, Fever

Clark is having a standout start to her WNBA career despite facing the league’s best teams early and drawing their best defensive efforts. It’s still her award to lose, though Angel Reese (12.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and Cameron Brink (2.9 bpg) have also had strong starts. Kamilla Cardoso’s debut was delayed due to injury, but she could enter this conversation as well.

Clark is averaging 15.6 points (ranking 17th all time for rookies) and is one of two rookies to average at least 10 points, four rebounds and four assists per game. Her six assists per game rank fourth in the league, and she’s tasked with more than any other rookie in this class as a lead ball-handler and the biggest name to enter the league in its history. — Negley

Caitlin Clark, Fever

As it stands, the Rookie award belongs to Clark, but things could get interesting down the stretch. Angel Reese is starting to get comfortable and is averaging a near-double-double. If she continues to improve throughout the season, then I could see the Sky forward taking the award. But at this point in the season, despite her team’s struggles, Clark has been the best performing rookie, averaging 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Plus, Clark has a lot of hype surrounding her, and for better or for worse, that tends to impact voting. — Laase

Cheryl Reeve, Lynx

Maybe it’s our collective fault for being surprised by the early success in Minnesota because the Lynx were largely a fringe playoff team in preseason projections. Yet, they sit a solid third in the standings at 9-3, locked into a Western Conference Commissioner’s Cup berth with wins over the Aces and Storm, and they lead the league in net rating (14.6). Plus, they’re doing it without second-year forward Diamond Miller (knee).

Credit to Reeve for inserting free agents Courtney Williams and Alanna Smith into a starting lineup featuring improved production from Collier and McBride. McBride is the only player shooting better than 50% overall from deep (51.7% on 7.3 attempts per game) and her 70.5 TS% would rank third all time for a single season. — Negley

Noelle Quinn, Storm

The Storm were 11-29 last season, finishing in 11th place and missing the playoffs. This season they are already 9-4, including a win over the defending champion Aces. In the offseason, Quinn and Co. managed to sign Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith, ushering in a new era of Storm basketball. Quinn’s task was getting Ogwumike, Diggins-Smith and Jewell Loyd to play together. There were early growing pains, but since opening the season with back-to-back losses, the Storm are 9-2. Not only has Quinn coached the trio into developing chemistry, but she’s also helped her role players make strides. Ezi Magbegor is having her best season, Jordan Horston has made improvements in Year 2, and Sami Whitcomb, Mercedes Russell and Victoria Vivians all understand and execute their roles. — Laase

Ezi Magbegor, Storm

The Storm rank second in defensive rating (92.3) with a tougher first quarter of the schedule than the league-leading Sun (90.9) and have played the high-scoring Lynx three times already. That defensive success is largely due to Magbegor, the rim-protector who makes the Storm significantly better when she’s on the floor (87.5 defensive rating on, 101.7 off). The fifth-year center leads the league in blocks (3 per game) with a third-best 8.5 block percentage. She’s second in defensive win shares and fourth in defensive rating. If the Storm’s success continues — and if other team defenses, such as the one in Las Vegas, continue to struggle — Magbegor should lead all conversations. — Negley

A’ja Wilson, Aces

The Aces may be unexpectedly struggling to start the season, but one thing that’s remained the same is Wilson’s elite defense. She’s second in the league in defensive rebounds with 9.1 per game, third in blocks with 2.6 per game and ninth in steals with 1.8 per game. She and Collier are the only two players in the WNBA to be top 10 in all three categories. The knock against Wilson right now is that her team is 6-5, but in both wins and losses, she’s remained elite on the defensive end. If the Aces start winning again, then she will move back into the top of the DPOY award discussion, but even if they don't, Wilson's defensive impact shouldn’t be ignored. — Laase

Chennedy Carter, Sky

Carter is an immediate spark off the bench for the Sky with a quick first-step and speed getting downhill. The fourth-year guard led Chicago’s scoring attack in three straight games this month (19 points at Indiana, 16 vs. New York and 25 vs. Washington) and is the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.6 per game, while chipping in 2.6 rpg and 2.4 apg while shooting a team-best 50.9% overall. The Sky’s offensive rating jumps from 88.5 to 103.6 when she’s on the court.

The Sky’s middling record (or her entrance to the starting lineup) might hurt her chances by September, leaving open the award for a player such as Sophie Cunningham. Alysha Clark could re-enter the conversation should Aces point guard Chelsea Gray return before the 20-game mark. And if Fever forward Temi Fagbenle (foot) returns and remains on the bench, her budding chemistry with Caitlin Clark lifts her into contention. — Negley

Sophie Cunningham, Mercury

When the Mercury signed Rebecca Allen, I thought she would be coming off the bench, but after starting for the last two seasons, Cunningham has become the Mercury’s sixth player. She has embraced the role and is making an impact. Cunningham is averaging 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game, and her rebound and steal numbers are both double what she averaged as a starter in 2023. Cunningham is also shooting better despite coming off the bench. She’s making 43.8% of her attempts (up from 41.3 last season) and 37.3% from beyond the arc (up from 33.7%). — Laase

Dearica Hamby, Sparks

The two-time Sixth Player of the Year is averaging career highs across the board as a starter in her 10th season and second with Los Angeles. She’s sixth in scoring (20 ppg), first in rebounding (11.4 rpg), 10th in field-goal percentage (54.1), third in 3-point percentage (48) and one of four players averaging a double-double.

Hamby’s scoring output increased 53% per 40 minutes (14.4 to 22.1), her rebounding increased 32% and assists increased 41%. Those are all significant leaps from her first season with the Sparks when she played all 40 games a couple of months after giving birth to her second child. She has shined in a starring role in LA, where she’s tasked with leading a young team eyeing future success rather than active ascension.

Is this more of a comeback award selection? Maybe. Sticking with it. — Negley

Maddy Siegrist, Wings

Siegrist visibly struggled at times last season during her limited minutes for the Wings. She was a prolific scorer during her time at Villanova, amassing 2,896 points, which included a 50-point game. But during her rookie campaign, those skills didn’t transfer immediately. Siegrist often tried to execute moves she would have scored on in college, only to be denied at the rim, or cut off and forced into a difficult pass. That’s not happening this season. Siegirst earned a starting role and is averaging 32.6 minutes after playing just 8.2 minutes per game last season. Her numbers are up dramatically, from 3.7 points and 1.6 rebounds to 14.3 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. Siegrist is also shooting more, but making a higher percentage from the floor, up to 54.5% from 50.9% last season. — Laase