WNBA awards 2022: Aces' A'ja Wilson edges out Alyssa Thomas, Breanna Stewart in tight Defensive Player of the Year vote

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Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson is the Defensive Player of the Year for 2022, the WNBA announced on Tuesday. The reveal was a late-morning surprise that came three days earlier than originally scheduled.

The former MVP received 20 votes from a panel of 56 sportswriters and broadcasters, edging out Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas. Thomas received 14 votes. Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, who along with Wilson is an MVP contender this year, received 13 votes.

Sylvia Fowles, a four-time winner of the award, received four votes. Washington Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud and Sun center-forward Jonquel Jones each had two votes. Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray received one.

A'ja Wilson wins first Defensive Player award

Jul 26, 2022; Chicago, IL, USA;  Las Vegas Aces center Kiah Stokes (41), left and Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson (22) block a ball shot by Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper (2) during the second half of the Commissioners Cup-Championships at Wintrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 26, 2022; Chicago, IL, USA; Las Vegas Aces center Kiah Stokes (41), left and Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson (22) block a ball shot by Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper (2) during the second half of the Commissioners Cup-Championships at Wintrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Wilson has been an important part of the Aces' defensive identity that first-year head coach Becky Hammon, named the Coach of the Year, has harped on since training camp.

Wilson is the first Aces player to win the award and led the league in blocks (1.9 bpg) and ranked second in defensive rebounds per game (7.6). She was 12th in steals (1.4 spg). She had seven games with at least four blocks in the regular season and six games with at least three steals. In nine games she brought down at least 10 defensive rebounds.

The Aces have held opponents to 31.8 points in the paint per game, ranking third fewest in the league, in large part because of the 6-foot-4 Wilson. She has played most games at center, a switch from previous seasons. Her 27.9 defensive rebound rate is fifth in the league, per Her Hoop Stats.

Wilson was headline candidate for the award alongside Stewart and Thomas, as the votes bore out. Thomas led all players in Her Hoop Stats defensive win shares (2.6) and Stewart was second (2.3). Jones ranked third (2.2) and Wilson fourth (2.1).

Defensive Player of the Year is a notoriously controversial vote because defense can't always be quantified in stats and it looks different depending on the position played on the floor. Forwards and centers often win because of their block and rebound numbers.

Stewart finished fourth in defensive rebounds per game (6.2), fifth in steals per game (1.6) and 15th in blocks per game (0.9) playing with Magbegor (1.8 bpg, second) at center.

Thomas was fifth in defensive rebounds per game (6.1), second in steals per game (1.7) and averaged 0.2 blocks per game with Jones (1.2 bpg, tied fifth) at center.

WNBA All-Defensive team 2022

The panel of media members votes for All-Defensive team players with a first- and second-team ballot that is by position. The league announced All-WNBA votes would move to position-less voting this year. The voters' Defensive Player of the Year vote is not taken into account for the All-Defensive team ballot. Voters must put their DPOY on the ballot for either first- or second-team.

First Team

A'ja Wilson, Aces

Breanna Stewart, Storm

Sylvia Fowles, Lynx

Natasha Cloud, Mystics

Ariel Atkins, Mystics

Second Team

Alyssa Thomas, Sun

Jonquel Jones, Sun

Ezi Magbegor, Storm

Brittney Sykes, Sparks

Gabby Williams, Storm

2022 WNBA awards list

Sportsmanship award: Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx

Executive of the Year: James Wade, Chicago Sky

Coach of the Year: Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces

Rookie of the Year: Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream (plus All-Rookie team)

Most Improved Player: Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces

Thursday: Sixth Player of the Year

Sept. 7: Most Valuable Player

Sept. 15: All-WNBA

*Schedule released by the WNBA and subject to change