Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young is adding a Most Improved Player award to her first All-Star nod in 2022, becoming the first in the franchise to win it. The award was announced by the WNBA on Monday and is voted on by members of the media.
Young was the Aces' No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft after leaving Notre Dame a season early and a favorite for awards since her hot start. She received 32 of the 56 votes from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
New York Liberty guard and 2020 No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu jumped into the conversation late in the season with her packed stat lines and received 10 votes. Phoenix Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham received seven votes and Aces guard Kelsey Plum received four. One vote each went to Dallas Wings center Teaira McCowan, Seattle Storm forward Gabby Williams and Liberty center Han Xu.
The Aces clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs with a 26-10 record and a tiebreaker over the Chicago Sky. They led the league offensively this season averaging 90.4 points per game, ranking third in league history, and 109.6 offensive efficiency, a record mark. Las Vegas already has one trophy in the Commissioner's Cup, which they won over the Sky in July.
But they trail in the semifinal series after dropping Game 1 at home to the Seattle Storm on Sunday. Game 2 is Wednesday at Michelob Ultra Center in Las Vegas.
Jackie Young most improved in 3-point approach
Young's largest area of growth came in her 3-point shooting. The 6-foot guard hit a career-high 43.1% to rank fifth in the league and improve on her previous best of 31.8% (54th) her rookie season. But that was averaging not even one make per game on 1.3 average attempts. in 2020 and 2021, her attempts were under one per game and didn't qualify her to rank in the category.
It wasn't a large facet of her game at Notre Dame, either. She shot 45% her junior (and final) year, but was only 14-of-31. Over three seasons she made 36 of 99 attempts. This season she's made half as many threes as her number of college attempts, going 50-of-116.
"Going into my fourth year, I knew I needed to work on my 3," Young said, via Just Women's Sports. "I knew, to become the player I wanted to be, I had to have a 3 ball. I’ve spent a lot of time working on that and working on myself so I’d be confident to shoot whenever I did get it."
She's led the way in the Aces 3-point transformation under first-year head coach Becky Hammon. They're hitting 36.1% of their shots, tied for first with the Seattle Storm, and are top-3 in average makes (9.5) and attempts (26.4). Young's success there has required defenses to keep honest instead of lagging off her as they'd done in the past. And she's getting to the line more.
Young is averaging career-highs nearly around the board in only two more minutes per game played. She averaged 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals in the regular season and made her first All-Star game.
In the two-game playoff series against the Mercury, Young averaged 15.5 points — twice her career-high playoff average of 7.8 in 2020 — on an effective field goal mark of 71.1%.
WNBA Most Improved Player award
Former MIP award-winners usually go on to continued success. Brionna Jones, a favorite for the Sixth Player award this year, won the 2021 award for the Connecticut Sun. Betnijah Laney won it while with the Atlanta Dream in 2020 and signed a big free agency deal that offseason with the Liberty.
Previous winners include Natasha Howard (2018, Storm), Elizabeth Williams (2016, Dream) Skylar Diggins-Smith (2014, Tulsa Shock) and Kristi Toliver (2012, Sparks). No Aces player has won the award. A Liberty player has won the award four times, but not since 2011.
2022 WNBA awards list
Sportsmanship: 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)
Thursday: Sixth Player of the Year announced
Friday: Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive team
Sept. 7: Most Valuable Player
Sept. 15: All-WNBA