For the second consecutive year, A’ja Wilson has been named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.
She becomes the eighth player in league history to win the award more than once, receiving 32 out of 60 possible votes. She joins Alana Beard, Tamika Catchings, Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Teresa Weatherspoon.
“To be able to have my name on that list, alongside those greats, it’s a blessing that I’m not going to take for granted,” Wilson told the Las Vegas Review.
With a career-high 2.23 blocks per game in 2023, Wilson led the WNBA in that metric. She also ranked third in defensive rebounds per game (7.5) and 10th in steals (1.4).
Nine times this season, Wilson had at least 10 defensive rebounds. Also nine times, she had at least four blocks. Her defensive abilities helped propel the Aces to a WNBA-best 99.2 defensive rating.
While those numbers light up the stat sheet, they are unsurprising for Wilson, who racked up defensive awards in college. But at the pro level, it hits a little differently.
“Winning [a defensive award] in college, I was like, ‘OK, cool.’ But winning at this level feels different, because these are pros, world-class elite women,” she told ESPN. “I’m excited to share it with my teammates.”
One of those teammates is Kiah Stokes, who Wilson says deserves to be recognized for her defensive abilities as well.
As the No. 1 seed Aces move forward in the playoffs, with the No. 4 seed Dallas Wings up next in the semifinals, Wilson takes her defensive excellence as a constant challenge to improve.
“It just takes a lot of pride, understanding where I am and knowing the personnel,” Wilson said about her defense. “I like to take that challenge of ‘Can I guard a 5? Can I guard a 1?’ I try to go out there and prove it every time. I’m not trying to be the world’s best [shot-blocker], but if I can contain to help my guards or force a missed shot, I’m happy with that. People always say defense starts with the heart. I try to have as much heart as I can.”