And the awards continue to come in. Ebony Hoffman was named the WNBA's Most Improved Player Friday and Lisa Leslie was named Defensive Player of the Year.
Hoffman received 31 votes from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. Chicago Sky guard Jia Perkins finished second with five votes and New York Liberty forward Shameka Christon placed third with two votes. Barbara Turner received one vote. My prediction of Le'Coe Willingham as runner-up was unfounded apparently.
In her fifth season in the league, Hoffman set career highs in points (10.4 ppg), rebounds (7.8 rpg), assists (1.8 apg), steals (1.4 spg), field goal percentage (46.5) and three-point percentage (45.6). Her scoring average was four points greater than her previous high in 2006 (6.4 ppg) while she collected nearly three rebounds per game more than she did two seasons ago (5.7 rpg). Her 2008 statistics placed her fifth in the league in rebounding and second among league leaders in three-point field goal percentage.
When asked earlier this week if she thought Hoffman was the hands-down favorite for this award, Indiana coach Lin Dunn said, "I don't see who else would in that category."
"I think it's about opportunity," Dunn continued. "With Whit's (Tamika Whitmore's) departure to Connecticut, she (Hoffman) has gotten the opportunity to start. And I think she felt an enormous amount of confidence from us. We felt she could do it, we know she could play the four-spot like we wanted her to with a back-to-the-basket-type game, as well as a face-up game where she can shoot 3s or drive. How we wanted to use her complemented the skills she already had. The other thing is she is in better shape."
Leslie, meanwhile, beat out a long list of candidates with a convincing 20 votes. Thirteen other players received votes, including Connecticut's Asjha Jones, who got two, and Detroit's Katie Smith, who was second with five. It's Leslie second DPOY honor.
She led the WNBA in both total blocks (97) and blocks per game (2.94) She totaled 22 more blocks than teammate Candace Parker (75), who placed second among league leaders, and nearly tied her career high of 98 set in 2004. Leslie rejected five or more shots in seven games this season, including a season-high eight blocks against Sacramento on Aug. 28 and against Minnesota two games later on Sept. 1.
Last season, the Sparks ranked 11th in the WNBA in team defense allowing 79.6 points per game while posting a league-worst -5.1 point differential. With Leslie back in the lineup, Los Angeles jumped to sixth in team defense and shaved more than five points off the per game average, finishing at 74.2 points against per game.
Each player receives a Tiffany trophy and $5,000.