Basketball fans are used to heated MVP debates by now. The last two seasons in the NBA have produced an overwhelming amount of discourse about a two-headed MVP race between Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, with Jokic winning the award both times. This season in the WNBA is following the same trend. While there are lots of great players around the W, there are only two serious candidates for MVP. The vote couldn’t be closer.
Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson are widely considered the two best players in the world. While long-time superstars Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, and Sylvia Folwes enter the final stages of their careers, Stewart and Wilson are each firmly in their primes. Both already have one MVP award on their resumes, with Stewart’s coming in 2018, and Wilson winning during the bubble season of 2020. There’s a case to be made that each of playing the best ball of their lives this season.
With apologies to Kelsey Plum, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Courtney Vandersloot, and Alyssa Thomas, this year’s MVP award is going to either Stewart or Wilson. Who should get it?
The case for A’ja Wilson as 2022 WNBA MVP
The Aces are in pole position to enter the WNBA playoffs as the No. 1 seed in their first season under head coach Becky Hammon. While Hammon has pushed all the right buttons in the wake of Liz Cambage’s departure from the team (and then the league), the biggest reason for Las Vegas’ success remains Wilson.
Wilson’s case starts with her being the best player on the league’s best team, but it’s also much deeper than that. Wilson has been serious strides on both ends of the floor this year, which is kind of amazing when you consider that she was already a consensus top-three player in the league.
Offensively, Wilson’s big improvement has come as an outside shooter. Former coach Bill Laimbeer wouldn’t let her take threes: she attempted only two shots behind the arc in her first four WNBA seasons. This year, Wilson is 30-of-81 from deep, good for an extremely respectable 37 percent. The extra space she’s brought to the Aces’ offense has allowed Vegas guards Plum and Jackie Young to each enjoy the best seasons of their careers. Wilson already could handle the ball like a guard. Now that she can shoot like one, her offense is almost unstoppable. She is second in the league by averaging 32.4 points per 100 possessions, and she’s making a career-best 52.1 percent of her two-pointers. Basically, Wilson has learned to stretch out the opposing defense while also getting more efficient all over the floor. Her 58.1 percent true shooting is also a career high.
Wilson has also taken a big step up defensively as she’s slid from the four to the five after Cambage’s departure. She’s posted a career-bests in defensive rebound rate (27.7 percent, a four-point jump from her previous high), steal rate (2.4 percent, up from 1.4 percent), and block rate (5.9 percent, up from 5.4 percent). Wilson is so big and fast that she has a knack for breaking into the passing lanes, pushing the ball downcourt, and finishing with a layup at other end. Having a center with her ranginess is a major advantage for Vegas.
Wilson is so big, so strong, and so skilled. Now that she’s shooting threes and making strides defensively, there’s basically nothing anyone can do to stop the 6’4 big. There’s only one other player in the world with a chance to measure up.
The case for Breanna Stewart as 2022 WNBA MVP
Breanna Stewart’s historic career could have changed forever when she collided with Brittney Griner in a Euroleague game and tore her Achilles in April of 2019. Stewart missed all of the 2019 WNBA season rehabbing, but returned in the 2020 bubble to lead her Seattle Storm to a championship by sweeping Wilson and the Aces.
Stewart missed last year’s playoffs with a left foot injury, but she’s been back and better than ever this season. On the brink of her 28th birthday, Stewart has fully returned to form from her injuries and has reasserted herself as one of the most dominant individual players in the history of the sport.
Stewart is unstoppable as a scorer. She is an elite high-volume three-point shooter, making 39.3 percent of her triples on 8.7 attempts per 100 possessions (Wilson attempts about four threes per 100). She’s deadly in isolations, and can get buckets playing either end of the pick-and-roll as the ball handler and screener. The numbers speak for themselves: Stewie leads the league by averaging 36.5 points per 100 on astounding 60.1 percent true shooting. She’s a tremendous playmaker for her teammates, as well, leveraging the threat of her own scoring to set up easy buckets for others. Her 18.3 percent assist rate is the second best mark of her career. Perhaps most impressive of all, Stewart hardly ever turns the ball over. She has a microscopic 6.1 percent turnover rate, especially considering her sky-high 29 percent usage rate.
Stewart is also one of the league’s smartest defensive players. She’s great at getting into the passing lanes for steals, can provide supplemental rim protection as a shot-blocker, and has always hit the defensive glass harder than the offensive block. While her shot blocking and rebounding numbers are at career-lows this year, she is posting a career-best 2.8 percent steal rate.
Stewie also has an edge in the advanced stats. She leads Wilson (and the league) in PER, 29.4 to 28.3. She leads the league in win shares, topping the second-place Wilson 7.3 to 6.3. She’s the most efficient offensive player in the world given her immense workload. Stewart has always been on an all-time path with four NCAA championships in four years at UConn, two WNBA championships, and a WNBA MVP. Her resume is only growing after this year.
Our WNBA MVP pick: Breanna Stewart
I wouldn’t be surprised if Wilson wins it. She’s certainly a deserving candidate, and the Aces having a better record than Seattle could play into it. Her improved three-point shooting is the sort of thing that tends to sway voters.
I’m still going with Stewie though because of her astounding offensive efficiency. She’s the league’s best scorer, she rarely turns the ball over, she’s a better passer and a better shooter than Wilson, and she simply leaves the biggest impact on winning of any player in the sport.
The Aces are the championship favorites, but Stewie is the best player in the world. There’s no wrong answer between Wilson and Stewart, but we’re going with the legend-in-the-making for the Storm.