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Storm update: Stewie’s MVP case

It’s a bit early in the season to start thinking about the MVP award, but A’ja Wilson has emerged as a frontrunner because of scoring, rebounding, defense, intangibles and then a big reason: her team is the best in the league. But for those who believe the award doesn’t necessarily have to go to the best player on the best team: Breanna Stewart is comfortably leading the league in my stat score formula.

Seattle Storm v Minnesota Lynx
When will Breanna Stewart finally win her second MVP?
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that Breanna Stewart has just one MVP award. She’s considered by most to be the best player in the world and is the most likely to be considered the “GOAT-in-waiting” — she’s one of the few active players people would give a shot at catching current GOAT Diana Taurasi.

She already has two championships to Taurasi’s three and two Finals MVP awards, the same amount as Taurasi. She also possesses inside and defensive skills that elude Taurasi — though the former is due to height, it still matters! — while still being an elite perimeter player and scorer like Taurasi.

She truly has the skillset to be greater than Taurasi and we already knew that she was on that track after what she accomplished in college — she’s the only person to ever win four Final Four MOPs. What she’s missing now is Taurasi’s longevity — let’s see her try to average 19.3 points per game over 18 seasons!

One thing to note in this whole conversation about the GOAT — a distinction that could go to four-time Finals MVP Cynthia Cooper — is that Taurasi only has one regular-season MVP. Cooper has two, while Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes lead the way with three apiece. That Taurasi is more widely considered the GOAT than those other players shows that Stewart may not need to win another two or three as long as she is consistently in the conversation throughout her career, which she has been so far.

Here’s where she has finished in MVP voting in each of her first six seasons:

2016: 6th (one third-place vote)

2017: 10th

2018: WON AWARD (33 of 39 first-place votes)

2019: missed entire season with torn Achilles

2020: 2nd (three first-place votes)

2021: 3rd (five second-place votes)

Phoenix Mercury v Seattle Storm - Game Two
Breanna Stewart accepts the MVP trophy in 2018.
Photo by Neil Enns/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s hard to distinguish between Stewart’s seasons because, statistically, they are so close to being equally good. Sometimes the points were up a bit, other seasons the rebounds and others the assists. This year her steals are up and her rookie year her blocks were up. But it all hovers around the same area. So far, 2016 saw her career best in blocks, 2018 saw her career best in points, 2020 saw her career best in assists and steals and 2021 saw her best in rebounding. If things hold up, 2022 will see her set new highs in scoring and steals. Her career lows in each category are a still-astounding 18.3 points, 8.3 rebounds (7.5 this year), 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks (0.8 this year).

For those rooting for Stewart to become the GOAT, 2020 and 2021 must have felt oh so close when it came to the MVP award. They were typical Stewie seasons — and coming off an Achilles tear in 2019 no less — which is saying something. It’s just that A’ja Wilson was a little better in 2020 and Jonquel Jones and Brittney Griner were a little better in 2021.

Or were they?

If you create a stat score from adding up points, rebounds, assists times 1.5, steals and blocks per game, you will see that Stewart actually had a higher score than MVP Wilson in 2020 and a higher score than second-place Griner in 2021. She was only 0.5 off from MVP Jones in 2021. That’s just how close Stewart is to having three MVP awards in six seasons.

Here are the stat scores of the top two to three MVP votes getters from the past two seasons:

A’ja Wilson 2020: 35.2

Breanna Stewart 2020: 36.4

Jonquel Jones 2021: 37.4

Brittney Griner 2021: 36.4

Breanna Stewart 2021: 36.9

Now, Wilson was the heart and soul of the 2020 Las Vegas Aces, a team that finished the regular season tied with Stewart’s Seattle Storm in first place. She was playing without the aid of Liz Cambage, while back in those days Stewart was still a part of a big four instead of a big three with Jewell Loyd, Sue Bird and Natasha Howard, the last of whom is not longer with the Storm. As the Storm showed in their Finals sweep of the Aces, Stewart was not the single most valuable player to a team because she had tons of help. But wouldn't the opposite be true this year? Wilson has Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young both in the MVP conversation with her, while Stewart is on a team averaging 7.8 less points per game than it did in 2020.

In 2021, Jones was the heart and soul of a Connecticut Sun team that was without Alyssa Thomas for nearly the entire season. Those Sun finished the regular season five games better than the Storm and Jones had the better stat score than Stewart anyway.

But this year, even if the Storm remain in fourth place, can voters overlook Stewart if her numbers are comfortably better than everyone else’s? It’s not all about numbers, but Stewart deserves some sort of recognition for turning in amazing statistics, arguably the best in the league, year in and year out.

Here are the top five stat scores so far in 2022:

1) Breanna Stewart: 37.2

2) A’ja Wilson: 33.5

3) Kelsey Plum: 33.5 (really 33.45)

4) Sabrina Ionescu: 33.4

5) Alyssa Thomas: 32.2

Now it’s very early, but Stewart’s track record proves she is capable of keeping this up. So if she ends the season 3.7 ahead of the next person, will that be enough to get her the MVP award? It should be noted that Tina Charles’ stat score was 0.6 higher than Jones’ last year yet Charles finished fifth in MVP voting because she played for a Washington Mystics team that missed the playoffs. (Charles did receive six second-place votes). But if Stewart’s Storm are close to the top of league and she’s 3.7 ahead instead of 0.6 ahead, would that change things?

Wilson is the frontrunner for MVP so far in 2022. Her rebounding is second in the league — as is her blocked shot average, her scoring average is up due to 60 points over her last two games and she provides so many things that don’t show up in the box score. The Aces are getting out in transition and having fun to the tune of a league-leading 90.9 points per game. The amazing offensive flow is no doubt a credit to a feel-good attitude in the locker room, which has Wilson’s fingerprints all over it. She more than anyone else has been able to amplify the “No Liz, no problem” vibe and has given this team a rebirth of even greater play than what they put on display when they were the frontrunners with Cambage.

With all that said, Stewart isn’t just leading the league in scoring. You have to look at her rebounding and steals too. That's what makes her total stat score so high. And she’s dishing out a few assists per game too. And history tells us her rebounding and shot-blocking will improve. Like Wilson, she has been hot lately with 86 points over her last three games, and that included the game-winner in her most recent contest.

Highlights: Breanna Stewart Tuesday vs. the Lynx

Now, my stat score formula doesn't take efficiency into account and that obviously needs to be taken into account. When Stewart won her MVP award in 2018 she shot by far her career best from the field (52.9 percent) and from three (41.5 percent). It would also help Stewart if the Storm move higher than fourth and generate some sort of excitement surrounding them similar to what the Aces have now. I think because the Storm were kind of blah before winning their last four games to move four games above .500, Stewart hasn’t gotten as much attention as Wilson. People know she’s the league’s leading scorer, but I honestly don’t think many people know that she’s the best across all five major categories, though you would assume the leading scorer would be up there.

This is just a friendly reminder that the best player in the world is indeed at the top based on one form of measurement: production across the stat sheet.

Stewart continues her MVP case Friday night at 7 p.m. ET in Connecticut in a key battle between two good teams (CBS Sports Network).