With apologies to Jewell Loyd, Jackie Young, Napheesa Collier and Nneka Ogwumike, A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart and Alyssa Thomas have established themselves as the leading contenders for the WNBA’s ultimate honor. Here’s the midseason case for each of three:
A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces)
The numbers: 20.5 ppg, 55.2 fg%, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 spg, 2.1 bpg, 30.2 PER
The pitch: The best player on the best team.
Being on a super team requires sacrifices. For Wilson, that sacrifice might include winning back-to-back MVPs.
It’s easy to envision the majority of voters deciding that the Aces’ accumulation of talent is too unfair and, therefore, that Wilson, while once again excellent, is not absolutely essential to her team’s success. Or, at least not essential enough to be named MVP.
Yet, if this possibly faulty premise is discarded, it would be hard not to determine that Wilson is more than worthy of joining Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie and Lauren Jackson as a three-time WNBA MVP.
Whether quantified through traditional or advanced stats, the totality of Wilson’s 2023 production exceeds that of her previous MVP performances. Despite a decrease in shot attempts and overall usage, she is averaging more points per game than last season, while approaching her 2020 average. This is because she has reached another level of efficiency, with a career-best true shooting percentage of 61.7 She’s also achieving career highs in boards and blocks per game.
Yes, the Aces are better than last season, better than any other team this season and, arguably, better than any team in WNBA history. But, attention to the Aces in aggregate should not distract from—much less diminish—the fact that Wilson also is better than ever.
Breanna Stewart (New York Liberty)
The numbers: 23.3 ppg, 47.8 fg%, 41.4 3p%, 9.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 28.9 PER
The pitch: There’s not a super team in NY, just a superstar.
Stewart’s MVP case presents a bit of a conundrum for Liberty fans, as elevating her as the Most Valuable Player requires implicitly admitting that, despite a series of splashy offseason additions, the Liberty are not a super team; rather, they are a very good team with a singular, certified superstar.
Or, as our Chelsea Leite put it, “Stewart is this team’s IT factor.”
Oftentimes, voters’ MVP equation defines “valuable” as the perceived degree to which a candidate’s team could survive, or not survive, without her. While the data suggests the Aces would be more than okay without Wilson, the Liberty would not be okay without Stewart. When she is off the court, New York has a negative net rating (-5.4), with their offense, in particular, plummeting to putridness. To oversimplify it, the Liberty would be swimming with the Sparks and Sky in the standings without Stewart; instead. they’re in second place.
As indicated by her influence, Stewart is, unsurprisingly, producing career highs across the board: points per game, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free throw attempts, rebounds and assists. She also popped off for a franchise-record and season-best 45 points in her second game for the seafoam squad.
This raw production, in combination with the statistical clarity of her value, likely gives Stewart the edge over Wilson. And if New York maintains the second spot in the standings over the Connecticut Sun and our third candidate, she could easily secure her second MVP.
Alyssa Thomas (Connecticut Sun)
The numbers: 14.8 ppg, 46.2 fg%, 9.6 rpg, 8.0 apg, 1.9 spg, 20.7 PER
The pitch: The disrespCT must stop.
Compared to Wilson and Stewart, Thomas does not fit neatly into the traditional MVP mold. Namely, she is not a prolific or efficient scorer. Rather, she is the intangibles MVP.
The Sun, in contrast to the Aces and Liberty, were not widely expected to be at the top of the standings, largely due to the departure of 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones. Yet, there they are. Thomas, aptly nicknamed “The Engine,” embodies the persistence of the Sun, a team that—some way, some how—finds a way to win, even if it is not always pretty.
Connecticut’s continued success since Brionna Jones suffered a season-ending injury saddled Thomas with even more responsibility, as it often has required her to play center on defense while serving as a point forward on offense. Because of these dual roles, she does put up impressive number outside of the scoring column, thus capturing her tangible impact on the Sun. Thomas currently ranks second in the league in assists per game and fifth in rebounding per game, a statistical pairing that encapsulates her singularity.
For Thomas to earn MVP honors, she and the Sun likely would have to pass Stewart and the Liberty in standings. And although a season-long award should not come down to a game or two, the remaining contests between the Sun and Liberty (Aug. 24 in Connecticut, Sep. 1 in New York) could go along way in swaying voters to Thomas or Stewart in the MVP race.
Stats compiled Jul. 22 from stats.wnba.com.