Breaking down the WNBA MVP battle

Published August 17, 2022, 1:00 AMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

The race to the WNBA MVP is down to two players, Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson. Who deserves to take home the crown as the league’s best player?

The WNBA MVP debate becomes even more interesting when there are two clear-cut candidates. That was the case in 2020 when A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart were the favorites to win the MVP award. 

History repeats itself this season as the two All-WNBA players are once again the two best players in the league. Because Wilson and Stewart are so inseparable, it’s time to take a closer look at how the two have stacked up this season.

Individual Stats: Breanna Stewart

The first consideration when talking about the MVP is how well each player performed this season. The boxscore numbers for both Stewart and Wilson are almost identical. 

Stewart led the league in scoring, putting up 21.8 points at a 47.2 percent clip, with two 3-pointers made per game. Beyond her scoring, she hauled down 7.6 rebounds, dished out 2.9 assists, and swiped the ball 1.6 times per contest.

Wilson wasn’t far behind. She was fifth in scoring, dropping 19.5 points per night at a more efficient 50.1 percent rate. She also had better rebounding and defensive numbers (9.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG, and 1.9 BPG).

Stewart starts to separate herself when the advanced numbers come into play. Per 100 possessions she has an offensive rating of 119, while her defensive rating is 96. That puts her net rating at 23, higher than Wilson’s 18 (115 ORTG, 97 DRTG). In terms of win shares, Stewie also holds the edge with 7.4 estimated wins contributed. That number leads the league this season (Wilson is second at 6.5 win shares).

Wilson and Stewart were both phenomenal this season. But Stewie’s production was irreplaceable for the Seattle Storm, that’s why she gets the slight edge in this category.

Team Record: A’ja Wilson

When it comes to the MVP debate, wins matter. That’s the reason Wilson takes this category. The Las Vegas Aces are the best team in the league with a 26-10 record. They edged out the Chicago Sky for the top seed heading into the playoffs by winning the tiebreaker against them.

The Seattle Storm finished the season with 22 wins and 14 losses, putting them in the middle of the playoff pack in fourth place.

Team records matter more this season since the WNBA changed its playoff format. The top eight teams in the league will compete in a bracket format all the way to the finals. That means the route for the top-seeded Aces is relatively easier as they face the undermanned, eighth-seeded Phoenix Mercury. The Storm will have to contend with a gutsy Washington Mystics squad who earned the fifth seed.

Head-to-head matchup: A’ja Wilson

Interestingly, the Aces were able to tie Sky’s 26 wins with their comeback win over the Storm on the final day of the regular season. Seattle was up by 10 in the third quarter when a furious rally allowed the Aces to pull ahead and get the win in the final period.

With that win, Las Vegas finished with a 3-1 season series against the Storm. The Aces have also won against the Storm twice in the past two weeks adding fuel to the MVP debate. Seattle’s lone win over Las Vegas was an 88-78 result back in June.

Wilson averaged 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in her four games against the Storm. She had incredible performances like the 20-15 line in their first win and the 29-point bomb in their lone loss to Seattle.

On the other side of the matchup, Stewart averaged 22.7 points to go along with 10.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists. She also brought her best against Las Vegas, like her 35-point explosion in their third meeting.

Teammate strength: Breanna Stewart

With the two playing to a near-stalemate in their season series, the contributions of their teammates have to also be taken into account. This is where the Aces’ depth hurts Wilson.

The Aces were a virtual All-Star team this season. Surrounding Wilson are fellow All-Stars Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, and Dearica Hamby. Also part of the team is veteran point guard Chelsea Gray. Plum, Young, and Gray are all double-digit scorers. In fact, Wilson isn’t even the leading scorer on her team. That distinction belongs to Plum who averages 20.2 points per game. 

Having all these players around her makes Wilson’s life so much easier. She sees fewer double teams because Plum and Young are deadeye shooters who will make defenses pay for leaving them open (42.0 and 43.1 3PT%, respectively). Gray and Plum are great playmakers who can get Wilson the ball in her spots (5.1 and 6.1 APG, respectively).

Stewart has two All-Star teammates, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd. Loyd helped Stewart out with scoring, averaging 16.3 points per game. While Bird is a legend, she was clearly on her last legs this season. Her scoring was the lowest of her career at 7.8 points per game. Even with the midseason addition of Tina Charles, the bulk of the load for this season was still carried by Stewart.

That makes Stewie’s production all the more impressive. She faces defenses that are keyed in on her and still puts up monster numbers in nearly every game she plays.

Narrative: Breanna Stewart

This is where things get interesting. 

The biggest storyline this season for Wilson was her acceptance of the full-time center position of the team. She’s adapted to her new role easily, without any hint of drama. That’s it. Wilson is having the season everyone expected her to have.

As for Stewart, for most of the season, the focus hasn’t been on her. She’s let Bird have the limelight given that it’s the legend’s swan song in the WNBA. She chugged along and continued to tow the Storm to wins with little fanfare.

What most people gloss over is the fact that Stewart is only three years removed from a major injury. Back in 2019 she tore her Achilles and missed the entire season. She came back with a vengeance in 2020 and reinserted herself into the MVP conversation before eventually losing the award that year to Wilson.

It’s been two years since then, and both players are back at the top of the league. This is Stewie’s chance to get back at Wilson.


This pick takes nothing away from Wilson who is the best player on the best team in the league. The Storm just needed every bit of MVP production from Stewart. They wouldn’t have sniffed the playoffs without her.

Taking a look back at the 2020 MVP race, Wilson may have won the MVP but Stewart got the last laugh. The Storm won the championship that season with Steward taking home the Finals MVP award.

Will the script be flipped this time around?