As the WNBA season has less than a month remaining, the race for a spot in the playoffs begins to heat up. With the Aces falling back down after a hot start, the race for the coveted championship trophy at the end of the tunnel is essentially a four-team race with the season winding down. On the individual side, the competition for the league's Most Valuable Player continues to be way too close to call. Several stars like Kelsey Plum and Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks are beginning to claw their way to the top of the MVP discussion, but the race for MVP still looks to be between the two players that are now considered the faces of the league.
The two team captains of the All-Star Game, Breanna Steward, and A'ja Wilson will no doubt be leading the pack due to their impact on both ends of the floor for their respective ball clubs. Stewart leads the league in scoring at 20.9 points per game while Wilson is sixth in that category, but has collected over 10 rebounds and two blocks per contest as she has led the top-heavy Aces to the top of the Western Conference. Wilson and Stewart may be the two-highest betting favorites to win the award, but players like Sabrina Ionescu and the reigning MVP Jonquel Jones have legitimate cases to be given the league's highest regular season individual honor.
During the All-Star weekend, Sue Bird spoke about Wilson and Stewart, and what they mean to the league, stating, "I think they’re really starting to establish themselves as players who can be the names for this league...Players who can represent this league, players who are going to set the bar in terms of what that MVP player looks like, what it means to be consistent every year. That’s how I would describe those two."
For the past five seasons, the player on the team with the best record in the league in the regular season was crowned the MVP. Right now if that was the case, Candace Parker of the Chicago Sky would get the nod, but there is still a look of time left in the regular season for the standings to shift around. Four out of the last five teams that have had the MVP on their team have not ended up winning the title in October. When it comes to the MVP discussion, like in a lot of sports, it is hard to argue with the numbers. In the WNBA there is so much talent on every team due to the size of the league, and with that many stars, only the greats are able to shine through the rest. Stewart and Wilson have done just that. Wilson is second in the WNBA in blocks with 2.1 per game behind only the Seattle Storm's Ezi Magbegor. Both of these stars are first and second respectively in player efficiency with Ogwumike, Ionescu, and Parker right behind the two stretch forwards.
Whenever the Aces need someone to bail them out, Wilson continues to deliver in the halfcourt. Since Plum has been inserted into the starting lineup, she has been able to create offense off the dribble that usually ends in a Wilson basket. Plum deserves some love in the MVP conversation due to her improvement from under 15 points per game the last season to over 20 this season under Becky Hammon. She is shooting over 42 percent from behind the arc on about 7.7 attempts per game which is most out of anyone in the top 28 in that category. Ionescu, Ogwumike, and Parker have been phenomenal for their respective teams, but in reality, it is going to be a race between the two players that are going to sit at the top of the ladder when it comes to talent in the WNBA for years to come.
Last week, Stewart spoke on some calling her and Wilson the future of the league, stating, "It’s not something [Wilson and I] talk about often, but I think it’s something we’re both very aware of...We know that what we do is going to reflect on the league and making sure that we’re doing our best to be our best on and off the court."
With a little less than a month until the end of the regular season, the candidates for the award need to make their final claim of why they should be given the honor. With how close Wilson and Stewart line up in the statistical department, it may come down to whose team finishes with the better record. For right now, Wilson may have the edge. While Stewart is leading the former South Carolina forward in both points and assists per game, Wilson averages more rebounds than any player in the WNBA, is second in rejections, and is at the top of the list for player efficiency in the league.
This past week, Wilson scored 25 points in 20 minutes of play in the third game of Las Vegas' series against the Liberty that ended in an Aces' blowout victory. It does not matter who is matched up against Wilson, she continues to take advantage of the player in front of her using the variety of shots she has in her arsenal. Stewart won the league MVP back in 2018 while Wilson took home the silverware in 2020. In many leagues, there is usually a clear-cut MVP winner each and every season like in the NFL, but one of the things that makes the WNBA special is the competitiveness the league possesses on a game-to-game basis. Anybody can beat anybody due to the array of talent that is spread throughout the league at the current moment. With the Aces beginning to come down to earth following a sensational start to the campaign gives life to the possibility of Stewart being crowned the league MVP for the second time.
She has seven contests so far this season where she has averaged 25 or more points and is leading a Storm side in a season where they just added Tina Charles and are saying farewell to Sue Bird at the conclusion of the campaign. Stewart is arguably the best in the league at attacking mismatches on the perimeter given her size. She can stretch the floor, or take her defender off the dribble. Both her and Wilson have such prolific games on both ends of the floor, and play virtually the same style due to both of them being exactly 6'4''. The future of the WNBA is in good hands, and with more players evolving into their own, Wilson and Stewart currently head the MVP race with regular season basketball winding down.
Despite there only being two players in serious consideration for the award, the growth and development of many in the league's elite have been on full display in the 26th season of the WNBA. Wilson leads the pack for now, but if the Storm continue to play quality basketball during the final stretch of the season behind the play of Stewart, the former UConn Huskie could see herself becoming just the seventh player to win multiple MVP awards.