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WNBA MVP: Breanna Stewart’s case for the award in 2023

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Breanna Stewart leads the No. 2 Liberty into the playoffs after a stellar first season in New York. (Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images)

When Breanna Stewart signed with the New York Liberty during the 2023 offseason, she instantly rocketed the franchise into contention.

After 26 years of existence, one of the WNBA’s founding teams has yet to win a title. But when Stewart joined Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot as key additions in New York this season, suddenly that first championship seemed not just possible, but likely.

To New York, Stewart brought her immense talent and a winning culture, having won two WNBA championships and two Finals MVP awards with the Seattle Storm. The Liberty needed both, and Stewart has been even better than advertised.

Early in the season, as Jones nursed an injury and the Liberty learned to play together, Stewart kept them afloat, coming out of the gate with 45 points in her home debut. Now, Stewart is one of three leading candidates for the WNBA MVP award — to be announced on Sept. 26 — and New York is poised for a championship run.

Stewart is averaging 23 points per game, a mark that is both second in the WNBA this season and a career-high for the 29-year-old during her seven-year career. She’s also averaging 9.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, doing a little bit of everything for the Liberty. The forward finished second to Jewell Loyd for the 2023 scoring title and all-time single-season record, recording 919 total points this season. On Tuesday, she was named AP Player of the Year, beating out A’ja Wilson by one vote.

Stewart also makes her teammates better, something that drew Vandersloot, a 2021 WNBA champion and five-time All-Star, to sign with New York and add another piece to the “superteam” puzzle.

“I think she is one of the best players in the world,” Vanderlsoot said of Stewart, after a Liberty win over the Sun in June. “She makes my job easy. She elevates my game, holds me to a high standard. That was a huge part of my decision to come here. I wanted to play with someone who would do that. She does that on a nightly basis. She is just special. She just performs every single night.”

The No. 1 overall pick of the Storm in 2016, Stewart helped the team win titles in 2018 and 2020 while also being named WNBA MVP in 2018 after averaging 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals that season. This year, Stewart is better in every category than she was in 2018.

This historic season in New York only adds to Stewart’s legacy and that of the Liberty, which was the goal from the day she signed. Winning another MVP award — especially over the likes of Wilson, the Las Vegas star and reigning MVP, and triple-double leader Alyssa Thomas — would make her move to the city that much sweeter.

“I decided to go to New York because I want to continue to be great,” she told ESPN at the time of her signing. “And I want to go to the place where I can continue to help this league become better, to continue to raise the standard. And I feel like why not go to the biggest market in all of sports. And I’m really excited to go after their first championship.”

The quest for a championship starts Friday, as the No. 2 seed Liberty take on the Washington Mystics in the first round. New York finished the regular season with a 32-8 record.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.