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Brittney Griner makes early case for WNBA MVP with emphatic return

Brittney Griner is averaging 21.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game to start the 2023 season. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Brittney Griner is making an early case for WNBA MVP.

The 32-year-old Phoenix Mercury center is averaging 21.3 points and 8.0 rebounds through the first three games of the season, which puts her at sixth and 14th in the league, respectively. Just New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart and Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally rank ahead of her in both categories.

She also leads the WNBA with 3.7 blocks, with at least three in every game so far. That makes her the first player in WNBA history to open a season with three consecutive games of 15+ points, 5+ rebounds and 3+ blocks, Across the Timeline reported.

The strong start marks an astounding return to form for the center, who spent all of last season detained in Russia. She was freed via a prisoner swap and returned to the U.S. in December after nearly 10 months in Russian custody.

After her first preseason game, Griner noted that she was dealing with “more cobwebs” than she expected, even after she posted 10 points in her first WNBA appearance in 572 days. After all, her defense could be better, she said.

“I didn’t think I would be playing basketball this quickly,” Griner said after that game. “Even coming back, I didn’t know how it was going to go getting back into it. I mean, I’m grateful to be here for sure. I’m not going to take today for granted, but it was a lot to take in.

“Coach (Vanessa Nygaard) keeps telling me to give myself grace, but that’s hard.”

With the start to the regular season, Griner has settled in on defense, if her blocks and rebounds are any indication. Of her 24 total rebounds, 21 have been defensive.

And while she’s back to tormenting her opponents, her fellow WNBA players are happy to be sharing the court with her again.

“She’s a part of our family, a great player,” Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale said. “She’s a generational talent with her height and athleticism — and just a good person all around.”

As Los Angeles Sparks head coach Curt Miller said, Griner “doesn’t look like she missed a beat.” And if she keeps playing like she has, she could compete for the first WNBA MVP award of her decorated career.