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WNBA MVP race: A’ja Wilson vs. Breanna Stewart showdown is on

(David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)

With one month of regular season games left to play, the WNBA MVP race is getting serious as players make their cases on the court.

From 40-point games to triple-doubles, three candidates are routinely putting on MVP-level performances and are ahead of the rest, while three others deserve a mention.

Top contenders

A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces

Last year’s MVP and Defensive Player of the Year is once again a leader for both awards. The Aces are the top team in the WNBA and the favorites to win the championship, and Wilson is the heart of their offense and defense.

A player who dominates both ends of the court automatically has a leg up in MVP conversations, and Wilson certainly does. She’s averaging a near double-double with 21.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, while recording 2.2 blocks on the defensive end. Wilson’s importance to the Aces goes well beyond her impressive stat line, though.

Defensively, her rim protection allows the Las Vegas guards to play intense on-ball defense and take risks that lead to run-outs. They know if they get beat off the dribble, Wilson is there to clean up.

Some will argue against Wilson’s case for MVP because of the talent she has around her, with her All-Star and All-WNBA teammates carrying much of the responsibility. On the flip side, the Aces have four elite offensive weapons — including Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young — but they know running things through Wilson is the best way to win. It’s working, as Wilson takes the most shots out of anyone on the team at 14.3 per game, and Las Vegas has the best record in the WNBA at 27-3.

And with Candace Parker out after having surgery on her foot, Wilson has taken on an even greater role. Starting on July 11, she went on an eight-game stretch of 20 or more points per game. Since then, she’s scored over 20 points in 11 of her team’s last 12 contests, including a career-high 40 points in a win over the Mystics on Friday.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Breanna Stewart, New York Liberty

To reach MVP status, a player has to do things that no one else has. Stewart certainly does that. Teammate Courtney Vandersloot has called the New York Liberty forward “the best player in the world,” and she has a point.

The Liberty have 11 games left in the regular season, and Stewart has already set a WNBA record by becoming the first player in history to record three 40-point games in a single season. Her first came in New York’s home opener, when Stewart dropped 45 in a win over the Fever. She did it again on July 5 in a win over the Mercury, and most recently in another victory over the Fever on Sunday.

Stewart’s season stats are also MVP-worthy. She’s averaging 23.3 points (second in the WNBA), 9.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. Stewart has been consistent in her scoring efforts, finishing with single-digit points just once in her team’s 30 games.

The Liberty have the second-best record in the league at 24-6, but things haven’t necessarily been easy for the team. They were dubbed a “superteam” after bringing in Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Vandersloot to join Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney in the offseason, but early on the group of stars failed to mesh. Notably, Jones was nursing an injury at the beginning of the season that kept the former MVP from performing at the level people expected.

Through the ups and downs, Stewart was the guiding force, almost single-handedly keeping her team afloat. Now they are reaping the benefits, as one of the favorites (alongside the Aces) to win the WNBA title. That’s something the Liberty have never accomplished despite being one of the league’s first franchises. With Stewart on their roster, it’s suddenly a real possibility.

Stewart and Wilson will go head-to-head twice this week, first in the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game on Tuesday and again in their teams’ final regular-season meeting of the season on Thursday.

(Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun

Stewart and Wilson will likely battle it out for the MVP trophy — conversations surrounding the award so far this season have skewed toward one or the other — but the Sun’s Alyssa Thomas deserves the same amount of attention.

The Sun are a contending team, currently third in the league with a 21-9 record. Along with the Aces and Liberty, they are one of just three teams in the WNBA with over 20 wins.

A lot changed for Connecticut in the offseason, as Jonquel Jones departed for New York and Curt Miller took a head coaching job with the Los Angeles Sparks. A drop-off from last year’s Finals appearance was expected but never happened. The Sun have stayed in contention against all odds, including an injury to reigning WNBA Sixth Player of the Year Brionna Jones, and Thomas is the biggest reason why.

Statistically, no single category jumps off Thomas’ stat page, but when you add it all together, you get the WNBA’s triple-double queen. Thomas isn’t scoring 20 points a game, but it’s hard to argue that anyone is more important to their team than she is to the Sun.

Thomas is averaging 15.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game. She also does the majority of Connecticut’s ball-handling, boasting a 4.1-to-1.6 assist-to-turnover record. Thomas has been stuffing the stat sheet all season and currently holds the WNBA record for triple-doubles, with five so far in 2023. Thomas does a little bit — or in some cases a lot — of everything for her team, making her a perfect MVP candidate.

Other candidates worth mentioning

At least three other WNBA players come to mind as having MVP-type seasons. But a large part of the criteria for the award is playing for a team in contention to win a title, and right now, these players don’t fall into that category.

(Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Satou Sabally, Dallas Wings

The Wings have the goods to make a playoff run, thanks to Arike Ogunbowale, Natasha Howard, Satou Sabally and a group of skilled role players. Sabally is healthy after battling injuries over the last couple of years, and she’s having the best season of her life.

The Oregon product is averaging 18.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game, making her an asset all over the court. The Wings are currently in fourth place in the WNBA at 16-14, with impressive wins over the Aces, Liberty and Sun.

Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx

With WNBA legend Sylvia Fowles in retirement, the Lynx are officially Collier’s team, and she’s up for the challenge. The 2019 first-round pick is averaging a career-high in points with 21.4 per contest, to go along with 7.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. The Lynx are fifth in the WNBA at 14-16.

Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm

The Storm star is taking on a huge role for her team now that Stewart is gone and Sue Bird has retired. She’s leading the WNBA with 24.1 points per game and 3.1 made 3-pointers per game. But Seattle is 10th in the WNBA, making it hard for Loyd to make a real case for the MVP award.

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