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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.

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(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.

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(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.

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(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.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

USWNT Looks to Extend Winning Streak in Final Olympic Send-Off

USWNT striker Sophia Smith dribbles through Costa Rican defenders during a 2022 Concacaf W Championship game.
The USWNT last took on Costa Rica at the 2022 Concacaf Championship semifinal. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

The USWNT’s last tune-up match before the Olympics has arrived, with the FIFA world No. 5 US looking for an 18th-straight all-time win over No. 44 Costa Rica tonight at Washington, DC's Audi Field.

Just three days after a redemptive 1-0 victory over No. 29 Mexico, head coach Emma Hayes’s Paris-bound roster appears to be finding its stride. Calling Saturday’s win "a step in the right direction," Hayes went on to say, "I think we’re only scratching the surface. I think there’s a lot of layers to go from everyone."

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 13: USWNT coach Emma Hayes stands on the field before a game between Mexico and USWNT
The new-look USWNT is looking to hit its stride after several matches under Hayes. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Hayes's USWNT is still finding its footing

With their first Olympic group stage game against No. 64 Zambia slated for July 25th, the new-look USWNT — which features the youngest roster in 16 years — is working to define its style of play.

While the USWNT’s signature ability to score in transition remains a strong point, the team also acknowledged their shaky first half on Saturday, with midfielder Rose Lavelle commenting that they're "working on being a little more tactically flexible... We’re trying to, as a group, learn how to adjust on the fly and be a little smarter with our adjustments during the games."

The patience required to choose their moments, along with the team’s ability to read and anticipate each other's movements, is clutch to increasing effectiveness in the areas where the USWNT appeared most disjointed against Mexico.

At stake is an Olympic podium finish, where the US hopes to improve on their bronze medal performance in Tokyo — but the team also aims to make a splash amidst their increasingly sophisticated opponents.

Costa Rica captain Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez chases the ball during a match against Panama in 2020.
Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez, Costa Rica's captain, is the only NWSL on their Olympic roster. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Rodriguez leads a rising Costa Rica team

If improving offensive unity and production is tonight’s goal, Las Ticas could provide the ideal matchup: In their 17 previous meetings, the USWNT has outscored Costa Rica 90-2 overall.

That said, Costa Rica has switched things up since the sides last met in July 2022, with the US defeating the Central American squad 3-0 in the Concacaf Championship semifinal. Las Ticas competed in the 2023 World Cup and reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals earlier this year, where they narrowly fell to No. 8 Canada in extra time.

Costa Rica is captained by 30-year-old Angel City midfielder Rocky Rodriguez, the lone NWSL player on their roster and, in 2015, the first Costa Rica national to ever score in a Women's World Cup.

In addition to maintaining a perfect record against Costa Rica, the USWNT will look to extend their current unbeaten streak to nine, which includes three shutouts in Hayes’s first three matches at the helm.

Lindsay Horan drinks water before the USWNT's match against Ireland in April 2023.
An excessive heat warning is in effect for Washington, DC today. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Where to watch the USWNT vs. Costa Rica friendly

Expect some hydration breaks due to DC's scorching temperatures during tonight’s 7:30 PM ET match, airing live on TNT and streaming on Peacock.

TruTV and Max will simultaneously air the first-ever USWNT altcast, hosted by retired USWNT star Sam Mewis, former USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, and Men in Blazers founder Roger Bennett.

Sizing Up USWNT’s 2024 Olympic Competition

Germany's Giulia Gwinn steps to the ball while Iceland's Sandra Jessen slides in during Friday's UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match.
Germany lost their Euros qualifier against Iceland 3-0 on Friday, less than two weeks before Olympic football begins. (Hulda Margret/Getty Images)

With Olympic soccer kicking off in just over a week, the USWNT isn't the only national squad prepping for the podium with a series of pre-Paris matchups. Both international friendlies and important qualifiers are on the docket, with several European teams competing for a spot in the UEFA Women's EURO 2025.

Regardless of the stakes, these performances might provide some insight into what the USWNT can expect once the Summer Games begin.

Czechia national soccer team celebrates as Spain women's national soccer team defender Laia Aleixandri leaves the pitch
FIFA World No. 1 Spain fell to Czechia on Friday in a 2025 Euros qualifier. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Pre-Olympic matches expose problems for top teams

Of the 12 Olympic teams, recent outings from FIFA world No. 1 Spain and No. 4 Germany featured the most shocking outcomes.

Despite dominating possession behind an opening goal from 2023 Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí, the 2023 World Cup winners fell 2-1 to No. 30 Czechia in Friday's Euros qualifier — their first loss of 2024. They managed to bounce back on Tuesday, however, beating Belgium 2-0 to finish out the league stage on top with 15 points.

Spain heads into the Summer Games aiming to become the first women’s team to win a World Cup and Olympic gold back-to-back, though they’ll need to reclaim their composure to achieve that feat in the face of an Olympic group that includes Japan, Nigeria, and Brazil.

France defender Sakina Karchaoui celebrates her opening goal during Friday's 2-1 win over Sweden.
Defender Sakina Karchaoui scored the opening goal in France's 2-1 win over Sweden on Friday. (ARNAUD FINISTRE/AFP via Getty Images)

No. 2 France took down No. 6 Sweden 2-1 in Friday's Euro qualifier, but flipped the script on Tuesday with a 3-1 loss to last-place No. 25 Republic of Ireland, who notched their first win. However, thanks to England's 0-0 draw with Sweden — also on Tuesday — France still topped their qualifying group with 12 points. Les Bleus will look for more consistent results going into the Olympics, where they're set to face Colombia, New Zealand, and Guinea in the group stage.

But it was Germany who stumbled the hardest, losing out 3-0 to No. 14 Iceland in their own Friday qualifier. After the match, Germany's head coach Horst Hrubesch didn’t mince words.

"We have to assert ourselves from the start in the individual battles. The way we played just wasn’t good," Hrubesch told reporters. "We deserved to lose. We handed them all three goals on a plate."

Tuesday also saw improvement for Germany, as they routed Austria 4-0 to claim first place in the group standings with 15 points.

But the earlier loss was still foreboding for this German squad. The two-time world champions fell to 3-2 to Zambia just weeks before the 2023 World Cup, before failing to advance past the World Cup group stage for the first time in the tournament’s history. Germany also faces some tough Olympic group stage competition, battling Australia and the USWNT before crossing paths with Zambia once again.  

Team Canada celebrate their victory in the 2020 Olympic Gold Medal Match with Sweden
Team Canada has their work cut out for them if they want to repeat their Tokyo gold medal run. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Friendlies rally Olympic teams outside Europe

Defending Olympic champs FIFA World No. 8 Canada defeated No. 12 Australia 2-1 on Saturday, with KC Current forward Nichelle Prince and ex-Gotham striker Evelyne Viens both scoring in the friendly. Canada will play world No. 36 Nigeria in a closed-door friendly on Wednesday before kicking off their Olympic campaign against New Zealand on July 25th. 

For their part, No. 28 New Zealand drew 1-1 in a friendly with No. 64 Zambia on Saturday, while non-Olympic-bound Ecuador handed No. 22 Colombia a 2-1 send-off loss.

Liberty, Aces Surge Ahead of WNBA All-Star Weekend

NY Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu dribbles up the Chicago Sky court on Saturday.
NY Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu is scoring a career-high 19.4 points per game on the season. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty head into the last week of regular play prior to WNBA All-Star Weekend — and the subsequent Olympic break — firmly ahead of the pack with the WNBA's best regular season record, becoming the first team this season to reach 20 wins on Saturday.

With Breanna Stewart briefly sidelined, Sabrina Ionescu led the Liberty to a two-game sweep of the Chicago Sky, topping the score sheet in both games. Ionescu is currently averaging 19.4 points per game, the highest in her career (not including her three-game rookie year).

Las Vegas center A'ja Wilson shoots over Atlanta center Tina Charles on July 12th, 2024.
A'ja Wilson posted her third-straight 25-point, 15-rebound performance last weekend. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Aces excel behind WNBA MVP favorite A'ja Wilson

The Aces continued climbing the table behind A'ja Wilson's record-breaking run, finishing the weekend in third with a record of 16-7. On Sunday, Wilson became the first player in WNBA history to register three consecutive 25-point, 15-rebound performances.

With Sunday's 89-77 victory over the Mystics, Las Vegas has won 10 of their last 11 games following the return of starting point guard Chelsea Gray. The third-place Aces are now nipping at the heels of the Liberty and second-place Connecticut Sun (18-5), with the Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm tied for fourth at 16-8.

The push for playoff positioning grows fierce

Amidst the looming Olympic break, further down in the WNBA standings, sixth-place Phoenix dropped to 12-12 on a two-game skid, while Indiana won eight of their last 10 games to capture seventh.

Eighth-place Chicago currently holds onto the final playoff spot, with double-double machine Angel Reese boosting the Sky's stats despite back-to-back losses.

Speaking of double-doubles, Reese's record-breaking double-double streak came to an end after Saturday's loss to the Liberty.

A frontrunner for WNBA Rookie of the Year, Reese finished with eight points and 16 rebounds against New York, falling just a couple points short of what would have been her 16th-straight double-double. The LSU grad's record stands as the longest double-double streak in WNBA history, surpassing previous record-holder Candace Parker by three games.

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Next up: WNBA All-Star Weekend

Regular season WNBA play extends through Wednesday, with all eyes turning to the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game this upcoming weekend. The highly anticipated matchup between the US Olympic squad and WNBA All-Stars tips off on Saturday, July 20th in Phoenix.

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