Each week, WNBA.com updates its Race to the MVP column, a ranking of the top 10 candidates for the highly coveted Most Valuable Player award.
There is no Race to the ROY feature to update. It doesn’t exist. And for good reason – the Rookie of the Year award has been all but wrapped up and engraved with Breanna Stewart’s name for a while now.
When the Seattle forward entered the league as the top pick in the 2016 Draft, she carried with her the loftiest of expectations based on her unprecedented success in college. No other college basketball player – male or female – has won four straight national titles and four straight Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards.
It is a list of one, as has been the WNBA Rookie of the Month award this season. Stewart has won the award in each of the first three months of the season leading into the Olympic break, when she is the only rookie on the U.S. Women’s National Team. Through two games, she has been highly effective in her 24 minutes on the court, averaging 12.0 points and 3.5 rebounds, while shooting 87.5 percent (7-of-8) from the field as the Americans have won their games against Senegal and Spain by a combined 105 points.
While Stewart enjoys her first (of many) Olympic experiences, let’s take a closer look at what she has done in through the first 24 games of her professional career in the WNBA.
At the break, she ranks fifth in the league in scoring (19.2 ppg), second in rebounding (9.3), third in blocks (2.1), 15th in assists (3.5) and 18th in steals (1.3). She is one of three players – along with New York’s Tina Charles and L.A.’s Nneka Ogwumike – to rank in the top five in both scoring and rebounding. And while Charles narrowly edges Stewart in assists (14th with 3.7 per game), Stewart leads the 2010 (Charles) and 2012 (Ogwumike) Rookie of the Year winners in both steals and blocks.
Keep in mind, we’re looking at league ranks here, not just her ranks among first-year players, where she towers over her peers in nearly every statistical category.
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Stewart leads her former UConn teammate (and the No. 2 pick in the 2016 Draft) Moriah Jefferson by 7.0 points per game and is right on the heels of the San Antonio point guard in both assists and steals – categories that are normally dominated by backcourt players. To be fair, Stewart not only leads all rookies in minutes played; her 35.2 minutes per game leads all WNBA players. So Stewart has had more time to rack up stats than all of her fellow rookies.
And the Storm has needed every minute of Stewart on the floor. As Seattle coach Jenny Boucek said in our Storm Precap, “Stewie’s stepped into a situation where all eyes are on her because we are in a legitimate rebuild. So she’s having to handle a heavy, heavy, heavy load for a rookie. I think that says a lot about not just her talent but the ‘It’ factor that she has. She is comfortable with pressure, with responsibility. One of the things that I really, really respect about her is that she is extremely hungry to be coached. The really great players have that quality. They want feedback.”
But Stewart’s dominant numbers are not just a matter of having extra opportunities. The efficiency and versatility of Stewart’s game make her so special, especially this early in her professional career.
Let’s take at the 18 previous winners of the WNBA Rookie of the Year award to see how Stewart stacks up against some of the best players in league today.
Red: Statistical leader; Green: Stewart’s stats
Stewart ranks second in both scoring and blocks, fourth in rebounds, assists and free throw percentage, sixth in three-pointers made and steals, eighth in three-point percentage and 10th in field goal percentage.
The closest statistical matches to Stewart are a pair of former MVP winners in Candace Parker (2008 ROY) and Tamika Catchings (2002 ROY). They are the only players to average at least 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block as a rookie.
Of the 18 previous winners of the award, nine hit the threshold for points, 11 for rebounds, nine for assists, 13 for steals and six for blocks. But only two were able to hit the mark in all five categories. If Stewart’s numbers hold up over the final 10 games of the season, she will become the third to showcase such a complete game at this early of an age.
The similarity in the stats between Parker’s 2008 season and Stewart’s 2016 season jumps off the page. The two are separated by just 0.7 points, 0.2 rebounds, 0.1 assists and 0.2 blocks and own identical marks in steals. While Parker shot better percentages from the field and three-point line, Stewart has attempted the long-distance shot five times more frequently than Parker did as a rookie. Stewart also holds an edge in both free throw attempts and accuracy over Parker in a season that saw her not only win Rookie of the Year, but became the first and only player to win MVP honors as a rookie.
Stewart ranks sixth in the Race to the MVP at the Olympic break and climbing much higher than that will prove difficult as her outstanding play has not led to the same team success as the five players that sit above her, including Parker at No. 4. The Storm are 9-15 on the season, tied with Washington for the eighth and final spot in the new playoff format.
While her chances for the MVP trophy are somewhat slim, the odds could not be any more in her favor to be named the league’s Rookie of the Year. If and when that happens, she would be the 11th player selected No. 1 overall pick to go on and claim the award, including the eighth in the last nine seasons.