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Race to MVP: Breanna Stewart Tops Final Ballot

Note: WNBA.com’s Race to the MVP is the opinion of this writer and does not reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

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When Breanna Stewart entered the WNBA in 2016, we knew it was only a matter of time. A four-time Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four at UConn, Stewart was destined to become one of the league’s best players from the moment she got drafted. She finished sixth in the MVP voting as a rookie and looked like a surefire candidate for many years to come.

Now in her third season, Stewart has guided Seattle to the best record in the WNBA (26-8). Before this year, the Storm hadn’t achieved a winning season since 2011, much less the No. 1 overall seed.

It’s not just Stewart that contributed to this success. Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird had All-Star seasons themselves, and newcomer Natasha Howard is a candidate to be named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player. First-year coach Dan Hughes created something special with a group that hadn’t unlocked its full potential.

In the end, Stewart’s dominance on the league’s best team seems to have won her the MVP award. Several media outlets have indicated they will vote for Stewart, including ESPN, The Athletic and WNBA.com contributor Michelle Smith. She gets the final nod on this list, too.

There are other worthy candidates, namely Liz Cambage and Elena Delle Donne.

Cambage climbs back to No. 2 in our final rankings after helping Dallas reach the postseason with a memorable performance. She dropped 43 points with 13 rebounds in last week’s win over Las Vegas to secure the playoff berth. It was the second-highest scoring game in the WNBA this year, behind only her league-record 53 points on July 17.

Cambage led the WNBA in Estimated Impact and Player Efficiency Rating. She scored the most points over a 10-game span in league history (309) and became the first player with back-to-back 35-point games. After four years away from the WNBA, Cambage was, in a word, dominant.

Heading into the All-Star break, one could have made a legitimate case for Cambage over Stewart. But the Wings struggled down the stretch and finished 15-19, barely holding on to the No. 8 seed. They were 16-18 without Cambage last year.

Delle Donne, meanwhile, led Washington to a franchise record-tying 22 wins and the third-best record in the WNBA. The Mystics closed the year with eight straight wins before falling to Minnesota in the season finale while resting their stars. Like Stewart, Delle Donne’s team hadn’t experienced much recent success until she arrived in 2017 via trade.

Delle Donne ranked third in Player Efficiency Rating behind Cambage and Stewart. The 2015 MVP made strides as a distributor, averaging a career-high 2.3 assists per game and reducing her turnovers to less than one per contest. She did miss five games, while Stewart played all 34.

Stewart is also the most versatile player among the top MVP candidates. She ranked near the very top of the league in points (21.8 per game), rebounds (8.4), blocks (1.4), steals (1.4), field goal percentage (52.9%) and three-point percentage (41.5%). The 6-4 forward ranked ninth in the entire WNBA in three-pointers made (61).

When Stewart entered the league, the comparisons to Storm legend Lauren Jackson were inevitable. Jackson won three MVP awards and two titles in Seattle as a versatile forward who could do it all on both ends. Her first MVP award came in her third season. Now, Stewart has broken the franchise’s single-season scoring record set by Jackson and tallied the sixth-most points in WNBA history (742).

Stewart produced the most Win Shares in the league by a significant margin, the truest indicator of how valuable a player is to her team. And if you want to dig deeper, Stewart outscored Cambage in all four head-to-head matchups this season.

Thus, in addition to her case as the best player on the best team, Stewart has the numbers to back it up. At age 23, she figures to be in the MVP conversation for the foreseeable future.

If she wins, Stewart will be the 10th different player to earn the award in the last 10 years.

Final Rankings

  1. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
  2. Liz Cambage, Dallas Wings
  3. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
  4. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
  5. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
  6. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
  7. Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta Dream
  8. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
  9. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
  10. Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut Sun