When it comes to exciting playoff matchups in the 2022 WNBA Playoffs, there can simply be no question what the biggest draw is. The same way in which the biggest draw for this year’s U.S. Open was the last dance of Serena Williams, the biggest draw for this year’s WNBA playoffs is seeing the top two MVP frontrunners, the Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart and the Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson, face off in the semifinals for a chance to advance to the WNBA Finals.
There is simply no question that this is the battle that every women’s basketball fan wanted to see coming into this playoffs and so far, it has been everything that they wanted. Stewart, who led the regular season in scoring with 21.8 points per game, is now leading the playoffs with 25 points per game. Meanwhile, Wilson was fifth in regular season scoring with 19.5 points per game and is currently 10th in playoff scoring with 16.5 points per game.
Honestly, the thing that has most impressed me about both of these women is how they are both elite two-way players, being able to score and defend at the highest level. Stewart was fifth in steals during the regular season with 1.6 steals per game. In the playoffs, she is currently seventh in rebounds with 8.8 per game and third in blocks with two per game.
On the flip side, Wilson was second in regular season rebounding with 9.4 rebounds per game and is currently third in the playoffs with 10.3 rebounds per game. After leading the league in blocks with 1.9 per game during the regular season, she is currently second in the playoffs with 2.5 blocks per game.
With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that Wilson took home Defensive Player of the Year honors with 20 out of 56 votes while the Connecticut Sun’s Alyssa Thomas finished second with 14 votes and Stewart finished third with 13 votes. Also, it’s no surprise that both Wilson and Stewart made the All-Defensive First Team and will no doubt make the All-WNBA First Team.
These two women could definitely turn out to be the new faces of the WNBA in the same year that two women’s basketball legends, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles, decided to retire. There’s also no question that other legends like Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker will soon follow suit, so commissioner Cathy Engelbert will have to find new marquee players to promote. With Wilson and Stewart, she could have a potential Magic and Bird dynamic to market, right down to an elite black player versus an elite white player.
If I’m being completely honest, I do in fact believe that Wilson and Stewart can in fact be the two new faces of the WNBA and that is evidenced not only by the numbers and the accolades this season and the fact that one of these two will be league MVP, but also by what we’re currently seeing in this series.
In Game 1 in Vegas, Stewart had 24 points on 53% shooting and was perfect from the free-throw line while also throwing in six rebounds, two assists, one steal and three blocks as the Storm beat the Aces on the road 76-73. Meanwhile, Wilson only had 8 points, but did have 12 rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
Based on the stat sheet alone, it was very noticeable how much the Aces were basically running their offense through Kelsey Plum, who had 20 points on 8-of-23 shooting. A good friend of mine even told me that apparently, Las Vegas head coach and Coach of the Year Becky Hammon was literally shouting at her team to run the offense through A’ja.
That mistake was corrected in the next game as the Aces avoided a 2-0 hole in a best-of-5 series behind Wilson’s 33 points on 67% shooting from the field and 73% free-throw shooting. She also grabbed 13 rebounds and had three blocks as she led her team to a 78-73 victory.
Stewart managed to match her in a losing effort as she had 32 points on 52% shooting from the field, 43% 3-point shooting and 100% free-throw shooting. She also had seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
Given how dominant both players have been on both ends of the court, the teams that they play for, how close the games have been and how much their teams rely on them, I think that there is definitely a strong case for Stewart and Wilson to become the new faces of the WNBA. With their different positions and different skill sets clashing on the biggest stage, I meant it when I said that this could be the WNBA’s Magic vs. Bird.
Both of these women have incredibly strong cases for one of them to take home their respective second MVP trophy. Personally, I believe that Stewart should get it because she has been asked to do more for the Storm by being their best offensive and defensive player. While Wilson is the league’s best defender, Kelsey Plum is clearly the best offensive option on the Aces.
Also, the Storm are facing an uncertain future with the pending retirement of Sue Bird and also the potential departure of Tina Charles. Stewart is a free agent after this season and that good friend of mine that I told you about earlier has told me that it is a possibility that she could sign with the New York Liberty, her home state team. I definitely believe that it is impressive that she is doing all of this knowing that this might be her last year playing with the team that she was not only drafted by, but also won two championships and two Finals MVPs.
Even though I’m leaning towards Breanna over A’ja for MVP, I would be fine with either one getting it because both have definitely earned it. It’s too bad that the WNBA can’t name both women Co-MVPs like the NFL did in 1997 with Brett Favre and Barry Sanders and in 2003 with Peyton Manning and Steve McNair.
Nevertheless, I look forward to watching both of these women play at the highest level for years to come. As women’s basketball continues to grow in popularity, these two will almost certainly be a big part of that and then some.