UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — A'ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart head into the playoffs this week as the top contenders to become the WNBA's most valuable player.
That's no surprise. They are the two superstars on the league's two “super teams” — the Las Vegas Aces (34-6) and the New York Liberty (32-8).
But there is a third contender for MVP as well.
Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas has played her way into the conversation, recording a league-record six triple-doubles in leading the Sun (27-13) to the No. 3 seed.
Thomas is the first player in league history to record at least 600 points, 400 rebounds and 300 assists in a single season. She also set a league high with 27 double-doubles — including the six triple-doubles — and set a league record with 316 assists — 7.9 per game — despite playing forward.
“She puts people in the right position. She finds people on the court and makes it easy for everyone out there,” said Sun guard DeWanna Bonner, who is also Thomas' fiancee. “I feel like she’s elevating everybody’s game on our team. That’s the definition of an MVP, and I think she’s done it night in and night out.”
Now in her 10th season, all with the Sun, Thomas said she embraced the role of team leader in the offseason after the team lost coach Curt Miller to Los Angeles and former MVP Jonquel Jones to New York. Thomas said she was motivated when pundits picked her team to finish near the bottom of the league, despite having just made it to the WNBA Finals.
“Scoring, rebounding and assisting, defense — you know, I do a lot of different things,” Thomas said. “I’m not just doing one thing out there. And yeah, I mean, I’ve been here the longest out of anybody. And I know what Connecticut is about, and it’s about setting the tone. And that’s what I try to do each and every day.”
Of course, different voters use different criteria when casting ballots for MVP.
Those who believe the award should go to the best player on the best team likely checked their ballot for Wilson, who is looking for her third MVP award.
The 6-foot-4 post averaged a career-best 22.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in leading the Aces to a record 34 wins. She had 29 games of 20 points or better this season.
But Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon is concerned that she may have hurt her star's chances of repeating as MVP by sitting Wilson during many fourth quarters when Vegas put games away early.
“Points per minute, she's the most efficient scorer in the league,” Hammon said. “Defensively, she anchors the number-one defense in the league. So, when you are talking about the number-one offense, number-one defense, she the head. And she's very deserving.”
Stewart was the biggest addition in the creation of New York's “super team," which also added Jones and Courtney Vandersloot to join star Sabrina Ionescu.
Stewart finished the season averaging a career-high 23 points and 9.3 rebounds, scoring 40 points a record four times. She finished with 919 points this season, just behind Jewell Loyd's record 939.
“I really appreciate everything I’ve been able to do and wouldn’t be able to do it without my teammates,” Stewart said. “But obviously, it’s more games. More games is more points. As we have 40-game seasons, and we continue to build off that, there’s going to be a lot of records that are broken.”
The winner of the MVP award, which includes just regular-season performances, will be announced Sept. 26.
“This whole MVP race, you know I’m ready for it to be over, you know, a lot of attention and a lot of people on our social media talking,” Thomas said. “But, you know, it doesn’t change anything that I’m doing. I’m just going out there and be me and play my game.”