September 7, 2022 

The Next’s 2022 WNBA Awards: MVP

Our unofficial tally has Stewart-Wilson as close as it gets

Welcome to The Next’s official* 2022 WNBA awards, continuing with Most Valuable Player. A panel of 13 of our WNBA beats, analysts, and reporters submitted full awards ballots, selecting their top five candidates for MVP. In accordance with how the W scores ballots, players received 10 points for a first-place vote, seven for a second-place vote, five for a third-place vote, three for a fourth-place vote, and one for a fifth-place vote.

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With an 86.2% vote share (the percentage of the maximum-possible points a player received), but winning by just a single vote, The Next’s 2022 WNBA MVP is Seattle’s Breanna Stewart. She and runner-up A’ja Wilson combined to collect every voter’s first- and second-place votes, but Stewart tallied seven top selections to Wilson’s six. Las Vegas’ Kelsey Plum finished a comfortable third, earning a down-ballot vote from over 60% of our panel. Phoenix’s Skylar Diggins-Smith and Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Chart showing a voting breakdown by player, total points, and the number of first-place, second-place, third-place, fourth-place, and fifth-place votes they got.
Sideways bar graph showing <a rel=
Vote shares for The Next’s 2022 WNBA MVP

Despite missing two games, Stewart led the league in scoring, finished second in net plus-minus, and ranked in the top ten in rebounds, steals, turnover rate, and usage. Wilson finished third in scoring, first net plus-minus, rebounding, and blocks, second in Positive Residual’s wins above replacement, and tenth in steals while leading the Aces to the No. 1 seed.

Stewart previously won MVP in 2018 and finished second to Wilson in 2020, in addition to a third-place finish in 2021 and a sixth-place in 2016, Stewart’s rookie year. Her fourth top-three finish of her career moves her into a tie for seventh all-time, on a list that certainly resembles a collection of the top 10 players in league history:

Chart showing top-three MVP finishes in WNBA history, with <a rel=

Another MVP trophy for Stewart also moves the Storm into a tie with the Comets for the second-most MVP awards in league history. Seattle big Lauren Jackson received the league’s top honor three times (2003, 2007, 2010) in addition to Stewart’s prior win, while Houston saw Cynthia Cooper-Dyke (1997-98) and Sheryl Swoopes (2000, 2002, 2005) win five of the league’s first nine awards. (Los Angeles leads with six selections (Lisa Leslie, four times; Candace Parker, twice; Nneka Ogwumike, 2016)).

Our voters also shared why they selected who they did up and down their ballots:

The case for Breanna Stewart

I think the Breanna Stewart-and-A’ja Wilson MVP race could have been decided by a coin flip but for me, the deciding factor was the fact that the Aces put so much on their starting five (in the regular season, the bench scored the fewest bench points per game), and it’s a little more difficult to pull out the value of A’ja Wilson [in that context] versus Breanna Stewart on the Storm.

I found it nearly impossible to decide between Stewart and Wilson — both had two of the most dominant seasons in recent memory, both had their way against the other on multiple occasions, one had more offensive help while the other had more defensive help. The one thing that separated it for me: Stewart has another gear, that she only used a few times, but when she did she was completely unstoppable, on another level.

This is the closest MVP race I can remember. I truly would have preferred splitting my vote. That said: I think Wilson had a little more help, and while win shares are a limited stat, the fact that Stewart outpaced Wilson in them, on a team that won fewer games, served as a tiebreaker of sorts for me.

The case for A’ja Wilson

A’ja Wilson was the best player in the league for me for many reasons this year, but her two-way impact on the best team in the W was at the top of the list. On/off metrics paint the picture of how important she is to the Aces’ success, and as the engine of Las Vegas on both ends as well as off the court, she was an easy selection.

It’s truly one of the harder award decisions I can remember, and there isn’t a wrong answer between Wilson and Stewart. I chose Wilson because of the level she took her game to for most of the season and the growing defensive impact she had. Plus, the few extra wins she helped her team get didn’t hurt. Still, I probably changed my answer a dozen times in the last few weeks before submitting a ballot.

The down-ballot case for Kelsey Plum

In basketball, some skills are inherently more valuable to a winning team than others. Atop that list are rim protection, dribble penetration, perimeter shot-creation, and playmaking. No one in the W combines all four, but Plum is one of the few that excels at three of them. Few players have ever been able to drive as much offense as efficiently as she did, and ranking top-five in catch-and-shoot attempts and efficiency (per Synergy) is just the cherry on top. She led the league in Positive Residual’s WAR for a reason.

Kelsey Plum’s game, her speed and shot-creation from everywhere on the floor, is the identity of the Aces’ offense… What puts her in the MVP conversation has been a distinct change to how she plays the game. Plum now plays in what Hammon would say “is the right way,” meaning her willingness to distribute and facilitate in moments when she doesn’t have the best open look. Plum recorded 5.5 assists per game and 184 total assists in the 2022 regular season. Both are the highest in her career.

The down-ballot case for Skylar Diggins-Smith

Diggins-Smith’s case is rather simple, to me: she was truly the only All-Star and Olympic-level player on the Mercury who actually played like it. For as bad as the first half of the season was, the only way Phoenix could even have won six games was because of Skylar. She maintained that high level consistently, even as her other guard wavered from night to night. Phoenix won twice without her down the stretch, but they were only in playoff contention at all because of Diggins-Smith.

The down-ballot case for Alyssa Thomas

The value that Alyssa Thomas brings to the Connecticut Sun is unmatched. It is because of the fire and passion she plays with. When the Sun are in a rut it is Thomas that is getting her teammates riled up to refocus. She can produce in different ways, but it is her smothering defense that sets her apart from the others. The Sun would not be in the position they are in without her.

The down-ballot case for Elena Delle Donne

It’s hard to argue that a player was more important to their team’s success than Elena Delle Donne was for the Washington Mystics. During the regular season, the Mystics were 18-7 in games Delle Donne played and 4-7 in games she missed. The two-time MVP changes the center of gravity on the court, making defenses focus on her and leave other players or driving lanes open. She approximated her career averages per 40 minutes in most statistical categories, despite coming back from two back surgeries that left her questioning whether she could live pain-free again, let alone play… Simply put, she was back to the old Elena Delle Donne, and the old Elena Delle Donne is a perennial MVP contender.

The down-ballot case for Sabrina Ionescu

Ionescu was critical to her team this year in a way that few others were. While I don’t necessarily think that she should have to carry her team all on her own, frequently this was the case in New York… By the end of the regular season, she was averaging over 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game, something only Candace Parker has ever done previously. But beyond that, Ionescu made significant improvements to her game, broke countless records, and was a vital piece in the effort to pull New York into the playoffs. Recognizing her on this level was an easy choice for me.

The down-ballot case for Jonquel Jones

Jonquel was the best player on the only team that finished top-3 in both offense and defense. Her defensive impact is underrated (to me), which pushed her above non-A’ja/Stewie candidates. Many of the things that made her MVP in 2021 are still in play here.

The down-ballot case for Emma Meesseman

Emma Meesseman was the most valuable player on a Sky team that is among the elites. She’s been a difference-maker defensively and as efficient offensively as ever.

The down-ballot case for Nneka Ogwumike

At the time I voted it was just before it was announced Skylar Diggins-Smith would not play the rest of the regular season (and she didn’t return for the playoffs), which would have probably shuffled my top five. But what happened happened, and I had Nneka Ogwumike fifth because she provided a bright spot offensively and consistency to a tumultuous season for the Sparks.

* Official relative to our preseason and midseason awards. The Next’s 2022 WNBA Most Improved Player award is as official as The AP’s, which is to say it won’t show up on Across The Timeline.

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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