One of the most exciting seasons in WNBA history was highlighted by the one-on-one fights between A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart.
Aja Wilson has completed one of the NBA’s most decorated individual seasons – winning the Most Valuable Player Award, Defensive Player of the Year, Commissioner’s Trophy, Finals Most Valuable Player and a championship. But part of the challenge in getting there was beating out the Storm and Breanna Stewart, who herself finished second in MVP voting, and third in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
as part of our site general audiences project, we’re taking this week to celebrate some of the best rivalries in 2022. For more perspective on Brianna Stewart’s rivalry against Aja Wilson, and what it felt like to be on both sides of her in 2022, hand it to the experts.
Aja Wilson’s perspective
There’s been a lot of debate on the Internet about who is the next face of the WNBA: Seattle’s Breanna Stewart and Vegas’ A’ja Wilson. With many of the league’s longtime stars retired or about to retire, who will take on the role of the main character in the W?
For me, that question is in itself a bit of a misnomer. Both players are great. Both players should be front and center in league marketing. They were co-leaders in the All-Star Game. They finished first and second in MVP voting, and there were only six first- or second-place votes that neither of them received.
But if we had to name one of these players as the face of the 2022 season, it would have to be Wilson. She won the MVP award. She won a DPOY award. She won the title. This was Aja’s year. Sure, she’s already won an MVP award before, but 2022 felt like her crowning glory. Wilson may have scored two fewer points per game than Stowey, but she’s second in the league in rebounds and first in blocks, and she’s done so while adjusting to an entirely new coaching staff.
In fact, the coaching change really highlights why 2022 has been Aja’s year. The Aces have radically transformed from the offense that stuck around in the 1970s to the offense created to win the modern game. Wilson, who primarily played the four with Bill Laimbeer as head coach, ended up playing a big role this year, and she’s adapted to that change of stance seamlessly — which seems like an understatement. Wilson shot 50.1 percent from the floor, the best mark of her career.
I don’t have anything on Breanna Stewart. She and Wilson are basically 1A and 1B in this league. But with all the trophies and, most importantly, the 2022 championship, it’s impossible to deny that this has been Aja’s year. And as much as I try to stay agnostic when it comes to the WNBA, I’ve found myself rooting for Wilson every move. I wanted her to win the MVP award. I wanted her to be a hero. I wanted her to calm down the doubters and show that she was the best player in the league.
And I did.
Breanna Stewart’s perspective
Like Justin said, 2022 was the year of Aja Wilson. She won prizes and the championship. Stewart’s Seattle Storm were knocked out of the playoffs winning three of their four regular season games.
But in their eight head-to-head matches through the regular season and playoffs, Stewart definitely showed up – averaging 26.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 blocks per game, with a true shooting percentage of 59.9. Wilson has outdone her this year but there is no reason to assume this is a permanent condition.
The best rivalries aren’t just wars of attrition, or two star teams or players simply wearing each other down until their ages come to an end or their careers end. The best rivalries inspire change, forcing players to improve, address weaknesses, and find ways to improve themselves and their teammates as they strive to gain the upper hand. As Justin said, the desire to overtake Stewart and Storm really dictated evolution on the part of Wilson and her team. The Storm will be back to the drawing board this season trying to figure out how to replace Sue Bird, while Stewart works on ways to outdo Wilson.
The best part of Breanna Stewart’s rivalry against A’ja Wilson isn’t just about knowing there are still (hopefully) many more years of epic matches, it’s the awareness that these encounters will fuel both players to continue chasing newer and better.
The end of 2022 was a disappointment for Stewart and Storm fans, and we know there are likely to be similar disappointments in the future. But that disappointment is tempered by the knowledge that there will be plenty of wins as well, and some will almost certainly come from spinning this rivalry and sending Aja Wilson and the Aces home with unexpected losses.