NEW YORK — Alyssa Thomas has done more this season than ever before. It’s not only that she reached historic triple-double marks and set career rebound and assist numbers. It’s also what she started doing after them.
The 10-year veteran is speaking about herself more. She’s stating her place in this league as one of the WNBA’s best players. As a front-runner MVP candidate. She’s making sure people know about her and what she’s doing. What she has done throughout her career.
She felt she had to do it, or else her MVP candidacy and contributions might be lost in a two-way race between fan favorites. It’s been uncomfortable territory for someone whose last original tweet was in December 2022 to raise money for warm coats for children in her hometown.
“We’re in an era where everyone’s about social media and talking about things and that’s just never been me,” Thomas told Yahoo Sports. “I’m just one that wants to go out there and do the work.”
Thomas spoke to Yahoo Sports on Tuesday after shootaround at Barclays Center ahead of Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals. Her No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun lead, 1-0, against the No. 2 New York Liberty in a best-of-five series. It was about an hour before the league announced the winner of one of the tightest MVP races in the league’s 27-year history.
Thomas finished second with 439 points to Liberty forward Breanna Stewart (446 points), who won her second MVP award. Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson (433 points) also has two, including last year’s trophy.
The seven points between Stewart and Thomas are the second-fewest between a first- and second-place vote-getter in the history of the award. Only Sheryl Swoopes (327 points) and Lauren Jackson (325) were closer in 2005. The 13 points between Stewart and Wilson is the smallest between first and third in league history, blowing out the previous gap of 45 points between Candace Parker and Elena Delle Donne in 2013.
The race started as one between Stewart and Wilson, with Thomas forcing her way into the fold through her near triple-double stat line and dominance of a game. But it also took that media presence to assert herself into the conversation. As the season progressed, she went on podcasts, made more TV appearances and discussed her candidacy in postgame news conferences instead of waving it off and crediting her success on her teammates. (She still credits her teammates, just with a heavy dose of credit toward herself, too.)
“I have to advocate what I’m doing,” Thomas told Yahoo Sports. “It’s not normal. It’s never been done before. It’s never been seen in this league and might never be seen again. So yeah, I think you’ve got to keep saying those kinds of things for people to realize that it’s not normal what I’ve been doing.”
Often, it takes headlines, talking heads, public relations pushes and social media chatter to prompt discussion of a candidate on the broader scale. By the second half of the season, it was clearly a three-player race and voters appeared split along ideological MVP lines. Is the 2023 MVP the best player on the best team, best player currently in the league or most valuable player to her team doing what no one has ever seen?
That quandary bore out in the vote totals. The WNBA ballot requires voters to list their top five MVP candidates. A first-place vote is 10 points, second-place is seven, third is five, fourth is three and fifth is one. Thomas earned the most first-place votes (23 votes for 230 points), edging out Stewart (20, 200) and Wilson (17, 170). It is the second time in league history the player with more first-place votes did not win. Jackson had 20 first-place votes to Swoopes’ 16 in the close 2005 race.
The difference proved to be fewer voters listed Thomas in second place. She was listed in second place on 12 ballots (84 points) to Stewart’s 23 (161 points) and Wilson’s 25 (175). Thomas had 25 third-place votes (125) to Stewart’s 17 (85) and Wilson’s 17 (85). Wilson also had one fourth-place vote, which is three points, on a ballot that had Chelsea Gray in third place. The award is voted on by a national panel of 60 sportswriters and broadcasters. The league does not release voting information.
The numbers Thomas put up in 2023 were unprecedented, though they did rival her 2022 numbers. Because the Aces won the WNBA Finals in Connecticut last fall, it muted her back-to-back playoff triple-doubles. This year, she averaged nearly a triple-double (15.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 7.9 apg) over the season and added a fourth-best 1.8 steals per game. The knock against her was a scoring average that ranked 22nd in the league and was far outpaced by Stewart (23.0 ppg, second) and Wilson (22.8 ppg, third).
Her 2023 averages are the ninth season in league history of at least 10-5-5. She also hit it last year. No other player averaged better than 7-7-7 in a season previously. She finished second in assists per game behind the Liberty’s Courtney Vandersloot, and did it playing the center position. She often runs the offense, directing traffic, and her defense is one of the best in the league.
Thomas will watch Stewart accept the MVP trophy Tuesday night at an expected sold-out Barclays Center before the two face each other on the court. She’ll let her play do the talking.