Breanna Stewart wins 2023 WNBA MVP award after 3-way battle with Alyssa Thomas and A'ja Wilson

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart won her second MVP award after leading the Liberty to the WNBA semifinals in her first season in New York. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Breanna Stewart won her second MVP award after a career-best scoring season in her first season with the New York Liberty, the league announced Tuesday. She edged out Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas, who made triple-double history, and Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson, who won the 2022 award.

Stewart earned 20 of the 60 first-place votes and 446 total points (23 second-place and 17 third-place votes). Thomas was second with 439 points (23 first-place votes) and Wilson third with 433 points (17 first-place votes).

This is the second time in league history that the winner received fewer first-place votes than the runner-up. Sheryl Swoopes won the 2005 award over Lauren Jackson with four fewer first-place votes.

The 2023 award is the second-smallest margin (seven points) between the top-two finishers in WNBA history. The 2005 award was the smallest with two points separating Swoopes and Jackson.

Players receive 10 points for a first-place vote, seven for second, five for third, three for fourth and one for fifth.

Stewart accepted the award prior to Tuesday's Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals, expressing gratitude for a number of people, including those who did — or didn't — vote for her.

"I'm also grateful for the people who didn't or who are mad at the people who did, because the buzz around this race is too good for our league," Stewart said. "Rivalry is good. And the business doesn't go on without the fans. So thank you.

"It's been an unbelievable season as a whole for the WNBA and really to see what all the top players have done is only going to continue to make this league shine brighter and be better. And the fact that there's multiple people in the conversation — obviously AT and A'ja had amazing seasons — just show that we're reaching new heights and we're doing things that have never been done before and we're continuing to show that greatness shines in many different ways. And the fact that this race was unbelievably tight is kind of crazy. But I'm happy to be standing up here today."

The season began as a two-player MVP race between Wilson and Stewart. The two veterans took the torch as faces of the league last year when they were also the favorites for MVP. Wilson won her second award in 2022 with 31 of 56 first-place votes versus Stewart’s 23. She also won in 2020; Stewart won in 2018.

The knock against each of their preseason candidacies was if either could win while playing on a “super-team.” It was similar to the discussion last year about multiple Aces players being in MVP contention. Guard Kelsey Plum finished third in voting last year.

Yet, they each stepped up their games and remained league leaders as well as crucial pieces to their teams. If not for a historic year by Thomas, it would have been a two-player battle featuring Wilson and Stewart again. But Thomas set league records, leading to an MVP choice that came down to what a voter values most in selecting an MVP and how they view the overall award. All had career- and league-best marks in 2023.

Wilson, 27, is the best player on the best team. She led the No. 1 Aces with 22.8 ppg (third in the league) shooting 55.7%, besting her previous high of 50.1% set last season. The mark ranks her sixth in the league. Her 9.5 rpg also led the team and was second in the league. She led the league in blocks with a career-best 2.2 bpg and finished 13th in steals (1.4 spg) to earn her second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award announced last week.

She tied the single-game record for points with 53 against the Atlanta Dream in August and did it while making only one 3-pointer. It was only the third 50-point game in WNBA history, joining Liz Cambage (53) in 2018 and Riquna Williams (51) in 2013. Las Vegas remained the league’s best offense (113 rating) and improved from an average defense to best in the WNBA (97.7 rating). Its 15.38 rating came within two hundredths of the 2019 Mystics team and close to the Houston Comets teams of the inaugural years.

Stewart, 29, is arguably the best player in the league right now. Players ranked her first in All-Star voting and half of the 46 players in an anonymous poll by The Athletic voted her as the best player in the league. Wilson finished second in the All-Star player vote and received approximately 13 votes in The Athletic player poll. She was selected as the best player in the next five years in the vote.

The two-time champion with the Seattle Storm signed with the Liberty in free agency, immediately turning the franchise from a lower-seed playoff contender to a title favorite. She led New York to a No. 2 seed in her first season in town with a second-best offense and the best defense over the last half of the season.

The super-team’s chemistry developed deeper into the season and it was Stewart who often carried their efforts while that ironed out. She averaged 23 ppg, second to Jewell Loyd’s 24.7, on shooting of 46.5/35.5/85.1. Her 9.3 rpg ranked third, 3.8 apg ranked 18th, 1.5 spg ranked 11th and 1.6 bpg ranked fourth. Stewart’s scoring and assists are career highs.

Stewart was the first to score at least 40 points in three games in a single season. She added a fourth in September and averaged at least 30 points in seven games. In her career-high 45, she was 71.4% from the field and 6-of-9 from 3-point range.

Joining them early in the MVP conversation was Thomas, viewed by many voters as the most valuable to her team. The Sun traded 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones to the Liberty and gained head coach Stephanie White after Curt Miller left for the Sparks. Weeks into the season, and a new offensive system, the team lost center Brionna Jones to a season-ending Achilles injury. Thomas, 31, took over and played mostly at the 5, while running point and doing it all with two torn labrums.

She picked up where she left off in 2022, when she had back-to-back triple-doubles in the WNBA Finals. She stepped her game up to nearly average a triple-double over the season at 15.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 7.9 apg. No player in WNBA history had ever averaged even a 7-7-7 season. Her six triple-doubles are a single-season record, and she has a league-best 10 in total. All have come since July 22, 2022. She added 1.8 spg and 0.5 bpg.

Her scoring ranks 22nd in the league (47.4 FG%), but she ranks first in rebounding and second in assists behind Liberty point guard Courtney Vandersloot (8.1), who won her seventh Peak Performer award. The second-closest forward in assists is the Wings’ Satou Sabally (4.4 apg) and the closest true center is Candace Parker (3.7 apg), who played 18 games. Ezi Magbegor averaged 2.6 for Seattle.

All three were named to the All-Defensive Teams announced last week and are playing in the WNBA semifinals, which tipped off Sunday and continue Tuesday with Games 2. Wilson won the 2022 title with the Aces and Stewart won in 2018 and 2020 with the Storm. The Sun have never won the championship, but are the winningest franchise since 2017.