A’ja Wilson was already the WNBA’s MVP.
She didn’t need to score 25 points Sunday. Or add 10 rebounds to her league-leading total of 329. Or sprinkle in five assists and two timely steals. Or beat Seattle Storm superstar Breanna Stewart’s layup off the glass to protect a three-point lead with 1:08 to play.
But she did all that anyway to power the Aces to a 109-100 victory before the biggest home crowd that ever watched her play at Michelob Ultra Arena.
“She’s been solid all year,” teammate Chelsea Gray said. “Whenever we went through those lulls, she stayed the same, and that’s what an MVP does.”
End the debate that shouldn’t have started: Wilson should be the MVP for the second time in three seasons.
Her league-leading 17th double-double helped the Aces clinch the WNBA’s best record and the No. 1 seed for the postseason, which they begin Wednesday against the Phoenix Mercury. Wilson made no mention of the award after the game, instead utilizing her news conference to tout the talent across the roster.
But Aces coach Becky Hammon didn’t have any qualms about promoting Wilson’s candidacy.
Not that she needed it.
“A’ja’s been exceptional all year,” Hammon said. “I think you guys know where my vote would be going.”
Another stellar season
That Wilson has been. Even more so this year than during her 2020 MVP campaign.
Her gaudy statistics are among the league’s best, but even they tend to belie how her improvements have helped the Aces in Hammon’s first season. Her 3-point range — she shot 37.3 percent on 83 attempts — helps them uncork an unstoppable spread offense rife with space for everybody to operate.
Her positional versatility allows her to anchor their defense as an undersized center and employ the lineups that are so hard to stop.
Wilson averaged 19.5 points, a career-high 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, playing all 36 games and shooting 5o percent from the field for the first time in her career. She finished fifth in scoring, second in rebounding and first in blocks. She was twice tabbed the Western Conference’s Player of the Month and four times its Player of the Week.
She doesn’t need to score to impose her will on a basketball game, equally content to defer to All-Star teammates Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young.
The Aces score 22.9 more points per 100 possessions when she’s on the court compared with on the bench, an astounding reflection of her overall impact.
“She has the stats and everything, and she leads in categories,” Gray said. “But I think (it’s about) her willingness to be that leader, and not go up and down. I can’t speak about anybody else, but what I see on an everyday basis is somebody that’s working on both ends of the floor. … She’s doing it all.”
Including marketing the playoff games at Michelob Ultra Arena.
Onto the postseason
After the victory over Seattle, Wilson concluded her news conference by issuing a personal invitation to everybody to emulate the 10,015 fans who showed up Sunday and attend Aces playoff games.
“The mayor. The governor. President. House members. Representatives. I see them … signs when I’m driving down the highway, get … here,” Wilson said rather playfully, triggering laughter from Gray.
But that’s not all. She also wants to see “the Raiders, the Knights, Aviators, the Lights, the Raiderettes, the Runnin’ Rebels, the Lady Runnin’ Rebels, Floyd (Mayweather), The Money Team, Flavor Flav, (Manny) Pacquiao, UFC fighters, Dana White — everybody needs to be here.”
Come watch the Aces vie for their first championship.
Come watch the 2022 MVP.