A'ja Wilson did not win the 2023 WNBA MVP award. Her coach, Becky Hammon, made it a point to remind everyone of that fact. After the Las Vegas Aces' dominant 104-76 win over the New York Liberty in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, Hammon delivered her strongest remarks yet.
"This lady's been ridiculous, and she's heard it all,". "Third in MVP voting? OK. Rest on that. It's a joke. She's been off-the-charts efficient.
"If I would've played her as many minutes [as Breanna Stewart and Alyssa Thomas] she would've averaged 28 and 13," Hammon continued. "And that's all anybody in here would've been talking about. But she got screwed because her coach didn't play her in fourth quarters."
Wilson finished third in the narrowest three-way MVP race the league has ever seen, receiving 17 first-place votes and 433 total points, compared to 20 first-place votes and 446 total points for Stewart and 23 first-place votes and 439 total points for Thomas. As a result, she was denied her third MVP, which would have put her in a tie for the most all-time, and made her just the second player to earn the honor in back-to-back seasons.
Though she did win her second straight Defensive Player of the Year award as a consolation prize, Wilson admitted in the immediate aftermath that the MVP voting results "hurt like hell." However, there was more at stake than her personal trophy collection. "This award, it's a cherry on top of all the mountain of ice cream that we've built up," Wilson said. "The sundae is still good without the cherry. This team still has so much more to do."
Wilson was, of course, referring to the Aces' quest to become the first team since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks to win back-to-back titles. Despite being severely shorthanded in Game 4,. Her performance to clinch the title, and throughout the series, .
It also capped off one of the best postseason runs we've ever seen, during which Wilson was by far the best player.
En route to her second championship, Wilson averaged 23.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.3 blocks on 55.4% shooting. Among players who got out of the first round, and thus played at least five games, she was first in scoring, second in rebounding, second in blocks and fourth in field goal percentage. To no surprise, no other player is in the top-five in all such categories.
Since the WNBA started play in 1997, here's a look at how Wilson's playoffs performances compare (all notes regarding postseason averages require a minimum of five games played):
- First player to have three consecutive 30-point games in the playoffs (Game 2 vs. Chicago and Games 1 and 2 vs. Dallas)
- Third player with a 35-point, 15-rebound game in the playoffs (38 points and 16 rebounds in Game 2 vs. Chicago)
- Third player with a 25-point, 15-rebound game in the Finals (26 points and 15 rebounds in Game 2 vs. New York)
- Ninth player to average 23 points for a postseason
- Fourth player to average 20 points and 10 rebounds for a postseason
- Second player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks for a postseason
- Still only player to average 20 points and 10 rebounds on 55% shooting (she did so in 2022 as well)
- Her 24.9 points per game are the ninth-most in a postseason run
- Of the 39 instances where a player has averaged 20 points in a postseason run, Wilson's 55.4% shooting from the field is the fourth-highest mark
There was simply no answer for Wilson's versatility on both ends of the floor. Please forgive the amount of clips here, but it's worth watching through to get an understanding of everything can do on the court.
Finishing through contact on the roll:
Facing up in the post and driving past her defender:
Facing up in the post and hitting a jumper:
Catch-and-shoot mid-range jumper:
Going coast-to-coast in transition:
Taking a dribble hand-off at the top of the key like a guard and getting downhill to the rim:
Excellent footwork in the paint:
Terrific hands to catch tough passes:
Defensively, it's been much of the same. Wilson has been doing whatever the Aces need as the leader and last line of their defense. In the playoffs, the Aces have allowed just 92.7 points per 100 possessions, which is the best defensive rating of any team that has played at least five games in a postseason since the 2020 Connecticut Sun (92.5), and the second-best mark this decade.
One-on-one post defense:
One-on-one isolation defense:
Weak-side rim protection:
Using length to disrupt passing lanes:
At just 27 years old, Wilson has joined Sheryl Swoopes and Lisa Leslie as the only players in WNBA history with multiple MVPs, multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards and multiple championships.
The last laugh in the 2023 WNBA MVP was hers, too.
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