Candace Parker’s repeat bid being squashed by the Connecticut Sun in Friday evening’s winner-take-all Game 5 against the Connecticut Sun was the sort of hoops history-altering that will reverberate more than Queen Elizabeth. Sue Bird is the all-time point god, but her career also arrived at its firmament on Thursday.
For some, the WNBA’s queen is Candace Parker. Meanwhile, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi was invoked as the Greatest Player of the WNBA’s first 25 years. However, she hasn’t been a top-10 player in years. Based on the “what have you done lately” reality of professional sports, A’ja Wilson is the only queen WNBA aficionados should recognize. Not only is she more likable than Prince Charles or former teammate Liz Cambage, but she’s more accomplished. Monarchies are majestic, but the WNBA’s line of succession is more of a meritocracy.
In a 24-hour span, Wilson earned her second MVP, ended Sue Bird’s career, and bounced her chief rival, Breanna Stewart, from the playoff festivities. En route to the MVP, Wilson averaged career-highs in shooting percentage from the field, (50.1) 3-point percentage (37.3), and finished fifth in the league in scoring, first in blocks in addition to finishing second in rebounding. Against Seattle, Wilson bounced back from a rough 8-point outing in their Game 1 loss by tallying up an average of 30 per night in the final three games of the Western Conference Finals.
Wilson earned her first MVP during the 2020 WNBA bubble in a tight vote over Breanna Stewart. However, Stewart’s Storm stomped Vegas in the Finals. This season, Wilson broke through the decade-long tug of war between Tennessee and UConn alums atop the WNBA hierarchy. Not only did she take home the MVP, but she finished the sweep with Defensive Player of the Year and she’s the only active player with a statue of herself on campus and she’s only 26.
At Saturday’s Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Wilson’s South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley broke down how she was able to predict Wilson’s meteoric ascent.
“When you play at South Carolina, we see so many junk defenses and zones and sagging man [defenses] that when she gets to the next level, there’s probably not often that she gets triple-teamed,” Staley explained. “Double teams she’s used to, but she’s playing with so many other players that you can’t do that very often. So you’ll get a chance to see everything in her skillset and she’s showcasing that by being a two-time MVP.
That coronation isn’t inevitable. The player she deposed as MVP, Jonquel Jones, is just as hungry and awaits her in the Finals. Whereas Wilson is the unquestioned leader of the Aces, Jones operates in a different sort of system. Jones’ scoring dipped to 14.4 points per game in 2022, but she led Connecticut’s egalitarian offense in scoring. In a diminished offensive role, Jones and the Sun finally unlocked the door to the franchise’s fourth WNBA finals.
After getting benched in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference showdown, scoring six points on 3 of 10 shooting, she logged only nine in a Game 4 win before responding with a double-double in the series clincher.
Jones matches up resumé-wise with the 6-foot-5 Wilson, but she can’t be relied upon to outplay the reigning MVP. She’ll need Alyssa Thomas’ help to disrupt Wilson’s coronation. Thomas, slightly smaller at 6-foot-2, finished second to Wilson in Defensive Player of the Year voting while averaging a career-high 6.1 assists per game. In past matchups, it’s been Thomas who has been tasked with defending Wilson, not the bigger, longer Jones.
The Sun face an uphill climb in their bid to upset the Aces. As if Wilson isn’t intimidating enough, she comes flanked by three All-Stars with unique roles in Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray, and Jackie Young. Gray has been integral in her first season with Las Vegas as the WNBA’s reigning CEO of Distribution Management leading the entire league in assists while Plum finished second in scoring in her first season as a starter for the Aces. Young , the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 was just named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player.
However, they all orbit A’ja Wilson. The Aces MVP will dictate the series and WNBA postseasons for the foreseeable future. All she needs to complete her investiture is her first WNBA championship.