We need a different scale for Breanna Stewart — Erica Wheeler talks Indiana Fever — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Apr. 19, 2023
Happy Basketball Wednesday! Over the weekend, Breanna Stewart‘s Fenerbahçe team reached the EuroLeague final. At that point, Stewart proceeded to do what she has done so often in her basketball career. Win, yes, but not just win.
Fenerbahçe triumphed, 99-60. Stewart made sure of it. There were no highlight-level, buzzer-beating shots to turn certain defeat into victory. Stewart had 24 by the second quarter. She finished with 35, mostly because the outcome wasn’t in doubt.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it parallels the way Stewart has played anytime she’s in the vicinity of a trophy throughout her career. Her 2020 Seattle Storm didn’t just win the WNBA title, they won 92-59, with Stewart scoring 26 in 24 minutes. She scored 30 in the 2018 WNBA title clincher. I remember covering that, watching her step on Washington’s neck in the second quarter of that one, on the road. It was 47-30 by halftime.
It felt a lot like her 81-52 win in the 2016 NCAA championship game. I was there for that one, too. It was Stewart’s fourth Final Four Most Outstanding Player in four years. Four championships. Nobody’s ever done that. 24, 10 and 6 assists when the title was on the line.
So yes, by age 28, Breanna Stewart has a resume that compares favorably with anyone in the history of the game. To my mind, contrast that with where she appears in the conversation of the greatest players — among them, not well above them — and I believe that makes her underrated. It turns out saying this makes a small, angry corner of women’s basketball Twitter mad. Personally I’d focus my anger on the rise of fascism rather than a tweet asserting the transcendent nature of a women’s basketball player but that’s the beauty (Note to self: go back and check this word, it’s probably not beauty) of Twitter.
But the point isn’t just that she, like the great players of any era, has another level she reaches when the biggest prizes are directly in front of her. It’s that the level she can reach isn’t merely one that lifts her team to victory — she pulverizes opponents, who by definition are the best of the best in title games. She leaves no doubt. I’ve never seen it before, really, in any sport.
Nothing is guaranteed in life. It is easy to project Stewart going forward the way, a half-decade ago, we did with Maya Moore, four titles under her belt and still just 28 after the 2017 Lynx prevailed in the WNBA Finals. Her career was, essentially, halfway to Tamika Catchings in a number of notable statistics, but with four WNBA championships already (plus another two NCAA crowns). Life took Moore in a different direction after the 2018 season. Who can say what health and fortune will do to Breanna Stewart?
But if you were to bet on it, well: Stewart just engineered a team in the WNBA seemingly built to put her in the championship game on an annual basis. It is hard to envision a team with Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Courtney Vandersloot, Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney and so many others failing to reach the WNBA Finals, barring a Springfield Nuclear Plant Softball Team-level series of calamities.
When that happens? Well, we can’t predict the future. But we know the history, as it relates to Breanna Stewart. A resume that’s already Hall of Fame-worthy if she retired tomorrow — just as Moore is Hall-bound, despite not playing a game after 30 — sure looks likely to expand fairly dramatically in the coming years. A resume with two titles while still younger than when Candace Parker won her first or Lauren Jackson won her second, along with so many other awards large and small — and she doesn’t turn 30 until August 27, 2024.
So if the career of Breanna Stewart simply follows the path good health and her talent level should guarantee, well: the conversation around Stewart simply shouldn’t be whether she is one of the best players. We’ll need a different scale to measure her career.
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