WNBA MVP Odds, Picks | Value on Jackie Young Over Favorites Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson

WNBA MVP Odds, Picks | Value on Jackie Young Over Favorites Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson article feature image

Ethan Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: Jackie Young

Before the 2022-23 NBA season, Brandon Anderson went through NBA history and went pattern finding to find this season’s MVP. Before the start of the MLB season, I moved his idea over to MLB, and now, with the WNBA nearly a month in, we’re moving it back to basketball.

The WNBA has handed out 26 MVPs in its history, so we don’t have quite as much history, but in terms of recent history, there’s just as much to dive into.

For the W, I went through a fair amount of factors. I looked to see if it helped to be an established name either by having won a ring before or by having been named to a First Team All-WNBA — neither really mattered.

In fact, the WNBA MVP voters really don’t mind crowning an MVP without the player having a ring yet. Each of the past five winners have been ringless upon winning, and that pattern dates back to 2011, with 10 of the last 12 belonging to the No Rings Club. However, the voters often were proven prescient, with five of those 10 going on to win the Finals that season. (Somewhere, Jokic Truthers are nodding vigorously.)

As for a previous First Team All-WNBA, it wasn’t a full prerequisite either. Five of the past eight winners made their first First Team All-WNBA in the same season they won MVP.

They also gave an MVP to Sylvia Fowles at age 31 in 2017 and the next year gave it to 23-year-old Breanna Stewart.

You have to be competent at putting the ball in the basket for sure, but Tamika Catchings won the award in 2011 despite finishing outside the top 10 in points per game. Even in the last two seasons, A’ja Wilson finished fifth in PPG in 2022 and Jonquel Jones finished fourth in 2021 — solid but not their main skill.

Instead, it appears the voters, especially in recent seasons, have weighed two factors above all else: winning and all-around contributions.

In the past 14 seasons, only once has a player’s team finished outside of the top two in the entire league, and 12 of the 26 have played for the team that finished in first place in the league. There was a strange stretch from 2003-2008 when winning seemed to matter far less, but outside that half-decade, as you’ll see in the chart below, winning is arguably the biggest factor.

To define “all-around contributions,” we could go many different directions, but the easiest is to go with win shares. They weigh availability since they are a counting stat, but more importantly, they weigh scoring, passing, rebounding, defense and on-off impact all in one. I would never sort the win shares leaderboard and be content with that as the determining factor of who is the best player, but as a singular tool to look at overall impact, win shares do quite well.

And the voters seem to agree. Every single one of the last nine winners finished first or second in total win shares, and 14 of 26 (an even higher rate than the first place finisher indicator) have finished with the lead league in this stat.

The irony of this, of course, is that voters were definitely not actually using win shares when Cynthia Cooper and Lauren Jackson were racking up MVPs. But it shows that an overall impact on winning has always been weighed heavily by voters.

With all that in mind, let’s look at the chart of all that information, and then move on to how that impacts this year’s odds as they currently sit:

Hyper-focusing on the last 10 years, you’ll see that to win MVP, you have to be on a top two team and finish in the top two in win shares.

Looking at the 2023 WNBA MVP Odds Board

While there is a lot of season left, most folks would agree there aren’t more than four (and maybe only three) teams that could finish in the top two, so right off the bat, we can narrow our search quite significantly. I would be very surprised (and not willing to include in my capping) if anyone outside of Las Vegas, New York, Connecticut or Washington finished in the top two.

That cuts out a lot of teams, and that may seem brash, but that’s the point of these articles: use history to help guide us through some of the noise to be hyper focused with our looks. Every year can be an outlier, but it’s not smart to bet it to be one.

So right off the bat that eliminates some big names. Jewell Loyd is scoring five (!) more points per game than any other player in the league right now, but her team is terrible and her efficiency isn’t that great. Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally are the highest-scoring duo in the league, but I don’t see the Wings as a legitimate threat to finish top two, and let’s just say that Ogunbowale — while amazing — has her doubters among the more analytically inclined WNBA fans.

As for Sabally, there’s a bit of intrigue given the +7500 number, but when the unlikelihood of a top two finish is combined with her injury history, it’s a pass for me.

Meanwhile, the biggest name eliminated is undoubtedly Brittney Griner. Griner is arguably the most unique case this league will have ever seen, and I’m truly terrified to take her off the potentials list with as strong as she has been playing and how amazing the narrative aspect of the award would be. But, for the sake of this article, the Mercury have legitimately no shot at a top-two spot.

The only other even semi-reasonable names we eliminate this way are: Nneka Ogwumike (perpetually elite former MVP winner) and Kahleah Copper (former Finals MVP on an intriguing Sky team). I don’t see a path toward either finishing in the top two, and Copper has never been a favorite by win shares.

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Looking at the Big Four Teams’ Candidates

Now, these four teams, the Aces, Liberty, Sun and Mystics, have several top candidates anyway, so we still need to do some cleanup.

For two of these teams, I don’t see any world in which anyone other than their top name gets the MVP. The first is obvious: the Washington Mystics. The group surrounding Elena Delle Donne is great, but none of them are winning MVP except her.

The second team is more interesting: the New York Liberty.

Yes, this is a super-team with Jonquel Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot and even Betnijah Laney as very essential pieces. But given Jones’ limited minutes to start the season, Ionescu’s very clear secondary role this season and the fact that Vandersloot couldn’t even win MVP in the season where she actually did lead the league in win shares — and there’s only one name coming out of New York.

For the Sun, they have two names that could fit this bill. Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones are both consistently among the league leaders in all advanced metrics. However, literally anyone who watches the games knows Thomas is who drives this team. So actually we have three teams with just one candidate.

The Aces are the most interesting team, but we’re going to circle back to them in a minute.

Let’s address those three players we just pulled out: Breanna Stewart, Elena Delle Donne and Alyssa Thomas.

Stewart was my favorite bet before the season, even at the incredibly short number she had. She’s at +190 now, and if you want to bet a favorite, she’s still my play. However, you likely don’t have to pounce on this number, but rather can wait and see if the Liberty can really hang with the Aces in the standings before betting it.

Delle Donne is at +600, and while she is having a great season, she’s still not a bet for me at that number. The Mystics don’t look like a top-two team, and she carries a decent injury risk. If the odds were longer I’d be intrigued, but not at +600.

Finally, Thomas is one who is getting a lot of buzz. However, the market caught up. Some of the early numbers were intriguing, but at +650, the story is similar to Delle Donne. The Sun are off to a better start than the Mystics, so I’d lean AT of these two, but I just don’t see either player as having value in the MVP odds at their current price.

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The Best Bet

OK, back to the Aces to finish. They have gotten off to the best start in the league and easily have the best odds to finish top two as of now. In fact, I’d call it a near lock.

In A’ja Wilson, they already have the MVP Award winner in two of the past three seasons. But it’s a different name that is going to be the best bet from this whole article: Jackie Young.

In Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray, and —this season — Candace Parker, there are options aplenty for awards in this era of Aces basketball, but it’s Young who has quietly turned herself into an extremely viable MVP candidate. She’s averaging 21.8 points per game, but more importantly she’s contributing everywhere. Her 2.0 steals per game rank fourth in the W, and when all added together, she’s tied with Wilson for second in the WNBA in terms of win shares this season. (Stewart is first by a tiny margin.)

But this is no one-season fluke. Even last season, Young finished sixth in the entire league (and second on the Aces) in win shares. She’s one of the most well-rounded players in the league, with an ability to score, pass, rebound, play defense and just all around drive wins. Remember: That’s been the core element to these WNBA voters.

But we didn’t get to the best part: She’s 40:1 to win this award. This number has come down a bit in the process of writing this piece even. She was 100:1 to start the weekend, hit 70:1 over the weekend, and is now 40:1. People are finding and betting this number.

I still see Stewart as the most likely to win this award. And in a vacuum, her teammate Wilson should obviously have a shorter number than her — and she does! Young also isn’t going to shoot 60% from the field or 51.7% from three all season.

But, another little factor in this discussion: Wilson has already won two MVP Awards. A third MVP would tie her for the all-time league record for WNBA MVPs at the age of just 26. To a certain degree that may be fine. Greats like Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes didn’t have full careers to rack up MVPs, because the league wasn’t around in their younger days. However, I do wonder if a third MVP, already, might be a talking point among voters, who have a bit of fatigue.

Howard Megdal, one of the most prominent voices in WNBA media, has already talked about Young in the MVP context on his podcast. This is a very real possibility, and being able to get in at 40:1 still has value even despite the line dropping.

History tells us that an all-around player (who ranks well by win shares) on a top two team is winning MVP. At +4000, Jackie Young presents very good value to fulfill that criteria this season.

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