WNBA anonymous player poll: Which player is the future of the league?

As the regular season wraps up, the WNBA is amid what figures to be some hotly contested awards races. The drama starts at the top, where reigning MVP A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart are the leading candidates yet again for the league’s most valuable player.

The media (including two writers here at The Athletic) will decide on that trophy, but wouldn’t it be fun to know what the players who regularly suit up with and against Wilson and Stewart think? And not just about the best player in the league but a variety of topics related to the present and future of the WNBA.

The Athletic has been polling players around the league for several months for our WNBA Confidential series, collecting their thoughts on players, coaches and franchises, as well as issues facing the league — and yes, we’ll get to expansion later this week. Later this month, we’ll share candid thoughts from WNBA general managers about the future of the league. For this poll, about one-third of WNBA players participated, a total of 46 players, including players from all 12 teams. They were granted anonymity so they could be as forthright as possible.

Not every player answered every question, but you’ll get a good idea of the players’ perspectives.

As expected, the choice essentially came down to two players who have combined for three of the last five MVP awards and three of the past five WNBA championships. Stewart came out on top, but this was a category where an either/or option might have proved the most illuminating.

Even though Alyssa Thomas is the third player in everyone’s MVP conversations, the fact that she didn’t come in third in this exercise suggests a distinction between how players view value versus overall talent.

In their own words

• “What can’t (Stewie) do?”

• “Stewie or A’ja. They’re both so good, it’s a coin toss. We just played Stewie, so I’m gonna say Stewie.”

• “Stewie is the best player in the world just off of skill set.”

• “Stewie’s just phenomenal. … I just think her size and her athletic ability is phenomenal. If anyone doesn’t say Stewie, then they’re just oblivious.”

• “(Wilson is) most dominant and has given up things to allow her teammates to be better, and I think that’s the definition of being the best player.”

• “A’ja Wilson right now is having an MVP year, for sure.”

The general consensus is that a South Carolina player will be the best in the league in five years, but there is almost an even split as to which Dawn Staley-coached player it will be. Wilson will turn 32 during the 2028 season, essentially the same age Sylvia Fowles was when she won MVP in 2017, along with Tamika Catchings in 2011. Even if Wilson will be older than the usual best player in the WNBA, her trajectory since entering the league gives no indication that her performance will drop off anytime soon.

However, Aliyah Boston is right on her toes with a rookie season that far outpaces Wilson’s first year in terms of efficiency. Boston was the first rookie All-Star starter since 2014 and has lived up to all of the hype that preceded her in her college career, much like Wilson. It would be surprising if Boston isn’t in MVP consideration in 2028, let alone the favorite.


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In their own words

“Aliyah Boston because she’s gonna be baby Syl (Sylvia Fowles).”

Players were asked to name someone who is not a teammate.

In their own words

• “I could build a team around (Allisha Gray). … She always is the Robin, but I feel like Allisha is the type of person where if you put her in that Batman (role), she’d really show up.”

• “To be as good as she is, (Satou Sabally) isn’t talked about enough.”

• “(Alysha Clark’s) been on a lot of really good teams, and I feel like whenever she’s in a role, she does her role perfectly.”

• “People understand that Kelsey Mitchell is really good, but I still don’t think that she’s talked about enough. And I think (that is) because she’s on a team that historically they haven’t done well, but Kelsey Mitchell is a dawg.”

• “Betnijah is like our (Rebekkah) Brunson of this generation, but like a smaller version. She does all the dirty work, gets the open looks and takes them and knocks them down, and then play full court (defense). I don’t think we’ve seen that in anyone else but Brunson.”

• “I think (Napheesa Collier) is underrated in terms of the MVP conversation.”

• “I think Sloot is the engine to New York, and I just think her ability to get all those stars the ball and keep them all on the same page is a lot harder than people realize.”

• “I don’t think (Tiffany Hayes) gets the recognition that she’s supposed to get, and I think she’s been robbed a couple of All-Stars along her career, for sure.”

Four years ago when The Athletic conducted its first WNBA player poll, Diana Taurasi was the clear favorite in this category, earning 35 percent of the vote. Her dominance here has only increased. As we learned when collecting stories about Taurasi to honor her 10,000-point milestone — when she was lovingly described as a “demon” — players feel comfortable using some wild language to describe her, and that’s because she dishes it out first.



Ten tales of facing Diana Taurasi as she nears career points milestone

In their words

• “Are you kidding me? Is that even a question?” (Answer from a Taurasi voter.)

• “Kelsey be trying, but Diana.”

• “My rookie year, she was talking about my Pumas. She’s like, ‘Are those things gonna last you in the second half?’”

• “I got switched on her, and the ball was on the other side of the court, and I was still pressed up on her. She’s like, ‘You’re not going to be in help, Rook?’ I was like, ‘Nope.’ She’s like, “All right, smart move.’”

• “Diana is for sure the best trash talker because she’s talking out of her a– to anybody and their mama. When it’s not toward you, it’s hilarious. Diana is ruthless.”

• “KP be talking her stuff — not in a bad way, but she’s a good s— talker, too.”

— The Athletic’s James Boyd contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: The WNBA Confidential series is part of a partnership with Michelob ULTRA. The Athletic maintains full editorial independence. Partners have no control over or input into the reporting or editing process and do not review stories before publication.

(Illustration: Eamonn Dalton / The Athletic; Photos of Aliyah Boston and A’ja Wilson: Pepper Robinson / NBAE via Getty Images, David Becker / NBAE via Getty Images)

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