By Matthew Roberson
Greatness can be a difficult thing to quantify. It is an inherently subjective concept that carries different definitions for every basketball fan.
However, few people who understand the game would argue against Breanna Stewart being one of the truly great players in the WNBA. Just two years out of college, Stewart challenged the notions of what a second-year player could accomplish. Entering the 2017 season, Stewart was riding the momentum of her prolific rookie season. During that debut campaign, Stewart left a palpable impact on both ends of the floor, as she paired 18.3 points per game with 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks to land a spot on the All-WNBA Second Team. Now, with a season of improved numbers under her belt, Stewart is already establishing herself as the top emerging superstar in the league.
“Coming to a new level, you don’t just get it all right away,” Stewart said. “Obviously I know what I can do as far as skills and that type of thing. But, really being able to dominate, be a force, and to make my teammates around me better, if that happens, who knows how good we’ll be?”
While her team struggled to make the leap that so many pundits envisioned, Stewart did not disappoint on her personal projections. She finished second in the league in points per game (19.9), sixth in rebounds (8.7), and eighth in field goal percentage (47.5, among players who took at least 12 attempts per game). As her stock continues to rise, and she adds new wrinkles to her game, the ceiling for Stewart appears to be on a level that few players have ever reached.
“We’re young, we’re athletic,” Stewart said. “That’s just how we like to play. I stepped up as a leader this year as compared to last year. Playing on the court and being out there for a majority of the game [like I was], you have to be a leader.”
During the 2017 season, Stewart became the fastest player to reach 1,000 points and 500 rebounds, needing just 55 games to beat the record. She earned two Western Conference Player of the Week awards, and she broke the Storm’s single-season record for 20-point games with 21, besting Lauren Jackson’s mark of 20 set back in 2003.
With Stewart’s meteoric rise through the league comes a new set of expectations. It is hardly a secret around Seattle that Sue Bird is in the latter stages of her career, and the keys to the Storm engine will soon be handed over to Stewart and Jewell Loyd full-time. The signs are there that Seattle is asking Stewart to do more. Her usage rate, field goal attempts per game, and offensive rating all increased from 2016 to 2017. While looking for ways for an All-Star to improve is a bit nitpicky, there are areas where Stewart can go from good to extraordinary. From the free throw line, Stewart’s percentage dipped from 83.3 in her first year to 78.7 in 2017, while her foul shots per game increased as defenses struggled to contain her. Opposing offenses spit out a 103.1 offensive rating when Stewart was on the floor, a slight but marked improvement from the 100.3 figure that came during her rookie campaign. For now, Stewart has her sights set on an offseason of improvement.
“I’m going to USA Basketball camp in Santa Barbara,” Stewart said. “Then I’m going to go to China at some point in October. I’ll be back in Shanghai doing my thing.”
There is arguably no player more tantalizing than Stewart. With her entire career ahead of her, it’s hard to imagine a world where Stewart isn’t considered one of the WNBA’s all-time greats when it’s all said and done.
- Recorded 12 straight games with 20 or more points from June 29 to Aug. 4
- Finished second in the league in points per game (19.9)
- Grabbed 8.7 rebounds per game, the sixth highest average in the league
- Named to her first WNBA All-Star Game
- Notched nine double-doubles during the 2017 regular season
- Topped 20 points in 21 of 33 regular season games, setting a Storm single-season record
- Dropped 23 points and snared eight rebounds in Seattle’s first-round playoff game
- Became the WNBA’s fastest player to reach 1,000 points and 500 rebounds (55 games)
- Scored a season-high 32 points at San Antonio on Aug. 5