Is That an Asterisk Next to Breanna Stewart’s Points Record?

Breanna Stewart of the Liberty has now scored more points than any other player in a single season in W.N.B.A. history. But is she really the league’s best scorer ever? It depends on how you look at it.

Stewart scored 40 points in a 94-93 victory at the Dallas Wings on Tuesday night. That took her to 885 points for a season, more than any other W.N.B.A. player in history.

But she has benefited from the new 40-game schedule, which was introduced this season. For most of its history, the league played 34 games.

Diana Taurasi, whose record Stewart broke, scored 860 points in 2006, the third season in her long career with the Phoenix Mercury. But she did it in 34 games, for a scoring average of 25.3 points per game. Stewart took 38 games to reach her total, giving her a 23.3-per-game average.

For Stewart to match Taurasi’s scoring average record, assuming she plays both of the remaining games on the Liberty’s schedule, she would need to average more than 60 points a game, a feat beyond even her skills, one would think.

“I have this back-and-forth feeling with the scoring record, because any time I’m in the same limelight as D, it’s amazing, just because of what she’s done in her career and what she continues to do,” Stewart said after the game.

“But obviously, it’s more games. More games is more points. As we have 40-game seasons, and we continue to build off that, there’s going to be a lot of records that are broken.”

Stewart is not the only one racking up the points this season. Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm has 852 with three games to play. A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces has 846 with two games to play. Both should also sail past Taurasi’s mark, and there is no guarantee Stewart will even hold the record by season’s end.

Longer season or not, it has been a boom year for individual scoring in the W.N.B.A. Stewart’s game on Tuesday was the 13th time this season a player had scored 40 or more points; last season, nobody did it. Wilson had a 53-point game last month, tying the league’s single-game scoring record.

Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun has also been taking advantage of the longer schedule. On Tuesday night, she broke the single-season assist record with 304, topping Courtney Vandersloot’s 300 for the Chicago Sky in 2019. Thomas also has 375 rebounds, fourth on the single-season list with two games to play.

It’s all a bit reminiscent of Roger Maris’s home run chase in 1961. As Maris approached Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season, Ford Frick, who was the baseball commissioner, suggested Maris’s record could receive a “distinctive mark” in the record book, unless Maris reached 60 in 154 games, the traditional length of a season. The American League had lengthened its season to 162 games in 1961.

Maris had 59 homers at the 154-game mark, and hit his 61st, breaking Ruth’s record, in the Yankees’ final regular-season game. As a result, many fans thought of Maris’s record as having an asterisk, although one was never actually applied officially.

Stewart’s record is the latest accomplishment in a glittering basketball career. A 6-foot-4 forward, she won four national championships in four years at UConn and was the N.C.A.A. tournament’s most outstanding player each year. She had two titles in her six seasons with Seattle, won the league M.V.P. in 2018, and may do so again this season after signing with the Liberty as a free agent. She also has two Olympic gold medals.

Stewart benefited from the longer schedule. But points do not score themselves. And for now, she has more of them in a W.N.B.A. season than anyone else.

Victor Mather covers every sport for The Times. More about Victor Mather

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