Race to the MVP: Week 1

SECAUCUS, N.J., June 12, 2009 -- Much like this week’s first edition of the WNBA.com Power Rankings, the first edition of the player rankings – a.k.a. Race to the MVP – is also difficult due to such a small window of opportunity to see everyone play and for players to make a true impression.

Not only are we very early in the season, but in the first week there is also a disparity in the number of games played among the teams. While just about half of the teams in the league have played three games (Indiana, Detroit, Washington, Minnesota, Seattle and Los Angeles), there are still two teams that have only played one game (San Antonio and Chicago).

Sophia Young of the Silver Stars currently tops the league in scoring at 25.0 ppg, but she’s only played in one game, while players such as Cappie Pondexter (24.5 ppg in two games) and Lauren Jackson (23.0 ppg in three games) have shown consistency in the league’s opening week. But should we punish Young for only playing one game? That’s all that was on the schedule; she hasn’t had a chance to play any more than one game.

An MVP is not won in a single game or a single week. It is going to take several weeks – and perhaps months - for the picture to start to come into focus. In the meantime, what we can look at today and in the early weeks of the season is which players are off to the hottest start, which players are opening the season in MVP form.

In that sense you can say that Young – despite playing in only one game – looks like she hasn’t missed a beat from last season when she finished fourth in the MVP voting. Jackson, who missed the final eight games of the regular season and playoffs a year ago, looks to be back to the MVP form that helped her win the award in 2007.

Of course, last year’s MVP – Candace Parker – has yet to play and appears to be out of the lineup until at least July. Filling in for her on the Sparks’ frontline is veteran Tina Thompson, who has performed at a high level in her first week in the Los Angeles gold and purple.

For my opening week pick in the Race to the MVP, I am going with a player that just led her team past Thompson’s Sparks on Wednesday night with a 30-point performance. And that player would be Seimone Augustus, who is averaging 24.0 points, while shooting 59 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range through three games - all wins for the Minnesota Lynx.

The only blemish on her statline from Wednesday’s win over the Sparks was six turnovers, the rest is amazing: 30 points, 12-22 FG, 4-5 3FG, nine rebounds, three steals, one assist and one block. A performance like that against the team anointed by many as the team to beat in the West solidified her claim on the top spot.

Now here are the player rankings for the season through June 11.

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  • Race to the MVP - Overall Player Rankings

    1. Seimone Augustus, Minnesota Lynx
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    24.0 5.7 1.0 2.0 0.3 .587 .600 .923 + 23.67
    Augustus has led the Lynx on an explosive start to the 2009 season, similar to what she did a year ago when Minnesota jumped out to a 5-0 start. The question this year is can Seimone and the Lynx continue to play at such a high level throughout the season and make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. If so, Augustus could become a permanent fixture on this list.

    2. Cappie Pondexter, Phoenix Mercury
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    24.5 4.5 4.5 1.0 0.0 .500 .167 .778 + 23.50
    After opening last season with four straight losses, the Mercury are off to a 2-0 start in 2009 with wins over a pair of playoff teams San Antonio and New York. With their up-tempo style of play, Pondexter will continue to get her points, but she is also contributing 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists to help the team in other areas besides scoring.

    3. Lauren Jackson, Seattle Storm
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    23.0 5.0 0.7 0.7 2.0 .605 .700 .909 + 24.67
    After finishing last season on the sidelines in street clothes, Jackson is back on the floor for the Storm in 2009 and is displaying the complete game that helped her win the MVP award in 2003 and 2007. The Storm has opened the season 2-1 with Jackson posting 20+ points in each game. Her rebounds are a little lower than normal, but they are likely to rise in the coming weeks.

    4. Alana Beard, Washington Mystics
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    16.3 3.7 2.0 2.7 0.0 .441 .286 .895 + 16.00
    Yes, her numbers are not as startling as some of the other players on the list, but value doesn't always translate into stats. Beard is the on-court leader of the Mystics, who have exceeded early expectations with their fast start after so much roster turnover from a year ago. The added talent on her side may drop her numbers, but it's still Beard that is the key to the Mystics fate. Her 27-point, five-rebound, five-assist performance against the Dream ranks with the best of the season's opening week.

    5. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    23.0 4.0 3.5 2.0 2.0 .469 .308 .923 + 23.50
    Being on a team with another prolific scorer causes votes to be split between Taurasi and Pondexter. I put Pondexter ahead of Taurasi this week because of Pondexter's fourth quarter performance (8pts, 3 ast) in a tightly contested game against New York on Wednesday. Taurasi, who had five points in the same quarter, will have games where she leads the way as well. It makes for a great attack for the Mercury, but makes MVP voting a little tough.

    6. Sophia Young, San Antonio Silver Stars
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    25.0 10.00 1.0 0.0 0.0 .444 .500 .727 + 21.00
    While the Silver Stars have only played one game - which they lost to Phoenix on Saturday - it is tough to overlook Young's performance in the loss. She posted her first double-double of the season with 25 points and 10 rebounds and even introduced us to her new 3-point shooting range. Even though she is currently at the top of the list in scoring in the league, we'll need to see more of Young before we can put her at the top of this list as well.

    7. Lindsay Whalen, Connecticut Sun
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    17.5 9.0 3.0 1.5 0.0 .433 .273 .750 + 20.50
    Last season Whalen made the jump from solid WNBA point guard to MVP candidate and finished second in the voting to Parker. This season the Sun floor general is back as Connecticut looks for yet another playoff berth. Whalen opened the season with a 21-point performance in a loss to Washington, but followed it up with 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds the next day in New York to help the Sun get their first win.

    8. Katie Douglas, Indiana Fever
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    19.3 1.3 2.3 1.7 0.0 .475 .438 .929 + 15.00
    With her team trying desperately to avoid opening the season 0-3, Douglas re-entered the game midway through the fourth quarter after suffering a nasty eye contusion after a collision with Seattle's Janell Burse in the closing seconds of the third quarter. Douglas scored five points down the stretch to finish the game with a team-high 20 points in the Fever's 73-66 win. Combine the gutsy performance with her offensive production and customary strong defense put her on the list.

    9. Chamique Holdsclaw, Atlanta Dream
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    17.5 5.0 2.5 1.5 0.5 .438 .000 .700 + 12.00
    Holdsclaw is back in the WNBA and back in the argument for the league's best player. The six-time All-Star came out of retirement to join the Atlanta Dream and helped secure a double-overtime win over Indiana on opening night at Phillips Arena. In her first game back, Holdsclaw filled up the statsheet with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. She did have seven turnovers in the game, which would be the only sign of any rust on her game.

    10. Deanna Nolan, Detroit Shock
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    17.7 3.7 3.0 1.0 0.3 .468 .222 .778 + 14.00
    The season has not started the way the defending champions planned. With a trio of bigs - Cheryl Ford, Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton - out of the lineup more pressure is put on Nolan and backcourt mate Katie Smith to carry the Shock. Nolan stepped up with a 27-point performance against Los Angeles to lead the Shock to a win in their home opener. To climb the ranks of this list though Nolan will have to improve on the road, where she is averaging just 13 points in two games, both losses.

    Update (June 12, 5:54 p.m. ET): Thanks to an email and Fan Voice post for pointing out an error regarding away stats for Nolan. I mistakenly included the Washington game as a road game rather than a home game. The correction is that Nolan has played just one road game, so her average would be 15 points, rather than 13. I apologize for the error.

    On the Outside Looking In (season averages)
    11. Nicky Anosike (Minnesota): 14.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 4.0 SPG, 2.3 BPG
    12. Tina Thompson (Los Angeles): 14.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.7 SPG
    13. Charde Houston (Minnesota): 18.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.7 SPG
    14. Jia Perkins (Chicago): 24.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1GM
    15. Becky Hammon (San Antonio): 20.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 8.0 APG, 1GM
    More »

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