In her first game since being away for a week, Becky Hammon scored 19 points in Tuesday's win over Phoenix.
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Race to the MVP: Week 3
By Brian Martin, WNBA.com
SECAUCUS, N.J., June 24, 2009 -- One of the best ways to judge a player's value to a team is to see what the team does without them. Like the saying goes "you don't know what you got 'til it's gone."
We had two prime examples of this occur in the past week. First, in Minnesota, Seimone Augustus - our Race to the MVP leader for the first two weeks of the season - suffered a torn ACL in her left knee that has ended her season after just six games. In the game that Augustus went down (she only played 13 minutes before her injury), the Lynx lost to the Phoenix Mercury, 104-80.
In their first full game without their star, the Lynx struggled again, falling to the Seattle Storm, 90-62. Those two games clearly illustrated Augustus' value to the Lynx's success. Minnesota got their first win sans Seimone on Tuesday night with a 69-57 win over the New York Liberty. Even with the win, you can see the Lynx are missing the scoring punch Augustus provided. In the five games the Lynx played with a healthy Augustus, they averaged 84.4 points per game. In the two games following her injury, the Lynx are averaging just 65.5 points.
It is that reason that Augustus remains in the rankings this week despite being out for the season. Keep in mind that this is a snapshot of the MVP race and not a projection for the rest of the season. If we were looking at who would carry home the trophy in October, Augustus would have to fall because she will have played less than a quarter of the season. But if the hardware were being presented today, Augustus would still have a strong argument for MVP consideration.
The second example of a player proving her worth with her absence comes from San Antonio's Becky Hammon, who makes a leap in our rankings this week despite only playing one game in the past 10 days as she missed all of last week while playing in the European Championsips for the Russian National Team.
While Hammon was away, the Silver Stars dropped a pair of road games in New York (77-61) and Connecticut (71-58) and looked mightily out of sync. After playing four games in four days and traveling back from Latvia, Hammon returned to San Antonio in time for Tuesday's tilt against the Mercury. After struggling through the first three quarters Hammon caught fire in the fourth, scoring 14 of her 19 points in the final period as the Silver Stars rallied for a much-needed win.
Now here are the player rankings for the season through June 23.
Last week's ranking: 2
With Augustus going down there was no doubt who would rise to the top spot this week. Jackson ranks in the top 10 in nearly every statistical category: PPG (1st), RPG (9th), FG% (6th), 3P% (6th), BPG (2nd) and Efficiency (1st). Scoring has been where she has shined the most, becoming just the third player in WNBA history to open the season with seven straight 20-point games. She now trails only Sheryl Swoopes (8 games in 2000) and Cynthia Cooper (9 games in 1999) for the record.
Last week's ranking: 4
Beard and the Mystics suffered their first loss of the season last week, but still sit atop the Eastern Conference standings at 4-1. Beard responded to the loss with her best performance of the season the next day against Chicago with 31 points, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 rebounds and a block in Washington's 81-72 win.
Last week's ranking: 3
Despite losing two of their last three games, Phoenix remains near the top of the West standings and Taurasi remains the engine that makes the team go. The league's second leading scorer (22.5 ppg) is shooting at a career-best percentage (.496 from the field, .453 from three) and is averaging career bests in both blocks (1.65, 4th in league) and steals (1.5, 15th in league).
Last week's ranking: 7
The Indiana Fever have won four straight games after opening the season with a pair of losses and Douglas has been the key on both ends of the floor. In the Fever's most recent win over the Shock, Douglas scored a game-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting and also put in her usual top-rate peformance on the defensive end with 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block.
Last week's ranking: 14
As mentioned above, Hammon proved her value to the Silver Stars both with the team and away from the team. While Hammon's shooting percentages are down from what we expect from her, keep in mind that she has only played in three games and one of those came after her trip to Latvia. In Tuesday night's game against Phoenix, Hammon struggled through three quarters, but came alive in the fourth quarter to lead the Silver Stars comeback.
Last week's ranking: 1
Augustus going down with a season-ending knee injury last week is a devastating loss for the Minnesota Lynx. They have gone 1-2 in the three games since she was hurt (including the loss to Phoenix when Augustus went down in the first half) and the once high-scoring Lynx are struggling to get to 70 points a game without her.
Last week's ranking: 5
The Sky have lost two of three since Perkins made her leap to the top five in the rankings last week. After a pair of subpar performances in road losses to Connecticut and Washington, Perkins helped the Sky snap their two-game skid with a 99-98 overtime win over the Dream in Atlanta on Tuesday. Perkins scored six of Chicago's 12 points in the extra period including the game-winner.
Last week's ranking: 6
Cappie continues to do a little bit of everything for the Mercury. She is averaging over 20 points per game - no surprise there, but she is also putting up career-best numbers in rebounds (5.3 rpg) and assists (5.0 apg). Tuesday's loss to San Antonio was a mixed bag for Pondexter: she had her third straight 20-point game, hit all three of her 3-point attempts after having not made a three in five games, but she also committed a season-high seven turnovers as the Mercury suffered their second straight loss.
Last week's ranking: 15
When the opportunity presented itself, Lyttle was ready to take advantage of it. Used primarily as a backup during her career, the fifth-year pro has started the last four games for Atlanta and responded with averages of 17.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in those four games. While the return of Chamique Holdsclaw and the arrival of rookie Angel McCoughtry has garnered plenty of headlines, Lyttle has been a key to Atlanta's early success.
Last week's ranking: 8
Connecticut got back on the winning track since our last rankings with a pair of wins. While Whalen's stats in those two games are below her standards, she is still the one running the show for Mike Thibault's squad. If the Sun are to continue their winning ways, it will be Whalen (and forward Asjha Jones) that lead the way.