Race to the MVP: Week 11

SECAUCUS, N.J., August 21, 2009 -- One week ago, things were looking a bit bleak for the Los Angeles Sparks. They were coming off of back-to-back home losses to New York and Sacramento – the last place team in each conference – and fell to 8-13 on the season.

The reasons for L.A.'s sluggish start to the season have been well documented – Candace Parker out on maternity leave, Lisa Leslie spraining her knee, an injured Betty Lennox, a lack of cohesion, a road-heavy schedule during the first half of the season.

But none of those excuses could be used for the losses to New York and Sacramento. Both games were at home, where the Sparks have played the majority of their games in the season’s second half, and the Sparks had their compliment of players available. They had actually just come off an impressive win over the WNBA-best Indiana Fever.

Luckily for L.A., both San Antonio and Minnesota failed to put any significant distance between themselves and the Sparks for the final playoff berths out West. As such, even as the Sparks fell five games below .500, they were still in the thick of the playoff race.

The sense of urgency finally kicked in after those two defeats and the catalyst for the change has been Leslie, who does not want to see her final season in the WNBA come to a premature end.

The Sparks were tabbed as the favorite to win the WNBA championship by the league’s GMs and the press prior to the season, but never looked like the team worthy of those accolades. Until now.

During the last three games, the Sparks won by an average of 11.7 points and Leslie has led the charge, playing her best basketball not only of this season, but according to her coach, since before she became a mother.

Michael Cooper told the Los Angeles Times after the Sparks most recent win – a 78-63 triumph over the Lynx in which Leslie scored 28 points on 13-of-15 shooting in 29 minutes on the floor – that it was the best performance he has seen from Leslie since the 2006 season.

So while she has only played in 13 games so far this season – eight of which have come in the second half – Leslie makes her season debut in the Race to the MVP rankings.

In her eight games since returning from a sprained knee Leslie is averaging 18.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, while shooting 57 percent from the field. She may be hanging them up at the end of the year, but Leslie is doing her best to make sure they doesn’t happen for a while.

Now here are the player rankings for the season through August 13.

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  • Race to the MVP - Overall Player Rankings

    1. Katie Douglas, Indiana Fever (19-6)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    18.0 3.8 2.7 1.7 0.2 .409 .355 .869 + 14.56
  • Last ranking: 1
    Both Indiana and Phoenix are on the verge of clinching playoff spots and the Fever have an almost insurmountable lead for homecourt advantage throughout the East playoffs. It makes me wonder if either coach will take their foot off the gas down the stretch and rest their stars. In the last three games, Douglas has played over two minutes less per game than her season average.

  • 2. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury (18-8)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    21.0 5.9 3.4 1.0 1.4 .481 .444 .898 + 22.42
  • Last ranking: 2
    Looking at just the numbers, Taurasi trumps Douglas in every statistical category but steals. However, Taurasi has the benefit of playing in an offense that inflates numbers because of the style of play and the number of possessions it generates. That being said, Steve Nash won a pair of NBA MVP awards playing in a run-n-gun style in Phoenix for the Suns, so I could be reading too much into it.

  • 3. Becky Hammon, San Antonio Silver Stars (11-14)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    20.2 3.5 4.8 1.9 0.4 .438 .327 .920 + 18.74
  • Last ranking: 3
    Hammon rebounded from a subpar pair of games with back-to-back 20-plus point performances last week. However, as we've discussed before her team is not winning as they have lost three of their last four games. In fact, the Silver Stars were passed by the Sparks this week, but remain in the playoff picture due to the strumbling Lynx.

  • 4. Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever (19-6)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    14.1 6.6 3.2 2.9 0.5 .368 .342 .858 + 17.08
  • Last ranking: 4
    Over the past three games Catchings is averaging 13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.0 steals as she continues to do what she does best, fill the stat sheet for the first-place Fever. The one-two punch of Douglas and Catchings is right up there with top duos in the WNBA, alongside the likes of Taurasi-Pondexter, Hammon-Young, Jackson-Bird, Dupree-Fowles, Nolan-Smith, Whalen-Jones, etc.

  • 5. Lauren Jackson, Seattle Storm (14-11)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    19.9 7.2 0.8 1.5 1.6 .474 .464 .802 + 20.74
  • Last ranking: 5
    Remember that amazing start that Jackson had to open the season with eight straight 20-plus point games? Well she's at it again in August, posting over 20 points in five of the Storm's seven games. And the two games that she didn't get 20, she posted double-doubles.

  • 6. Cappie Pondexter, Phoenix Mercury (18-8)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    19.2 4.4 5.2 1.0 0.3 .459 .329 .884 + 18.62
  • Last ranking: 6
    It's safe to say that Cappie's midseason shooting slump is now over. In the past three games she is averaging 20.7 points on 27-of-44 shooting from the field. I'll do the math for you, that's over 61 percent.

  • 7. Sancho Lyttle, Atlanta Dream (14-11)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    13.4 7.6 1.2 2.0 0.7 .502 .000 .767 + 16.88
  • Last ranking: 9
    Atlanta has won seven of its last eight games to rise to second place in the Eastern Conference. During that time Lyttle has averaged 13.0 points and 9.6 rebounds and posted four double-doubles. The first time All-Star is showing in the second half of the season that the coaches' choice to send her to the game was well warranted.

  • 8. Candice Dupree, Chicago Sky (13-13)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    15.1 7.5 2.2 1.0 1.2 .424 .432 .816 + 16.00
  • Last ranking: 12
    As the Sky fight for their first-ever playoff berth - they currently lead the Mystics by a half game for the fourth and final spot in the East - it has been Dupree that has led the way. She currently ranks 12th in the league in scoring (15.1ppg), sixth in rebounding (7.5rpg) and 10th in blocks (1.2 bpg). She is also third in the league in average minutes played (34.7) which show how much the Sky rely on her on a nightly basis.

  • 9. Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles Sparks (11-13)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    15.2 6.8 1.9 0.5 1.2 .527 .333 .707 + 16.54
  • Last ranking: NR
    The three-time MVP makes her 2009 debut in the Race to the MVP rankings as she led the Sparks back into the playoff picture during the team's current three-game win streak. While she may have been out longer than she would have hoped with the sprained knee, she appears to be back at 100 percent as she is averaging over 30 minutes per game since her return.

  • 10. Asjha Jones, Connecticut Sun (13-11)
    PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT% EFF
    16.7 5.9 2.4 0.9 0.6 .469 .313 .763 + 15.70
  • Last ranking: 7
    Jones missed the Sun's last game and will likely miss the next six as she rests an injured Achilles' tendon. We'll see how much the Sun miss Jones' steady performance in the post as they try to hold on to the No. 3 spot in the East playoff race without her.

  • On the Outside Looking In (season averages)
    11. Sophia Young (San Antonio) 18.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, +16.64 EFF
    12. Alana Beard (Washington) 17.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.4 SPG, +14.76 EFF
    13. Nicky Anosike (Minnesota) 12.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.7 SPG, +18.40 EFF
    14. Deanna Nolan (Detroit) 15.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, +11.82 EFF
    15. Sue Bird (Seattle) 11.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, +11.80 EFF
  • Dropped out: Lindsey Harding
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    Video

    Postgame: Chicago Sky

    Sky head coach Pokey Chatman and Sylvia Fowles talk postgame following Chicago's double overtime win over the Fever.

    Fever vs. Sky - Game 2

    Sylvia Fowles scores 27 points and the Chicago Sky beat the Indiana Fever 86-84 in two overtimes to even the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals on Monday.

    Postgame: Indiana Fever

    Fever head coach Lin Dunn and Tamika Catchings talk postgame after Indiana falls to the Chicago Sky in Game 2 in double overtime.

    Catchings in the Clutch

    Tamika Catchings nails the clutch jumper to put the Fever up by two late in regulation.

    Young Forces OT

    Tamera Young makes the offensive rebound and puts it up and in to send the game into overtime.