SECAUCUS, N.J., May 26, 2010 -- Now that we have a little more of a sample size to work with, the Race to the MVP rankings are starting to really take form. The biggest dilemma this time around was the constant battle of who stays and who goes. Make no mistake about it, Taj McWilliams-Franklin put up some great numbers in the first Race to the MVP Rankings, but that was based off of just one game. While she continues to make healthy contributions for the Liberty, the number of games played for each team has increased and, in turn, the number of players under consideration has also increased. Even though McWilliams-Franklin averaged 20 PPG in that first installment, she has since dropped to a season average of 12.1 PPG and off the list of this week's contenders.
We do have a few new faces in the mix this time around. Tamika Catchings, who received an honorable mention at No. 13 last week, cracks the Top 10 after helping the Fever pick up two-straight wins this past weekend. The Eastern Conference Player of the Week Angel McCoughtry also cracks the list for the first time this season after posting two outstanding games of 32 and 21 points. Her Atlanta Dream remain undefeated thanks in part to her efforts and those of Erika de Souza (who also remains in the Race to the MVP).
Injured hand or not, there was little reason to keep Diana Taurasi off the Top 10 last week after just one tough game. Her second effort in which she picked up 13 points on 4-for-16 may not have been the best either, but after Tuesday night's 110-96 rout over the Shock it's safe to say the reigning MVP is back. And, in that respect, she returns to a higher seed in the rankings.
Last ranking: 3
What is it about the Seattle Storm that has fans sitting on the edge of their seats till the last second of the game? Since the start of the season, the Storm has come from behind to win in each of its games thanks in part to a strong offense surge and defensive lockdown in the fourth quarter. After four games the Storm is outscoring opponents 100-69 in the fourth quarter. The team's best offensive effort coming Tuesday night in a 36-point fourth quarter against Washington, and the best defensive effort came in the fourth quarter of the season opener against the Sparks in which they held Los Angeles to only 9 points. Lauren Jackson just happens to play a huge part in both of those facets of the game. The 2007 Defensive Player of the Year is making a case again in 2010 as she currently leads the league in blocks (11) and blocks per game (2.5).
Last ranking: N/A
The Atlanta Dream is off to its best franchise start since the team's 2008 inception. While three seasons may not be the longest of times in which you can gauge success or failure, Angel McCoughtry has proven that Atlanta won't have much of the latter as long as she's on the court. Her best performance to date - to remind you again, after only four games - came on Friday, May 21 against the Connecticut Sun in which she scored 32 points, hauled down 10 rebounds, dished off 5 assists and tallied four steals. Did I mention she also had two blocks? That outing, combined with her 21 points against the Liberty two days later, rewarded McCoughtry with Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.
Last ranking: 2
Since last week's rankings the New York Liberty has gone on a two-game skid, losing to the Washington Mystics on Friday and Atlanta Dream on Sunday. Pondexter, despite her team's minor setback, has strung together stable performances of 14 and 21 points, respectively, and remains on pace for a career-best assists per-game average of 7.0. Faltering in the fourth quarter remains an area of concern for the Liberty. Against the Mystics, New York managed to put only seven points on the board to Washington's 24. Sunday against the Dream, 18 to Atlanta's 25. If the Liberty plays a complete 40 minutes, and Cappie remains as consistent as she's been, then things will turn around quickly.
Last ranking: 10
If you erased the first two games of the season and based Taurasi's play off just Tuesday night's 35-point outing, then she'd likely be the uncontested No. 1 selection for this week's Race to the MVP. As the season presses on, those games will be but a distant memory, especially if she continues playing at the level everyone knew she was capable of all along. This week Taurasi moved up dramatically in the rankings thanks to that performance in which she set a new record for most three-pointers in a half (six) and tied her own record for most three-pointers in a game (8). There might have been talks of a hand injury of sorts over those first two games, but my memory is already hazy.
Last ranking: 1
Last week after only two games Monique Currie was averaging 24 points and six rebounds per game. This week, at 19.2-5.8, Currie remains on pace to set new career highs across the board in points and rebounds. However, as good as her individual performance may be, the Mystics have since gone 1-2 in that span.
Last ranking: N/A
Truth be told, Sophia Young was on the bubble in last week's rankings but ultimately missed the cut, if only for the one game to base everything off of. In that single game she racked up 15 points but her two rebounds and San Antonio's loss left more to be desired for Race to the MVP considerations. Young followed up her first game with an impressive 23 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists in an 83-74 win over the Tulsa Shock. On May 22, an 88-81 San Antonio win over Los Angeles, Young secured 8 rebounds and added 15 points. Two strong games not only gives her MVP nods in this week's rankings, but it's also puts her Silver Stars on track for a three-game win streak as they host the Liberty on Friday.
Last ranking: 5
For a team like Atlanta that relies on the run-and-gun style, an able-bodied rebounder who can also run the floor and put up some points plays a huge part in maintaining the flow of the team. Erika de Souza is that able-bodied rebounder and all-around contributor for the Dream. She may not draw the foul much but that's likely more a credit to her ability to find the open shot over forcing something through traffic. Case in point: in four games de Souza has taken only six shots from the stripe and finished on three of them. Pretty low numbers for a player who makes her living in the paint. It might not be pretty, but sending de Souza to the line may be the only way to beat her. And even then, are teams going to do that if it means potentially putting a player of their own in foul trouble? Probably not.
Last ranking: 13
In last week's Race to the MVP rankings, Tamika Catchings was on the outside looking in at the 13 seed. That's not to say she played poorly, but Indiana's 0-2 start didn't help her case much. However, in her third start on the road against Chicago, Catchings lit up the Sky for 28 points en route to a 92-86 Indiana win. She returned home the next day for the second half of a home-and-home and tagged on another 13 points for Indy's second consecutive win. The Fever needed a bigger contribution from Catchings and they got it.
Last ranking: 9
Charde Houston is putting up some good numbers but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the Minnesota Lynx. Granted the Lynx are still playing without the likes of Candice Wiggins and Seimone Augustus, so there's still plenty of time for Minny to turn things around. Monica Wright and Lindsay Whalen are chipping in where they can, but Houston's 18.5 points and 6.5 boards per game make her the catalyst on Minnesota's offense.
Last ranking: 6
Candace Parker may have three consecutive double-doubles since the start of the season, good enough to rank her first in rebounds and double-doubles, but the Los Angeles Sparks remain winless at 0-3. This isn't so much a knock on Parker's display as of late as much as it is a realization that the Sparks can't rely on just one player to carry them to victory. Even when Parker put up a monster 24-12 game in the opener against the Mercury, L.A. still wound up on the wrong side of the win. If the Sparks are looking for that first 'W' (and we know they are) then Parker's game doesn't have to change all that much. No player can do it on their own. She just needs a little help.