SECAUCUS, N.J., June 2, 2010 -- When I took a peek at the scoring race the other day and noticed that the top three scorers in the league were separated by mere fractions of a point, I figured I was going to have a rough time narrowing down the Top 10 this time around. It's not always about points though, as you'll see in this installment, so really it just took a little more nitpicking.
You'll notice the top two players listed hasn't changed much. Lauren Jackson showed she belongs at the top after her dominating 32-10 performance against the Dream on Tuesday. Speaking of the Dream, Angel McCoughtry, fresh off her second consecutive Player of the Week honor, still holds down the slot for second. The Western Conference Player of the Week, Candace Parker, jumped a few slots as well thanks in part to two 30-plus point games (maybe it does have just a little bit to do with points) and a consecutive double-double streak that is still going strong through five games.
Perhaps the hardest part about this week's rankings came down to the end of the list. At this point in the season you know Jackson, McCoughtry, Parker, Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter will land somewhere on the list (likely higher than others), but rounding out the bottom three or so becomes quite the challenge. Take for instance Tamika Catchings. She's solidified her position as a defensive-minded player (she has a 2009 trophy to show for it), but does this necessarily mean she gets omitted from MVP consideration? After all, she did just record her first double-double of the season. The Fever may rise and fall with her play, but that only adds to her placement in the rankings.
Erika de Souza is another one that certainly deserves MVP consideration but had to drop a few spots with regards to her performance Tuesday night. One game shouldn't wipe a player from the list, and like all the others in the rankings it will improve or drop based on the upcoming week's worth of games. Sylvia Fowles is the prime example of a player who made a significant jump this time around, improving six spots to seventh overall. Again, why not? The Sky entered the weekend 0-4 and came out of it with two wins. Without Fowles in the lineup, who's to say how Chicago would've done?
Last ranking: 1
At times it's hard to decide which facet of Lauren Jackson's game deserves the most praise. Offensively she is ranked third in the league's list of top scorers with 22 points, 0.6 behind Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry and 0.9 behind Los Angeles' Candace Parker. Defensively, Jackson is first in the league for blocks with 16. Then you have the extras like rebounding (ranked fourth with 58), free throws (first with 41 made on 43 attempts) and double-doubles (3). Yeah, Jackson's the complete package, and her team's winning to boot. The downside, and this will probably hit home for those of you who have watched or listened to Seattle games this season, is all that injury talk. An injury can wreak havoc on any player at any time. Fans know this and players know this. An injured Jackson in the postseason doesn't bode well for the Storm (see also: 2008, 2009). But fans witnessed first hand what a healthy Jackson can do in 2004 and frankly, it looked a lot like what she's doing now.
Last ranking: 2
For two consecutive weeks Angel McCoughtry has claimed the Eastern Conference's Player of the Week Award, a recurring title that she has no doubt earned not only through her individual work but also through the overall success of her team. To say Atlanta lost its first game of the season Tuesday night because of McCoughtry's tough outing is hardly justified. After all, she's not the single reason they won six in a row either and it was the last of four straight on the road. However, according to the ESPN2 broadcast, Marynell Meadors suggested that McCoughtry's youth was really starting to show in that sort of do-it-yourself approach to getting the team back into it. Her 24 shots are a clear indication of this, and the seven that went in only further support Meadors' analysis. A return home to Atlanta could do McCoughtry (and the Dream) some good.
Last ranking: 4
Diana Taurasi shot 6-for-18 from the field Tuesday night against the Lynx, including a pretty no-look, reverse lay-up that is sure to make any highlight reel. Her performance was good enough for a team-high 21 points but nowhere near her 30 points against Atlanta over the weekend or the 35 she scored against Tulsa a little over a week ago during her record-breaking three-point performance. In Taurasi's defense, it's not like 21 points is a bad game by any means. And maybe the technical foul she received against Minny was just an indication of her frustrations boiling over for the night. Right now the Mercury may just be looking to find a groove after losing to the league's worst team and the league's best team over the span of two consecutive games.
Last ranking: 3
If we're talking solely about point totals, Cappie's worst performance this season entailed 14 points and eight assists (May 21st against the Mystics). In her best performance, again, based solely on points, she tallied 22 points and eight assists (May 16th against the Sky). In Friday's win over the Silver Stars, Cappie had 21 points and seven assists (six boards too). To say all the pressure is on her shoulders may be a bit of an overstatement, but Cappie is doing exactly what's expected of her in New York.
Last ranking: 10
Candace Parker had a monster weekend in which she extended her double-double streak to five games thanks in part to a season-high 30-point, 10-rebound night against the Mystics on Friday and a new season-high 33-point, 12-rebound game against the Dream on Sunday. Commanding as her performances have been, the same cannot be said of the Sparks this season. Over the last two weeks of Race to the MVP rankings I've said it again and again (and I'll say it again now): Parker can't do it herself. Even when the Sparks received a hefty 26 points from Tina Thompson on Sunday, which when combined with Parker's made for a 59-point tandem, it still amounted to a 101-82 loss. You can't say enough good things about Parker's play lately but it's a different story all together when discussing the Sparks.
Last ranking: 5
It's safe to say at this point that Monique Currie's 2010 season is more than just a flash in the pan. Currie opened up the season with numbers that simply blew away all of her career averages and has since showed little signs of slowing down. Sure, the Mystics had a tough three-game skid after starting the season with three straight wins but Currie's contributions remain solid as ever. She's currently first on the team in points per game (18.1), steals (1.86), blocks (.86) and is shooting a team-best .474 from behind the arc. And hey, she's also second on the team in rebounds (5.6). While she may have dropped off a bit from the number one spot in week one's rankings, it's pretty obvious that as long as she keeps putting up numbers she'll remain a prime candidate in the Race to the MVP.
Last ranking: 13
The Chicago Sky started off the season 0-4 but came out of this past weekend with not one but TWO wins to improve to 2-4. Sylvia Fowles, while just one of the 11 players on the roster, is a huge factor in this immediate turnaround. Not only is she averaging 18.0 PPG but she's also pulling in close to eight boards per game as well. As an added bonus, Fowles is shooting lights out from the free-throw line, making 32 of 34 attempts over the first six games. The added accuracy from the charity stripe leaves other teams with few options when it comes to stopping her. Sure, you can foul on her drive to the rim and maybe even prevent a basket in the process, but she'll find a way to put up points regardless.
Last ranking: 11
The perennial number one candidate in the weekly rookie rankings fell off the Race to the MVP rankings last week, but returns for this installment after another solid weekend. Friday against the struggling Lynx, Charles tallied 12 first quarter points and ended the night with 21 and 10 rebounds. On Sunday against the Mystics, Charles had 13 points and nine boards but the Sun fell to Washington 69-65, Connecticut's lowest point total on the season. While the degree of her individual performance tends to rise and fall, as Charles grows in the league the consistency of her dominating performances will certainly level out. For the time being, just sit back and enjoy watching her improve before your own eyes.
Last ranking: 7
Erika de Souza posted up some incredible numbers in the first month of the season, numbers that undoubtedly contributed to Atlanta's hot start out of the gate. It's safe to say that as long as de Souza remains dominant in the paint the Dream will continue to find success. Coming out of Tuesday night's loss to the Storm, we now have evidence of how the Dream would fare if the other team shuts de Souza down. In what was easily her roughest outing of the year, de Souza managed to put up only two points, four boards and five fouls in the Dream's first loss of the season. I said last week that one way to beat de Souza is to get her to the line, but Tuesday night that's the only place she managed to get points on two-of-four shooting. From the field, she was held to only two shots, both of which she missed.
Last ranking: 8
Tamika Catchings tallied her first double-double of the season Saturday against the Tulsa Shock in which her 10 rebounds marked a single best for any game so far in 2010. In fact, it was double that of her rebound totals in three of the four previous games. Despite her single performance, the Fever went on to lose to the Shock 79-74. The point total may not be lights out just yet (she's averaging 17.2 per), but the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year is also averaging a league-best 2.6 steals per game. She's just a few good looks away from rounding out some higher numbers. With Shavonte Zellous on board now, those looks may be coming sooner rather than later.