SECAUCUS, N.J., June 16, 2010 --
With the exception of one of the Top 10 spots, all of the picks from last week's rankings remain intact. That's not to say there weren't some dominant performances worthy of consideration this time around. Instead, it's more a credit to the consistency of the players selected last week.
With that said, it just wouldn't be right to ignore the efforts of those on the outside looking in.
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting with a Los Angeles Sparks season ticket holder. What initially started as a discussion about the Stars at the Sun quickly turned into a general WNBA discussion about some of the league's top players. One of the names tossed into the mix was that of Rebekkah Brunson. While both of us easily agreed that Brunson was having a strong year with the Lynx, we just as quickly agreed that she was faced with the unfortunate circumstances of playing good basketball on a team that is struggling to gain some ground. Needless to say, this conversation got me thinking. Could I live with the decision of not including Brunson in this week's Race to the MVP rankings base solely on her team's performance? I mean, we're talking about a player who has recorded a double-double in five straight games. She is literally averaging a double-double for the month of June. But the reality of it all eventually comes back full circle. Brunson's double-double streak is solid in its own right, but Minnesota has gone 1-4 during that span. Candace Parker experienced a similar dilemma with the Sparks early in the season and continues to do so. As you'll see in this installment, Parker's recent injury combined with the Sparks' place in the standings continues to play a part in her position in the Race to the MVP rankings. Sadly, the same can be said of Brunson, who once again rests on the outside looking in. If the Lynx can collectively turn things around, and Brunson remains the consistent backbone that she has been, then the odds of her working up the ladder will only improve.
Crystal Langhorne or Erika de Souza? I must've asked myself that question more times than I can remember. In the end I elected to go with de Souza in the Top 10, if only because her more recent numbers have been a bit more flattering in both the points and rebound category. That should not diminish the efforts of Langhorne though. If one word describes Langhorne then it's consistency. She may not be lighting up the scoreboard on a nightly basis, but she has been a reliable anchor of sorts for the Mystics when it comes to hauling in rebounds. On her best night this season, May 30th against the Sun, Langhorne pulled down 16 boards en route to a 69-65 win. In her worst night, May 25 against the Storm, she pulled in just four. But if you look at her rebound column for the season you will see numbers lingering around the eight and nine rebound range. Her season average of 9.1leads all Mystics players and keeps her within shooting range of the Top 5 in the league.
Candice Dupree is a player who has been on the outside looking in since the first week of Race to the MVP rankings. After five weeks of near misses in the Top 10, you have to really take a step back and acknowledge just how well she is playing for the Mercury. Saturday, in the franchise's record-setting 116-84 win over the Tulsa Shock, Dupree set a franchise record of her own when she shot a perfect 9-for-9 from the field en route to an 18 points outing, making her the first player in Mercury history to shoot a perfect 100 percent. The previous record was set by Kamila Vodichkova in 2005 when she went 10-for-11. Dupree remains on the outside looking in despite that incredible feat, but can you really dismiss her as a footnote in this week's rankings? I venture to say no.
Renee Montgomery had one heck of a weekend. Friday, on home court against the Fever, Montgomery dropped 29 points on 10-of-20 shooting to help power the Sun past Indiana 86-77. Top that off with her 5-of-10 from beyond the arc and it's a contribution the Sun will gladly take from her on a nightly basis. Case in point: a rematch on Sunday, this time on the road in Indiana. Montgomery posted up 17 points in the second half of the home-and-home, with 12 of those points coming from three-point land. Her three-point percentage of 0.422 ranks her as the fifth best shooter from beyond the arc and her total made, 19, is good enough for fourth. As far as the outside looking in section is concerned, Montgomery replaces Sue Bird's spot in the rankings this time around.
The final spot is awarded to yet another member of the Atlanta Dream, the third to grace the rankings this week. But hey, there's no quota for how many players from a certain team get consideration in the Race to the MVP. If a player is playing well and garnering plenty of praise for her play, then you can be she'll find her way onto the list. Sancho Lyttle is that player. In 12 games this season, Lyttle has posted double figures in 10 of them. What's more, she has recorded five double-doubles and just recently watched her streak end at three straight Tuesday night against Chicago. Double-double aside, the Dream still walked away with the win and she still tallied 15 points, four boards, two assists and two steals. Lyttle has always possessed a commanding defensive presence to her game but has taken on more of an offensive role with the Dream since the team selected her in the Comets dispersal draft. What started as bench player role in Houston between 2005-2008 has since elevated to the level of starter with new career highs across the board in 2010. So far this season, Lyttle is averaging 15.3 ppg and 10.1 rpg. Before coming to Atlanta, Lyttle never averaged more than 8.2 ppg in a single season. I could go on, but if you pull up her career stats on WNBA.com it'll tell you all you need to know.
Last ranking: 1
The Seattle Storm has played only one game since last week's installment of Race to the MVP rankings, but there's little reason to believe that, given the small sample size, Lauren Jackson should drop off the number one spot. Here's the reasoning behind that: On June 5th and 6th, Jackson posted 17 points and nine boards and 16 points and six boards, respectively, with both games resulting in a win. In this past week's single game, an 82-60 win over the Sparks, Jackson tallied 17 points and nine rebounds. As evidenced by those stats, not much has changed with her individual play and the Storm remain the team to beat as they improved to a league-best 9-1. Therefore, the number one spot is still hers for the taking.
Last ranking: 5
Cappie Pondexter may be one of the most consistent scorers in the league. With the exception of two games this season, Pondexter has scored at least 20 points. Her season high came recently on Tuesday, June 8th, against the Chicago Sky, which likely played a big factor in her first Player of the Week honor of the season and first in the Eastern Conference. If that game didn't do it, then surely her 25-point, seven-assist game against Atlanta or her 20-point, five-rebound night against the Mystics helped. Either way, it's almost safe to assume Cappie is going to score 20 on any given night. How many more she'll tag on to that remains a big consideration in the Race to the MVP.
Last ranking: 6
Admit it: Even though we're a good five weeks into the season it was still kind of weird seeing Diana Taurasi and Pondexter win Player of the Week honors for the Western and Eastern Conferences, right? But that's exactly what happened, and with good reason. Since the last Race to the MVP installment, Taurasi has posted some MVP-worthy numbers: 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 10-of-18 shooting against the Lynx and 18 points, three rebounds and three assists on 7-of-11 shooting in what turned out to be a new WNBA record for most points in a single game during regulation as the Mercury beat Tulsa 116-84. The Merc has won two in a row and Taurasi remains a huge factor in the team's success. Given the history of Taurasi's game, she will also remain a top contender for MVP.
Last ranking: 3
In May, Angel McCoughtry had four games out of Atlanta's six in which she racked up 20 or more shots. For the month of June, McCoughtry has posted only one game with 20 or more (24 shots on June 1st against the Storm) but has since cut back. The nights of 20-plus points are still sprinkled in there, but for the most part it would appear as if McCoughtry is a bit more selective with her shots as of late. Whatever the case, Atlanta will continue to get production out of McCoughtry, as she tied a season-high six assists and snagged six boards all while tallying a season-low 10 points on 5-of-16 shooting against the Sky Tuesday night.
Last ranking: 2
Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks had a bit of a scare Sunday afternoon when she left the game early with what was an apparent shoulder injury. While the rest of the Sparks continued to hold their own in what ultimately amounted to a win over the Lynx, Parker was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation. The prognosis, via the team's official twitter page, was a dislocated shoulder that listed her as day-to-day. Her 12 points and seven rebounds in the span of 17 minutes of playing time wasn't far off from her 13-7 against Seattle two nights before. In that respect, Parker moves down a few slots this week but lucky for her (and the Sparks) she'll have a chance to rebound once again, both figuratively and literally, when she gets back on the court.
Last ranking: 4
The Sky started the season with four straight losses, followed it up with four straight wins and is currently riding a three-game losing streak. It's an up-and-down excursion for Chicago so far, but Sylvia Fowles has been just about as dominant and consistent a player as any. And if teams think they can keep points off the board by sending her to the line they better think again. Tuesday night against the Dream, Big Syl made 10 of 11 shots from the line en route to a 24 point night. For all her individual effort though, and as reliable as she's been, the Sky needs to find some additional scoring that will ultimately translate into wins.
Last ranking: 10
Last week Monique Currie took a bit of a drop in the rankings, falling from the number six seed all the way down to 10th overall. I said at the time that Currie had only one game to work with last time around, so a drop in the rankings, but not a complete drop off, seemed about right. Well, this time around there's no place for Currie to go but up. This past weekend definitely generated some big numbers for Currie, as she tallied 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists against the Sky, then followed up the following night against the Liberty with a 20-point, four-assist and six-steal outing. The depth of Currie's game continues to pay dividends for the Mystics, who are currently a two-game streak into Saturday's game against the Sky.
Last ranking: 11
The month of June did not start well for Erika de Souza, as she registered just two total points and 11 rebounds over the span of two games. She quickly turned things around with two consecutive double-doubles of 23-11 and 21-10, respectively, but her seven-point, five-rebound night against the Silver Stars on Sunday didn't sit well with me. That is of course until Tuesday night against the Sky when she posted 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and hauled in 13 boards. If we can agree that an MVP candidate needs to be consistent night in and night out, then de Souza could use a little work in that department. But one thing's certain: when de Souza is on, she's on.
Last ranking: 9
Tamika Catchings pulled down a season-high 13 rebounds in Sunday's 77-67 win over the Connecticut Sun. That's an impressive feat in and of itself, but even more so when you consider who she had to battle against for positioning in the paint (ahem: see the 10th player in the rankings). What's more, Catchings is still dropping points (18 Sunday, 12 on Friday) and racking up steals at a rate of nearly three per game. To say her individual effort translates to a 'W' for the Fever may be a bit hard to validate, but there's no denying that Catchings' all-around play is a huge factor in Indiana's 6-4 record.
Last ranking: 8
Tina Charles hangs on in the Race to the MVP this week if only because even the best of players can have a bad game from time to time. When it comes to players like Charles, you know the good games will always outnumber the bad. So what if she recorded only two points, her only single digit outing of the season, and four boards, the lowest of her young career, against the Fever on Sunday? It doesn't hide the fact that she was on a three-game double-double streak, which could've just as easily been five if she picked up one more board against the Mystics on May 30th. One bad game? Hey, we won't be seeing many more of those. Make note of the demotion from eighth to 10th in the standings, but she's not dropping off this week.
Last week, Lauren Hill of Mount St. Joseph University courageously took the floor for her first college game, refusing to let an inoperable brain tumor keep her from achieving her dream – and WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings were on hand to lend their support.