SECAUCUS, N.J., June 30, 2010 -- Players know this is the time of the year when basement dwellers need to start making a playoff push and conference leaders need to maintain their dominance. To say things will start to get really interesting after the July 10 Stars at the Sun game is an understatement.
Yet here we are, Week 7 of Race to the MVP Rankings and still Lauren Jackson is the one to catch. After her Tuesday night performance she merely reaffirmed her position in these rankings. Details follow below.
Just because Jackson remains the distinct front-runner in the race doesn't mean others are out of it. Not by any means. Cappie Pondexter is helping the Liberty turn things around, Angel McCoughtry is keeping the Dream at the top of the conference and Tina Charles is just completely dominating in the paint for the Sun. And that's just in the East. A recent injury scare to Diana Taurasi may temporarily stall the Mercury's hopes of tallying a few wins, but Rebekkah Brunson will try and keep the Lynx on track as they hope to move up in the standings now that Seimone Augustus has returned to play.
The Stars at the Sun game will marquee the league's best players, and although the official roster announcement doesn't debut until next week, I think it's safe to say we'll be seeing most, if not all, of the players listed here in the Top 10. Tuesday night the Top 10 Fan Favorites were released, with Seattle's Sue Bird taking the No. 1 spot with a total of 127,490 votes. A few other noted names to appear in the Top 10 included here are Tamika Catchings, Taurasi and Jackson.
So mark your calendar, update your BlackBerry and slap a reminder on the fridge: July 10, 3:30 PM ET on ESPN.
Last ranking: 1
After Lauren Jackson turned around and dropped 31 points and tallied 15 boards against the Silver Stars on Tuesday, you can't tell me she's moving down from the No. 1 spot. The Storm improved to 14-2 with that win, and is currently riding a five-game streak into Saturday's ESPN 2 game against the struggling Los Angeles Sparks. LJ is a triple threat of sorts that puts other teams through fits. You can't leave her open for the shot, because she won't hesitate to take it. She's currently second in the league in field goal attempts You can't put her to the free-throw line, because she'll likely knock both of them down, as evidenced by her .929 free throw percentage. And you sure just can't expect to waltz up to her in the paint and get the open look, because she'll either swat it away or make it near impossible for a player to get good positioning. So how do you beat Jackson? That wasn't rhetorical. I'm serious. How?
Last ranking: 3
Cappie's hovering right around the 20 ppg mark this season, which is roughly a one-point increase from last season's final line of 19.1. However, Cappie does more than just score points, dish assists or crash the boards. On Sunday's game against the Sun, the Liberty found themselves in an early 11-0 rut to open up the game. The team held it together knowing there was still plenty of time to play, fought their way back into it and ultimately took down the win. But the part that doesn't translate to the score sheet or maybe even the highlight reel is a fired-up Cappie Pondexter pumping her fist and letting her emotions fly during timeouts and buzzers. That's what Cappie brings to the Liberty, and that's why the Liberty is currently riding a season-best three-game win streak.
Last ranking: 5
When Tina Charles snagged a franchise-record 19 rebounds against the Sparks on June 18th, you just had to take notice to the fact that it was just a small glimpse of what to expect for many more years to come. But to say everyone - or anyone for that matter - expected her to break her own rebound record a week later would be absurd. She did just that, exactly seven days later, pulling down 23 against the Mercury. I bolded that just in case you missed it. Here it is again: 23. That's one short of the WNBA single-game record set by Chamique Holdsclaw back in 2003. At the Liberty game on Sunday, Coach Thibault said he expects the team to be where he wants them to be after the Stars at the Sun game on July 10. Scary.
Last ranking: 4
Angel McCoughtry recorded her second double-double of the season last Wednesday night against the Tulsa Shock in a 29-point, 10-board evening. Now you won't see McCoughtry pulling in 10 boards on a nightly basis, but what you will see is a consistent contribution in the points column. Angel's averaging roughly 20 points per game this season, and could likely average even more if needed. But that's the thing. Angel doesn't have to go out and score 30 points a night for the Dream to win. The supporting cast of Iziane Castro Marques, Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle allows Angel the opportunity to take the right shot at the right time, rather the forced shot at the wrong time. That's likely why her field goal percentage has gone from .413 in Week 3 up to .427 here in Week 7. That's more valuable to the Dream than quantity over quality.
Last ranking: 2
Diana Taurasi suffered a back injury in Sunday's game against the Washington Mystics when she landed hard on the boards after what looked like a blocked-shot attempt in the third quarter. Admirably, she tried to return, but it was pretty obvious the pain was too much to play through. Thankfully for Phoenix fans, reports labeled her injury as a bruised lower back and she was listed as day-to-day. Taurasi did not play Tuesday against the Atlanta Dream, a game in which the Mercury lost 94-88. For good or bad, Taurasi's play has been just what you'd expect from a reigning MVP. In her three games prior to Sunday's injury, Taurasi has dropped 20 or more points in each of them. Four of her 15 games have been 30-plus efforts, yet only two resulted in a win. There's not much more she can possibly do at this point, other than get healthy and lead the Mercury into the postseason.
Last ranking: 6
Sancho Lyttle's three rebounds against the Mercury on Tuesday were a season low for her and also the first game over the past four where she didn't register a double-double. However, it was also a game in which she tied a season low of 21 minutes played (season opener against the Silver Stars is the other). Lyttle ranks third in the league in rebounds per game (10.4) and first in the league in total defensive boards (123). Add on the fact that she has recorded eight double-doubles (second in the league) and is currently sixth in total offensive rebounds (44), and it's no wonder the Dream is sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Lauren Harper put together a great piece on Sancho last week that really shows how her game has grown and improved since coming to Atlanta in the Houston Comets dispersal draft. Definitely recommended reading.
Last ranking: 13
Crystal Langhorne makes a significant jump in this week's Race to the MVP rankings after posting up some impressive numbers. Over the last four games, Washington has posted a 3-1 record and improved to 10-5 on the season. In that same span, Langhorne posted a double-double in each, one of which included a career-high 31points and 10 rebounds against the Mercury on June 27. In Tuesday's game against the Fever, she may have "only" scored 14 points, but that's more a tribute to the Fever limiting Langhorne than it is a discredit to her shooting. That's evidenced by the fact that, while she may have only taken nine shots, she drained seven of them.
Last ranking: 8
There's a reason the Indiana Fever is one of the most dangerous teams in the league: Tamika Catchings. She will beat teams on either side of the ball. Whether she's tallying another one of her league-best 42 steals or driving to the paint, Catchings does what she has to do to keep the Fever a competitive team. So even though she scored a season-low four points Sunday on 1-of-9 shooting against the Sky, she made good on the night with six rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. In fact, Catchings has recorded at least one steal in every game this season, with her season-high of six coming against the Sun on June 11.
Last ranking: 7
There's a lot of resilience in Sylvia Fowles' game. It's best defined as a can't-be-stopped attitude that has kept the Sky in close games. The good? Six wins. The bad? Strong efforts marred by another tally in the 'L' column when all is said and done. Take for example Chicago's July 27 game against the Fever. Fowles pulled down 17 rebounds, added 11 points and blocked three shots. That's one heck of an outing on both sides of the ball. And yet, the Sky lost by the final of 70-64. That's almost as bad as when she recorded her first double-double of the season with 22 points and 12 rebounds against the Fever back on May 22. The end result was a 92-86 Chicago loss. Big Syl just has to keep doing what she's doing, lead by example and hope the rest of the Sky follows.
Last ranking: 9
Minnesota's biggest obstacle at this point in the season is digging themselves out of the early hole that was marred by injuries. Once Candice Wiggins and Seimone Augustus returned to the lineup, things appeared to be on the up-and-up for Minny. That certainly changed when Wiggins went down for the season with a ruptured Achilles, but with the way things are stacking up in the West, Minnesota is still in playoff contention. For Rebekkah Brunson, she has to just continue to go out there and do her thing no matter the situation. Injured team or not, Brunson is tied with Washington's Crystal Langhorne for fourth in the league in double-doubles (seven). She also ranks first in offensive rebounds per game (4.5) and second in rebounds per game (10.5). Minnesota's record may indicate 5-10, but for a team looking to gain ground in the West, you could almost say the season has just begun.