SECAUCUS, N.J., July 6, 2010 -- Things are really starting to heat up in the Race to the MVP rankings as we get closer and closer to the July 10th Stars at the Sun game. Just last week, USA Basketball released its roster for the game, including notable Race to the MVP candidates Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings, Tina Charles, Candice Dupree, Sylvia Fowles, Angel McCoughtry, Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. There's still another week of basketball to play out before the Stars at the Sun tips off this Saturday at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN. And, in a similar respect, another week of basketball to factor in to this week's rankings.
Last ranking: 1
Another winning week for the Storm and another No. 1 week for Lauren Jackson. Coincidence? Hardly. Jackson currently sits second in the league in ppg with 21.4, fifth in the league in rebounds with nine per game and remains one of the most reliable free throw shooters in the league, converting on 97 percent of her shots from the stripe. Personal achievements aside, the most important thing for Jackson is that the Storm keeps winning. In case you haven't noticed Seattle's six straight wins, the Storm is still tallying up some notches in the wins column.
Last ranking: 3
Over the course of 10 games during the month of June, Tina Charles registered nine double-doubles. Although her streak of six-straight may have come to an end Thursday in a 92-80 loss to the Sky, Charles' season total of 12 is still good enough for first place in the league in that category. The Sun has a three-game road trip ahead of them with games against the Silver Stars, Dream and Fever. Charles has one more game on her personal schedule, as she will once again play under the tutelage of Geno Auriemma as a member of the USA Basketball team during the Stars at the Sun game on July 10.
Last ranking: 2
The Phoenix faithful gave Cappie Pondexter a standing ovation before Saturday's Liberty vs. Phoenix game in what was her first return to US Airways Center since being traded during the offseason. By halftime, Cappie's 21 points and six rebounds put her right on pace for a new season high, and you can bet Mercury fans took notice. However, less than a minute into the third quarter, that pace was halted entirely as Pondexter was issued a flagrant foul and ejected from the game after an attempt to swat away a Penny Taylor layup resulted in a whiff and mid-air smack to Taylor's face. What's more, as Diana Taurasi ran to the aid of her teammate, Pondexter reacted by raising an elbow into the air which connected with Taurasi and, in turn, drew the ire of the refs, who thought it best to remove her from the game. While somewhat discouraging in its own right, the real letdown comes in not knowing just how good a game Cappie could have had.
Last ranking: 5
It shouldn't come as any surprise to see Diana Taurasi leading the league in points per game. The more recent surprise may likely reside in the Mercury's recent struggles. Saturday against the Liberty, Phoenix snapped a six-game losing streak thanks in part to Taurasi's 20 points and five rebounds. But despite her contributions on the offensive side of the ball, Taurasi also committed a total of 11 turnovers in that game alone, accounting for exactly half of Phoenix's total. Injuries may have slowed Taurasi's start to the season, and another back-related injury kept her out of the lineup for a game at the end of June, but the reigning MVP is still doing everything in her power to keep the Mercury in playoff contention. If the playoffs started today, Phoenix would have a lock on the third seed in the West.
Last ranking: 4
A lot can be said about Angel McCoughtry's offensive edge. Heck, it has been since the first week of Race to MVP rankings. But the same can be said of her defense, more specifically in the steals category. Over the last five games -- a span in which the Dream has gone 4-1 -- McCoughtry has registered at least one steal in each of those games, including a season-high five swipes against the Lynx on Thursday. Tied with Minnesota's Nicky Anosike for third in the league with 34 total steals, only Seattle's Camille Little (36) and Indiana's Tamika Catchings (42) are better. Chalk it up as just one more way McCoughtry will find a way to help the Dream win.
Last ranking: 7
The Washington Mystics are winning and they are winning as a team. But if there is one go-to player the team relies on night in and night out, then it is definitely Crystal Langhorne. Langhorne is putting up numbers across the board and making Washington a better team because of her individual efforts. Her career-high 31 points against the Mercury on June 27 marked the first of four-straight wins for the Mystics. In Washington's most recent outing against the Shock on Saturday, Langhorne dropped 15 points on 6-of-12 from the field, shot three-for-three from the free throw line and pulled down nine rebounds. In four games this season, Langhorne has finished just one rebound shy of registering a double-double. That doesn't mean you can downtalk the fact that she still has seven on the year, good for fourth overall.
Last ranking: 9
Sylvia Fowles is doing everything in her power to keep the Chicago Sky in the playoff hunt in the East. In two consecutive games, Fowles has dropped 20 or more points and, as a result, the Sky has won. What's equally impressive is that both of those wins came against teams in the conference and with better records. Thursday against Connecticut, Fowles registered 26 points and 11 boards in a 92-80 win and followed up two nights later against the Dream with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Fowles has now recorded a double-double in three consecutive games and the Sky has won four of its last five. If Chicago were in the Western Conference, its 8-9 record would have them sitting comfortably in second place. But since they're part of the tight race in the East, that same record currently has the Sky sitting on the cusp of the fourth playoff spot, currently occupied by Indiana. The Sky has to keep doing what its doing, but more importantly Fowles has to keep playing like she's playing. The success of the team tends to just follow her lead.
Last ranking: 8
Between last week's Race to the MVP rankings and this week's Race to the MVP rankings, the Indiana Fever has played zero games. So to really base Tamika Catchings' place in the rankings based on zero games played seems a bit unfair. So, to at least give the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year the respect she deserves, I'm going to keep her locked in here at the No. 8 spot and adjust things accordingly the next time around. Over the next week leading up to Saturday's Stars at the Sun game, the Fever take on the Sky and Shock. That should provide a bit more of a sample size of Catchings' more recent play for the next installment of rankings.
Last ranking: 6
Sancho Lyttle's point production may have dropped off a bit since she last recorded 20 points and 20 rebounds against the Fever on June 19, but she still remains a force in the paint. In the five games following her 20-20 night, Lyttle has hauled in 10 or more rebounds in four of them. She remains in a second place tie with teammate Erika de Souza for double-doubles this season with nine, and has sole possession of first place with 138 total defensive rebounds. For a run-and-gun team like the Dream, rebounds are a crucial asset to the speedy transition game. In that respect, Lyttle remains a key component in the Dream's system and the Dream is better for having her.
Last ranking: N/R
Monique Currie has had a bit of a roller coaster trend throughout the season in the Race to the MVP rankings. In week one's installment, Currie had sole control of first place after posting two solid double-figure games of 20 or more points. Fast forward to last week where Currie slipped off the rankings entirely after experiencing a slow decline over the previous weeks. This time around, Currie returns to the rankings after dropping 18 points on the Mercury on Thursday and 17 against the Shock on Saturday. Eleven of Currie's 17 points against the Shock came from the free throw line, further emphasizing her clutch play. Washington may have taken a win-by-committee approach to the season, but Langhorne and Currie remain huge, irreplaceable assets to the team.
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.