SECAUCUS, N.J., July 13, 2010 -- Between last weekend's Fourth of July festivities and this past weekend's Stars at the Sun event, there hasn't been much of an adjustment to the Race to the MVP rankings. The difficulty comes in factoring in a player's performance over the span of just a single game or, as was the case with only five teams this time around, two games. Since the MVP Rankings adjust accordingly each week, it's safe to say that given the few games played, the same players in Week 8's rankings are still alive in Week 9. You may notice they've been carried over in the exact order here but with more of a mid-season feel to the description.
The midway mark of the season is always an intense time. I'd even venture to say more so than the start of the season. By this point teams truly begin to batten down and sprint to the postseason. Winning teams hope to keep winning. Struggling teams hope to improve. It's all par for the course as the postseason pressure weighs down heavier than before and teams look to close out strong.
With that said, it's time we take a look at how candidates in the Race to the MVP rankings stand now that we've crossed the halfway point of the season.
Last ranking: 1
It's fair to say that Lauren Jackson is the top contender for the MVP Trophy as we head into the second half of the season. After all, she has held down the No. 1 spot weeks two through eight and shows no signs of letting up. Jackson sat out Seattle's last game before the break against the New York Liberty with a concussion. Reports indicated it was more of a precautionary move than it was out of severity. A positive sign is that she was on hand for this past weekend's Stars at the Sun game at Mohegan Sun and practiced with the WNBA Stars, yet sat out the actual game on Saturday and Sunday's USA Basketball vs. Australia scrimmage in an effort to just heal up during the down time. Other than health concerns down the line, there's little holding back Jackson for the second half run.
Last ranking: 2
What a season so far for the rookie out of UConn. Not only did she set a franchise record for most rebounds in a game with 19 against the Sparks on June 18, but then she turned around exactly one week later on the 25th and broke her own record by hauling in 23 against the Mercury. There's no holding back this rookie, who earns that title in tenure only. She's undoubtedly playing well above her years and peers, as indicated by her league-high 14 double-doubles. Only Atlanta's Erika de Souza comes close with 10. If Charles keeps up this rate throughout the second half or even takes it to another level (frightening as that might be), then there's a good chance she could become the only player besides Candace Parker in 2008 to win MVP honors and Rookie of the Year.
Last ranking: 3
Cappie Pondexter's doing exactly what Cappie Pondexter does. She's firing up her teammates, leading by example and taking control of close games. The most recent example would be Sunday's game against the Sky, in which Pondexter was sent to the free throw line in the fourth quarter with the Liberty down by four. Two perfect shots brought the Libs within two, a Plenette Pierson layup tied it at 47 and then a big-time, hot-shot Pondexter three put the Liberty ahead 50-47. Chicago's Jia Perkins answered on the other end with a three of her own, but who else but Cappie to turn things around right away with a fadeaway jumper for her seventh point in just over three minutes of play. The Liberty would not drop the lead again for the remainder of the game and Cappie finished with 30 points, one shy of her season high. That's what Cappie has done for New York so far this season and that's exactly what you can expect her to keep doing as the Libs attempt to make a playoff push in a close-knit Eastern Conference.
Last ranking: 4
The reigning MVP started the season off on a bit of a slow note, but that was more a result of her playing through an injured hand than it was anything else. After scoring only 14 points in the opener against the Sparks and 13 a week later against the Storm, it appeared as if the hand would put a damper on her play for longer than expected. And then, BAM. Taurasi drops 35 against Tulsa two nights later and shoots 8-of-13 from behind the arc. Three nights later she drops another 30-point game thanks to 12-of-13 shooting from the line. Then on June 18, she tallies another 39 points against the Silver Stars. It was an interesting first half for Taurasi, mainly because it was a slow start for her. By this point Taurasi has found her groove. Keep your eyes peeled.
Last ranking: 5
If you look at the top two scorers in the league, Jackson and Taurasi, there's no reason to think Angel McCoughtry doesn't deserve to be among those names. Fittingly, she holds down the number three spot. In Atlanta's most recent game, a 108-103 win over Connecticut on June 7, McCoughtry reached a season-high 32 points for the third time this season. Given the young age of the franchise, now in only its third season, it's up to McCoughtry to raise the bar for all future Dream players. Given the short span of McCoughtry's professional career and the optimistic aspirations of what has yet to come, it's not far fetched to think her name will be etched on a few franchise records for many years down the road.
Last ranking: 6
The Washington Mystics started the season off knowing they'd be without Alana Beard, but if teams thought this made Washington an easy opponent, they were sorely mistaken. Washington currently sits in second place in the East and Crystal Langhorne is a huge factor behind that. The 2009 Most Improved Player continues to improve, receiving Player of the Month honors for the month of June and was selected as Player of the Week for the Eastern Conference for the sixth week of the season. During the first half of the season, Langhorne recorded seven double-doubles and finished just one rebound short of a double-double on four separate occasions. Let's also not forget her new career-high of 31 points, a total she reached on June 27 against the Mercury. It's a career year so far for Langhorne, and it's only going to get better if she keeps it up.
Last ranking: 7
Have you seen Sylvia Fowles play? Hopefully this answer is a resounding "yes," because otherwise you're missing out. Here's a player who makes a living battling under the rim and fighting her way through the paint, and yet she makes it look so easy. When Fowles gained MVP honors following the completion of Saturday's Stars at the Sun game, none was more deserving. And really, it's been a long time coming. Injuries sidelined Fowles for parts of the past two seasons, teasing fans with small glimpses of talent hidden beneath the hopes of what could be if only she stayed healthy. Well, she's healthy. And it's really starting to show as she's posting up big numbers across the board. It's crazy to think it took till June 7th of this season for Fowles to win Player of the Week honors, but such is the case for the player Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird dubbed, "a gentle giant." Since then, she's won a second time and has really placed the Chicago Sky on her back with the hopes of cracking the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
Last ranking: 8
If Tamika Catchings were a football player she'd be the shutdown cornerback that teams would never throw to. Need evidence? How about this clip from Saturday's Stars at the Sun's game where she cuts across the middle, intercepts the pass and transitions down the court to lead Taurasi to an easy bucket. All that was missing was a touchdown dance, which I guess is really where the definitive line is drawn in my metaphor. Catchings' ability to pick off passes and swipe away dribbles keeps opposing players on their toes. But this is exactly what you'd expect from the player who was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. This season, it would appear as if she's in the running for a repeat effort, as she leads the league in steals (45) and steals per game (2.65). In 17 straight games, Catchings has recorded at least one steal. Her best single-game performance this year came against the Connecticut Sun on June 11th, in which she snatched six.
Last ranking: 9
Sancho Lyttle has witnessed quite the career resurgence since coming on board with the Atlanta Dream in 2009, and her 2010 season is no exception. On a roster that includes Eika de Souza, Angel McCoughtry and Iziane Castro Marques, a player like Lyttle may fly under the radar. But here's the truth of the matter: Lyttle is a vital part of the Dream's success. A run-and-gun style warrants a fast-paced offense, but to have a player who not only scores but also rebounds can pay huge dividends. As a team , the Dream ranks first overall in the rebounding department, averaging just over 40 per game. Lyttle's best game of the season came on June 19th against the Fever. Despite Indiana's defensive prowess, it didn't stop Lyttle from snagging 20 rebounds and scoring 20 points. She may have missed the most recent regular season game for the Dream (and Stars at the Sun weekend) with a concussion, but expect Lyttle back in the Atlanta lineup soon doing her part to power the Dream into the playoffs.
Last ranking: 10
Monique Currie is another crucial piece to the puzzle that is the Washington Mystics' multifaceted offense. If Langhorne is going to dominate in the paint (9.8 rpg) and Harding is going to quarterback the offense (4.4 apg), then Currie is going to lock on from beyond the arc and make teams pay for leaving her open (shooting .468 from three-point land). Currie shot out of the gate early for the Mystics, scoring 21 and 27 points over the first two games, respectively. Since then, the point production comes and goes. On some nights, Currie will drop almost 20 points a game. Others, less than 10. But that doesn't take away from the fact Currie ranks second on the team in ppg with 14.8 and hauls in a handful of rebounds on a fairly consistent basis. Again, in the Washington system that relies on a win-by-committee approach, Currie remains a perfect fit.
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.