SECAUCUS, N.J., July 20, 2010 -- What a week to have to sit down and figure out the order of Race to the MVP rankings. Here's just a quick list of things going through my head as I tried to piece together this week's installment: Angel McCoughtry is playing out of her mind in Atlanta, but the Dream has lost three straight. Does this hurt her chances? Cappie Pondexter scored 40 against the Fever Sunday evening but the Liberty still lost. Where does she fall in the standings? Penny Taylor dropped 29 points and seven dimes against the Shock on Saturday. Is it about time she breaks the Top 10? Did I really miss the early bus Sunday afternoon because I was jotting down these notes at the bus stop?
Oh so many decisions to make, but I'll do my best. Thankfully there's still plenty of basketball to play. If this were the final week of the season I don't know what I'd conclude as a final list of rankings.
Last ranking: 1
All right. So we can at least agree that Lauren Jackson remains a lock for number one, right? I mean, we're talking about a two-time MVP playing with the intensity of a top MVP candidate in 2010. Thanks to Jackson's play in the paint, outside the arc and at the line, the Storm remains perfect in the West, holds a 10-game lead over the Mercury and, depending on where the pieces fall over the next few games, can have the number one spot locked up with roughly one month left to go in the season. At the least, Seattle will have a playoff spot in hand soon. If you witnessed Jackson's clutch free-throws against the Mercury Wednesday afternoon or her big three-point shot Saturday against the Lynx, it's hard to put her anywhere but No. 1. Plus, you have to factor in her recent Player of the Week honor. Last time Jackson was named Player of the Week five times in a season was 2007. The end result? MVP.
Last ranking: 2
Here's another easy one. Tina 'The Glass Cleana' Charles leads the league in rebounds per game (12.4) and double-doubles (15). Connecticut is also off to a strong second-half start, posting wins over the Indiana Fever and Atlanta Dream. Coach Thibault said his team would be where he wanted them to be after the break. So far they have not shot down that proclamation. Three of the next four games are against conference rivals: New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Atlanta. The opportunity for Connecticut to gain some ground in the close-knit Eastern Conference race has presented itself, and you know Charles is going to do her part to give the Sun that boost.
Last ranking: 5
Here's where it starts to get a little difficult. Over the last five games Atlanta has gone 1-4. In that same span Angel McCoughtry has simply been on a tear. She dropped 20 points on the Sky, scored 32 against the Sun (only win), 25 against the Lynx, 27 against the Fever and another 27 Saturday against the Sun. So I'm met with this conundrum: Do I drop her based on the Dream's recent struggles or do I give her a boost based on the fact that she's been playing so well all season long that the Dream could - and please, take this lightly - afford to lose a few games? She gets a boost in my book, only because losses have impacted a few other candidates a bit more as of late (we'll get to that soon enough).
Last ranking: 7
I said last week that Chicago's playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of Sylvia Fowles. Consider the team's three-straight wins, Fowles' two-straight double-doubles and her double-figure scoring in every single game and try to convince me otherwise. The league-leading shot blocker does it all. Points? She'll score em. Rebounds? She'll grab em. Free throws? She'll make em. And right now the Sky will take anything and everything Fowles is willing to give, which if you haven't noticed by now is her all. It's been a career year for Fowles so far and it's only bound to get better. Cracking the postseason for the first time in franchise history will no doubt be the icing on the cake. A championship, of course, would be the cherry on top.
Last ranking: 8
If the Indiana Fever can move up a few spots in the East, why can't Tamika Catchings move up in the Race to the MVP rankings? Fact is, it's been a long time coming for Catchings, who just this week claimed her first Player of the Week honor for the 2010 season. Hard to believe it was only her first when you consider her league-best steals per game (2.85) and four-straight games of 20 or more points. That, by the way, deserves some extra attention, especially when you consider she came just three assists short of a triple-double Sunday against the Liberty. If anyone's going to get that triple-dub this season then my bet is it'll be Catchings. With fer two-way skills you get a player who produces offensively and limits the other team's production defensively.
Last ranking: 6
Washington head coach Julie Plank had nothing but great things to say about Crystal Langhorne following the team's 75-67 to the Liberty last Thursday. "I call her 'The Perfect 10.' I just love her," she said. "She does whatever we need her to do. She's the first one in the gym, the last one to leave. She's totally unselfish. She gives our team a lot." She later added that she sees Langhorne as a "legitimate MVP-caliber candidate." Right on Coach. Langhorne is just a hair under averaging a double-double for the season and the Mystics, despite recent struggles, are still top candidates for postseason play in the East. When you think of Langhorne's 2009 Most Improved Player Award, you have to imagine that if there was a "More Improved Than Last Year's Improvement" award she'd be a top candidate as well. Since there isn't, I guess the 2010 MVP Trophy would be a nice compensation instead.
Last ranking: 3
ďTo me itís not about the points, itís about getting wins and it sucks because weíre definitely in the playoff race, or the hunt actually, trying to get a spot in the East so itís disappointing but we have to let it go, itís past us." That's the message conveyed by Cappie Pondexter following her 40-point, career and franchise-high night against the Fever on Sunday. Although Cappie scored just about half of the team's 81 points, the end result was a loss, which ultimately dropped the Liberty to last in the East. The good news for Cappie is that the race remains close in the conference and a big win at the right time can propel the Liberty back into playoff contention. The bad news, as seen this weekend, is that a loss at the wrong time can drop a team to the basement. Placing Cappie at this spot in the rankings was tough. Similar to Diana Taurasi's 44-point tirade against the Storm last week, it's hard to really promote a player for a great performance that doesn't end with a win. In both cases, it's upsetting to see such great single-game performances go to waste.
Last ranking: 4
Diana Taurasi's 44 points against the Storm last Wednesday had "MVP Performance" written all over it. But the downside is that, much like the aforementioned 40 points from Cappie against the Fever on Sunday, the game ended with another tally in Phoenix's loss column. Is Taurasi valuable to the Mercury? No doubt about it. Is her value translating to wins? Hmm. I guess that's where we open up a discussion. If the playoffs started today, Phoenix (at 8-12) would have a seat in the postseason. The area of concern likely stems from the rough patch of five-straight losses the Mercury snapped right before the break. While it's safe to assume the hole isn't too deep (after all, they are in second place), how well the Mercury performs throughout the remainder of the season and how consistently dominant Taurasi remains truly pose as the factors in her MVP candidacy. Wins will only boost her value.
Last ranking: 9
Sancho Lyttle remains at the number nine spot this week for a number of reasons. Her play over the past two games, 10 points and four boards against the Fever and 12 points, 11 boards against the Sun, is the sort of consistency the Dream has come to rely on. Additionally, that double-double against the Sun gave her 10 on the year, ranking her third in the category behind only Tina Charles (15) and teammate Erika de Souza (11). If there's one thing teams are going to bank on over the closing weeks of the regular season it's consistency. Lyttle gives that to the Dream and, in turn, she remains a lock at No. 9.
Last ranking: 11
Penny Taylor cracks the Top 10 for the first time this season after posting 29 points in Saturday's win over the Shock. While that performance may have come against the team with the league's worst record, it shouldn't negate Taylor's efforts this season to help make the Mercury contenders. Minus the three games in which Taylor scored less than 10 points, her contributions have been nothing short of significant. If you look at a team like the Phoenix Mercury you'll no doubt consider Taurasi, the reigning MVP. However, could Taylor be the X-factor in Phoenix's playoff run?
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 Ė and WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings were on hand to lend their support.