SECAUCUS, N.J., August 24, 2010 -- It's been a long, arduous competition throughout the entire 2010 regular season. As the postseason prepares to tip off, I suppose it's high time I narrow down my selection for the top MVP candidate.
Mind you, this was far from easy. All season long Seattle's Lauren Jackson dominated the rankings, maintaining the No. 1 spot since the second week of the season. Since then it's been a steady stream of players giving chase but never quite getting the No. 1 spot.
However, over the final month of the season, particularly when LJ started to take a few stress-free breathers on the bench following Seattle's ability to clinch home court throughout the playoffs, Indiana's Tamika Catchings and New York's Cappie Pondexter started to justifiably steal some of the MVP limelight. The real challenge in ranking the players each week turned into a mixture of reminding myself just how well Jackson played to the point where she could afford to rest, and how well Catchings and Pondexter were playing to turn their teams into title contenders practically overnight.
And so here I sit, two days removed from the regular season and one day before the 2010 playoffs tip off. I now give you the top three candidates for the MVP trophy, in this order.
Last ranking: 1
I had to. After three straight Player of the Month honors and five Player of the Week selections, there's no way I could deny Lauren Jackson the No. 1 spot. Jackson's made a career out of displaying a strong two-way game and continued to do so again this season. She finishes the 2010 season ranked fourth overall in ppg (20.5), fourth in free-throw percentage (91 percent), sixth in rpg (8.3), seventh in blocks (38) and seventh in double-doubles. Few players transcend over that many categories, and even fewer consistently rank in the top 10. Jackson's scoring touch was evident throughout, when she scored 10 or more points in 31 of her 32 games played. The only exception was a six-point night against the Mercury on August 20 when she logged a mere 15 minutes as coach Brian Agler was focused on keeping his starters rested. Hold that against her? No way. I'd venture to say Jackson takes the MVP crown by a slim margin, but it's no doubt a well-deserved honor for a player who claimed two previous nods in 2003 and 2007.
Last ranking: 3
If Jackson is a lock for the No. 1 spot, then Cappie Pondexter is a close second. Truth be told, I found it just as challenging to pick between Cappie and Catchings as I did to pick between Cappie and LJ. Here's the reasoning behind giving Cappie the No. 2 spot: Cappie is the only player this season who matched Jackson's five Player of the Week honors, receiving four over the final five weeks of the season. There's no question that Cappie's leadership helped fuel the Liberty into the postseason. While players like Nicole Powell and Leilani Mitchell were starting to find their own way of gelling with the Liberty, Cappie was setting the pace with her average of 21.4 ppg. Slight as it may be, that stands as a new career-high for Cappie, who previously registered 21.2 as a member of the Mercury back in 2008. On five separate occasions, Cappie tallied 30 or more points, reaching a season and career-high 40 against the Fever on July 18. Cappie and the Liberty closed out the final month of the regular season with a 9-1 August record, good enough for the second seed in the East and home-court advantage for the first round matchup against the Fever.
Last ranking: 2 Tamika Catchings remains driven as ever to make a return to the WNBA Finals and alter the outcome from that of last season's finale. If her 2010 season poses as a resume for the position, then there's no question that Catchings is qualified. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is a healthy contender for a repeat effort after registering a league-best 2.26 steals per game and a total of 77 on the season. On August 3 against the Liberty, Catchings tallied her 700th career steal and ended her season just 19 shy of the active leader, Los Angeles's Ticha Penicheiro. There's a popular perception amongst fans and journalists alike that in order to be a league MVP you have to do it with offense. Catchings may not tally 30 points a night, but she did average 18.2 per game (1.5 pts above her career average), hauled in 7.1 rebounds per outing and added four assists per, all of which contributed to one of her best offensive seasons ever. Dominating as it may have been, when matched head-to-head against the likes of Jackson and Pondexter, a third-place finish seemed like the most logical place to be.