SECAUCUS, N.J., July 12, 2011 -- It's been a pretty difficult task picking a No. 1 in these rankings over the last few weeks. To be honest, I fail to see how this could be a bad thing. Players are pushing themselves to excel, teams are building up win streaks and the highly-anticipated All-Star Game is less than two weeks away. The real challenge in picking a No. 1 last week came in explaining just how close a race I felt it really was between Tina Charles at the No. 1 and Sylvia Fowles at the No. 2 spot. This week, as you'll see below, there is a slight change.
Winning and overall team records were used as determining factors in last week's column, which in turn provided Charles an opportunity to take the slight edge. And what do you know? Syl turns around that very night and puts in a 34-point, 16-rebound outing against the Washington Mystics, leading to a Chicago win. Talk about finding ways to make me reconsider.
This week the story is a bit different. The hardest part about ranking Tina and Syl this go around is based on the fact that the Sky played three games over the last seven days, whereas the Sun played only one (a 23-point loss to the Minnesota Lynx no less). Charles put in her worst scoring effort of the season, dropping only six points and hauling in eight boards.
Connecticut is not traveling well this season, as the team currently has a 1-4 record on the road. That's a far cry from its perfect 5-0 record at home in the confines of Mohegan Sun Arena. Chicago, on the other hand, continues to struggle with finding its rhythm. Take one look at the results on the Sky's schedule page and see for yourself the roller-coaster ride of win-loss-win. Despite holding a 6-7 record, the Sky remains in playoff contention at this point in the season, holding a two-game lead over the fifth place Atlanta Dream. Perhaps the most interesting part of Chicago's record is their intraconference play in which they are boasting a 6-4 record. Not the best if we're talking win percentage (Indiana takes the title there), but it still bodes well come playoff time. As of right now there's more reasons to believe Chi-town is headed to its first postseason berth than not, and Fowles remains an integral part in that scheme.
With Charles' limited number of games to pull from and Fowles' supreme effort against the Mystics (followed shortly after by a 10-12 night against the Dream and a 14-8 game against the Liberty), Big Syl claims the top spot in the Week 6 Race to the MVP Rankings. As you can probably tell by now (and as NBA TV's Rick Kamla and Steve Smith would agree), this is just about as tight a race as you can expect when you pit players like Charles and Fowles against one another. And let me just say I'm not looking to add more fuel to the fire here, but if anyone knows about the dominating play of New York's Cappie Pondexter or Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, then you won't be the least bit surprised if they start making their way closer to the top two spots.
Last ranking: 2
I had a chance to chat with Syl when she and the Sky came to town Sunday to take on the Liberty. I was quick to congratulate her on her dominating play so far this season, to which she replied, "You're talking to the wrong person." She looked like Syl. Sounded like Syl. I was forced to do a second take, crouching down to see her eye to eye and make sure I was actually talking to Syl (I was), before I realized she was crediting the play of Epiphanny Prince, Michelle Snow and Courtney Vandersloot for her own success. That's just the sort of person she is. Still, teammates can feed you the ball all day, but if you're not putting it in the hoop it gets you nowhere. So how's about you give yourself a little credit Syl?
Last ranking: 1
Rest assured Tina wasn't demoted simply for the fact that she had one tough game against the Lynx. It's been a close one between Charles and Fowles for the past few weeks, and this time it's Syl's turn. Although her double-double streak of six straight games came to a halt, the bigger story here is exactly how Charles will respond Wednesday against Indiana and Friday against the Liberty. Tina's still fourth overall in scoring and second in rebounds per game. One bad night isn't going to ruin that, and I don't suspect we'll see many more of those this season.
Last ranking: 4
So the Liberty start winning on Fourth of July weekend, huh? Liberty. America. I get it. And Cappie gets the slight bump this time around after helping the Libs spark a little three-game win streak after knocking off San Antonio in two straight and Chicago Sunday afternoon. She's now scored 18 points or more over her last eight games, with the 18 against the Sky standing as the lowest total of the eight outings. If that doesn't scream MVP I don't know what does.
Last ranking: 3
If the race between Charles and Fowles for No. 1 is the top story in this week's column then the race between Pondexter and Taurasi for the No. 3 spot is a close second. Everyone on Phoenix is scoring on a nightly basis. And by that I mean Kara Braxton (10.8 ppg), Candice Dupree (13.8 ppg) and Penny Taylor (16.3) make sure Taurasi doesn't have to do it alone with her team-high 19.2 ppg. But with everyone chipping in that allows Taurasi to open up her game. Check this: Over the first eight games Diana averaged 2.4 assists per game. Over the last four (all wins I might add) she's averaged 5.5. She'll hurt teams any way she can.
Last ranking: 6
First off, a hearty congrats to Tamika Catchings, who just this weekend surpassed Los Angeles' Ticha Penicheiro for the all-time record in career steals (738) thanks to a six-steal performance against the Mystics Saturday night. Of course, both are still active players, so we could see a nice back and forth over the remainder of the season. At any rate, Tamika and the Fever are on fire right now and they're riding a six-game win streak into Wednesday's matchup against the Sun on their home court at Conseco Fieldhouse. Tamika's contributions on both sides of the court play a significant part in Indy's recent string of success.
Last ranking: 5
Becky Hammon entered the fourth quarter of Friday's game against the Liberty with 11 points and ended the night with 18. As a career 90-percent free-throw shooter, it must've been disheartening for San Antonio fans to see three of Hammon's shots from the stripe miss the bottom of the net. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don't. These are the breaks as San Antonio lost two straight to New York in the first week of July.
Last ranking: 8
Since Lauren Jackson opted for surgery following Seattle's June 21 win over Tulsa, Sue Bird has averaged 14 points and 6.2 assists per game. It's not far off from her season averages. In fact, the past five games stand as evidence to the fact that Bird may consider passing up the shot if it means finding the better option. Then again, she's always played that way. It's just personified even more now that the Storm is relying on full team effort as opposed to posting up to Jackson. Bird's game hasn't suffered with the loss of LJ and she continues to be the force that controls and directs the attack for the Storm.
Last ranking: 7
Another week goes by and I'm torn on where to place Rebekkah Brunson in the Race to the MVP rankings. She's not scoring a lot, but that's because she doesn't have to. But here's the thing: she does it well when she needs to. Or, to be honest, when she wants to. Take a look at Saturday's Play of the Day and look at how easy she makes it look. That's four points in six seconds by the way, in case you weren't counting.
Last ranking: 9
Douglas' scoring may have tapered off a bit over the last two games but her accuracy is still dead on. After her 9-for-15, 25-point night against the Mercury three games ago, Douglas stepped out to a season-low nine points against the Storm. No worries though, as she bounced back and hit 6-of-10 Saturday night in Indy's come-from-behind win over the Mystics. That comes with the territory for a shooter like Douglas, but my hunch is we'll see more lights-out shooting more times than not this season.
Last ranking: N/A
Penny Taylor enters the Top 10 thanks to her lights-out shooting and all-around efficient play. Taylor currently ranks seventh overall in field-goal percentage (55 percent) and is knocking down 42 percent of her threes. What makes her game even more deadly is her increased awareness of teammates when the ball is in her hands. Much like Taurasi, Taylor doesn't have to drop every shot on this Phoenix team. So whether she's scoring 16 to 20 points a night, dropping five or six dimes or snagging a few boards, she'll do whatever it takes to keep the Mercury edging closer to the top of the Western Conference race.