SECAUCUS, N.J., August 16, 2011 – Alright, Tina Charles fans, we’ll start with the good news.
The good news is that it’s still a consensus. As far as we see it, nobody deserves an MVP trophy more than the Sun’s second-year superstar.
The bad news is that things might change very quickly.
After Sylvia Fowles spent the last week going Godzilla on everyone, grabbing every rebound, loose ball and small plane within a dozen miles of San Antonio, Minneapolis and Uncasville, Conn. (better known as Mohegan Sun Casino), Charles' lead in the Race to the MVP got a little smaller this week. Throw in gigantic weeks from Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, not to mention from virtually every single player on the Minnesota Lynx, and the race is heating up as the season's winding down.
Last ranking: 1
Charles is still at No. 1 in large part because we’re at the point where we can call her past seven days “a bad week,” compared to what she had been doing. She had a double-double last Tuesday against the Sky, sure, but she’d already had six in a row before then. In the two games after that, she came back and had her first two games without a double-double since July 19. And although she scored 16 in a win over the Mystics on Saturday, she managed only six in a loss to the Silver Stars two games prior. But, her final line when the week was over? Three games, 12.66 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game and, most importantly, two wins. A pretty good week for most anybody else, but a reminder that even forces of nature take a break every so often.
Last ranking: 2
That’s the way to close a gap. After Charles made the MVP race look more like a victory lap, Fowles comes out with arguably her best week of the year – and maybe anyone’s best week. She was, simply, everywhere. Across three games, including a win over the Silver Stars and a near-upset over the Lynx, Fowles averaged 25 points, 13.66 rebounds and a whole lot of terror. Last week, we wrote about how Fowles had slipped from the form that once made her the front-runner for the MVP. This time around, she showed us a level of consistent individual dominance that very few in this league are capable of. Hold on tight.
Last ranking: 4
When her team needed her most, Taurasi stepped up. Not only did DT score 26 points in the Mercury’s win over West-leading Minnesota on Aug. 10, she came up with a huge steal in the final 20 seconds to seal the win. Up to that point, Phoenix had gone 1-5, falling steadily into the bottom half of the conference. But then the veteran Taurasi took over, leading all scorers and chipping in six rebounds as the Mercury righted the ship. A game later, she tossed in 21 more to give Phoenix two in a row. In the ensuing upset loss to the Sparks, she scored 21 again for her eighth game with 20 or more points in her last nine.
Last ranking: 7
Catchings entered last week on a bit of a slide. She’d scored single-digits in two of her last three games, including an eight-point, five-rebound effort in a loss to Chicago – a game in which she took only six shots. She left the week still smoking. A 21-point effort in a win over the Silver Stars was her first 20-point showing since July 19, and she followed that up with a 32-point binge against the Liberty – by far her largest point total of the year. In a game that saw her score her 5,000th point to become the first WNBA player with 5,000 points, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in a career, Catchings also went to the line 19 times, showing us all the attacking mindset that has the Fever still holding its spot atop the East…and Catchings within striking distance of her first MVP award.
Last ranking: 3
Healthy, focused and dangerous, Augustus -- who tied Diana Taurasi last Tuesday as the fastest player to ever reach 3,000 points (151 games) -- has turned into the energy center of the best team in the WNBA. As Rebekkah Brunson has grown more one-dimensional, cleaning up the glass and letting the rest of her team finish, Augustus has been the beneficiary on the scoring sheet. It’s true that her numbers aren’t up with Charles, Fowles or Taurasi, but the impact is there. With Augustus hobbled by injury last year, the Lynx fell apart down the stretch. With her healthy this time around, they’re the team to beat in the WNBA.
Last ranking: 6
Well, McCoughtry’s still scoring. A lot. Her 20.33-points-per-game average last week maintained her streak of 17 or more points in 12 of her last 13 games. But she’s also rebounding (4.67 per game last week). And dishing the ball (3.67 assists per game in that same stretch). And overall, helping drag the Dream from the depths of the division to the perimeter of the Playoff picture. We’d tell you to say that sentence five times fast but if you did, McCoughtry would have already scored on you twice.
Last ranking: 5
You know what you’re getting from Hammon. The only problem is, you’re not quite sure what you’re getting from the rest of her team. Last week, she was clockwork at the point, scoring 14, 18 and 19 points and adding four, five and five assists (in addition to two rebounds in each of the three games). But the Stars went L-W-L in their inter-conference swing, falling to the Fever and (shockingly) the Sky, with the losses book-ending a win over the Sun. San Antonio has trended downward in scoring and, well, winning, over the past two months, and although Hammon’s maintained her game, she may need to find another gear to get her team ready for a postseason run.
Last ranking: 8
Before the season started, Whalen was asked to take the keys to a Lynx offense that had potential, but little chemistry up to that point. And right from the start, Whalen’s made the machine hum. Once again, she led the WNBA in assists last week, racking up a 7.0 average in Minnesota’s three games. She also chipped in 14.33 points per game in those three contests, including a 3-for-4 effort from behind the arc in the Lynx’ loss to the Mercury, revealing yet another weapon in the Minnesota arsenal. Whalen’s long been one of the most important players in the league – but rarely has she been this dangerous.
Last ranking: 9
Someone had to keep pace with Tamika Catchings on Saturday. Pondexter, who finished the week with a 20.7 ppg average in three games, scored 30 in the Libs’ loss to the Fever and added eight rebounds and five assists. She did, however, also cough up a season-high eight turnovers. And while she did score 19 with five assists in a big win over the Storm on Aug. 9, Pondexter managed just 13 points and four rebounds in the Liberty’s loss to the bottom-dwelling Mystics on Friday.
Last ranking: 12
Taylor might live a little in Taurasi’s shadow, but the moment you stop paying attention to her is the moment you regret it. And while her 29 points against the Sparks weren’t enough to keep the Mercury from a loss…they were still 29 points. Earlier in the week, she’d provided support in all the major categories as Phoenix put an end to a 1-5 skid, scoring 19 points with six assists in a win over the Dream and dropping 13 with six rebounds in the Merc’s win over the Lynx.
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.