SECAUCUS, N.J., August 30, 2011 –
Now’s the time of the year when the greatest players in the world prove it.
By sitting out.
Sure, some of the WNBA’s best – many on this list – will spend the next two weeks bruising the parquet and everyone around them to send their teams to the playoffs. Count Angel McCoughtry and Sylvia Fowles, who in that mix.
But some of them, like Indiana’s Tamika Catchings – who jumped to No. 3 this week – are right on the doorstep of some significantly reduced minutes, assuming their teams can lock up playoff spots soon. These are the players who’ve excelled from the start of the year, and who will now be cashing in some much-needed pre-postseason rest.
So, we at WNBA.com decided to take a Body of Work approach to this weeks’ rankings, recognizing recent play but also paying attention to everything the player’s done to get her team to this point.
Last ranking: 1
Charles is coasting right now. For most anybody else, that’s a bad thing. But when Charles turns on cruise control, she’s a tank. Over her last three games – which included Connecticut wins over Atlanta and Phoenix – Charles played 33 minutes every time, grabbed either nine or 10 rebounds and scored between 17 and 21 points. If it’s a case iof the law of averages taking over, then it’s clear just how dominant a force Charles has become.
Last ranking: 2
Fowles, unfortunately, is still held back by the standings. If the Sky were in the playoff picture – instead 1.5 games behind Atlanta for the fourth spot, as they are at the moment – it’d be tough to make an argument against Fowles at No. 1. The WNBA leader in minutes has done as much as anyone in the league this year to put her team in a position to win, but the Sky just haven’t done that enough. That is, until last week. With three straight double-doubles, Fowles led Chicago to crucial, playoff-life-or-death wins against New York and Atlanta, after the Sky opened the week with an 83-80 loss to the Dream (in which Fowles scored 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds). In the other two games, she averaged 15.5 points and 13 boards, in keeping the Sky’s hopes alive. Oh yeah, she also blocked 11 shots in three games.
Last ranking: 5
Here’s where the tough calls start. The next four players have done virtually everything for their teams this year. Diana Taurasi’s leading the WNBA in scoring and has been the jet engine propelling the Mercury forward. Seimone Augustus seems like she wins Player of the Week every week. And while Angel McCoughtry’s play over the past two months has vaulted the Dream into playoff position in the East, Catchings has done it all year long. She’s leading the Fever in scoring, rebounding and is second in assists, while her efficiency rating – a measure of a player’s all-around play – is the best of the bunch, at 20.40. Voted as one of the Top 15 players in the history of the WNBA, Catchings has never won an MVP award – and although something would have to give to dislodge Charles from the No. 1 spot, Catchings is most certainly in the running right now.
Last ranking: 4
While Catchings took the No. 3 spot because of her body of work across the season, McCoughtry’s up near the top because of how closely linked the Dream’s success has been to her own. And last week, with McCoughtry dropping 22 and 20 points, respectively, in Atlanta’s wins over Chicago and Indiana, she showed yet again how much she’s meant to this team. The one area of concern with McCoughtry remains her shooting percentage – which, at .404 on the year, has climbed higher than it was earlier in the season, but still keeps her overall efficiency a little lower than others’.
Last ranking: 3
Taurasi recently had to sit out two games with back spasms. Then she spent last week making up for lost time. With 26 points in a 95-92 loss to the Sun on Aug. 26 and then 21 more in a win over the Mystics on Aug. 28, she extended her streak of scoring 20 or more points to eight games – and 10 of her last 11. Now on the verge of her fifth scoring title (and fourth in a row) Taurasi’s automatic as ever, and an offense predicated on scoring just a few more points than the other team has rarely relied on her more.
Last ranking: 6
There’s a reason why the Lynx aren’t just the only team to clinch a playoff berth, but the first team to secure a No. 1 seed -- and so much of that has to do with Augustus. In yet another set of games worthy of a Player of the Week award, she led Minnesota to three straight wins. Scoring 17.0 ppg across the trio of games, she also shot the lights out, going off at a .564 clip over the week. There’s never a wasted possession with Augustus, and on a team stacked with talent, she’s still the go-to option.
Last ranking: 7
To see what Pondexter’s capable of, look no further than the fourth quarter of the Liberty’s win over the Phoenix last Wednesday. More specifically, look at the last 6:32, when she scored 17 of her eventual 25 points to almost singlehandedly send the Libs to a comeback win. She scored only 14 in New York’s loss to the Sky on Sunday, but chipped in eight assists. And while the Liberty have put themselves in the thick of the playoff race because of the whole team, Pondexter’s been at the center of it all this year.
Last ranking: 8
A typical week for Whalen. Three games, three wins, an assists-per-game average over 5.0 (it was 5.33 this time around), and a 12.67 scoring average. Her game doesn’t have a whole lot of flash – it’s just been very, very good.
Last ranking: 10
This is the Sue Bird we know. Well, mostly. Able to concentrate on all parts of her game – instead of just the scoring part – with Lauren Jackson back in the lineup, the Storm’s veteran point guard did everything she needed to do to get three wins for Seattle last week. Aside from some shooting woes (2-for-12 against the Sparks, 5-for-16 against the Silver Stars), she chipped in 4.33 assists and 5.33 rebounds per game (and only 1.67 turnovers per game) over that period. And it was Bird who came up with a late steal – her fifth of the game -- then made two free throws to seal the deal in Seattle’s win over L.A.
Last ranking: 9
Times are tough in San Antonio, and the troubles afflicting the rest of her team finally seem to have caught up with Hammon. After a season teeming with high-scoring, high-assist, high-octane games, she scored only 13 points – total – in three losses last week. That included a zero-point outing against the Lynx on Aug. 26. For the week, Hammon went a combined 3-for-30. She did average seven assists per game in that stretch, but as the Silver Stars keep losing, Hammon looks like she’s slowing down. Chalk this ranking up to the Body of Work rule.
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.