Preseason MVP rankings are one thing. Rankings after each team has only played a game or two is an entirely different, albeit equally difficult, one.
Is Candice Dupree working her way into the MVP discussion with two stellar performances in the absence of key players in Phoenix? Is Sue Bird, after Seattle stumbled to a 0-2 start, still a top contender?
For this week’s rankings, the answer to both of those questions is yes. Both factors will be taken into account – a true hybrid of production and projection. As more games are played, the preconceived notions of the preseason rankings will dissipate like sparklers on Memorial Day. For now, however, where you are has a lot to do with where you could be going.
After a solid, but not spectacular showing in L.A.’s season opener, Candace Parker delivered just the kind of performance on Tuesday that validates her top billing in this Race to the MVP. Against the Storm, Parker tallied 20 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, four assists and three steals in 37 minutes as the Sparks improved to 2-0. Parker played only 25 minutes in the opener, something the Sparks will have the luxury of doing as a result of their frontcourt depth, and that should help Parker stay healthy for the long haul.
While several top contenders predictably shined in the season’s first week, Parker not only displayed the uniqueness of her talent, but the Sparks stormed out of the gates looking like major contenders in the West. That is a tough combo to beat.
Nobody had a more impressive opening weekend than Tina Charles. The 6-foot-4 landlord of Connecticut’s paint led the Sun to two wins over the Liberty, and, in the process, scored a combined 44 points and pulled down 24 rebounds. As proficient in getting double-doubles as anyone in league history -- last year she broke her own single-season record with 23 -- Charles already has two on the year.
Charles moved up to No. 2 on this list based on an equally strong start by herself and her team. Charles was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and more so than anyone in the league right now, Charles appears to knocking on the door for the top spot.
New position. Old production. For one game at least. Playing mostly at power forward, as opposed to her natural small forward position, Tamika Catchings scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and also had three assists and three steals in Indiana’s season-opening win over Atlanta, 92-84. Those numbers are nearly identical to her 2011 stats when she won the MVP.
A win over the Dream is a fortuitous sign for the Fever as these two teams are likely to battle it out with Connecticut for East supremacy. Catchings’ play, as displayed in the opener, will be an integral part of Indiana’s success, whereas Catchings’ MVP hopes will hinge on Indiana’s record.
Life in Seattle without Lauren Jackson and Swin Cash has not gotten off to a great start. The Storm dropped two straight to Los Angeles, including blowing a 21-point lead in the season opener where Sue Bird had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists. That kind of complete performance is what will keep her high on this list, but a five-point, five-assist night like she had in Tuesday’s loss in L.A. will not.
The seven-time All-Star will undoubtedly right the ship and lead the Storm to wins – singlehandedly if need be. The pressure is all on Bird, and that’s what makes her such a compelling MVP candidate, but she will need to rise to occasion soon to stay in the top five.
Augustus jumps up after two solid performances in Minnesota’s dominant 2-0 start. Seimone Augustus supplants Maya Moore -- who may still have more upside -- as the highest Lynx player on this list because she was slightly more productive and efficient in the defending champion’s first two games. Augustus led the Lynx in scoring in both contests, despite only playing 23 minutes and leaving with bruised ribs in the season opener, and has shot 60 percent from the floor (18-for-30).
The rib injury didn’t seem to be an issue four days later when the Lynx defeated the Liberty, 80-62, while she scored 22 points in 31 minutes, but it’s something to monitor as the season progresses – a season that could be a career-best for Augustus.
The Lynx have two of the top six MVP candidates this week. How is this possible? They won their first two games by a combined 40 points. That’s how. While Augustus has been Minnesota’s best player in two games, Moore still has the potential, by season’s end, to be the team’s leader in just her second season. Moore has filled up the box score in two games – she had 15 points to go along with seven assists and five rebounds on Tuesday – and her ability to impact the game in all aspects is what sets her apart from most players in the league.
The race for Minnesota team MVP may be just as tight as the league-wide Race to the MVP, and for the Lynx that’s a good problem to have. For the simplicity of these rankings, not exactly. Their merits are nearly indistinguishable, and as we are only approaching Memorial Day Weekend, comparing these two stars in Minnesota is like comparing the virtues of freedom and independence.
Coming into the season, we said that Angel McCoughtry would be one of the hungriest players in the league. She played like it in Atlanta’s opener when she went off for 26 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three blocks against Indiana. McCoughtry is one of the favorites to win the scoring title, and with performances like this, you can see exactly why. The 6-foot-1 wing did commit five turnovers, but that is excusable with her other production.
The Dream lost to the Fever by eight on the road, a team that they figure to be competing with at the top of the East this season, but it’s not extreme cause for concern. In fact, Atlanta’s team success is likely to help McCoughtry’s MVP hopes as opposed to hurt it this season.
In its season opener, Chicago did the most important thing for Sylvia Fowles’ MVP candidacy: win. If the Sky become a legitimate contender in the East, Fowles can skyrocket up this list – as evidenced by her 23-point, 12-rebound performance in Chicago’s 60-57 victory over Washington on May 19. Fowles shot 10-for-14 from the floor and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line in one of her vintage, efficient showings.
Fowles finished third in MVP voting last year, and had Chicago been a Playoff team, you could have made a case that she had a better year than Tamika Catchings and Tina Charles – the top two vote getters from a year ago. If the wins keep piling up in Chicago, the sky is the limit for Fowles on this list.
This was not how Diana Taurasi wanted to start the season, a season where the Mercury will count on her more than ever. The fiery guard missed Phoenix’s season opener with a strained hip pointer – a game where the Mercury lost to the Lynx by 22 – and played only nine minutes, scoring just three points, in Phoenix’s 89-87 win over Tulsa on Tuesday.
If the hip pointer becomes a lingering issue, this could devastate Phoenix’s season and her status in the MVP rankings. With her enormous potential, however, she remains a game contender on this list, even though several others that performed admirably in the league’s first week have surpassed her. For now at least.
San Antonio is a team with real potential this season. It will, however, need a Texas-sized effort from Sophia Young in the post to fulfill that potential. With Ruth Riley now in Chicago and Danielle Adams limited to playing about 20-25 minutes a night, the league’s worst rebounding team from a season ago will once again be seeking considerable contributions from the athletic, 6-foot-1 Baylor graduate. Young responded in a big way in the season opener against Tulsa, scoring 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting and grabbing 13 key rebounds, including six offensive.
Young, as a result of her ability and also her importance to her team, has a chance to become a fixture on this ladder. The West is full of playoff-ready teams, so where Young and the Silver Stars end up in that mix will go a long way in determining her rise and fall.
11. Becky Hammon, San Antonio Silver Stars (1-0)
12. Cappie Pondexter, New York Liberty (0-3)
13. Asjha Jones, Connecticut Sun (2-0)
14. Candice Dupree, Phoenix Mercury (1-1)
15. Crystal Langhorne, Washington Mystics (0-1)
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.