If this list truly is a race to the MVP, then we are all in our final stretch. In fact, the regular season wraps up on Sunday, Sept. 23 and there are only 12 total games remaining in the season, meaning players on this list have only one or two more chances to leave voters with a strong lasting impression before they cross the finish line.
One player reminding us of her MVP-worthy form – catching a second wind if you will – is Candace Parker, who has considerably closed the gap on Tina Charles for the No. 1 spot. Charles, on the other hand, has moved at a steady pace all year and may need to put an exclamation point on her season in if she hopes to woo voters from the flashier Parker.
We will have one more edition of Race to the MVP next week once the regular season is over. After that, it’s up to the voters.
Tina Charles sits here at No. 1 for the third straight week and how could you really argue against her? She’s done everything that an MVP candidate would be expected to do. She’s leading the league in rebounding and double-doubles, is fifth in the league in scoring, second in the league in blocks and she led her team to the No. 1 seed in the East. Not only that, but she has been unwaveringly consistent, scoring in double figures all but twice this year and having at least eight rebounds in all but four games.
What might be most impressive is that she’s helped lead the Sun to an 8-5 record since the break despite playing without her fellow Olympian Asjha Jones, who missed the majority of the second half with an injury. Jones was not only a key contributor to the team, but the 6-foot-3 forward also took a lot of pressure off Charles in the paint. Even with Jones on the bench, the 6-foot-4 center now has double-doubles in six of her last nine games, including a 17-point, 12-rebound performance against Indiana, the No. 2 seed in the East, on Wednesday night.
While her second half has not lived up to her tremendous first half, Candace Parker is starting to remind us all why she led these rankings for eight of the first 10 weeks. In L.A.’s last four games, Parker’s recorded three double-doubles, including two of the 20-10 variety. Her most recent game, a 101-76 win over the Mercury on Sept. 18, Parker went off for 26 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks in what was her best performance since coming back from London. It was those types of performances that made her the MVP frontrunner for the season’s first three months.
While Tina Charles has now been on top of this list for the last three weeks, Parker is eerily close to jumping back into the No. 1 spot. Parker has only one more game – Sept. 20 versus Minnesota – to impress the voters but she is finishing September strong and sometimes the what-have-you-done-for-me philosophy can sway votes. Regardless of the outcome of the voting, this has been Parker’s best season since 2008.
Tamika Catchings’ best chance at repeating as MVP was if she were to lead her Fever squad to the top seed in the East. After Indiana lost to Minnesota on Sept. 17, the Sun clinched the No. 1 seed and Catchings’ MVP candidacy took a substantial hit. That is not to say, however, that Catchings hasn’t had a stellar season. In fact, she is enjoying a statistically better season this year – more points, rebounds and assists – than she did in her MVP campaign last year.
Catchings’ all-around play always makes her a fan favorite and a regular in the top five of the MVP voting. In fact, Cindy from Indiana wrote in saying, “Tamika Catchings is most definitely a serious candidate for a repeat of MVP. If the Fever pass the Sun for the top spot, it will be because of Tamika's play. And even if the Fever stay in the 2nd seed, Tamika still should be looked at as the favorite for the award. She fills up the stats every game.” Cindy speaks for many Catchings supporters. And, while her quest for a repeat may have all but dissipated, she will certainly receive a lot of high votes.
How good has Maya Moore been in the second half? Well, if you compared her second half numbers to the leaders for the entire season, she would be fourth in scoring, tied for fifth in rebounding, tied for fifth in assists and she would lead the league in PRA (a cumulative total of a players’ points, rebounds and assists). She has emerged as the go-to player in Minnesota and she will arguably be the most important piece to its title defense. Moore is a player that can make an impact all over the court and she displayed her expanded range by hitting six of her eight attempts from 3-point range on Sept. 17 versus Indiana. She hit five of those 3-pointers in one quarter, tying Diana Taurasi’s record for most 3-pointers in a quarter in WNBA history.
If it weren’t for a slower first half, Moore might be the favorite for the award. She is averaging 4.5 points, 3.2 assists, 1.6 assists and almost a steal more in the second half that she was in the first half. Everyone knew Moore possessed this kind of potential – Moore was No. 6 in our preseason MVP ranking – and it appears she’s taken that proverbial next step.
Since the end of a long road trip where the team was slumping, the Sparks have turned things around, winning three straight since the last rankings. After a poor performance on Sept. 13 with only six points in a win over Chicago, Toliver responded by scoring 17 and 18 points in each of the team’s next two wins.
Despite a few ups and downs, Toliver has proven that her breakout season has been anything but a fluke, being productive from May all the way into September. Her 17.7 scoring average is 6.5 points above her previous career high and she’s averaging over two assists and exactly one rebound over her career averages in those categories. An injury to Sharnee Zoll at the beginning of the season may have opened to door for Toliver, but her play this year has her looking like an integral part to this team for years to come.
With two games left the New York Liberty are a game up on the Chicago Sky for the last playoff spot in the East and you can thank Cappie Pondexter for that. The Liberty have won five of their last seven and in those seven games, Pondexter is averaging 20.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists. The 5-foot-9 guard gives New York its spark and she knows that she has to produce at a high level every night for the team to win.
How Pondexter plays in the team’s next two game – both against Tulsa – will go a long way in how her season is perceived. If she’s able to get the Liberty into the postseason, you can argue that Pondexter was as important to her team as any player. On the flip side, New York’s below .500 record will hurt her in MVP voting.
#7. SOPHIA YOUNG, SAN ANTONIO SILVER STARS (20-12)
While the Silver Stars have been in a funk in the season’s second half, Sophia Young, for the most part, has been consistent all season. She did suffer through a 1-for-11 performance in San Antonio’s win over New York on Sept. 18, but other than that she’s emerged as San Antonio’s best player. She is averaging more points (16.4) than she has since 2009 and more rebounds (7.1) than she has since her rookie year of 2006. She’s also averaging a career high in steals (2.2) and shooting a career-best 52.4 percent from the floor.
The Silver Stars will have their work cut out for them if they want to beat the Sparks in the first round of the playoffs and Young will be the catalyst for this team. Had the Silver Stars stayed near the top of the West – they’re now 6.5 games behind the Lynx – Young would have received even stronger MVP consideration.
On Sept. 17, for this first time in 26 games this season, Seimone Augustus failed to score in double digits when she finished with just eight against the Fever. Don’t worry, Lynx fans. She’s not finished. Not by a long shot. With the West all wrapped up, the Lynx and Augustus should be more focused on being in peak shape for the playoffs. Augustus has missed three games in the second half, which explains her slip on this list, but that rest will likely help her in the postseason.
An established star in this league – she won the WNBA Finals MVP last year – Augustus has done this year what superstars are supposed to do, and that’s find ways to make your team better. With Maya Moore (No. 4 on this list) stepping into the spotlight, Augustus was able to rely on her teammates a little bit more while also becoming more efficient. She’s 20 points above her career shooting percentage and 46 points above her career average from 3-point range.
When she is on the court, there may be no more explosive and exciting player in the league. On the wing, McCoughtry can really do it all and she, quite frankly, is the reason why the Dream were able to clinch the third seed in the East. Her season hasn’t been blemish-free (i.e. a late-season suspension), however, and she’s only played in 22 of Atlanta’s 32 games, coming off the bench in seven of those contests. You’re not going to win MVP with that small sample size for a season so that’s why the ultra-talented McCoughtry is stuck here at No. 9.
Another knock on McCoughtry is she’s too carless with the ball, averaging over four turnovers per game, tops in the league. As a result, she will need to trust her teammates more in the playoffs if the Dream want to make a third-straight Finals appearance. But, if Atlanta has moved past the drama that might have gotten coach Marynell Meadors fired, McCoughtry makes this team a tough out in the playoffs.
Despite missing eight games prior to the Olympic break with a broken foot, Epiphanny Prince has actually played more games (24) this year than Angel McCoughtry (22), a fixture on this top-10 list. Prince jumps back into the top-10 this week because her presence has been so instrumental to Chicago’s playoff push as the Sky are only one game out of the last playoff spot in the East with two games to go. In September, where the Sky are 4-4, Prince has scored at least 14 points each night and has gone over 20 points four times, including a 30-point outburst against the Liberty on Sept. 7. Keep in mind, this stretch coincides with Chicago playing without star center Sylvia Fowles, who hasn’t played since getting injured in that Sept. 7 game.
Prince’s value to this team can be seen in the standings. In the nine games the Sky played without Prince (including the game in which she got injured eight minutes in) Chicago is 1-8. With her, the team is 12-11.
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.