Three weeks into the season, it’s time to mix things up. While Candace Parker, No. 1 in the rankings since the preseason, has performed at a very high level, the league’s two most dominant centers, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles, have been too good to ignore. And, at a combined 154 inches and 391 pounds, you can understand why.
That said, the top five in the rankings are borderline interchangeable this week. All are making box scores look like pick six tickets and all are on teams that are off to a stellar start -- the teams represented in the top five are a combined 25-4. It is not until these teams start separating themselves in the standings that they become more discernible.
Since being No. 2 in the rankings last week, Charles played two games. In those games, all she did was collectively score 50 points, grab 21 rebounds and, for good measure, dish out five assists and block five shots. If you want to know how you move into No. 1 in the rankings, that is precisely how. Charles now has three double-doubles in five games, and the two games she did not record them she missed them by only one and two rebounds each.
Charles and the Sun go on the road to take on Indiana on Friday and that game will go a long way to decide who the early favorite in the Eastern Conference is. If Charles can muscle the Sun past the Fever, she will justify this No. 1 ranking.
The Chicago Sky have been a pleasant surprise this year. As a result, Sylvia Fowles is reaping the benefits on this ladder. The only knock on Fowles coming into the year was that the Sky needed to win for her to be a serious candidate. Well, after a 4-1 start, it appears she is as serious as a wind gust off Lake Michigan. Standing 6-foot-6, Fowles is averaging a league-leading 13.8 rebounds per game and is shooting 64.5 percent from the field. She has a double-double in all five games she’s played and if it weren’t for a 19-point performance on June 1, they would have all been of the 20-10 variety.
Chicago guard Epiphanny Prince (No. 9 on this list) is leading the league in scoring and is giving Fowles ample help. If those two stay a potent combo, and the Sky remain amongst the East’s elite, Fowles could have some extra hardware at year’s end.
Moving Candace Parker down to No. 3 this week shouldn’t be perceived as a true demotion. She has played tremendously and the Sparks have as well. It’s much more of an acknowledgment of Charles’ and Fowles’ start than it is an indictment on Parker’s. Parker is still leading the league in blocks with 2.8 per game and she has four games of 10-plus rebounds. In the Sparks’ win over Seattle on June 3, Parker had 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.
While she sits at No. 3 on this list, she is an enormous threat to take over the top spot once again. When healthy, there’s no more well-rounded player in the league and she has the Sparks looking like a major contender.
Like Parker, Catchings slipping on the list has nothing to do with sub-par performance. The reigning MVP has scored at least 16 points in every game this season and is shooting 48.6 percent from the floor. She is slightly below her career averages in rebounds and assists, but that is not cause for concern for the 11-year veteran that is also adjusting to a new position.
There is some debate on which is the best team in the East. Some say Indiana. Some say Connecticut. And even Chicago has made its case. The Fever have only one game this week -- against the Sun -- so that outcome will go a long way in determining Catchings’ placement next week.
Despite sitting out the team’s win over Seattle on June 6 with a right quad strain, Seimone Augustus has been the best player on a team stacked with talent at every position. She leads the team in scoring having scored 15 or more points in five of her seven games. What has separated her is her efficiency as she is shooting 52.5 percent from the field. As a result of Minnesota’s dominance, Augustus has only had to play 28.4 minutes per game, which would be a career low for her.
There’s no doubt Minnesota is the best team in the league right now and Augustus is a big part of that. While they showed little ill effects without her in the lineup, Augustus will have to get back on the court to stay in the top five of this list. Her injury, however, does not appear to be serious.
Atlanta will really only go as far as Angel McCoughtry, the team’s emotional leader, takes it. She is leading the team in scoring (by nearly 10 ppg), steals and blocks and is second in assists and rebounds. The 6-foot-1 wing scored a season-high 33 points on June 2 versus the Sky and grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds and had a season-high seven steals on June 6 versus the Liberty.
For McCoughtry to rise any further in these rankings, the Dream are going to have to turn things around. They rallied to a Finals appearance after a slow start last year, so McCoughtry is hoping history will repeat itself.
Aside from scoring only three points and grabbing no rebounds on June 1 versus Connecticut, Moore has been steady during Minnesota’s eight-game win streak. She has scored in double figures in every other contest, has displayed range by hitting at least one 3-pointer in every game and is normally active on the boards. While Minnesota doesn’t appear to have any holes in its lineup, Moore is the kind of player that, given the call, could help out by scoring, rebounding, running the offense or even marking the opposing team’s top offensive threat.
Minnesota is as talented as maybe any team we have ever seen -- and there are three Lynx in the top 15 this week -- and while that will likely pave the way for many victories, it may decrease the chances of any Lynx player winning the MVP.
One of the brightest spots of this young season has been the play of Kristi Toliver. While Toliver has improved each season she has been in the WNBA, she appears to have taken a quantum leap this season. Leading the Sparks in scoring, Toliver has not scored less than 16 points this season. Her 20.5 points per game average is more than double her career average of 9.9. Her assists are way up, her 3-point shooting has been at its best and she even hit a game-winner on May 29 versus Tulsa -- a game where she rebounded from having 14 turnovers, a WNBA record.
Toliver’s emergence on the perimeter has made it easier for Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike to find room in the paint. The Sparks are off to a great start, and Toliver is as important to that as anybody.
Not many would have predicted that in June the WNBA’s leading scorer would be Epiphanny Prince. The 5-foot-9 guard has played brilliantly and she is a main reason the Sky have started so well. Prince scored 31 and 33 points in her last two games respectively and she has not scored less than 16 in any game this year. In fact, her point total has escalated in all of Chicago’s five games this year.
Prince forms a dynamic 1-2 punch with Sylvia Fowles -- they are the league’s highest scoring duo -- but it’s hard to imagine that Prince could become more valuable to Chicago than Fowles herself. Despite that, you cannot argue with her production thus far, and that’s why she deserves this spot on the list.
Sue Bird remains in the top 10 solely because of her body of work. That said, she has not had the type of season she is accustomed to individually and the Storm have not looked like a team ready to make a push for the postseason. Bird did score 27 points in Seattle’s lone win against Tulsa on June 1, but unfortunately for the Storm, it looks like Bird may have to produce 20-plus points a night for this team to win consistently.
When three-time MVP Lauren Jackson comes back after the Olympic break, this will be an entirely different team. Until then, it is up to Bird to keep this team afloat. That, however, appears easier said than done, even for the league’s best point guard over the last decade.
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.