Last week we shook things up. This week we’re back where we started.
Maybe it was motivated by being dropped a few spots in the rankings (or maybe not), but Candace Parker displayed the one-of-a-kind talent she has this past week with two vintage performances. As a result, she storms back to the top spot, right where she started.
The top four stay that same, albeit reshuffled, but Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince has parlayed a strong start to a No. 5 ranking this week, making it the first time any team has had two players in the top five this season.
Well, that was quick. After a brief, one-week hiatus at No. 3 in the rankings, Candace Parker ascends back to No. 1 after a remarkable week. Parker followed up a 23-point, 10-rebound performance against Phoenix on June 8 with 33 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and three steals on June 13 in what was likely the best overall performance by any player so far this year. This is the kind of performance that only a handful of players in the league could even dream of, and it only gets more impressive when you add that it was against the Connecticut Sun and last week’s No. 1 Tina Charles.
While nobody is torn on who the best team in the league is right now -- and that’s the Minnesota Lynx -- the Sparks’ win over the Sun may signify that they are the second best team in the WNBA, and certainly the clear-cut No. 2 team out West. If Parker shines like she did against the Sun, the Sparks are a threat to win any game.
Nobody in the WNBA rebounds like Sylvia Fowles. At 14.6 rebounds per game, she is averaging over three rebounds more than the second best in the league (Tina Charles, 11.4). In three games this past week, Fowles averaged 16 boards, including grabbing 21 against Tulsa on June 8. And, while Fowles is so adept at creating possessions for her team, she is also good at valuing those possessions. Though she only scored 40 points in her three games this past week, she did so on only 27 shots.
With Connecticut’s loss to Los Angeles, Chicago is now in first place in the East. The race between her, Charles and Tamika Catchings in this ladder may come down to which team finishes on top in the East, and right now Fowles has the upper hand.
One loss and you can move down two spots. That’s how close the top four in the rankings are. While Charles did average 17.6 points in her three games this week, she needed 56 shots (41.1 percent) to do so. That efficiency will need to improve in order for her to pass the likes of Sylvia Fowles and Candace Parker. Charles, who became the fastest player in WNBA history to reach 50 double-doubles, is up to six double-doubles on the year, including four of five in the month of June.
While Charles may have moved down a few spots in the ladder, her efforts off the court still deserve top billing. On Wednesday, Charles received the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award for her hands-on role in building an elementary school in Mali.
Despite delivering a huge performance in her only game since the last rankings, it did come in a loss to Tina Charles’ Connecticut Sun, so it’s not enough for the 11-year-veteran to move up. Against the Sun on June 8, Catchings poured in a season-high 31 points on 10-for-15 shooting and pulled down eight boards. Catchings also displayed her range in this game hitting on six of her nine attempts from behind the arc.
Efforts like these show you why Catchings is not only the reigning MVP, but also a fixture in year’s past in the top five of the MVP voting. And, with a game against Chicago and two against Connecticut coming up, Catchings has the ability to perform well and move up.
Sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Sky have two players in the top five this week, and deservedly so. While Sylvia Fowles has dominated the paint, Prince has been a force on the perimeter, leading the league in scoring at 24.3 points per game. In five games in June, her average is even better at 27.8 points per game and she has shot 23-for-39 (58.9 percent) from behind the arc in that span. She is not, however, just a scorer. She was held to 17 points against Seattle on June 13, but in that game she grabbed six rebounds and handed out seven assists.
There is no better inside-outside combo in the league right now that Prince and Fowles. Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver have an argument, but these two have really carried the Sky to an impressive start. The Sky travel to Indiana this week, so that will be a good test to see how good they really are.
While Angel McCoughtry continues to light up the scoreboard every night, she is taking a lot of shots in order to illuminate it. She has averaged 20 points a game over her last three, but she has needed to take more than 21 shots per contest for a shooting percentage of just below 33 percent in the process. She does affect other parts of the game, averaging eight rebounds and three assists in that span, but the Dream are going to need McCoughtry to be more efficient if they are to win more games.
The Dream have lost three of their last four and will need to turn it around soon to keep pace with the elite in the East. The fate of the Atlanta Dream still rides on McCouhghtry’s shoulders, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can, almost singlehandedly, turn things around.
The Seimone Augustus injury has opened the door for last year’s No. 1 pick. On June 9 against Tulsa, Moore led the Lynx with 26 points, including connecting on five of her eight 3-point attempts, while grabbing five rebounds and dishing three assists. Moore’s perimeter game has improved as she is shooting 48.7 percent from behind the arc, as compared to 36.9 percent a year ago.
On a stacked Minnesota team, Moore does not need to carry the team by any means, but at times she is showing that she has the ability to do just that. Augustus’ injury may allow Moore to become the No. 1 option in Minnesota and she may yet have the breakout season many projected.
Sidelined with a strained right quad the last two games, Augustus takes a dip on this list. While the injury isn’t serious -- and you’d have to imagine that her health for the Olympics is being considered -- missing two of the team’s nine games makes it hard to have her ahead of players with a full body of work. Still, when she has played, she has been great, scoring in double figures in every game and shooting 52.5 percent from the field.
Augustus was back on the practice floor on Tuesday. It is unclear at this point when she will play again but it looks as if Friday against the Mercury when the Lynx have a chance to set a record for most games won in a row to start a season is a possibility.
While Toliver had her worst game of the season on June 13 with only five points on 2-for-10 shooting, the third-year guard has still had an impressive season. Even with her shot not falling like it was in May -- she has hit only two of her 10 3-point attempts in June -- she continues to be successful in distributing the basketball. In three games this month she is averaging 7.3 assists, pushing her up to fourth in the league in that category.
The Sparks’ 7-1 start has a lot to do with the inspired play of Toliver at the point. Sparks fans should not panic about her most recent pour game -- the Sparks won that game anyway -- and Toliver will likely right the ship as the Sparks have four games coming up this week.
After starting 0-5, the Liberty have won three of their last four and that stretch coincides with Pondexter’s improved play. In the past four games, the 5-foot-9 guard has averaged 24.5 points -- never scoring less than 22 -- and has grabbed at least five rebounds three times. In those games, she is shooting 47.9 percent from the field, an improvement from her 36.3 percent showing in the team’s first five games.
The top three teams in the East – Chicago, Connecticut and Indiana – seem to have a pretty strong hold at the top, but the Liberty have definite potential to make a playoff push. If Pondexter can continue to average near 20 points a game, that will go a long way.