Injuries can change everything in the Race to the MVP. Just a week after soaring up the rankings to No. 5, Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince suffered a fractured right foot and will be sidelined six-to-eight weeks. Losing an exciting player and good story like Prince -- her name is Epiphanny after all -- is unfortunate, but it opens up a spot in the top five of these rankings. There is a large gap, however, from No. 5 and the core four that has remained unchanged -- only slightly reshuffled -- the past month.
Those top four have been impressive all season and it continued this past week. Candace Parker went off for 30+ points again, Sylvia Fowles continues to appear mildly allergic to missing shots, Tina Charles had a 20-20 game and Tamika Catchings almost had a triple-double.
If you need to look any further as to why Candace Parker is still No. 1 on this list, look no further than her performance on Wednesday night against Tulsa. She tied her season high with 33 points, on 14-for-21 shooting, and added eight rebounds and four assists. But perhaps the most impressive – yes, there’s more – is that the league leader in blocks rejected Shock players nine times. That’s right, nine blocks. Not seven. Not eight. But nine.
The Sparks stumbled this week, going 2-2 since the last rankings, but Parker’s otherworldly talent was still on display. She is averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds in June, and those are MVP caliber numbers on a team like the Sparks.
In her only game since our last rankings, Fowles was her efficient self, scoring 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting, but it came in a 14-point loss to the Indiana Fever. Despite grabbing a season-low six rebounds in that loss on June 16, the 6-foot-6 Fowles is still tops in the WNBA in rebounding by more than two boards per game.
With the news that Epiphanny Prince will be out up to two months, much of the scoring that was coming from Prince (22.3 per game) will now fall on Fowles. When she gets the ball, few defenders in the league have learned how to stop her -- she is shooting 67.7 percent from the floor in June -- so expect some big games from Fowles in the near future.
After just the fourth 20-point, 20-rebound game since 2006 (Charles has the last three), Charles was poised to make a run up the rankings. In that game against Atlanta on June 17, Charles had 23 points and 22 rebounds. Since then, she has cooled off. In the two games since, Charles combined for just 20 points and 16 rebounds, shooting 8-for-22 from the floor.
Previously only having losses to Minnesota and Los Angeles and cruising to a 9-2 start, the Sun took a step back on Thursday night by getting blown out by the Fever, 95-61. The Sky now have a half-game lead in the East, and that’s part of the reason Charles does not overtake Fowles this week. That game appears to be the exception, however, and not the rule, so expect Connecticut to get back on track.
After scoring at least 16 points in her first six games, Catchings has not topped 15 points in her last five. In that span, however, Indiana went 2-2 with impressive wins over Connecticut and Chicago while Catchings averaged 8.3 rebounds. Her omnipresent impact was on full display in Thursday’s win over the Sun when she scored 13 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out eight assists.
Catchings is legitimate threat to repeat as MVP and there’s little doubt that Catchings has been the most dominant player in the WNBA the past decade. In fact, NBA.com/Stats points out that her contributions are nothing short of the contributions that newly crowned NBA champion LeBron James brings to his team.
Against the Sparks on June 15, McCoughtry had her best game of the season, scoring 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting, while also chipping in four rebounds, four steals and three assists in a surprising blowout win. McCoughtry has not played since -- she is nursing a sprained knee -- and the Dream lost both games where she did not suit up.
McCoughtry is still leading the league in scoring -- and that’s why she takes over for the injured Epiphanny Prince spot in the top five this week -- but she will have to get back on the court if she hopes to stay this elevated. She is not willing to rush back, however, as being healthy for the Olympics is a priority that may hurt her MVP candidacy.
After sitting out two games with a strained right quad, Augustus wasted no time stepping back in the lineup and making an impact. In her best game of the season, Augustus scored 26 points, distributed eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds -- all season highs -- against the Liberty on Thursday night. In that game, the LSU product also displayed her range, hitting on all four of her 3-point attempts.
Efficiency is the name of the game this year for Augustus. The six-year veteran is shooting 51.4 percent from the floor, up from her 48 percent career average, and 48.3 percent from distance, up from her 38.1 percent career average.
After back-to-back games where she combined for only nine points on June 13 and June 15, Toliver has turned things around and returned to form. In her past three games, she is averaging 17.7 points and 5.7 assists. In order for Toliver to stay in the top 10 of these rankings, she is going to need to find her stroke from behind the arc. She started the season on fire from 3-point range, hitting 15 of her first 30 attempts (50 percent) through six games. In the subsequent six games, she has connected on only three of her 21 attempts (14.3 percent) including a 2-for-10 performance on June 16.
Toliver, despite her recent struggles from behind the arc, has been the outside presence that Los Angeles has needed to complement Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. If she can improve her efficiency, the Sparks will be a tough team to beat.
The Mercury may be only 3-7, but that is not an indictment of DeWanna Bonner’s play. With Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi out with injury, Bonner has been thrust into a bigger role and she has responded. The 6-foot-4 guard/forward is averaging 19.8 points and eight rebounds in June with her low point total being 17. Bonner’s career-high scoring average was 12.0 points in 2012, so this production is a welcome surprise for the Mercury.
If there is a criticism of Bonner’s stat line it’s that she is taking a lot of shots in order to generate her point totals. In fact, Bonner has taken at least 16 shots in her last seven games, and at least 10 in every game this season. Her shooting percentage of 35.4 percent, however, is actually an improvement over her 33.8 percent career average.
In a little bit of a shooting slump -- she has hit just 12 of her last 35 attempts in Minnesota’s last three games -- Maya Moore dips a bit in the rankings this week. Her overall ability is not in question, however, as she did grab 10 rebounds and dish five assists, in addition to scoring 12 points, in Minnesota’s win over New York on Thursday night.
With Seimone Augustus back in the lineup, and with Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson among others doing their fair share in Minnesota, it’s hard for Moore to stick out. Moore’s averages are up from last year -- albeit very slightly -- and her continued improvement will make the Lynx even more intimidating.
Cappie Pondexter has scored at least 22 points in five of her last seven games, including a 30-point effort on Thursday night at Minnesota. That 30-point night, however, came in a blowout loss. That really is the story for Pondexter this year. Her numbers have been impressive, but she has not been able to carry the Liberty to enough wins to substantiate a higher spot in the rankings.
As always, Pondexter is also making her presence felt in rebounding and distributing the basketball, but it just hasn’t been enough thus far. With only one game coming up this week -- when New York hosts Atlanta -- Pondexter has only one chance to lead her team to victory in hopes of climbing this ladder.