Two months ago we started the WNBA season. Since then, Minnesota stormed out to a record-setting start before experiencing a momentary stumble, Chicago exceeded all expectations but then suffered a key injury that sent the Sky falling, Phoenix lost its two best players while their highly touted offense was taken over by a rookie wearing No. 99 and the San Antonio Silver Stars started poorly only to become arguably the best team in the league over the past month. Still, however, after all that, we are right where we started on the Race to the MVP – with L.A’s Candace Parker on top.
This will be the last Race to the MVP until after the Olympic Break and while many players on this list will be looking ahead to Olympic glory, it’s time for us to take a look back at the first half that was.
On a week where Candace Parker revealed it all in ESPN Magazine’s The Body Issue, Parker also displayed all of her talents on the court, including a vintage 22-point, 14-rebound, 4-assist, 3-steal performance in a win over Phoenix on July 10. Parker has recorded a double-double in six of her last eight games and she has consistently shown over the course of the year why she is regarded as the most overall talented player in the WNBA. In the process, the 6-foot-4 forward has led Los Angeles to a 15-win first half, equaling its season total from last year. Coinciding with some of Parkers’ typically spectacular play, the Sparks have won five straight entering the break.
Parker was No. 1 in the rankings for all but two weeks this season and she was never far behind the leaders when she did relinquished the top spot. The issue with her heading into the year was her ability to stay healthy, which she has done thus far. If she comes back from the Olympics and stays on the court, the MVP is her award to lose.
Tina Charles’ move back up to No. 2 this week is equally for her individual efforts as it is for her team’s success. The Sun have won four in a row and they find themselves comfortable in the top spot in the East. Included in that win streak was an impressive win on the road versus Minnesota where Charles had 19 points and 15 rebounds. In her last four games, Charles is shooting 55.9 percent from the floor (33-for-59) -- up from her season average of 48.3 percent, and if she is able to keep up that kind of efficiency, she will give Candace Parker a serious run at the top spot.
One of the most intriguing subplots to this young season is who is the WNBA’s best center: Charles or Sylvia Fowles. It’s been as close you as could draw it up but Charles has the slight edge based on Connecticut’s win total. The battle for center supremacy, however, is still far from over.
As was noted at the beginning of the year with Sylvia Fowles, really the only thing that can slow her MVP candidacy is Chicago’s record. They Sky got off to a hot start and Fowles jumped as high as No. 1 on the Race to the MVP in Week Six. Now, with Fowles’ co-star Epiphanny Prince injured, the Sky have lost seven of eight and Fowles may start to drop a little as a result.
Fowles doesn’t drop farther than No. 3 this week, however, because she has been as dominant in the paint as any player this year. She is leading the league in rebounding, is sixth in scoring and is shooting an incredible 63 percent from the floor. Look no further than her 24-point, 16-rebound performance on July 7 when she shot 11-for-13 from the field to see her amazing ability.
The Silver Stars have stormed to No. 1 in our WNBA.com Power Rankings after winning eight straight and a lot of that has to do with the stellar play of Sophia Young. Case and point -- in San Antonio’s July 8 win over New York, Young had 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting while adding seven rebounds and four steals. If she keeps playing like that, which has just about been the norm over the season’s first half, the Silver Stars will remain a top contender in the West all season.
The versatile forward has scored at least 12 points in her last 14 games and she is now tenth in the league in scoring, but what makes Young so valuable is how she can attack the glass. At 6-foot-1, Young pulls downs 7.5 rebounds a game -- sixth in the league.
It’s not easy for a reigning MVP to do, but Tamika Catchings has quietly had a very strong first half of the season. She leads the Fever in several important statistical categories and her team at 10-7 is in second place in the East at the break. What’s even more promising for the Fever -- and for Team USA -- is that Catchings finished the first half on a scoring binge. She scored at least 17 points in each of her last five games for an average of 20.4 points in that span.
Catchings started the preseason ranked No. 4 on this list and she has been a fixture in the top five of the MVP voting over the last decade. This year, despite the fact that she’s about to turn 33 on July 21 and that she’s made a position change, appears to be no different.
Statistically, Angel McCoughtry is having a season that could have her in the conversation for the top spot. The Dream, however, have muddled in mediocrity and they find themselves at 9-9 at the break while McCoughtry has missed the team’s last three games. While she likely skipped those games to remain healthy for the Olympics, it’s hard to move up any MVP ladder if you’re in street clothes. All in all, the Louisville product has missed five games this season.
McCoughtry is an intriguing MVP prospect for the second half, however. With the Olympics behind her, she will be able to focus solely on the team’s second half. Playing a full schedule – and getting Erika de Souza back to take some attention off of her – McCoughtry could absolutely spearhead a strong second half for the Dream where they could potentially earn a high playoff spot. If she does that, she could move up this list in a hurry.
While the Lynx suffered through an inconsistent phase by losing three straight from July 1 to July 7, Seimone Augustus has remained as steady as ever. In fact, the reigning WNBA Finals MVP has scored in double figures in every game this season. She is shooting a career-best 51.9 percent from the floor if you discount her six-game campaign in 2009 and she is only four 3-pointers shy of matching her 2011 total from distance.
Like several others on this list, Augustus will now focus on the Olympics. When she comes back -- potentially with a gold medal in hand -- she will arguably be Minnesota’s most important piece as it tries to go for a second-straight championship.
Kristi Toliver was one of the big surprises of the first half. The fourth-year pro’s 17.4 points per game average is more than six points above her previous career high. Toliver stepped into a starting role for the Sparks and has become a key asset in the team’s excellent first half. The 2012 season has been one of extreme highs and extreme lows, however, for Toliver. She scored 29 points twice and in one of those games she went 6-for-6 from 3-point range. She even hit a buzzer beater against Tulsa on May 29. In that same game, however, she set a WNBA record with 14 turnovers and twice she shot 2-for-10 from 3-point range. In fact, in her last game before the break, July 12 versus Indiana where she finished with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, she connected on only one of her nine attempts from deep.
If Toliver can be more consistent, that would be a huge lift for the Sparks. If she is steadily knocking down a perimeter jumper to complement Candace Parker and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Nneka Ogwumike in the paint, the Sparks are going to be difficult to contain.
At first glance, DeWanna Bonner’s statistics are almost as good as anyone’s in the league. She is third in scoring, seventh in rebounding and she has scored 20 points in 10 games this season. She has also not seen a shot that she did not like. Bonner is a high-volume shooter and she has taken 16 or more shots in 14 of her last 15 games. In fact, she took over 20 shots on three consecutive nights during three games in July. For the season she is shooting a career-worst 37.2 percent.
No matter how gaudy her baseline statistics may be, Bonner’s Mercury team is going to have to win more games if she hopes to move up these rankings. The likely return of Diana Taurasi should help that cause, but it will also likely limit her now seemingly limitless shot attempts.
We said it at the beginning of the year, and based on how Maya Moore finished the first half, it might yet become a reality. That’s right, Moore, who scored 26 points in the first half against Tulsa on July 12, may evolve into the on-the-court leader of this Minnesota Lynx team before the season is over. With as high a ceiling as any player on the roster – all due respect to Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen -- Moore has the potential to take a team of established stars and put them on her back. In the Lynx three games since the last ranking, Moore has averaged 23.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. She has connected on 52.4 percent of her shots including hitting six 3-pointers.
The big statistical jump that we were expecting out of Moore didn’t come to fruition in the season’s first 19 games, but after a tour in London with the National Team, Moore may come back and lead this team to another championship.
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.