Race to the MVP: And the Winner Is...

Aman Ali, WNBA.com

The 2013 WNBA season comes to a close this weekend and it is time to select an MVP. This is one of the closest MVP races in recent memory with no clear favorite leading the pack of candidates.

Speaking of history, congratulations to Tulsa's Riquna Williams for setting the all-time WNBA single-game scoring record on Sunday with a 51-point outburst. With her upside, she could very well be in the MVP conversation in future seasons.

As for this season, five candidates have valid arguments to win the award, and if any of them claim the honor, it should come as a surprise to nobody. At the end of the day, however, there can only be one winner.

In alphabetical order, here are the five candidates worthy for this year's MVP Award and WNBA.com's selection to win it.

NOTE: WNBA.com is not involved in selecting the actual MVP award. The Most Valuable Player Award is selected by a national media panel of several dozen sportswriters and broadcasters.

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    Elena Delle Donne

    KEY STATS: Ranks #1 in Free-Throw Percentage (90%), #2 in three-pointers (50%)

    Did you see her game winning spin-move to jumper against the Phoenix Mercury this week? Enough said.

    She's one of the most exciting storylines of the season. With all the "3 to See" hoopla surrounding the incoming class of rookies this season, Elena Delle Donne's meteoric run this season was a pleasant surprise to us all. But for her fans that have been following her since her high school and college days, it shouldn't. Delle Donne has helped transform the Chicago Sky from a franchise that has never made the playoffs in its history to the anointed team in the Eastern Conference that is a favorite to make it to the WNBA Finals.

    At 6'5, she exploits her height advantage at the perimeter to drain buckets against her mismatched defenders. She has one of the league's highest 3-point percentages and is by far the league's best free-throw shooter. (As of 9/12/13, of the 159 free throw attempts she's taken this season, she has made 147 of them!). Her ability to knock down shots and fearless ability to get to the foul line leaves teams scratching their heads on how to stop her night after night.

    Her superb gameplay makes it all but inevitable to win this year's Rookie of the Year honors, but it almost feels like calling her a rookie would be a disservice to appreciating how good her game already is.

    And while this isn't a qualification for MVP, it's worth noting she has one of the strongest fan bases this season as the league's top vote getter for the WNBA All-Star game and during these weekly Race to the MVP column, the overwhelming majority of emails that come in have been for her.

    If she's putting up 18.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in her rookie season, just imagine what she will be capable of in seasons to come.

    "The clear frontrunner for this year's WNBA MVP award is Elena Delle Donne. Her presence in that lineup has transformed a less-than-mediocre team into a team that may very well end up playing for the league championship. When she was first drafted, the buzz was that the Sky could possibly earn their first postseason spot. Now there's talk of the Sky taking it all.

    She has made every one of her teammates better players. When the time calls for a big play - a defensive stop or a big bucket - it is Delle Donne who usually gets the call. Her own individual play has been magnificent.

    There is one other gift that Delle Donne has that makes her special. She can take over a game - defensively and offensively. She has the ability to alter the tempo and course of a game through enormous talent and sheer willpower. This ability tends to appear when the outcome of a game is undetermined or when the game is an important one. We will all see this special talent of hers in the postseason and those of us with long enough memories will realize that Michael Jordan is back in Chicago."


    - Pat in Washington DC


    Angel McCoughtry

    KEY STATS: Ranks #1 in Scoring (21.8 ppg), #1 in Steals (2.8 spg)

    Her stats speak for themselves. McCoughtry is leading the league in scoring (21.8 PPG) and in steals (2.8 spg) making her an unstoppable force on both ends of the floor. She is currently also leading the league in the Points/Rebounds/Assists category at 31.7, further outlining her vitality to her team.

    And she's done all this with an injury-riddled supporting cast. Tiffany Hayes and Sancho Lyttle, the team's other high-volume scorers, have been on and off the team's injury list all season, forcing Angel to crank up her game to even higher notches. The Dream started off the season with a bang winning 11 of their first 12 games, and despite the few losing skids they've had since then, the Dream still managed to finish in second place in the Eastern Conference and clinch their fifth consecutive playoff appearance - a playoff appearance for each year McCoughtry has been in the league.

    While her stats could be enough, McCoughtry's most important reason for deserving the MVP honors is her growth in leadership. For several seasons she had often been portrayed (and just as often unfairly) as a selfish player that didn't have much of a relationship with her teammates. Often times it was all the rumors and chatter of what she was doing off the court that clouded fans from seeing what she was doing on the court.

    This season, she has put all her critics to rest. McCoughtry has spent extensive effort bonding with her teammates and the investment shows in how she interracts with them and makes them better. Erika de Souza and Hayes are putting up some of the best numbers of their careers and each credit McCoughtry's guidance as the reasons for why. Angel's growth and maturity this season cannot be overlooked.

    In the past, many teams in the playoffs have been able to neutralize the Dream by positioning their defensive guns on McCoughtry. But with McCoughtry stepping up her leadership role and making players around her better, the Dream now have many more offensive options like Hayes and deSouza that opponents will need to stop too.

    "I believe Angel McCoughtry is this year's MVP. Focused on the numbers alone, McCoughtry has been leading the league in points and steals for nearly the entire season. Secondly her team has been firmly in the playoff hunt since the start of the 2013 season (all while playing with many new players and without Sancho Lyttle this year).

    As a fan of the Minnesota Lynx, it pains me to admit the absolute truth: Angel McCoughtry is the 2013 MVP of the WNBA, because no one has maintain the level of greatness and has made the players around them better like she has. Comparable to any other player in the league she has been the most valuable, because without McCoughtry there is no Atlanta Dream."

    - Erica in Illinois


    Maya Moore

    KEY STATS: Ranks #1 in 3-point FGs (50%), #3 in Scoring (18.4 ppg)

    She was WNBA.com's favorite going into this season to win the MVP award. She's put up so many video-game like performances this season to live up to the expectations including her career-high 35 points against the Indiana Fever last month. And since the All-Star break, there really hasn't been anyone playing better than her.

    Moore was already playing at a terrific pace last season and she's improved this year in just about every statistical category. The most significant one is her 3-point shooting. She leads the league in downtown buckets with a 46 percent 3-point average. Mix that in with her freakish athleticism and you've got an explosive athlete that is an unstoppable force both inside and outside the permiter.

    Her shining jewel this season has been her growth in leadership. Moore has stepped it up this season in leading the Minnesota Lynx to one of their best seasons ever. While it would be foolish to not acknowledge the contributions of All-Stars Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson's for the Lynx's ferocious run this season, Moore is the squad's general and she'll be the one leading them into the post season.

    "Hands down the MVP this year belongs to Maya Moore. She is the focal point of the Lynx this year and she never shies away from it. She has put up an MVP caliber Stats and kept Lynx in the spotlight. She continues to up her game every year."

    - Adebayo in Maryland


    Candace Parker

    KEY STATS: Ranks #2 in Efficiency (23.1), #1 in Defensive Rebounds (10.1 per 40 minutes)

    Parker winning the MVP would be the ultimate redemption story. She came into the league in 2008 and hit the ground running for the Los Angeles Sparks becoming the first player ever to win Rookie of the Year and MVP. But then she took time off to have a child and subsequent seasons were marred with injuries. Last year was her first full season back since 2008 and her team lost in the Western Conference Finals by one painful point. She told WNBA.com earlier this year that winning the MVP award would be a much needed catharsis from all the ups and downs she's experienced since her rookie year.

    And this season, she has certainly been playing at a top-notch level to deserve the award. She's one of the league's top scorers that it's almost futile for opponents to try and stop her when she's in the paint. It's also hard to keep track this season of all the comebacks she's shepherded for her team this season. Parker going into beast-mode when her back is against the wall is one of the most entertaining things to watch in the league this season.

    Her most intriguing skill this season is her ability to influence the game without solely relying on her ability to score. She makes players around her better with Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver enjoying All-Star seasons by playing off Parker in the team's transition offense. As a tenacious force on both ends of the floor, Parker has adopted an almost Matrix-like ability to control the flow of the game in more ways than one.

    "Hands down, Candance Parker is the 2013 MVP. Remember MVP is not the individual that scores the most points in a game. It is the individual that leads the team and elevates the level of play of the surrounding players. Now, look at Parker's game and presence on the floor. She plays every position on the floor (no other candidate does this). Even if she does not score 20 per game, her presence on the floor warrants every team to focus on her and double team."

    -Nathaniel in Georgia


    Diana Taurasi

    KEY STATS: Ranks #2 in Scoring (20.8 ppg), #2 in Assists (6.2 apg)

    Towering expectations to bring home a championship, crucial teammates that have been marred with injuries, a game-changing draft pick that hasn't hit her stride yet, a change in coach midway into the season and several strategy shifts in how the team should run their offense. No superstar has had more mountains to climb this season and excelled than Diana Taurasi.

    The Phoenix Mercury were a heavy favorite to win the WNBA Championship going into this season and with all the roadblocks on the way, Taurasi has been the driving force to keep those hopes alive. With all the ups and downs, Taurasi has been the Mercury's stabilizing force heading into the postseason.

    Statistically, she is playing at a top-notch level, only about a point away from leading the entire league in scoring. She's also shed her reputation of being a selfish player by coming close to leading the league in assists too (6.2 per game). She's also playing at the same, if not higher, level she was at in 2009 - the year she won the league's MVP award.

    This may not be a substantive reason for deserving the MVP award, but Taurasi is also one of the most fun players to watch on the court. A genuinely warm and friendly person off the court, Taurasi dials in to a ruthless state of mind when she's on the court striking fear into her opponents because of how hard she plays. Her relentless desire to win is what makes fans love her.

    And it's that desire that has restored the Mercury's winning ways this season. Taurasi sat out most of last season with injuries, forcing the Mercury to slide down to one of the worst records in the league. This year she has been healthy and now the team has a solid chance of getting their hands on the franchise's third WNBA championship.

    "She is the second scoring leader and second in assists rankings. The Mercury are in the playoffs right now, and Diana is the only leader for this team. We are waiting to get a little bit of respect please for Diana Taurasi."

    -Defne from Turkey


    Winner: Angel McCoughtry

    With all due respect to the other players on the Atlanta Dream, who are a tough and talented bunch, McCoughtry has led her squad to new heights with significantly less star power that the other candidates on this list enjoy.

    If all of these candidates were sidelined this season for any reason, each of their teams could still make the playoffs. Except Atlanta. Chicago almost did last season even with Epiphanny Prince and Sylvia Fowles missing several games with injuries.

    Statistically, McCoughtry is leading the league on both ends of the floor. And through the wear and tear of the season that has slowed down other players on this list in terms of scoring, McCoughtry has been the most consistent force all season long.

    In this crowded list of candidates where no clear player leads the pack, Race to the MVP selects Angel McCoughtry as the league's Most Valuable Player.

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