Note: WNBA.com’s Race to the MVP, released every Wednesday during the season, is the opinion of this writer and does not reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.
With just 11 days remaining in the regular season, WNBA stars are running out of time to catch Sylvia Fowles in the MVP race. Perhaps the game that could have the most sway in the race is Sunday’s Finals rematch at Staples Center (7 PM ET, ESPN2). Fowles and the Lynx, who sit atop the league standings at 23-6, will be looking for revenge after L.A. won the most recent matchup at Minnesota.
Either Candace Parker or Nneka Ogwumike has held the No. 2 spot on this list for six straight weeks, but due to the recent surge by the Liberty (18-12), Tina Charles surpasses them here as the biggest threat to beat Fowles.
Charles carries the heaviest load for her team of anyone in the MVP conversation, as evidenced by her league-high usage percentage. Breanna Stewart, who checks in just outside our top five, carries a similar load for the Storm and has almost identical numbers. However, Seattle is below .500 and fighting for a playoff berth while the Liberty have already clinched a spot in the postseason.
Below are this week’s MVP rankings. We discuss the five main candidates, those who still have a somewhat realistic shot at winning.
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1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Stats: 19.7 points, 66% FG, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 steals
Minnesota recently had four games in seven days, and it proved to be an up-and-down week for Fowles and her team. She led the way with 25 points in their dominant win over Indiana, when the Lynx went on a 37-0 run in the first half and set the WNBA record for margin of victory. Two days later, Fowles had just seven points and five turnovers in a loss to the Liberty. The gap between Fowles and the field has certainly been closed a bit in recent weeks, but she still owns a comfortable lead in this race with five games remaining.
2. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Stats: 19.8 points, 44% FG, 9.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists
A few weeks ago, we had Charles at No. 5 on this list as the Liberty hovered around .500. Now, thanks to their six-game winning streak, she jumps to the runner-up spot where she finished in last year’s MVP race. Charles is averaging 19.7 points and 7.8 boards during the streak, which has featured victories over the top three teams in the league (Minnesota, L.A. and Connecticut). It will require a spectacular finish for Charles to overtake Fowles and win MVP, but at the very least she has the Liberty on the right track as they eye more important hardware.
3. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Stats: 17.0 points, 48% FG, 8.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.5 steals
The Sparks are now just 1.5 games behind Minnesota for the top seed, and Parker continues to display her all-around brilliance. In their double-overtime win over Chicago last Friday, Parker finished with 29 points, 12 boards, six assists, two steals and two blocks. She might be higher on this list if not for the stellar season Nneka Ogwumike has put together alongside her. The two Sparks forwards will surely take votes away from each other on the final MVP ballot. At this point, Parker’s all-around production gives her the slight nod over her teammate.
4. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Stats: 19.2 points, 56% FG, 7.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals
After a tough week in which she was held to three points against Minnesota, the reigning MVP bounced back in style. Her week started with an efficient 18 points in 22 minutes in a win over the Mystics, and then Ogwumike was the star of the double-overtime thriller at Chicago. She finished with a season-high 32 points, 10 boards and three steals. The Sparks finished the week 3-0 as Ogwumike tallied 22 points, 14 rebounds and three steals against San Antonio.
5. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
Stats: 16.2 points, 56% FG, 44% 3FG, 11.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks
Save for a quiet night against Charles and the Liberty, Jones was on her game once again this past week as Connecticut climbed to 20-10. She scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in back-to-back contests, and Wednesday’s performance also featured 17 rebounds for the league’s leader in that department. In just her second season, Jones already looks like a surefire MVP candidate for many years to come. However, like the pair of L.A. superstars, she has teammates performing at an All-Star level. One of them, Alyssa Thomas, leads the entire league in plus-minus.