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Race to MVP: Where Does Griner Rank After Making Her Return?

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.

Archive: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13

After missing eight games due to knee and ankle injuries, Mercury center Brittney Griner returned to the court last weekend and thus will return to this edition of Race to MVP. She was having an MVP-caliber campaign, and the fifth-year pro deserves recognition despite being out almost a quarter of the season. She appears here with the ranking we would give her if the season ended today.

At the top of the race, Candace Parker started to gain ground on Sylvia Fowles when she guided the Sparks past league-leading Minnesota on the road Friday night. But then L.A. turned around and fell to New York two days later, squandering a chance to inch closer in the standings and have Parker or Nneka Ogwumike challenge Fowles. Last year’s WNBA finalists will meet again August 27 in Los Angeles.

1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 1
Stats: 20.5 points, 68% FG, 10.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1.4 steals

Still the clear frontrunner here despite Minnesota’s loss, Fowles had a solid double-double of 17 points and 13 boards against the Sparks. She only attempted two free throws, however, after taking 16 against Atlanta three nights earlier. Here’s your weekly reminder of Fowles’ overall dominance: She’s on pace to post the third-highest Player Efficiency Rating in league history. Only three-time MVP Lauren Jackson (twice) has finished a season with a higher PER.

2. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 2
Stats: 16.6 points, 48% FG, 8.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.5 steals

Parker and fellow All-Star Chelsea Gray led the way as L.A. evened the season series with Minnesota on Friday. Parker finished with 19 points, 10 boards, two blocks and a trio of three-pointers as part of yet another all-around performance. It looked like she was headed for a big game against New York – which would’ve helped her inch even closer to Fowles – but the Liberty went on a 20-0 run late in the second quarter and shocked the defending champs.

3. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 4
Stats: 20.0 points, 44% FG, 9.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists

Since their blowout loss to the Sparks on August 4, Charles and the Liberty have rattled off three straight wins to climb to 15-12. They got revenge against L.A. on Sunday, when Charles had 21 points and seven boards while helping keep Parker and Nneka Ogwumike in check on the other end. Next up for the All-Star center is a matchup with her old team – and rising star Jonquel Jones – on Friday.

4. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 5
Stats: 16.1 points, 54% FG, 44% 3FG, 11.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks

After Tuesday’s dominant victory over Atlanta, the Sun have now won six straight games since the All-Star break. Jones has posted a double-double in every single one of those games, the latest being a 20-point, 13-rebound and three-block performance on Tuesday. In Saturday’s win over Dallas, she had 16 rebounds against one of the league’s best on the glass in Glory Johnson. That night Jones also tied career highs in blocks (five), steals (four) and assists (four) while dropping 19 points.

5. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 3
Stats: 18.7 points, 55% FG, 7.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals

Minnesota held Parker to two points in its first matchup with the Sparks, and this time it was Ogwumike who had trouble with Fowles and company. The reigning MVP played 37 minutes but finished with just three points, posting single digits for the first time this season. Ogwumike is now shooting 55.1 percent from the field after posting a career high of 66.5 percent last year.

6. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 22.2 points, 58% FG, 8.1 rebounds, 2.5 blocks

Griner played just 21 minutes on Saturday against Seattle, but still managed to tally 19 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in her first game in almost a month. She showed no signs of rust by scoring the first two buckets of the game. It’s unlikely she wins MVP due to the amount of games she’s missed, but Griner has undoubtedly been one of the most valuable players in the league this season.

7. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 7
Stats: 20.4 points, 49% FG, 8.5 rebounds, 1.6 blocks

The Storm snapped their four-game losing skid, and Stewart started a new 20-point streak after seeing her record-tying run of 12 games come to an end. It wasn’t her most productive game, but Stewart overcame the return of Griner to help Seattle earn its first road win since July 1. It won’t get any easier for Stewart, though, as she battles Fowles and the Lynx on Wednesday.

8. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 6
Stats: 16.8 points, 43% FG, 5.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.9 steals

Moore was limited to just 12 points in 35 minutes against the Sparks, and much of that can be credited to the stout defense of Alana Beard. Moore also had just 10 points in the first meeting with L.A. in July. That will be a crucial matchup if we end up getting a Finals rematch. Meanwhile, Moore’s struggles from three-point range continue, as she is now 1-for-12 from deep in her last four games.

9. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 8
Stats: 14.3 points, 51% FG, 6.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.7 steals

Connecticut is the only team still undefeated since the All-Star break, and Thomas deserves much of the credit. She finished with a game-high 21 points, 13 rebounds and four assists against Dallas on Saturday, the night the Sun clinched their first playoff berth since 2012. This will be Thomas’ first taste of the postseason, and she’s one reason why the Sun look like a threat to knock off one of the top seeds.

10. Skylar Diggins-Smith, Dallas Wings
Last Week: 9
Stats: 18.2 points, 43% FG, 5.6 assists, 1.3 steals

Just when it looked like the Wings were starting to build momentum, they dropped both games this past week as Diggins-Smith struggled from the field. Although she went a combined 16-for-16 at the foul line, the All-Star guard shot just 3-of-14 from the floor against Phoenix and 4-of-14 at Connecticut. With five games to go, Dallas (13-16) is now tied in the loss column with Chicago and Seattle.