Race to MVP: Hayes Jumps Into the Picture

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

It’s time for the latest installment of Race to MVP, which has begun to take shape along with the league standings. The only new face this week is Tiffany Hayes, who’s putting up career-best numbers in scoring, rebounding and three-point shooting for the surging Atlanta Dream. Other than Hayes and Seattle’s Jewell Loyd, this list is dominated by frontcourt players.

Here are your Week 3 rankings:

1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 1
Stats: 20.0 points, 61% FG, 10.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 2.0 steals

Another week, another Western Conference Player of the Week award for Fowles. The Lynx are now 6-0 with Fowles as their leader in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. She has shot better than 50 percent from the field in every game so far, and on the other end of the court, Fowles leads the league in defensive win shares for the second straight season.

2. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 3
Stats: 20.2 points, 58% FG, 7.4 rebounds, 3.8 blocks

The Mercury had only one game in the past week, and they won by a franchise-record margin of 42 points against the Dallas Wings. As a result, Griner played just 23 minutes. She still blocked four shots and remains the key cog of the league’s best defensive unit. Phoenix is allowing just 67.2 points per game, by far the fewest in the WNBA.

3. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 2
Stats: 21.4 points, 60% FG, 46% 3FG, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals

The Sparks dropped to 2-2 with a pair of road losses before bouncing back at New York on Tuesday. Ogwumike had a solid all-around performance against the Liberty, finishing with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting (her fourth 20-point outing in five games), seven rebounds and four steals. She and the defending champs now have a full week to recuperate before hosting Chicago.

4. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
Last Week: 5
Stats: 19.8 points, 49% FG, 98% FT, 6.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks

Delle Donne has guided Washington to three straight victories, including two over her former team in convincing fashion. With Emma Meesseman now away at EuroBasket Women 2017, Delle Donne will need to shoulder even more of the scoring load. And no, that percentage above is not a typo: Delle Donne is 39-for-40 at the free throw line.

5. Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 4
Stats: 21.4 points, 55% FG, 58% 3FG, 1.4 steals

After making 10 field goals in each of her first three games, Loyd was much quieter in Seattle’s pair of wins this past week. The Storm have several players that can fill it up – Alysha Clark just scored 22 points against Indiana – and Loyd showed her versatility with five assists on Sunday. Seattle is now 4-1, and Loyd still has ridiculous shooting percentages across the board.

6. Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta Dream
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 19.8 points, 43% FG, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals

It’s no surprise that Hayes is putting up big numbers, but few could have predicted a 4-1 start for the Dream with Angel McCoughtry not around. Hayes guided Atlanta to an upset of the defending champion Sparks over the weekend, dropping 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 9-of-11 at the foul line. She’s getting to the line a league-high 8.0 times per game and converting 78 percent.

7. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 6
Stats: 13.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 steals

Moore has still yet to find a rhythm on the offensive end, as she’s shooting just 32 percent through six games. And yet, it’s her mere presence on the court that keeps the undefeated Lynx rolling: Minnesota scores 85.9 points per 40 minutes with Moore in the game, compared to just 68.2 points per 40 minutes with her on the bench. She owns by far the best plus-minus on the team.

8. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 7
Stats: 15.8 points, 45% FG, 9.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, 1.3 steals

Parker’s numbers so far are eerily similar to last year, when she was the league’s only player to rank in the top 15 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. The Sparks are just 2-2 in games Parker has suited up this season, but the two-time MVP has been stellar in all but one of them. Her 5.3 assists per game rank first among all frontcourt players.

9. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 8
Stats: 18.6 points, 44% FG, 44% 3FG, 7.8 rebounds

The Liberty went 0-2 this past week, but Charles has picked up her game after a slow start to the season. She’s averaging 25 points on 51 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds over her last three games. Charles also made four of her seven three-point attempts in that span, and after adding the three-point shot to her repertoire last season, appears to be confident from deep once again.

10. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 9
Stats: 13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 steals

The Storm needed to vastly improve on their 16-18 record in 2016 for Stewart to go from Rookie of the Year to MVP. Here they are at 4-1, and Stewart has started to come alive with averages of 16 points and 10.5 rebounds over the last two games. She’s still shooting just 35 percent overall after converting 46 percent as a rookie.