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Race to MVP: Injuries All But End Griner’s Chances

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.

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It was a tough week in the WNBA for injuries. Among the players that went down were Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne, and their setbacks will unfortunately impact what was turning out to be a thrilling MVP race.

Delle Donne (ankle sprain) should be back very soon, while the Mercury announced Griner is expected to miss three or four weeks with a knee bone bruise and an ankle sprain. That means she’ll likely be out between six and 10 games, probably too many to remain a serious MVP contender in the 34-game WNBA season.

The worst part is Griner is having a legitimate MVP season, enjoying by far the best year of her career and keeping Phoenix near the top of the standings. She has ranked No. 2 on this list for most of the season, and if we had to make a prediction before her injury, Griner would be the one to eventually take home the award. Not to mention, she won’t be able to play in this weekend’s All-Star Game.

We’re going to take her off this list for now. If her recovery is quicker than expected – or if she comes back and leads Phoenix to an incredible finish to the regular season – then maybe she can jump back into the MVP race. Let’s hope that is the case.

1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 1
Stats: 19.9 points, 66% FG, 9.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.5 steals

With Griner sidelined due to injury, Fowles is now the clear favorite to win her first MVP award. Think about this: Fowles is averaging 20 points and has shot 50 percent from the field or better in every single game. Her numbers are eerily similar to Nneka Ogwumike’s MVP season in 2016. Ogwumike set a new record for true shooting percentage last year (73.7 percent), and Fowles’ current season isn’t far behind at 70.1 percent.

2. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 3
Stats: 20.1 points, 60% FG, 41% 3FG, 7.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals

It might be up to Ogwumike to make this an interesting race down the stretch. Otherwise, Fowles could run away with it as her team inches closer to clinching the No. 1 seed. The good news is Ogwumike has been outstanding in recent weeks, including a stellar performance of 29 points and 11 rebounds in the Sparks’ win over the red-hot Sun last Thursday.

3. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 4
Stats: 15.8 points, 47% FG, 8.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.1 blocks

After a tough week for herself and the Sparks, Parker found her groove again to help L.A. pick up a pair of home victories. In the first half on Monday, she spun into a ridiculous left-handed hook shot as part of the win over Indiana. Parker is getting it done on the defensive end too: She’s blocked at least two shots in four straight games, and recorded four blocks with three steals against the Fever.

4. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 6
Stats: 20.1 points, 45% FG, 9.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists

Charles moves up a couple of spots on this list by default. That’s not to say she isn’t having yet another dominant season, however. Perhaps a bit under the radar, Charles is tied for second in points per game and ranks third in rebounding. She doesn’t rack up blocks or steals like her All-Star peers, but Charles helps anchor the best defense in the league – by opposing field goal percentage – for the third straight year.

5. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
Last Week: 5
Stats: 18.7 points, 48% FG, 97% FT, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks

Delle Donne played just three minutes before going down with a sprained ankle last Friday. In an even more devastating blow to the Mystics, starting guard Tayler Hill suffered a torn ACL that same night and will miss the remainder of the season. Their absence was felt at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, when Washington lost by 30 to New York.

6. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 7
Stats: 15.2 points, 40% 3FG, 5.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals

Moore was crucial to Minnesota’s impressive win at Phoenix, finishing with 19 points, seven assists and five boards while shooting 4-of-7 from three-point range. Despite her subpar overall shooting percentage this year, the former MVP has been stellar from long range. Moore is shooting 40 percent from deep for the second straight season and will compete in Saturday’s Three-Point Contest.

7. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 8
Stats: 19.7 points, 47% FG, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

It’s been a good week for Stewart individually. She was named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday, and the next day it was announced Stewart will make her All-Star debut on her home court in Seattle. Stewart figures to be a perennial All-Star for the next decade. Her team, however, continues to disappoint. The Storm head into the All-Star break having lost three times during their five-game homestand.

8. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 9
Stats: 15.9 points, 54% FG, 47% 3FG, 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

Although her rebounding has dropped a bit since her incredible start to the season, she remains the league leader in that category by a wide margin. As of Wednesday, she is on pace to record the second most rebounds in a single season in WNBA history. Charles owns the record of 398 total rebounds (11.7 per game) set in 2010.

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

The Wings faced the Sky twice in a five-day span, and Diggins-Smith made her presence felt in both contests. That was especially the case on Sunday, when Dallas outlasted Chicago in a double-overtime thriller and possibly the game of the year so far. Diggins-Smith came up huge in the extra sessions, including the tying three-pointer that forced double OT. She is getting to the foul line often and has made all 35 of her free throws in the last four games.

10. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 10
Stats: 13.8 points, 50% FG, 6.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.6 steals

Unlike Diggins-Smith, Thomas is struggling mightily from the free throw line. A career 66 percent shooter, the Sun forward is down to 54 percent this season and is a combined 4-for-12 in her last two games. Thomas does everything else well, however, and was just named an All-Star for the first time in her career. She could start in the All-Star Game alongside Sun teammates Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas if Curt Miller chooses her to replace Delle Donne.