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Race to MVP: Why Sylvia Fowles Stands Out From the Rest

Note: WNBA.com’s Race to the MVP is the opinion of this writer and does not reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

Race to MVP Archive

When Sylvia Fowles topped this season’s weekly MVP rankings for the first time on May 24, few could have predicted she would still be on top in September.

Maya Moore is the most valuable player on the Lynx, right? Could a teammate of Moore actually win MVP? At the very least, if Fowles went on to have a career season, the two All-Stars would surely take votes away from each other on the final ballot.

And now here she is, almost indisputably the MVP of the WNBA. Several media outlets have indicated they will vote for Fowles, including ESPN, The Summit and WNBA.com’s Michelle Smith.

Fowles all but clinched the award against Chicago last Friday, when she tallied 27 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals while shooting 12-of-13 from the field. Looking back, it probably helped that the Lynx had something to play for until the final day, rather than clinching the No. 1 seed early and potentially resting their stars.

Fowles got more touches on the offensive end than in her previous years with the Lynx, but the key difference was in her efficiency. Moore still led the team with 13.8 shot attempts per game. Fowles, who just signed a new multi-year contract with Minnesota, averaged 11.4 attempts per night.

Just as Minnesota has always been atop the league standings, Fowles has been the leader in this MVP race since almost day one. And it’s not that there weren’t other quality candidates.

Tina Charles made a late push as New York finished the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. The MVP runner-up in 2016, Charles had yet another dominant year as the Liberty’s lone superstar.

Both Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike were stellar coming off their title-winning season. Parker won Western Conference Player of the Month for August, the only such award that Fowles didn’t claim this season. The Sparks won the regular-season series against Minnesota but came up one game short of the No. 1 seed.

Jonquel Jones did exactly what WNBA general managers predicted, emerging as the breakout star of the season. Along with fellow All-Stars Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas, Jones led a dramatic turnaround in Connecticut. She set the league’s single-season rebounding record in the process.

Brittney Griner took on a larger role this year with Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree not around. She was the biggest threat to Fowles before suffering a pair of injuries in July. Like Griner, Elena Delle Donne missed too many games to be seriously considered for MVP. Still, she made a strong case by guiding Washington to the playoffs in her first season there.

Fowles stands out among the group, and she had one of the best seasons by a center in league history. Here are the advanced numbers, miscellaneous stats and historical figures that define her case.

  • Fowles ranked first in the league in the following categories: Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, Estimated Impact (not including Griner), defensive rating, offensive rating (not including Delle Donne), games with 20 points & 10 rebounds, field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, total blocked shots and offensive rebounding percentage.
  • She was the only player to rank in the top five in points (18.9 per game), rebounds (10.4), blocks (2.0) and field goal percentage (65.5). She led the league-best Lynx in each of those categories.
  • Fowles shot 50 percent or better from the field in all but four games.
  • She anchored the defense that allowed a league-low 74.2 points per game.
  • Among the all-time highest marks, Fowles had the fourth best field goal percentage, fourth best true shooting percentage, sixth best offensive rating, seventh most total rebounds and ninth most Win Shares.

Considering those numbers – and that the Lynx owned the league’s best record – there shouldn’t be much of a debate here.

Teammates have said they noticed a difference in Fowles from the first day of training camp, that they immediately knew this season could be special. Ten years into her career, the perennial All-Star had her best all-around season. Fowles posted similar numbers during a couple of her years in Chicago, but never at this level of efficiency and never with the same rate of wins and losses.

If she in fact wins the award, Fowles will be the ninth different WNBA MVP in the last nine years.

Final Rankings

  1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
  2. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
  3. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
  4. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
  5. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
  6. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
  7. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
  8. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
  9. Skylar Diggins-Smith, Dallas Wings
  10. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics