Race to MVP: Welcome to Stardom, Jonquel Jones

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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Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones is making WNBA general managers look awfully smart. After voting Jones as the player most likely to have a breakout season, the GMs are watching Jones emerge as one of the entire league’s most dominant forces. In the month of June, even with Morgan Tuck sidelined due to injury, Jones and the Sun have won all four of their games to improve to 5-5. They went on the road and handed Minnesota its first loss this past Saturday.

Thus, the 23-year-old Jones joins an MVP conversation already loaded with frontcourt stars.

1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 1
Stats: 20.9 points, 65% FG, 9.8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 2.1 steals

The Lynx came back down to earth on Saturday, and so did Fowles. Minnesota’s veteran center was held to just 12 points – tied for a season low – and seven boards in 35 minutes of action against the Sun. Still, considering the full body of work, Fowles is the MVP so far. She’s shooting a career-high 65.4 percent from the field and leads the WNBA in true shooting percentage.

2. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 2
Stats: 22.9 points, 55% FG, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks

Before the Sparks blitzed Phoenix over the weekend in a one-sided affair, Griner put together another sensational game against Chicago. In guiding the Mercury (6-5) to victory, she posted 27 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, and continued to get to the free throw line at will with 14 attempts. Griner leads the WNBA in blocks for the fifth straight year and is poised to win her first scoring title.

3. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 4
Stats: 20.3 points, 57% FG, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals

Don’t look now, but the Sparks have won four straight and both of their former MVPs are playing at a high level. The Sparks only needed 21 minutes from Ogwumike on Sunday against Phoenix – they led by 20 just four minutes into the game – but the reigning MVP still tallied 18 points on 8-of-9 from the floor. Could we be headed for another star-studded Finals between Minnesota and LA?

4. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
Last Week: 3
Stats: 20.4 points, 49% FG, 96% FT, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks

Delle Donne and the Mystics had won six out of seven games before falling to Dallas on Sunday. Despite the loss, it’s easy to understand EDD’s value when you compare the records of her current and previous teams. Chicago is 2-9 so far after going 18-16 with her last year, while Washington is 7-4 after finishing 13-21 the season before Delle Donne’s arrival.

5. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 6
Stats: 16.8 points, 46% FG, 7.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.8 blocks

Like Ogwumike, Parker did most of her damage early on to help the Sparks pull away from Phoenix. She still finished with 17 points, eight boards, six dimes and three blocks, a line that helped her earn Player of the Week honors in the Western Conference. The Sparks went 3-0 last week with Parker averaging 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 blocks.

6. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 5
Stats: 20.5 points, 47% FG, 9.0 rebounds

Several players have stepped up for the Liberty in recent weeks, which was necessary after Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn departed for EuroBasket. Shavonte Zellous, Sugar Rodgers and Kiah Stokes are the names that come to mind. Charles, meanwhile, is playing like an MVP for the second straight season, the latest example being her 25-point, 10-rebound performance in an overtime win over Dallas.

7. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 10
Stats: 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks

After a three-game losing streak, Stewart helped Seattle (6-5) bounce back with a resounding win over the Stars on Sunday. The reigning Rookie of the Year dominated with 22 points (8-of-13 shooting), a season-high 15 rebounds and a career-best five blocks, a category in which she ranks second in the WNBA. On Friday, she matches up with the league’s best shot-blocker in Griner.

8. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 8
Stats: 14.8 points, 41% 3FG, 5.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals

Although the Lynx suffered their first loss of the season, Moore had the hot hand once again, scoring a game-high 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Never afraid to take the big shot, Moore connected from way beyond the arc on a clutch triple in the final minute against the Sun. She then had a chance to tie the game with 10 seconds left, but her straightaway three-pointer came up short.

9. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 15.1 points, 53% FG, 50% 3FG, 12.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

Where do we start with Jones? She just earned the first Player of the Week honor of her career, and it was probably long overdue. She’s leading the league in rebounds by a wide margin – Jones is the only player averaging double figures – and scoring at an ultra-efficient rate for the surging Sun. Others in Connecticut have also been pleasant surprises, such as second-year guard Courtney Williams. Jones has shined the brightest among an exciting, young core.

10. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 18.3 points, 42% 3FG

Maybe this is a heat-of-the-moment reaction to Taurasi, who surpassed Tina Thompson as the league’s all-time leading scorer on Sunday. Phoenix was blown out by the Sparks that day, and the 35-year-old Taurasi certainly isn’t the unstoppable force she used to be. Still, she ranks seventh in the league in scoring, is shooting the best three-point percentage of her career, and has the Mercury in position to make another playoff push.