Race to MVP: Fowles Guides Minnesota to Perfect Start

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

There are some major shifts in this week’s rankings, as almost every team had played just one game at the time of our last edition. We’ve now seen some head-to-head matchups between the league’s superstars and have a feel for who could emerge as the top MVP candidates.

Heading the list this week is Sylvia Fowles, a player who has won numerous awards and titles in her career but never been named MVP, unlike many of the names on this list. Fowles was MVP of the Finals in 2015. Could the 31-year-old be headed for the best season of her career?

1. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 7
Stats: 21.5 points, 60% FG, 10.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.3 steals

She benefits here from Minnesota’s jam-packed schedule early on, but the Lynx are 4-0 and Fowles has been the league’s most dominant player. The veteran center earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors and followed it up with 21 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks, four assists and three steals on Tuesday against Connecticut. In their win at New York, Fowles and the Lynx held Tina Charles to just six points on 2-of-9 shooting.

2. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 2
Stats: 23.0 points, 57% FG, 56% 3FG, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals

It’s a small sample size, but Ogwumike has been almost as efficient as her record-setting MVP campaign in 2016. After beating Seattle on opening night, Ogwumike’s Sparks went head-to-head with Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, earning a 99-89 win last Friday to improve to 2-0. Ogwumike finished 9-for-9 at the free throw line on Friday after not making a trip to the stripe against Seattle.

3. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 22.3 points, 63% FG, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 1.3 steals

With Candice Dupree, DeWanna Bonner and Penny Taylor not on the court, the Mercury badly needed Griner to step up this season. She has done just that so far, averaging a career-high 22.3 points per game and picking up the slack for Diana Taurasi, who is struggling with her shot. Griner leads the league in blocks for the fifth straight year, and she owns the highest estimated player impact of those that have played significant minutes. She would be higher on this list if not for Phoenix’s 2-2 record.

4. Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 8
Stats: 26.0 points, 60% FG, 62% 3FG, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists

Loyd took her game to another level last season after winning Rookie of the Year in 2015, and now she appears to be much-improved once again. With Loyd leading the league in scoring, Seattle has won two of its first three games, including a victory over the Mystics on Sunday. At age 23, Loyd is already one of the WNBA’s best scoring guards. She also led the league in points after Week 1 in 2016 before cooling off. Let’s see if she can keep it up.

5. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
Last Week: 1
Stats: 21.5 points, 56% FG, 4.5 rebounds

Although the Mystics have been up and down to start the season, Delle Donne is having no trouble doing her part on the offensive end. She’s scored more than 20 points in three of their four games, including a remarkable 29-for-30 rate at the foul line. Like Ogwumike, her rebounding numbers are a bit down from previous seasons. Delle Donne was strong on the glass Wednesday afternoon as the Mystics beat the Sky in her return to Chicago.

6. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 3
Stats: 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals

It’s a scary sign for opposing teams that Minnesota remains unbeaten despite Moore shooting poorly in every single game. A career 46-percent shooter, she’s down to just 32 percent overall and 30 percent from three-point range thus far. However, Moore also ranks among the league leaders in assists with 5.5 per game, which would be a career high. She and Fowles could end up taking MVP votes away from each other at the end of the season.

7. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 5
Stats: 18.0 points, 70% FG, 50% 3FG, 8.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists

Parker returned from Turkey in time to receive her championship ring on Friday, when she helped the Sparks defeat Washington. The reigning Finals MVP had a stellar season debut, scoring 18 points on 70 percent shooting and pacing the Sparks with five assists. Los Angeles is back in action Wednesday night against the Fever to begin a three-game road trip.

8. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 4
Stats: 13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals

After a couple of subpar nights in which she struggled to find a rhythm – Charles was reportedly ill for the Minnesota game – she bounced back with a typical performance against Phoenix on Tuesday. Charles led the Liberty to a win, finishing with 22 points and 11 boards. She’s shooting just 35 percent through three games and averaging a career-low 8.3 rebounds, which still ranks seventh in the league.

9. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 6
Stats: 10.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks

Stewart has played in two of Seattle’s three games, and she hasn’t performed particularly well in either of them. But the Storm are clearly working her into the mix slowly due to the knee injury she suffered in the offseason. Stewart and fellow Rookie of the Year winner Jewell Loyd figure to be among the MVP candidates for many years to come. For now, Loyd is the one shining brightest in Seattle.

10. Layshia Clarendon, Atlanta Dream
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 16.3 points, 50% FG, 6.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals

The Dream are 2-1 despite not having longtime superstar Angel McCoughtry, and much of that can be attributed to the play of Clarendon. Tiffany Hayes (19.7 points per game) has also been tremendous, but Clarendon gets the nod here after winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Hayes suffered an ankle sprain on Sunday, and Clarendon will be relied upon even more if Hayes misses any time.