Race to the MVP: Preseason Edition
The WNBA regular season kicks off this week and we’ve already seen some intense action in the preseason. With some solid veteran talent and fresh new faces, you never know who could be crowned MVP this year. Race to the MVP is WNBA.com’s weekly feature where we evaluate who’s getting closer to that coveted crown.
If the preseason is any indication, the Lynx are up for another title again this year as they beat the Chicago Sky to win the first-ever WNBA Preseason Tournament championship. And it's no secret that much of Minnesota's success can be attributed to Maya Moore. The two-time All-Star guard and 2013 Finals MVP averaged 18.5 points last season to along with three assists a night. She spent her offseason in China where she scooped up another title. Maya's biggest challenge will be knocking reigning MVP Candace Parker off her throne.
If being the reigning WNBA MVP isn't proof enough that Candace Parker is a top contender for a repeat, let's just add the fact that she is backed by a team of All-Stars including Nneka Ogwumike, Lindsey Harding and Kristi Tolliver. Plus, with the blessing of Magic Johnson himself, the Sparks could be unstoppable this season -- which can only add fuel to the fire that is Candace Parker. Last year, Parker averaged 18 points per game and brought the Sparks to the playoffs (where they lost to Phoenix in the first round). But that likely won't be enough to repeat this year. Candace will have to step up her game even more if she wants to defend her title.
Elena Delle Donne boasted 18 points per game in her rookie season and clinched the title of Rookie of the Year. But there's a big pond out there and this fish isn't a rookie anymore. Last year Delle Donne helped carry the Sky to their first-ever playoff appearance, but she'll have to put even more into this season if she wants to unseat Candace Parker. However, it should be noted that Delle Donne did in fact put on 12 pounds of solid muscle this offseason.
Angel McCoughtry is, by most accounts, the most explosive and dynamic player in the league, but the two-time WNBA scoring champion hasn't won a championship yet. By the end of last season she was averaging almost 22 points per game, 4 assists, and 3 steals. She was also voted (by an overwhelming margin) most dangerous in the open floor by this year's GMs. If McCoughtry wants to get to the top in this MVP race, she will need to match last year's performance, but put up a fight against Candace Parker's versatility and court sensibility.
Tina Charles has a lot to prove this year. Fresh off the hottest and most talked-about trade the WNBA has ever seen, Charles is eager to light it up for her hometown with the New York Liberty and prove her worth as a true franchise player. Charles was crowned MVP back in 2012 when she averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Connecticut Sun and led the league in double-doubles. Her biggest challenge this year will be adjusting to a new team and fitting into a new system, but that's nothing this All-Star can't handle.
Diana Taurasi is oft overlooked on the MVP list because -- quite simply -- she's been around for a while. The three-time Olympic gold medalist is arguably the best women's basketball player in the world but she hasn't won the WNBA MVP since 2009 -- which was also the last year she won a championship. Taurasi might be the most hungry for the MVP this year; her biggest challenge, however, will be fighting to stay at the top of the pack amongst all the newer, younger talent that has since entered the league. Phoenix, meanwhile, is stacked this year and it could just be Diana's year (again).
Tamika Catchings is quite possibly the most decorated women's basketball player in history. The WNBA MVP was hers in 2011 and the year after she carried the Indiana Fever to a championship, beating the defending champs the Minnesota Lynx. A 13-year vet, Catchings shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Could this year bring another dethroning of the Lynx from the Fever and with it an MVP for Tamika? Last year, Tamika averaged 17.7 points per game, just shy of her best ever 18.2. Tamika, like Taurasi, will need to push that much harder to compete with youngsters like Maya Moore and EDD.
Lindsay Whalen is considered by some to be the best true point guard in the league. And she has proven this time and time again on the court with the Minnesota Lynx. As a point guard her job is to see the floor, run the show and distribute the ball, but Whalen's talents go well beyond that. Last year, Whalen averaged 15 points per game on top of her 5 assists per game. (Whalen is the WNBA's #3 all-time assist leader.) In order for Lindsay to work her way up the ladder, she'll have to pump up her scoring to rival guards like Taurasi and Moore.
Sue Bird is back this year from injury and while she didn't play in the WNBA last season, she did play overseas for Russia's UMMC Ekaterinburg where they won the title. Bird has won almost all of the top honors in basketball including three Olympic gold medals and is a seven-time WNBA All-Star. However, the title of WNBA MVP has eluded her. Eager to be back after her season long hiatus, Bird is likely the only contender who can rival Taurasi in hunger this season.
Expectations are very high for Brittney Griner entering her sophomore season. Last year she was unfortunately riddled with injury but still managed to average 13 points and 6 rebounds per game. Griner is not only incredibly tall but also supremely athletic and can dominate in the post, forcing other teams to make adjustments. Griner played overseas in China this offseason to improve her game and it back this season ready for a challenge.