Curse of the MVP?
By Mark Bodenrader, WNBA.com

2009 MVP Diana Taurasi is shooting just 33 percent from the floor through three games in the WNBA Finals.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, October 6, 2009 -- For four of the first five years of the WNBA the Most Valuable Player of the league won a championship that same season.

In 1997 and 1998 it was Cynthia Cooper winning the award and leading her Houston Comets to the WNBA title each year. Then in 2000, the Comets captured the championship thanks in large part to regular season MVP Sheryl Swoopes. And the following season it was Lisa Leslie claiming her first MVP award before leading the Los Angeles Sparks to their first title.

Oddly enough, it hasnít happened since. In fact, until this season, an MVP winner hadnít even reached the Finals since Leslie did it in 2001. Thatís seven straight seasons of the league MVP not advancing to the championship round.

That changed when Diana Taurasi, who captured her first MVP honor this season, propelled her Phoenix Mercury into their second WNBA Finals in three years after dominating the '09 regular season and a putting together a pair of fantastic playoff series against San Antonio and Los Angeles.

But with three games in the books in the 2009 WNBA Finals, the league MVP is once again in danger of not capturing the ultimate prize. And it has a lot to do with what the 2009 MVP has not been able to do.

Taurasiís scoring output in the Finals (20.0 ppg) is actually right there with what she produced in the regular season (20.4 ppg), in which she captured the third league scoring title of her career. And her rebounding has actually improved, from 5.7 rpg in the regular season to 7.7 rpg in the Finals.

But Taurasiís shooting numbers are way down. After hitting shots at a career-best clip of .461 this year, the Phoenix guard is connecting on a dismal .327 in three games in the Finals. Her three-point accuracy has also been a lot worse in these games against the Fever, with a percentage of .231 after sinking treys at a rate of .407 in the regular season Ė also a career-best. Sheís even turning the ball over at a much higher clip (3.6 tpg).

YEARMVPCHAMPION CHAMP'S TOP MVP VOTE-GETTER
2009Diana Taurasi????????????
2008Candace ParkerDetroit ShockDeanna Nolan -- 8th
2007Lauren JacksonPhoenix MercuryDiana Taurasi -- 3rd
2006Lisa LeslieDetroit ShockCheryl Ford -- 6th
2005Sheryl SwoopesSacramento Monarchs Yolanda Griffith -- 4th
2004Lisa LeslieSeattle StormLauren Jackson -- 2nd
2003Lauren JacksonDetroit ShockSwin Cash -- 5th
2002Sheryl Swoopes Los Angeles SparksLisa Leslie -- 2nd

And what makes her drop in production even more puzzling was just how well she was able to perform in the first two rounds of the playoffs, when she took her game to another level to help the Mercury defeat a couple of imposing challengers. Against San Antonio, the defending West champs, Taurasi averaged 23.0 points, 5.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game while shooting .565 from the field, including .421 from beyond the arc. And versus Los Angeles, a team loaded with talent and experience, she put up numbers of 24.7 ppg, 4.0 apg and 4.3 rpg while shooting .480 from the field and .440 from three.

And when you go beyond the numbers, you come across the bigger concern. Taurasiís uncanny ability to make big shots at the most opportune times -- something she did with consistency from the start of June through late September -- has seemingly vanished over the course of the Finals. And while Indianaís defense is so suffocating it can give anybody problems, including the league MVP, Taurasi is also missing wide-open looks, including a three-pointer with just over a minute left in Game 3 that would have put Phoenix up four and in prime position to grab a 2-1 series edge.

Such a drastic change in Taurasi's effectiveness at the worst possible time makes one wonder if there's something to this MVP trend, that it becomes too much of a burden to bear.

But if you look back at what transpired in 2008 and 2007, L.A.ís Candace Parker and Seattleís Lauren Jackson, respectively, were not the reasons for their teamsí failure to get to the Finals. In fact, Parker was actually dominant in the í08 Western Conference Finals, averaging 16.3 points and 12.7 boards in three tight games, a series which will be remembered for Sophia Youngís last-second game-winner for the Silver Stars in Game 2.

The last player to run into similar misfortunate to that of Taurasi after winning MVP was Leslie, who in the 2006 playoffs saw her numbers drop off significantly. And like Taurasi, what killed Leslie in the series in which she and the Sparks were eliminated was that she shot poorly. In the Monarchs' two-game sweep of the Sparks in the 2006 West Finals, Leslie, frustrated by the stellar post defense of Yolanda Griffith, made only 7-of-28 field goal attempts and totaled just 17 points.

Leslie also had problems scoring against Griffith and the Monarchs in their playoff series in 2004 after she captured her second MVP trophy. This time her struggles occurred in the opening round, scoring just 11.3 points per contest after racking up an average of 17.6 ppg in the regular season.

Outside of what has happened to Taurasi and Leslie though, issues for the MVP in the postseason appear to be rare. More often than not itís the lack of contributions from the supporting cast in an increasingly competitive league that ultimately lead to an MVPís all-too-early exit from the playoffs.

If you look at the list of WNBA champions over the past seven years (see chart above), only two had players that were even runners-up in the MVP voting. And what all this serves to emphasize is that the cliche that coaches and players go to all the time, that winning a championship is a team effort, holds true.

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