Race to the MVP: Week 13

SECAUCUS, N.J., September 4, 2009 -- What do Lauren Jackson, Katie Douglas, Alana Beard, Chamique Holdsclaw, Asjha Jones, Sylvia Fowles and Katie Smith all have in common?

A few things:

  1. They are all current or former All-Stars on teams that have either clinched a playoff berth or are still in contention to do so.
  2. They have been in our top 15 rankings at some point this season and most have been on the list for multiple weeks and even months.
  3. They have each missed their team�s last game and most have missed multiple games (only Douglas and Beard have missed just a single game, each with an ankle sprain).

Normally in the final weeks of the regular season, MVP candidates are making the closing statements of their MVP campaign by leading their teams down the stretch and into the playoffs. They aren�t on the sidelines in street clothes.

So much for normal.

Instead we now have to evaluate a number of players that have missed multiple games and decide how much that should factor into our decision on who should win the MVP.

Here are the numbers for the players listed above:

Douglas has appeared in 28 of Indiana�s 29 games, with Wednesday�s loss to Phoenix being her first game missed due to a sprained ankle. Her status is day-to-day and with only one game missed, we can�t factor much of anything to her missed time. The same can be said for Beard, who has suited up for the Mystics in 29 of 30 games, missing only Thursday�s win over Seattle.

However, the other players on the list make things a bit more complicated. Jackson, who has played in 26 of Seattle�s 31 games, is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in her lower back. We simply do not know if she will suit up for the Storm again this season, which is reminiscent of last year for her and the Storm.

Holdsclaw, who has also missed five games this season, had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 25 and the timetable for her return to the Dream lineup is unknown as she is listed as the always ambiguous �day-to-day.�

When Jones was shelved with an Achilles injury, the Sun originally believed she would only miss two weeks. We are now in week three and the losses for Connecticut sit at five in a row and counting.

Fowles has missed time on a number of occasions this year due to injury. Her latest stint is due to a sprained ankle that has kept her out of Chicago�s last five games, during which the Sky has gone 1-4. Overall, Fowles has missed 10 of Chicago�s 30 games this season.

Smith, who has been an ironwoman during her time in Detroit, saw her streak of 142 consecutive games played snapped this week as she has missed the last two games with lower back pain.

While she did not miss an entire game, San Antonio's Sophia Young sat out of the second half and both overtime periods in San Antonio's crucial game against Minnesota on Tuesday with pain in her right knee.

And these are just the players that are missing game time right now. You can add Lisa Leslie, Diana Taurasi, Becky Hammon, Deanna Nolan and Candace Parker to the list of MVP candidates that have missed time this season.

The most interesting cases to study of this group are Leslie and Parker, who both missed significant time early in the season, but have come back to lead the Sparks into the playoffs. Leslie, who missed 11 games with a knee sprain in the middle of the season, has played at top form since returning from in August, averaging 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 2.6 assists and a 0.521 FG percentage.

Parker, who missed the first eight games of the season while on maternity leave and an additional game last week for personal reasons, has steadily improved her play since her return in early July. After averaging just 7.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 blocks during her first month back on the floor, Parker has resembled the player that brought home MVP honors last season, averaging 15.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.4 blocks in August.

If you believe in the what have you done for me lately philosophy, then missing games early and performing strong down the stretch would have to bode well for the likes of the latter group as opposed to the former group that is currently missing games.

I believe that the entire season must be accounted for, so players that miss an abundance of time � such as Leslie (missed 11 of 30 games, 37 percent of the season), Parker (missed nine of 30 games, 30 percent) and Fowles (missed 10 of 30 games, 33 percent) � have to be judged differently than players than played the entire year.

At the same time, in a year where the MVP race is close, being healthy at the end of the season and making a strong final impression would definitely help a player�s chances of bringing home the MVP trophy.

Now here are the player rankings for the season through September 3.

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  • Race to the MVP - Overall Player Rankings

    1. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury (21-10)
    20.6 5.7 3.4 1.1/td> 1.4 .468 .417 .892 + 21.41
  • Last ranking: 2
    The WNBA's scoring leader has put up more points in past seasons (25.3 in 2006, 24.1 in 2008), but in 2009 Diana Taurasi is posting her most efficient and best all-around season of her six-year WNBA career. She is on pace to set new career highs in FG percentage, 3PT percentage, FT percentage, rebounding and will equal a career best in blocks. Not only does Taurasi lead the league in scoring, she also ranks seventh in blocks and 11th in assists per game.

  • 2. Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever (20-9)
    14.9 6.9 3.2 2.9 0.5 .385 .354 .868 + 18.07
  • Last ranking: 4
    While regarded as a great all-around player, perhaps the biggest knock on Catchings is her field goal percentage. And while it still sits below 40 percent for the season, it has steadily risen throughout the year (June: .330, July: 363, August: .425). Her improved shooting has led to an increase in scoring to go along with everything else she does on the floor. Catchings' season averages currently ranking her 13th in scoring, ninth in rebounding, 13th in assists and first in steals.

  • 3. Becky Hammon, San Antonio Silver Stars (13-17)
    19.8 3.3 5.0 1.7 0.4 .446 .340 .904 + 18.32
  • Last ranking: 3
    In the fourth game of a losing streak, Hammon was held scoreless for the first time this season. With her team sliding out of the playoff picture, Hammon responded with 32- and 29-point performances in San Antonio's next two games to put her team in a strong position to capture the fourth playoff spot in the West. Hammon currently ranks second in scoring, tied for second in assists, and ranks ninth in steals per game.

  • 4. Katie Douglas, Indiana Fever (19-6)
    17.6 3.7 2.7 1.6 0.2 .406 .351 .861 + 14.07
  • Last ranking: 1
    While Douglas has been the league's leading scorer since the All-Star break (20.8 ppg in 12 games played), she has been trending down over the past three weeks. Take a look at her 12 games since the All-Star break by thirds. In the first four games she scored 104 points (26.0 ppg); in the second four she scored 81 (20.3 ppg); in the final four she scored 65 (16.3 ppg). That said, she still ranks sixth in the league in scoring and 10th in steals and helped the Fever clinch the Eastern Conference's top seed.

  • 5. Cappie Pondexter, Phoenix Mercury (18-8)
    19.4 4.2 5.0 1.0 0.3 .461 .358 .887 + 18.61
  • Last ranking: 6
    As the Mercury make a run at the Fever for the best record in the WNBA, Pondexter has rebounded from a minor midseason shooting slump to regain the form that saw her win three straight Player of the Week honors and lead our MVP race earlier this season. In her last four games, Pondexter is averaging 23.0 points on .516 shooting from the field. She currently ranks third in the league in scoring and is tied for second in assists.

  • 6. Lauren Jackson, Seattle Storm (19-12)
    19.2 7.0 0.8 1.5 1.7 .463 .430 .797 + 19.96
  • Last ranking: 5
    During the Storm's recent six-game win streak, Jackson was on the floor for four games before finally being diagnosed with a stress fracture in her lower back that had hampered her for weeks. She did not travel with the team on its current three-game road trip and it remains to be seen if she will be available for the postseason. If she is unable to return, much like last season, her MVP chances will fade.

  • 7. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks (15-15)
    12.6 9.2 2.3 0.7 2.0 .493 .263 .750 + 18.52
  • Last ranking: NR
    Although she has only played in 21 games this season, Parker leads the league in double-doubles with 11 and also leads the league in rebounding (9.2 rpg) and blocks (1.95). While it is taking a bit more time for her to find the scoring touch again, Parker has impacted the game in other ways to help lift the Sparks back into the playoff picture. While her season scoring average sits at 12.6, she has posted 20 or more points in three of her last four games.

  • 8. Sancho Lyttle, Atlanta Dream (16-14)
    13.2 7.7 1.3 2.3 0.6 .502 .000 .747 + 16.97
  • Last ranking: 7
    Lyttle continues to post consistent numbers for the Dream as they look to hold on to second place in the East. Over her past four games, Lyttle is averaging 14.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.3 steals while shooting .545 from the field. With leading score Chamique Holdsclaw out, the Dream will need Lyttle to continue this level of play to close out the season.

  • 9. Candice Dupree, Chicago Sky (14-16)
    15.5 7.9 2.3 0.9 1.3 .431 .407 .778 + 16.70
  • Last ranking: 8
    The Sky remain just a half-game out of the East playoffs at the moment and Dupree is doing everything in her power to get the fourth-year franchise to its first playoff berth. In her past four games, Dupree has posted a pair of double-doubles while averaging 18.5 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. However, it has only translated into one win for the Sky, who have lost four of their last five games.

  • 10. Sophia Young, San Antonio Silver Stars (13-17)
    18.5 6.7 1.7 1.2 0.5 .450 .315 .758 + 17.03
  • Last ranking: 11
    Prior to missing the second half against Minnesota on Tuesday with knee pain, Young had been playing some of the best basketball of her career. In the month of August she averaged 20.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists and scored a career high 31 points twice in a four-game span. San Antonio currently holds the fourth spot in the West but will need a healthy Young to hold it as they face the Sparks twice in the next four days.

  • On the Outside Looking In (season averages)
    11. Sue Bird (Seattle) 12.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, +12.71 EFF
    12. Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles) 15.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.5 BPG, +16.95 EFF
    13. Deanna Nolan (Detroit) 16.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, +12.96 EFF
    14. Nicky Anosike (Minnesota) 13.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.7 SPG, +18.43 EFF
    15. Alana Beard (Washington) 16.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.3 SPG, +13.38 EFF
  • Dropped out: Asjha Jones