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2019 Race to the MVP: Week 1

With only eight total games played across the WNBA in the opening week of the season, our first edition of Race to the MVP will be a combination of what we have seen so far on the court and our expectations entering the season for how this race would play out.

Let’s start with the GM survey and the five players the top 12 decision makers across the WNBA gave us:

Who will win the 2019 WNBA MVP?
1. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics – 42%
2. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury – 25%
3. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces – 17%
T-4. Liz Cambage, Las Vegas Aces; Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun – 8%

There are some key names missing from that list as a number of former MVPs – Breanna Stewart (2018), Candace Parker (2008, 2013), Maya Moore (2014) and Diana Taurasi (2009) – as well as yearly MVP contenders – Angel McCoughtry (seven top 10 finishes, 3rd in 2014), Seimone Augustus (six top 12 fimishes, 5th in 2012) and Sue Bird (10 top 15 finishes, 3rd in 2008) – out for either a portion or the entire 2019 season.

With some familiar names out of the mix, there is ample opportunities for new names to join the race and other previous contenders to finally break through and earn the top individual honor for the first time in their careers.

1. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics

After missing the season opener for the Mystics with a jammed knee, Delle Donne is expected to play in Saturday’s home opener against the Dream. The 2015 MVP was selected by the league’s general managers as the MVP favorite after Delle Donne led the Mystics to their first Finals appearance last season.

2. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces

How do you follow up one of the greatest rookie seasons in league history? How about going for 21 points and 11 boards in a win over the Sparks on to open the season. Last season Wilson was named the unanimous Rookie of the Year and finished eighth in MVP voting.

3. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

Griner had 18 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one block and an uncharacteristic six turnovers in Phoenix’s season opening loss to Seattle. On Friday, she squares off with Liz Cambage in the first meeting between the Mercury and Aces this season.

4. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun

In 2017, Jonquel Jones was named Most Improved Players and placed fifth in the MVP voting in her first season as a starter. She returned to a bench role in 2018 and was named Sixth Woman of the Year, but saw her numbers drop off from her 2017 level as her minutes were reduced. With Chiney Ogwumike traded to L.A., Jones is back as a full time starter and is back to putting up eye-popping numbers. She is averaging 17.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for the 2-0 Sun.

5. Liz Cambage, Las Vegas Aces

Cambage is set to make her Aces debut on Friday night against Phoenix, but will be on a minutes restriction as she works her way back to full health. Last season, Cambage led the league in scoring (23.0), finished second in rebounds (9.7) and fifth in blocks (2.5). Her arrival in Las Vegas vaulted the Aces to contender status and her play next to Wilson should be fun to watch.

6. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx

With no Maya Moore (out for season), Lindsay Whalen (retired), Rebekkah Brunson (not yet signed) and Seimone Augustus (out indefinitely following knee surgery this week), Sylvia Fowles is the last core piece standing from the Lynx dynasty that won four titles. With new teammates surrounding her, Fowles will need to channel her MVP mode from 2017 to help the Lynx stay in the mix. Through two games, Fowles is averaging 11.5 points and 11.5 rebounds with newcomers Napheesa Collier and Odyssey Sims leading the way in scoring.

7. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks are down one former No. 1 pick and Most Valuable Player winner on their frontline as Candace Parker is sidelined with a hamstring injury. Luckily, they have another in Nneka Ogwumike that can lead the way as she did in 2016 when she own MVP honors. Especially since the team will be without Maria Vadeeva – who lead the team in scoring in their season opener – for the next month as she plays for Russia in the European championships. Ogwumike had 17 points and 11 boards in L.A.’s season opening loss to Las Vegas.

8. Natasha Howard, Seattle Storm

Expectations for the defending champion Storm dropped dramatically following the news that Breanna Stewart would be lost for the season and Sue Bird would miss a significant portion due to injury. Natasha Howard was hearing none of that as she put on a show in Seattle’s season opener with 21 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and three blocks in a win over Phoenix. While the Storm fell to Minnesota earlier this week, Howard still finished with 18 points and five boards as last year’s Most Improved Player is ready to take another step in her career.

9. DeWanna Bonner, Phoenix Mercury

Bonner had 31 points, eight rebounds, four assist and two steals in Phoenix’s season opening loss to Seattle. The three-time Sixth Woman of the Year winner (2009-2011) has received MVP votes in three seasons as she finished 14th in 2012, 13th in 2013 and sixth in 2015. Bonner’s entry into the MVP field in 2012 and her highest finish in 2015 both correlate with seasons in which Diana Taurasi either missed significant time (she played just eight games in 2012) or the entire season (2015).

T-10. Tina Charles, New York Liberty

New York suffered a heartbreaking loss to open the season as Indiana rookie Teaira McCowan hit a layup at the buzzer to win the game. That layup came after Tina Charles gave the Liberty the lead with seven seconds remaining with her 32nd point of the game. The 2012 MVP has the highest scoring performance of opening week with 32 points to go with 12 boards, two assists and a steal. Charles and the Liberty get another shot at the Fever on Saturday as they look to snap a 14-game losing streak that dates back to last season.

T-10. Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta Dream

Remember in the opening when we talked about using a combination of season expectations as well as the opening games of the season to determine these rankings. Well Tiffany Hayes is a prime example of that as she finished with just five points and two assists in Atlanta’s season opening win over Dallas. Those are far from MVP numbers and should prove to be an aberration for Hayes, who was named to the All-WNBA First Team last season. In 2018, she has just two single-digit scoring games, so we shouldn’t expect many more subpar offensive performances from Hayes, especially as she will need to carry more of a scoring load this season with Angel McCoughtry out recovering from offseason knee surgery.