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.
Between sitting out the first half of the 2015 season, seeing the Sparks sink to the bottom half of the standings and being left off the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball team roster, Candace Parker was on the verge of becoming something she’s never been: overlooked.
Then the first 10 days of the 2016 season happened. Parker has swiftly and emphatically changed that since the opening tip of the Sparks’ season; numbers like a 4-0 record, 20.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks will do that.
Now the 30-year-old — a prodigy from her high school days in Illinois to her college days at Tennessee — has thrust herself back to the forefront of the WNBA. Parker claims the top spot in the third installment of WNBA.com’s Race to the MVP as she begins her quest for a third MVP award.
1. Candace Parker
Stats: 20.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.5 blocks
To put in perspective the type of versatility Parker is putting on display each night for the Sparks, she currently ranks: sixth in points per game, fifth in rebounds, tied for 11th in assists, tied for sixth in steals and ninth in blocks.
But that stat-sheet stuffing has been a continuation of the historic stretch CP3 put together in her 16 games last season. What stands out about her season so far is 1) the Sparks’ team success, as Parker anchors a defense that has climbed from ninth in Defensive Rating in 2015 to first in 2016; and 2) Parker’s 8-of-18 three-point shooting — 44% compared to her career 32% mark from deep.
2. Maya Moore
Stats: 22.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 53% FG, 42% 3FG, 93% FT
Only an effort like Parker’s could bump Moore from the top spot in these rankings. Maya and the defending champs are humming along at 3-0, already with wins against the Mercury and at Chicago and Seattle.
Sylvia Fowles’ early dominance and Minnesota’s quality depth have allowed Moore to focus on being as deadly efficient as ever. Her shooting percentage sit above the benchmark 50/40/90 line — a milestone she has yet to reach in her career — and her assist-to-turnover ratio is a sparkling 6.7-to-1.3 right now.
For those who like to look ahead, the Lynx and Sparks first play in a home-and-home on June 21 and 24 that will have implications in both the Western Conference and MVP races.
3. Tina Charles
Stats: 23.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.8 steals
With Epiphanny Prince sidelined for the foreseeable future, Charles has raised her game to another level. The 2012 MVP’s stardom has been based on her consistency and efficiency. So far in 2016 she’s carrying the largest load she’s ever carried, navigating double teams to dish out a career-high 4.0 assists and using her quick hands and feet to grab 2.8 steals per game.
The Liberty will need complimentary scorers to step up in order to keep pace in the East. But in the meantime, it will be fun to watch Charles go to work on a nightly basis.
4. Sylvia Fowles
Stats: 18.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 69% FG
Even with Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen in town, Fowles has emerged as Minnesota’s No. 2 option. The league’s best center thus has been flat-out dominant in her first three games, missing just four shots over her last two.
If the Lynx keep rolling, Fowles could certainly join Moore in the MVP conversation.
5. Diana Taurasi
Stats: 24.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.7 steals
No one saw an 0-3 start coming for the Mercury. But if there are positives to take away from Phoenix’s early-season stumble, Taurasi’s play tops the list.
There are no signs of rust, no signs of wear-and-tear — just some re-acclimating that needs to happen before the Mercury look like former champions again. Something to monitor: Taurasi is attempting threes at a higher rate (11.3 per game) than she ever has before, which could be a way to conserve energy as opposed to attacking the basket or an adaptation to today’s style of play.
6. Elena Delle Donne
Stats: 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks
The reigning MVP’s season has gotten off on the wrong foot with losses in her first three games after she missed the opener with an illness. EDD put up 28 points against the Lynx in her debut, but has struggled to find her rhythm since.
Just four games in, we’re taking a wait-and-see approach on Delle Donne’s season before sounding the alarms.
7. Odyssey Sims
Stats: 18.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals
Despite slowing working Skylar Diggins back from injury, the Wings are still 3-1 with impressive road wins in Indiana and Washington D.C. on their resume. Sims’ relentless leadership has played a large role. She’s shooting just 33% from the field, but is averaging a league-leading 9.5 free throw attempts per game — and cashing in at a 92% clip.
8. Nneka Ogwumike
Stats: 16.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 62% FG
Parker isn’t the only Sparks forward who’s burst out of the gates. Ogwumike, who also missed a significant portion of last season, has been a major part of L.A.’s 4-0 stretch, helping give the Sparks their versatile identity on both ends.
Serving as Robin rather than Batman may lead to less gaudy numbers for Nneka, but she’s playing her role to near perfection, averaging nearly 17 points on just 10 shots per game.
9. Angel McCoughtry
Stats: 16.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals
The list of early surprises from a team perspective begins with the 3-1 Atlanta Dream, who sit atop the East after finishing with only 15 wins last season (tied for last in the East).
Tiffany Hayes has taken the next step and offseason trade acquisition Layshia Clarendon has been a steal. But all things Atlanta still revolve around Angel, who commands constant attention from opposing teams and has become accustomed to lifting the franchise year after year.
10. Jewell Loyd
Stats: 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 54% FG
In the latest and surest example that Loyd is ready to make the leap, the second-year guard sunk a game-winner to steal a stunning road victory over the Mercury on May 20. With all eyes on 2016 No. 1 overall pick Breanna Stewart, the 2015 No. 1 overall pick in Loyd has the freedom to grow into a leading role in the Storm backcourt. She’s already displaying the poise and understanding of the game that comes with having a year in the pros under her belt.