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.
With May in the books, a two-horse race has emerged in the Western Conference. It’s just not the race anyone expected.
The Lynx-Mercury rivalry has been put on hold, and the 5-0 Sparks have crashed the party. That also means the “Maya vs. Diana” duel that seemed destined to become the league’s top debate has given way to “Maya vs. Candace.”
Who is more valuable? The small forward scoring with deadly efficiency and ranking top-three in the league in both points and assists? Or the do-it-all forward anchoring the league’s best defense and scoring 20-plus per game on the other end?
After Parker rose to No. 1 in Week 2, Week 3 sees a flip-flop in the early-season Race to the MVP.
1. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 2
Stats: 22.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 54% FG, 41% 3FG
Let Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve explain why Moore has been the best player in the league through May:
“Everybody says, ‘What can Maya do to get better?’ Just watch what she’s doing. The word that comes out of her mouth is, ‘I want to be efficient. I want to be efficient in my movements, I want to be in efficient in how I play.’ She’s always trusted her teammates, it’s just she’s getting smarter and smarter and smarter.
“When you’re best player is having that mindset — if the word efficiency comes out of her mouth — it’s music to a coach’s ears.”
2. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 1
Stats: 20.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks
Parker followed her big-time performance against Elena Delle Donne and the Sky with a gutty road win in Connecticut in which she scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
What stands out about her early-season dominance is not only how much she brings to the table but also how little she takes off. Despite leading the league in usage rate, Parker doesn’t even rank in the top 30 in turnover percentage and is averaging just 1.8 fouls per game.
3. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 3
Stats: 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.2 steals
You just can’t hold the Queen of the Double-Double down for a full 40 minutes right now. The Lynx, owners of the league’s second-ranked defense, appeared to be shutting Charles down on Tuesday when she missed five of her first six shots. By game’s end, she was 9-for-15 with her fifth straight double-double to open the season, including four 20-10 games.
Charles leads the league in both scoring and rebounding, something only two players (Lauren Jackson, 2007; Chamique Holdsclaw, 2002) have accomplished in WNBA history.
4. Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream
Last Week: 9
Stats: 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals
A perennial MVP candidate without ever actually receiving the honor, McCoughtry entered the season out of the spotlight for the first time in years. The Dream were coming off their worst season since 2008 and believed to be entering rebuilding mode.
Now here they are sitting atop the Eastern Conference at 5-1. Atlanta is the league’s surprising young upstart, and McCoughtry remains their veteran anchor — one of the league’s most consistent players game-to-game and year-to-year.
5. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 5
Stats: 22.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists
That’s more like it: Two straight wins for the Mercury, with the team averaging 96.0 points and Taurasi averaging 23.5 points and 5.0 assists.
As Phoenix rediscovers its elite form, the pieces are still in place for Taurasi to have a huge return season. Putting up 22/4/5 per night, even with team-wide defensive woes (106.3 Defensive Rating, 11th in the league), would be considered a strong start for most players.
6. Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 10
Stats: 19.8 points, 49% FG, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals
Last year’s top pick was an obvious breakout candidate heading into the year, especially considering the Storm added the ideal frontcourt running mate in Breanna Stewart. But Loyd has taken an even larger step forward than anticipated, building on a strong 2015 second half, a full season overseas and USA Basketball training camp.
She’s already scored 20-plus points three times after doing so just twice as a rookie. And she’s been money from the field (49 percent), at the foul line (95 percent) and in the clutch, needing only to clean up her floor game (2.8 assists-to-3.6 turnovers) to rise among the game’s elite.
7. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 4
Stats: 13.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals
Ironically the Finals MVP struggled in the Finals rematch, going scoreless in 18 minutes of action. Then she was quiet in New York with nine points and four rebounds. The Lynx jumped out to huge leads and held on a both games.
That’s not to say Fowles hasn’t been the league’s best big so far; she continues to be a transformative player, especially for Minnesota’s defense. But the All-Star talent around Fowles means she doesn’t necessarily need to be at her best every night like others on this list.
8. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 8
Stats: 15.6 points, 63% FG, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals
A team featuring six former All-Stars needs players to make sacrifices in order to win, and Ogwumike has done that to perfection so far. The Sparks are 5-0 and own a league-best 85.0 Defensive Rating thanks to the efforts of Ogwumike in particular.
She’s shooting 63 percent from the floor and rebounding (8.8 RPG) and playmaking (3.0 APG) better than she ever has.
9. Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky
Last Week: 6
Stats: 18.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks
The Sky’s early-season swoon reached a low point in a loss to the struggling Stars in which Delle Donne fouled out (after pouring in 27 points). EDD still seems to be finding her footing as Chicago attempts to right the ship as a team; a win at Dallas was a strong start.
One early positive: Delle Donne is 8-for-21 (38%) from deep through five games. Even during her historic MVP season, the three-point shot lagged behind in her game. Maintaining a 35-plus-percent clip would make her that much more dangerous.
10. Odyssey Sims, Dallas Wings
Last Week: 9
Stats: 18.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.6 steals
Though Skylar Diggins has scored just one point, the Wings are staying afloat while she recuperates thanks largely to Sims’ leadership. The third-year guard continues to attack even though her shots aren’t falling (33% shooting).
Dallas needs more of the same from Sims until Diggins approaches 100-percent health — at which point Sims can only benefit from the openings playing alongside another offensive threat will provide.