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.
Nearing the quarter mark of the season, there is less a No. 1 and 2 ranking on the list of WNBA MVP candidates than a 1A and 1B.
Both the Lynx and Sparks are 8-0. Both Maya Moore and Candace Parker have won MVP honors in the past. And both stars are at the top of their games.
So who has the leg up through the first three weeks? This writer leans Moore, who has carried Minnesota through a loaded early-season schedule and, as a defending champ, sits on the throne until someone truly knocks her off.
1. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 1
Stats: 21.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 49% FG
Moore’s play holds extra gravity when you consider the target on Minnesota’s back as the Lynx take on all comers — from Diana Taurasi and the Mercury to Elena Delle Donne and the Sky to Tamika Catchings and the Fever.
During those battles, Moore continues to expand her role as Minnesota’s primary playmaker with point guard Lindsay Whalen playing a career-low 22.9 minutes per game. And she’s doing it as well as the top point guards across the league, averaging a career-high 5.3 assists to just 2.3 turnovers.
2. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 2
Stats: 16.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.2 blocks
Though her numbers may not be as gaudy as they were a year ago, Parker has set a tone in L.A. that puts sharing the ball offensively, locking in defensively and winning before anything else.
“The only thing I’m out to prove is that we’re capable of winning a WNBA championship, and I’m trying to put my team in the best position to do that,” she recently told Excelle Sports. Whether the Olympic snub added extra fuel or not, Parker has lifted the Sparks back to prominence — from 0-7 in 2015 to 8-0 in 2016.
3. Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream
Last Week: 4
Stats: 20.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals
McCoughtry has officially been turned loose, putting up 24.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals over her last four games. You can bet the 29-year-old relishes the chance to play for a contender again in what was expected to be a rebuilding year. Atlanta’s surrounding talent, especially guards Layshia Clarendon and Tiffany Hayes, make slowing down McCoughtry that much more difficult.
4. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 3
Stats: 19.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals
The prolific pace Charles set as May’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month has proven unsustainable. But she is still shouldering as large a load as any star in the league. Three of the Liberty’s four losses have come at the hands of the unbeaten teams, so look for Charles and New York to rise as the schedule lightens.
5. Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky
Last Week: 9
Stats: 18.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 blocks
Three straight wins have Chicago and its star back in the thick of things in the East.
The Sky have constructed an offensive juggernaut around Delle Donne’s unique talents, so much so that EDD can serve as a centerpiece without needing to force the issue. She’s taking 2.1 fewer shots and averaging five fewer points per game compared to last season, but Chicago is actually outpacing its top-ranked offense from 2015.
6. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 8
Stats: 15.6 points, 63% FG, 8.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks
Call Nneka this year’s dark horse MVP candidate. She may not have Parker’s star power, but she’s been instrumental in the perfect run, especially in home wins over the Stars (21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) and Liberty (18-10-4) this week.
7. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 7
Stats: 15.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 56% FG, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks
The Lynx are at their best when Fowles is at her best, and she came to play in their two wins this week (18.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.5 BPG). Perhaps the biggest reason Minnesota has won all three matchups with Phoenix has been Fowles winning all three matchups with Brittney Griner.
8. Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 6
Stats: 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 49% FG
Loyd’s remarkable sophomore surge peaked on Friday with a 34-point outburst against the Mercury in which she put her much-improved shooting on display (12/18 FG, career-high 4/7 3FG). That’s the second time this season Loyd has put up 30-plus to lead the young Storm to a surprise win over Phoenix. She ran out of steam in an 0-for-8 showing against the Liberty two days later.
9. Odyssey Sims, Dallas Wings
Last Week: 10
Stats: 16.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals
Sims has kept the Wings above water while Skylar Diggins gets back to full strength, though her shooting struggles (31% FG) are becoming a concern. Dallas enters a pivotal stretch with games against L.A., New York and Phoenix on deck; Sims’ play will be critical in deciding whether the team sinks or swims in this first half.
10. Diana Taurasi
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 19.0 points, 4.8 assists, 3.1 3PM
Is it time to sound the alarms in Phoenix? Taurasi and the Mercury looked a step slow in Seattle and Minnesota this week. But even a struggling Diana remains elite, leading the league in three-pointers made and ranking sixth in assists. Not having to play the Lynx for the rest of the (regular) season will certainly help.