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.
Nneka Ogwumike has tapered off over the Sparks’ 4-5 slump that began before the Olympic break.
She’s averaging 21.1 points and 10.1 rebounds on 64% shooting during that nine-game stretch.
That’s how good Nneka has been this season. Even during L.A.’s slump — if you can call it that — the fifth-year forward has hardly slowed down from the torrid pace she set from the opening tip of 2016. And that’s why, while Tina Charles and the Liberty are closing the gap on Ogwumike and the Sparks, the gap still exists in WNBA.com’s Race to the MVP standings.
1. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 1
Stats: 19.8 points, 69% FG, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.2 steals
Even though the Sparks have relinquished first place, it’s difficult to find a hole in Ogwumike’s MVP case. There was a stretch when Tina Charles was the league’s top do-it-all forward. Now Nneka has even shown Charles-like passing skills, averaging 4.1 assists over her last eight games (seventh in the league over that stretch).
2. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 2
Stats: 21.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists
Smart teams have keyed in on Charles of late, forcing her to sacrifice efficiency in order to continue to carry the Liberty. But she remains relentless in commanding New York during the team’s chase for a two seed. Responding to a setback in Indiana with 23 points and 15 rebounds in a win over the Mercury was yet another sign of Charles’ leadership.
3. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 3
Stats: 19.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.5 steals
After a quiet return from Rio, Maya needed to be Maya for the Lynx to reel off three straight victories this past week. She obliged with a trio of 20-plus-point games that included clutch shots in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles that only players of Moore’s ilk can think about making. Minnesota has won 12 of 14, by the way, with the only two losses coming at the hands of the Sun.
4. Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky
Last Week: 4
Stats: 22.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 43% 3FG
In most seasons, Delle Donne’s incredible stretch would vault her toward the top of the MVP rankings. Not this year — not with the Lynx, Sparks and Liberty so consistently formidable. Still, EDD’s scorching play has finally coincided with the Sky hitting their stride; since the break, Chicago is 5-0 and Delle Donne is averaging 25.8 points.
5. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 5
Stats: 15.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks
Parker struggled to find her touch against both the Wings and Lynx this past week, shooting a combined 4-of-22 in those two games. But she remains on track to become the third player ever to average at least 5.0 rebounds and assists in a single season, and is closing the gap on Sue Bird for the assist title.
6. Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream
Last Week: 7
Stats: 19.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals
With a first-round bye within Atlanta’s reach, Angel came through with two vintage performances (32 points vs. Seattle, 27 points vs. Phoenix) as the Dream split those two games. The U.S. National Team spark plug has returned from Rio on a mission, posting 25.0 points on 49% shooting over her first four games back.
7. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 6
Stats: 18.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.1 steals
Should we have doubted that the only four-time NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player would come up clutch? Stewie delivered 23 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in the Storm’s huge win over the Dream on Sunday. Seattle holds just a 0.5-game lead for the final playoff spot, but also sits 0.5 behind Phoenix for the No. 7 seed.
8. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 9
Stats: 13.7 points, 60% FG, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.2 steals
Fowles put together her best stretch since the opening week of the season, posting 18.0 points (62% FG), 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks during Minnesota’s three wins. She was especially dominant during Tuesday’s #BattleForFirst against the Sparks with 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting, 9 boards and 3 blocks.
9. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 6
Stats: 18.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.9 3PM/G
Just when it looked like the Mercury were ready for a post-break rally, they pile up three straight losses on the road. Phoenix remains an enigma, but what’s clear is that they need Taurasi to be in full Mamba mode in order to compete. She averaged just 13.3 points on 35% shooting over the past week and overall has posted 22.0/43% in wins and 15.7/37% in losses.
10. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 10
Stats: 13.9 points, 53% FG, 6.2 rebounds, 3.1 blocks
A career-high 29 points in Connecticut — including her first dunk of the season — wasn’t enough for Griner to lead Phoenix to victory against the Sun. Neither were her 21 points and six blocks in Atlanta on Tuesday. The Mercury have stumbled once again, and Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, Chiney Ogwumike, Tamika Catchings and others may warrant this spot over Griner if they don’t turn things around.