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.
Exactly four months after the WNBA’s 20th season tipped off — and with just four days left on the schedule — the MVP race is back to where it began: with no clear favorite. The only thing that is clear? This is a two-horse race between L.A.’s Nneka Ogwumike and New York’s Tina Charles.
On one coast you have Ogwumike, a historically efficient scorer, the best two-way player on the league’s second-best team, a relentless athlete who no opponent has been able to slow down.
On the other is Charles, potentially the third player ever to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding, who’s carried a storied franchise on her shoulders.
Ogwumike’s Sparks have one game remaining, while Charles’ Liberty have two. Will the final week do anything to break this dead heat?
1. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 1
Stats: 19.8 points, 67% FG, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.2 steals
Shooting “just” 53% in September, Ogwumike has fallen percentage points behind Tamika Raymond (2003) for the single-season field goal percentage mark — 0.6667 to 0.6684. That does little if anything to dampen her MVP case. While the Sparks have faded, Nneka has come up huge in their recent wins, including a 24-10-4 effort on Tuesday.
2. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 2
Stats: 21.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists
The Sparks’ struggles left the window open for Charles and the Liberty to close the gap. Instead, the Liberty have lost four of six themselves while Charles attempts to carry their offense night after night. The game-to-game load she shoulders is the main argument in Tina’s favor.
3. Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 3
Stats: 19.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals
Make it five seasons, three No. 1 overall seeds for Moore. Like the two frontrunners on this list, Moore has bigger trophies in mind than the MVP.
4. Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky
Last Week: 4
Stats: 21.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 43% 3FG
Thumb surgery could not have come at a worse time for Delle Donne, who was playing as well as ever for the red-hot Sky. She remarkably scored more efficiently this season than during her MVP season a year ago, shooting a career-best 48.5% from the field while ranking fourth in three-point percentage (42.6%).
5. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 5
Stats: 15.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals
Parker hasn’t quite found her groove since returning from the break, and the Sparks desperately need her to come playoff time. While she’s shooting a career-low 44%, the W’s CP3 has dished like the NBA’s CP3 with 5.0 assists per game — her career high for a full season.
6. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 7
Stats: 18.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.1 steals
Stewart’s rookie season is entering “best case scenario” territory. Riding a four-game winning streak, the Storm look like they’ll do more than sneak into the playoffs; they’re gelling into a legitimate threat. Stewart, for her part, is averaging 20.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 threes, 1.3 steals and 2.0 blocks during the streak while shooting 53% from the floor and 41% from deep.
7. Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream
Last Week: 6
Stats: 19.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 steals
McCoughtry’s two technicals on Sunday proved costly as she played just 13 minutes of that game and was suspended for the next — both of which the Dream lost. The latter, a loss to the last-place Stars, showed how invaluable McCoughtry’s presence is for Atlanta. Prior to the ejection, Angel had averaged 30+ points over her previous three games.
8. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 8
Stats: 13.5 points, 59% FG, 8.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.3 steals
A combination of foul trouble and rest limited Fowles to just 21 minutes in each of Minnesota’s two games this past week. She deserves MVP votes in her second season with the Lynx, but the Defensive Player of the Year award is more within her reach as the anchor of the league’s best defense.
9. Sue Bird, Seattle Storm
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 13.0 points, 46% FG, 44% 3FG, 5.9 assists
Incredibly, Bird’s 14th season has been her most efficient — her 45.8% shooting from the field is 0.1% off her career high, and her 44.4% from beyond the arc is a career best. She’s also poised to win the assists title for just the second time. While Stewart and backcourt mate Jewell Loyd represent the future, Sue is the glue that holds the rising Storm together.
10. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 9
Stats: 17.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 3PM/G
The roller coaster continues for Taurasi and the Mercury. Even during a subpar year, though, she remains the league’s most dangerous outside threat, the seventh-leading scorer, and a player no team wants to face in the postseason.