Race to MVP (Week 12): Can Anyone Challenge Stewart Down The Stretch?

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.

MORE: Race to MVP Archive

Heading into the All-Star break, one could have made a legitimate case for Liz Cambage as WNBA MVP. But since then, Dallas has lost every game it’s played and fallen to 14-14, while Breanna Stewart and the Storm have won all four of their games and maintained their lead atop the standings. The gap between Stewart and the field is only growing by the day.

With Seattle almost locked in to the No. 1 seed, the MVP race is all but over. That’s not to say Cambage and others haven’t produced MVP-caliber seasons. Candace Parker, Elena Delle Donne and Tiffany Hayes all have their teams in contention for an all-important top-two seed. Hayes, who just signed a multiyear extension with Atlanta, is looking at a possible top-five finish in the MVP voting despite not making the All-Star team.

Below are the MVP rankings with 12 days to go in the regular season, featuring analysis of the top five candidates.

This Week’s Rankings

  1. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm (Last Week: 1)
  2. Liz Cambage, Dallas Wings (Last Week: 2)
  3. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks (Last Week: 4)
  4. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics (Last Week: 6)
  5. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx (Last Week: 3)
  6. Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta Dream (Last Week: 8)
  7. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury (Last Week: 5)
  8. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury (Last Week: 7)
  9. Chelsea Gray, Los Angeles Sparks (Last Week: Unranked)
  10. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces (Last Week: 9)

_ _ _ _

1. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Stats: 22.6 points, 53% FG, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals

Stewart is having a career season, but it’s important to note the many factors that led to her likely MVP campaign. Seattle boasts a new coach in Dan Hughes, an improved bench, and a new frontcourt partner in Natasha Howard who makes life easier for Stewart. Factor in All-Star seasons from Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, and the Storm are enjoying their best regular season since the 2010 championship run. Barring a drastic turn of events, Stewart will become the 10th different player to win WNBA MVP in the last 10 years.

2. Liz Cambage, Dallas Wings
Stats: 22.8 points, 58% FG, 9.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks

Cambage hangs on to the No. 2 spot despite Dallas losing five straight games. The Wings have been without Skylar Diggins-Smith for part of this stretch, and Cambage is making history almost every night. She recently scored the most points over a six-game span (206) in WNBA history. Cambage still leads the league in Player Efficiency Rating and Estimated Impact, although Stewart has a sizeable edge in Win Shares. If Dallas can finish the season strong – including a win over Stewart’s Storm on August 19 – Cambage may still have a chance.

3. Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks
Stats: 18.1 points, 49% FG, 7.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists

Parker won MVP as a rookie in 2008, and she’s still putting up similar numbers for the Sparks a decade later. The latest example of her dominance came in the win over Minnesota last Thursday, when she finished with 23 points, 10 boards, four assists, three blocks and a pair of steals. Parker finished third in the MVP voting last year and is looking at another top-five finish. With the Sparks now fully healthy, Parker and her teammates could be poised for another Finals run this fall.

4. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
Stats: 20.6 points, 48% FG, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

After struggling heading into the All-Star break, Washington (18-11) has now won three straight and four of its last five to climb to third place. Including the forfeit by Las Vegas, the Mystics have won four straight games. As always, Delle Donne is at the forefront of their success. She had a monster game in their road win over Atlanta last week, producing 28 points, 16 rebounds and four assists in what could be a crucial victory for playoff seeding. Delle Donne is averaging a career-high 2.3 assists and maintaining a stellar ratio with less than one turnover per game.

5. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Stats: 17.0 points, 61% FG, 11.6 rebounds

The Lynx had a jam-packed schedule coming out of All-Star, and it resulted in three straight losses. They bounced back in Chicago on Tuesday, with Fowles recording 15 points, 11 boards, four steals and two blocks against her former team. Fowles hasn’t been quite as dominant as last year – nor are the Lynx as a whole – but she remains a double-double machine and one of the league’s best defenders. Fowles leads the WNBA in rebounds (by far) and ranks second in field goal percentage.