Race to MVP (Week 3): Ogwumike, Griner Remain On Top Early

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

It’s still too early to judge many of these MVP candidates, as some WNBA teams have played just five games compared to as many as eight for others. Missing from this list for the first time is Mystics star Elena Delle Donne, who hasn’t played since May 27 due to illness. Delle Donne is one of many familiar faces – including Maya Moore and Candace Parker – that miss the cut at this point.

With those caveats… here are the Week 3 rankings in the Race to the MVP:

1. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 1
Stats: 18.6 points, 61% FG, 44% 3FG, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals

The Sparks played just one game in the last week, and they beat the defending champion Lynx for the second time in as many tries this season. At 4-1, L.A. is among the early favorites to finish with the top seed at the end of the season. Ogwumike could have a shot at her second MVP if they do so. Through last weekend, she ranked third in the league in win shares (1.2) despite the Sparks playing only five games.

2. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 2
Stats: 21.0 points, 58% FG, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks

After a bumpy stretch for the Mercury, Griner has led them to three straight wins with dominant individual play. She guided Phoenix past Minnesota, Atlanta and New York while averaging 21.3 points on 60 percent shooting, to go with three blocks in each contest. Griner hit a clutch jumper in the final minute at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to help the Mercury improve to 5-3 on the year.

3. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 4
Stats: 22.3 points, 52% FG, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks

The Storm’s win streak finally came to an end against Dallas, but you can’t point the finger at Stewart. Seattle was short-handed, and she finished with an incredible line of 28 points, seven boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks in a difficult matchup with Liz Cambage. It doesn’t get any easier, as Seattle visits Candace Parker and the Sparks on Thursday (10:30 PM ET, ESPN2).

4. Chelsea Gray, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 5
Stats: 17.8 points, 49% FG, 7.0 assists, 1.8 steals

Gray and backcourt partner Odyssey Sims thoroughly outplayed the Lynx guards as L.A. improved to 2-0 against the defending champions this season. After a stellar Finals performance last year, Gray is now averaging 16.5 points, seven assists and just two turnovers against Minnesota this year, all while shooting nearly 50 percent. She could be the difference-maker if we end up with Sparks-Lynx Part III.

5. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 9
Stats: 14.7 points, 57% FG, 11.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists

The best start in franchise history came to an end Tuesday, as Atlanta held on for a five-point win over the Sun. Yet Thomas had another monster game, producing 19 points (8-for-15 FG), a career-high tying 17 rebounds and seven assists. In addition to her impact distributing the ball, Thomas led the WNBA in defensive win shares (0.6) as of Monday. The only player averaging more than 27 minutes per game on a deep team, the fifth-year pro is an MVP dark horse.

6. Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 6
Stats: 21.6 points, 45% FG, 42% 3FG, 5.1 rebounds

It’s no coincidence that Loyd had an off night during Seattle’s first loss in the past six games. Nevertheless, Loyd is still posting career-best numbers in overall shooting percentage and 3-point shooting through seven games. As of Monday, she was leading the entire league in Win Shares (1.5), an indicator of her impact on one of the WNBA’s hottest teams.

7. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 7
Stats: 23.8 points, 47% FG, 8.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals

Charles nearly guided New York to an impressive win over Phoenix, but her 25 points, eight rebounds and four assists weren’t enough. She leads the league with 21.2 field goal attempts per game, and it’s not even close. Charles has taken at least four 3-pointers in every contest, a crazy stat considering she attempted five total triples just three seasons ago. Unfortunately for New York, she’s not making them consistently at the moment.

8. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 3
Stats: 16.1 points, 60% FG, 11.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals

It’s not surprising that Fowles’ numbers are down after her MVP season. However, maybe the most alarming stat is her turnovers. Among those who have played significant minutes, Fowles leads the league with 4.1 giveaways per game after committing just 2.4 per game as the MVP last year. Even more surprising, the Lynx are near the bottom of the standings at 2-5.

9. Liz Cambage, Dallas Wings
Last Week: 10
Stats: 20.0 points, 56% FG, 11.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocks

Cambage is the reigning Player of the Week in the stacked Western Conference. She’s been unstoppable this season, and the advanced numbers back it up. Cambage has the best overall plus-minus on Dallas. As a defensive unit, the Wings give up 78.9 points per 40 minutes when she’s on the court, compared to 94.6 when she’s resting. The only thing holding her back here is the team’s 3-3 record.

10. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: Unranked
Stats: 18.9 points, 43% FG, 4.4 assists

Even with her 36th birthday approaching, Taurasi has the trust of her Mercury teammates and the ultimate green light from her coach. She has launched a league-high 8.1 three-pointers per game and is once again among the WNBA’s leading scorers. On Tuesday, she became the first WNBA player to reach 8,000 career points. Taurasi also averaged 7.3 assists over the last four games as Phoenix went 3-1.