Race to MVP (Week 4): Stewart Continues Climbing the Ladder

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.

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We’re now a quarter of the way through the season, and there are two clear-cut favorites (early) in the MVP race. With the way the season is going in Connecticut, it may be difficult for any of the Sun stars to win this award, mainly because of their depth and balance. That could leave the door open for Brittney Griner or Breanna Stewart.

If either Griner or Stewart goes on to win, it would mark the 10th different MVP in the last 10 years.

1. Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 2
Stats: 20.8 points, 58% FG, 7.3 rebounds, 2.8 blocks

After another perfect week, the Mercury have won six straight and own an 8-3 record. The return of DeWanna Bonner is certainly a vital factor, but Griner has also picked up where she left off after having a career season in 2017. She had her best all-around game of the year against A’ja Wilson and the Aces on Sunday, posting 19 points (7-14 FG), 15 rebounds and seven blocks.

2. Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 3
Stats: 21.4 points, 53% FG, 7.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks

Stewart’s team came close to a perfect week, too, but she was in foul trouble on Sunday and Seattle lost a heartbreaker to the Dream. She made up for it two days later, dropping a season-high 30 points as the Storm came from behind to beat Chicago and improve to 7-3. Earlier in the week, Seattle showed it can compete with the WNBA’s best by winning in Los Angeles, as Stewart posted 16 points.

3. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
Last Week: 5
Stats: 13.3 points, 51% FG, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists

Thomas wasn’t at her best in the past week, but the wins keep piling up for the league’s best team. In the Sun’s win over Minnesota, Thomas showed why she is one of the emotional leaders in Connecticut. She was physical on both ends of the court, played ultra aggressive despite her shooting struggles, and even picked the pocket of Maya Moore for an easy layup while holding her to 6-of-18 shooting. Thomas’ versatility allows coach Curt Miller to play a star-studded frontcourt that also features Jonquel Jones and Chiney Ogwumike.

4. Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 1
Stats: 17.4 points, 59% FG, 42% 3FG, 7.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals

Since Candace Parker made her season debut, Ogwumike’s shot attempts and scoring numbers have dipped. Similar to Thomas’ situation in Connecticut, there might be too much star power in L.A. for any of the Sparks to realistically contend for MVP. Still, Ogwumike is producing on a consistent basis and has been the best player this season for the 6-2 Sparks.

5. Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Last Week: 7
Stats: 22.3 points, 45% FG, 8.1 rebounds

If not for a desperation shot by Shekinna Stricklen to beat the buzzer, Charles would have led the Liberty to an impressive win over her former team. But the Sun, who sit atop the league standings at 7-1, came back to spoil her performance of 24 points, nine boards, five assists and three blocks. It’s still difficult to judge Charles and the Liberty, as they have played the fewest games of anyone in the league. They can get back to .500 with a win over Las Vegas on Wednesday.

6. Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm
Last Week: 6
Stats: 19.4 points, 46% FG, 42% 3FG, 5.5 rebounds

With Stewart in foul trouble, the Storm could have used a dominant night from Loyd against the strong defensive unit of the Dream. But the fourth-year guard shot just 5-of-17 and finished with 14 points in the loss. Loyd bounced back against the Sky, dropping 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds and five assists. She’s still on track for the first All-Star selection of her career.

7. Chelsea Gray, Los Angeles Sparks
Last Week: 4
Stats: 15.3 points, 47% FG, 5.9 assists, 1.8 steals

Gray was the best three-point shooter in the entire league last season, but she’s struggling a bit to begin 2018. After going 0-for-4 from deep during her last two games, she’s shooting just 30 percent on the season and attempting fewer triples per contest than she did in 2017. Like Ogwumike, Parker’s presence has Gray’s numbers declining and is causing her to drop on this list.

8. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury
Last Week: 10
Stats: 19.5 points, 42% FG, 4.4 assists

Another week, another milestone for Taurasi. The Mercury legend is two dimes from passing Becky Hammon for fourth among the WNBA’s all-time assists leaders. Taurasi is the only player in the all-time top five for both points and assists. She’s not shooting well this season – just 34 percent from deep and 6-of-20 in her last two games – but the mere threat of Taurasi creates space for Griner to operate.

9. Liz Cambage, Dallas Wings
Last Week: 9
Stats: 19.1 points, 54% FG, 9.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks

Against Griner and the Mercury on Tuesday, Cambage fouled out early in the fourth quarter with Dallas leading 61-53. The Wings couldn’t hold on without her, falling 75-72 and dropping to 4-4 on the season. Earlier in the week, Cambage had dominated with 23 points, seven boards and three blocks in a road win over the Fever. The 6-foot-8 center has started attempting three-pointers in the last few games and is making 33 percent so far.

10. Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Last Week: 8
Stats: 17.1 points, 59% FG, 12.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals

Fowles is a double-double machine for the second straight year, but her Lynx have struggled to find their rhythm. The loss at Connecticut on Saturday marked their fifth in the last six games. Fowles isn’t the reason Minnesota is 3-6, but she hasn’t been quite as impactful as her MVP season. She continued to have turnover problems this past week, coughing it up at least four times against both the Mystics and Sun.