The Race for the MVP
By Drew Ivery
When you’re talking about the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player, you’re talking about one of the best in the world. Without reigning MVP Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore sitting out the season, Diana Taurasi out until July, and Candace Parker with an early injury of unknown severity in the preseason, the MVP race is still wide open.
Only one player in WNBA history has won back-to-back MVP awards once, and that was Cynthia Cooper during the first two WNBA seasons. Since then, only five players in league history have more than one MVP award and all are from the United States, apart from Australian Lauren Jackson.
It is obvious that Breanna Stewart won’t get a chance to repeat as MVP, so that leaves the award up for grabs this season. Could it be a former MVP grabbing their second award? Will Parker’s injury prevent her from getting her third this year? Could a new young star make her stamp on the league this year and rise to stardom and become MVP? Let’s look at some prime candidates for MVP. Here's my list of preseason MVP candidates.
Word around the W is that this is the year Bonner captures her first MVP award. It’s possible. We won’t see her teammate Taurasi on court with the team until around mid-July, so she’ll be leading the charge with Brittany Griner in Phoenix. Bonner is a three-time WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year, two-time all-star, two-time WNBA Champion, the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year, the all-time leading rebounder for the Phoenix Mercury and ranks second on the Mercury’s all-time scoring list. It’s clear she’s a dynamic player and very well capable of bringing home the award.
If the Mercury will stay afloat without Taurasi, Bonner will have to pick up a big part of the scoring. Before pregnancy, Bonner averaged just 14.5 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. The one year away from the game paid off and allowed Bonner to come back fresh and improve. She increased her averages in the year of her return to 17.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. The 31-year-old forward is a heavy favorite for the MVP in 2019.
The year of Griner. I think the MVP is hers to lose. She is a two-time defensive player of the year, five-time all-star, former WNBA Champion, all-time leader in blocks for the Mercury, fourth on the WNBA’s all-time blocks list and 2017 WNBA Peak Performer Award winner as the league’s leading scorer (first true Center to win the award). When teammate DeWanna Bonner missed the 2017 season due to pregnancy, Griner ascended to leading scorer in the league even with Taurasi still in the fold. She’s upped her game ever since her down year in 2016. Griner posted averages of 21.9 points per game (led league), 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in 2017 and 20.5 points per game, 7.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.6 blocks per game.
Without Taurasi it is safe to say the Mercury will use Griner even more than they’ve even been over the past two seasons. Griner is like fine wine and is only getting better with age, as she did not make the All-Star Game just once in her six years in the league. She’s a dominant force inside, but one thing she MUST look out for is getting in foul trouble. Griner only fouled out once last season but accumulated 5 fouls on five different occasions and 4 fouls twelve different times. As important as she is on the defensive end guarding the paint, she must be much more cautious for her team’s sake if they want to compete and win another title. If she can stay on the court, Griner has a great chance to win MVP.
Elena Delle Donne
Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 MVP, is the only former MVP on this list of players. Delle Donne led the Washington Mystics to the WNBA Finals for the first time in team history in 2018 and is poised to have this team in the same position as last year. Mystics will look to run it back this year and sneak back in the Finals. Elena led the charge to the 3rd best record in the leaguein 2018. She posted averages of 20.7 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and was the only top 20 scorer with less than one turnover per game. Delle Donne is a five-time all-star, former MVP and holds the best free throw percentage in league history at 93 percent. She would become just the sixth player in WNBA history with multiple MVP awards. Just a few years removed from her last award the 28-year-old forward still has plenty left in the tank and could reclaim the MVP award this season, especially with almost a handful less of superstars this year.
Following a great rookie season, the 2018 rookie of the year is looking to push her team into the playoffs this season and in doing so, could earn the MVP award. Wilson could be the first player to become MVP in her sophomore campaign or beforesince Candace Parker did in 2008 as a rookie.. In her first year in the league, she was tied for third in scoring with Diana Taurasi and Elena Delle Donne with 20.7 points per game. She was also sixth in rebounding with 8 boards per game.
The addition of #1 overall pick, Jackie Young, takes some pressure off Wilson going into 2019. Young and the rest of Aces relieving some of Wilson’s load will make her season better than we expected. Wilson is not even in her prime and still is regarded as one of the best in the league after just one season. With lots of star power missing in the W this year, the Las Vegas Aces have not only a better chance for a playoff berth, but also the opportunity to get out of the first round. There is only room for more growth for this young star. She’s a sneaky candidate for MVP.
During this season, you won’t see as many teams with 20+ wins (five teams in 2018) with certain superstars gone or traded to other organizations. It doesn’t mean the league is getting worse, it’s just a more even playing field as the skill level of the league continues to grow. With less than two weeks left until the start of the season, teams have plenty of time cuts to make before we get a look at final rosters. While the W will be missing some of its biggest stars this year, this group of MVP candidates can help fill the void and make for one of the exciting MVP races in league history.