NEW YORK — As the WNBA regular season winds down and teams make their final push for the playoffs, individuals also will leave their last impressions for the voters of the league’s major awards.
Here’s a look at the candidates for some of WNBA’s top honors.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: This might be the deepest pool of MVP candidates the league has seen in quite a few years, led by a sensational rookie and her stellar teammate; the All-Star game MVP; two talented scorers; and a superstar on the WNBA’s most balanced team.
Chicago coach Pokey Chatman has two players with MVP credentials in Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles.
Delle Donne is having one of the best rookie seasons ever, averaging 18.3 points and shooting 92 percent from the free throw line. She’s helped Chicago clinch the best record in the East and the franchise’s first playoff berth. While Delle Donne has been the fresh face of the franchise, her teammate Fowles has put together her finest season. The 6-foot-5 center is averaging 16.4 points and a career-best 11.5 rebounds. Twice this season she scored over 20 points and had 20-plus rebounds against reigning MVP Tina Charles and Connecticut.
“It’s really nice that people truly understand what Sylvia’s presence does,” Chatman said. “Don’t misunderstand me — Elena’s wonderful. The thing about Sylvia is, if people talk about the MVP and they always think about how many points you score. ... when you can control the game on both ends of the floor I think that’s where she should get more consideration.”
Angel McCoughtry and Diana Taurasi are the top two scorers in the league and have put up impressive numbers on offense. McCoughtry also leads the league in steals and has a chance to be first player in WNBA history to lead in both categories in consecutive seasons.
Taurasi had one stretch just before the All-Star break when she averaged 25.3 points, 5.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds. After Phoenix came into the season with so much hype the Mercury have struggled to a 15-13 mark.
Candace Parker has already had an amazing season. She played in her first All-Star game and turned it into a showcase, earning MVP honors. She’s been healthy for almost the entire season and put up strong numbers, averaging 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Parker has helped Los Angeles stay near Minnesota at the top of the Western Conference.
Maya Moore has turned her game up this season, averaging a career-high 18.6 points. She’s shooting 51 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free throw line, as well as 45 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
Yet she’s more focused on Minnesota’s success than her own individual achievements.
“I’m not thinking about it,” Moore said of MVP talk. “I’m trying to make sure I do what I need to do for my team. The MVP is an honor, but it needs to be an icing on the cake mentality.”
Moore credits a lot of her success this season to the play of point guard Lindsay Whalen, who is an MVP candidate in her own right.
“That’s been Minnesota’s problem the last few years is the balance,” said WNBA analyst LaChina Robinson, who votes for the league’s awards. “For me it’s difficult to name someone MVP where there are two or more candidates on the same team. I have the same problem in Chicago.”
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: The WNBA started the season hyping the Three to See. Delle Donne’s turned it into really just one to watch. She could be just the second player to earn the rookie of the year and MVP awards in the same season, joining Parker. Fellow rookie Brittney Griner has been dealing with knee issues all season long and never really got a chance to shine. Third-pick Skylar Diggins struggled early in the season before turning it around lately.
“I can’t imagine anyone besides Elena gets a vote and that’s not a knock on Brittney,” said ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, who also votes on the postseason awards. “Even if Brittney had been healthy all year because of the position she plays and the team she’s on she wouldn’t put up the same numbers that Elena is.”
COACH OF THE YEAR: Seattle coach Brian Agler did a masterful job without his two superstars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson and guided the Storm to the playoffs. No team has had a bigger turnaround than Washington under first year coach Mike Thibault. Lin Dunn did incredible work with an injured-plagued roster to get the defending champion Indiana Fever back into the playoffs after a 1-7 start. The award though most likely will go to Chatman, who guided Chicago to the best record in the East and its first playoff berth.
“Pokey did what she was supposed to do on paper,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, who won the award last season. “Sometimes doing what you’re supposed to do is really hard. For Pokey to get them into the playoffs and push for the best overall record in the league, that deserves an awful lot of credit.”