2012 WNBA MVP Watch: Sylvia Fowles Leads Early Season Candidates

Teammates Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince have carried the Chicago Sky to a franchise-best 4-1 start. Photo by Paul Frederiksen-US PRESSWIRE.

It is too early in this particular season to determine a MVP with any sort of certainty, so I'll spare you the normal litany of MVP stats.

However, if the last four seasons are any indication, it's not too early to narrow our field of candidates - usually after five games, it's more likely that people will play themselves out of the top contention rather than play themselves into it.

Marginal Victories Produced

For now, we'll limit our MVP list to candidates based on the Marginal Victories Produced metric, which is explained here.

Part of the reason the MVP field can be narrowed relatively quickly is that the MVP metric is determined heavily by a player's percentage of contributions to a team. In that first few games, the proportion of team's success that can be attributed to one player has already been somewhat determined because a team has revealed its rotation and tendencies, to some extent, for the players at the top of the league's pecking order. It's unlikely that a player like Sylvia Fowles, for example, is suddenly going to fall out of favor with her coach and lose minutes. On the other hand, a player currently on the bench is unlikely to suddenly get enough minutes to even challenge for the MVP award.

There's also the issue of the league MVP needing to be the MVP of their own team; playing with a dominant player essentially ends one's WNBA MVP hopes.

That's an oversimplified explanation - and leaves out what happens if a team just gets better- but it's sufficient for the task of looking over an early list of candidates.

Player Team MVP
Fowles, Sylvia Chi. 20.61
Prince, Epiphanny Chi. 17.19
Charles, Tina Conn. 15.95
Catchings, Tamika Ind. 15.45
McCoughtry, Angel Atl. 14.49
Parker, Candace L.A. 13.99
Toliver, Kristi L.A. 13.62
Brunson, Rebekkah Minn. 13.06
Langhorne, Crystal Was. 12.37
Ogwumike, Nneka L.A. 11.98
Bonner, DeWanna Pho. 11.39
Dupree, Candice Pho. 10.98
Douglas, Katie Ind. 10.89
Johnson, Temeka Tul. 10.72
Pierson, Plenette N.Y. 10.70
Hammon, Becky S.A. 10.55
Young, Sophia S.A. 10.45
Augustus, Seimone Minn. 9.88
Wauters, Ann Sea. 9.72
Bird, Sue Sea. 9.69

Top 20 MVP ratings through games played June 3, 2012.

Just to be clear: I don't consider the ordering of this one metric a hard ranking of these candidates. As described previously, there are a few factors that go into determining that and it's just too early to sort that out. But it is helpful and I have a few early thoughts based on the numbers above.

Comments:

  • How can two Sky players top the list? At present, Sylvia Fowles (38%) and Epiphanny Prince (31.6%) account for almost 70% of the Sky's overall statistical production. No other individual on the team even accounts for more than 5%. Veteran forward Le'coe Willingham is currently at -2.13%. That's bound to change at some point - there hasn't been a team that top heavy in the last 4 years (since I've been tracking these statistics). Ticha Penicheiro can certainly become a contributor once healthy and somebody else has to improve, one might hope. The bottom line is that this team still revolves around Fowles and if they do indeed make the playoffs, it will be hard to come up with an argument against her winning the MVP. As of right now, I struggle to see the argument against Fowles being #1.
  • Who's in second right now? I'm always partial to reigning MVP Tamika Catchings due in large part to her versatility - and playing the post this year just adds to that - but the presence of Katie Douglas on this list is important too: she does have help. Tina Charles is currently responsible for nearly 30% of the Sun's production due to a combination of scoring efficiency, dominant offensive rebounding, and a low turnover rate. Kara Lawson comes in second on the Sun (9.32 MVP) but Charles she can keep this up, she'll be a formidable challenge to Fowles. Given this year's field, the Dream might need to win at a higher rate than they have thus far in order to beat out the top few.
  • What about Candace Parker? Parker is victimized by the strong performances of her teammates by this metric right now - with rookie Nneka Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver playing so well to start the season, they're dividing up the credit for the Sparks' early-season success rather evenly. There are clearly arguments for Parker being the MVP - not the least of which is that she's had to handle the ball as the Sparks have struggled with the point guard situation (once again) - and at some point you figure the Sparks' situation will even out so that one player clearly assumes the top spot statistically.
  • Should Rebekkah Brunson be considered a MVP candidate? Brunson didn't make WNBA.com's top 15 MVP candidates, but when you have an 18.9% offensive rebounding percentage for an undefeated team you probably deserve consideration. Rebounding isn't exactly the thing that's going to catch the eyes of most observers, so perhaps it's worth adding that she's the second-leading scorer on a team loaded with weapons and leads a talented group of starters in scoring efficiency at 66.1%. We don't have to anoint her the MVP or even call her the definitive best player on the best team, but she has to be in the conversation.
  • Do players on losing teams count? This seems to happen every year as a challenge to our notions of value: would the Washington Mystics even have one win without Crystal Langhorne? Would the Mercury have two without the likes of DeWanna Bonner or Candice Dupree? Would Tulsa even be in games without the performances of Temeka Johnson thus far this season? If you define value in that way, all of them have put in early-season performances that can't simply be dismissed and in my world they'd get some credit for that. But that, of course, is why they play 34 games and have All-WNBA teams.

Who is your current choice for MVP? Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments.

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