2014 WNBA MVP rankings: Why Maya Moore should be the front-runner for MVP

Kevin C. Cox

Albert and Pat have already shared insights on the 2014 WNBA All-Star selections, which you can find in our all-star section. Today, I'm just going to add some statistical observations by way of looking at the MVP race.

Bizarre All-Star selections as a result of fan voting are just a fact of U.S. pro basketball at this point, so I've just stayed pretty silent about the starters selected last week.

But as long as we're talking about the league's best players at approximately mid-season, this is a pretty good time to talk about the 2014 WNBA MVP race. And since All-Star reserves will be announced today, let's look at the top MVP candidates by conference using the same criteria I've used here in the past in addition to PER and Win Shares per 48 as published and updated daily at Basketball-Reference.com (where you can also easily see the league's advanced stats leaders).

Top Western Conference Players: Maya Moore is the front-runner

Player MVP PER WS/48 +/- Usage Pts/empty poss
Moore 14.77 29.3 0.311 26.6 30.39 2.63
Parker 13.85 27.5 0.27 16.7 27.98 2.35
Griner 12.38 26 0.311 16.3 22.22 2.92
Taurasi 12.08 25.1 0.339 17.3 25.12 2.66
Diggins 11.25 23.7 0.198 15.3 28.61 2.25
Whalen 10.7 22.5 0.234 7.9 22.73 2.53
Dupree 10.7 21.8 0.241 17 22.23 2.69
N Ogwumike 10.58 26.7 0.3 4.5 24.86 2.82
Robinson 9.75 17.7 0.131 5.8 21.48 2.01
Paris 9.4 20.5 0.195 15.6 14.71 2.93
Johnson 8.8 18.5 0.115 1.5 22.95 2.01
Langhorne 8.5 18.5 0.138 -6.9 22.09 1.57
Lavender 7.8 17.4 0.162 7.5 20.26 2.46
Bonner 7.7 16.9 0.196 10.1 16.79 2.49
McCarville 6.7 14.8 0.113 7.2 17.3 1.73
Sims 6.6 14 0.48 1.6 22.44 1.68
Little 6.42 14.1 0.065 -1.1 23.31 1.92
Taylor 6.1 18.5 0.196 -2.2 21.66 2.21
Bird 5.9 11.9 0.01 -2.8 22.15 1.57

Top Western Conference players as of 7/14/14.

So, by the numbers, Maya Moore is the clear choice for MVP and it's really not all that close - she actually leads the league in MVP, PER, plus/minus and Win Shares. It is interesting to look at Win Shares per 48 because it adjusts for playing time, but the fact that Moore is as efficient as she is playing the most minutes in the league can't just be ignored.

Not shown above, but also discussed in the past, is that Moore is also responsible for the largest percentage of her team's overall statistical production (27.23%) with Candace Parker being the only one close (26.49%) - the standard argument against her that she plays on such a talented team that she can't be considered the most valuable player in the league has to go out the window.

Maya Moore is in the midst of the most statistically dominant seasons ever even if we could legitimately debate whether it's the best season ever; as of right now, there isn't really any question that she has performed at the highest level of anyone in 2014.

Beyond the numbers, narrative usually does (and should) matter in MVP debates and Moore has that going for her as well. The Lynx have yet to play a game this season with their full starting lineup healthy and are currently without two starters (Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson). And yet they are 16-6, which is the third-best record in the league, and have the second-best offensive record in the league. Following yesterday's post about Moore, legacies, and mythmaking, Moore is carrying her team in a way that's worthy of whatever hyperbole we want to impose upon it.

None of this is to casually dismiss the other candidates for MVP.

Candace Parker is having a great season individually, but isn't matching Moore's statistical production and hasn't been able to carry her team to wins in quite the way Moore has. Taurasi, who seems to be the national media favorite, is also having a great season and her ability to play point guard while having the highest true shooting percentage in the league is extremely impressive, but you could make a strong argument that Brittney Griner's defensive impact is just as important to the Phoenix Mercury's success - even choosing one or the other as MVP of their team is extremely difficult.

But moving toward the All-Star discussion, if you drop down to the top 11 statistical performers in the West, you'd have a pretty solid All-Star team. What complicates things is having to choose by position: Augustus isn't on that list above because she missed seven games, but it's really hard to find a guard having a better season than her.

Odyssey Sims is the next best option, but she has been an extremely inefficient scoring guard thus far this season - not unsurprising or uncommon for a rookie, but difficult to make an All-Star. Sue Bird will obviously have some support from Seattle fans, but her PER of 11.9 rates her as a below average player and, with college teammate Taurasi playing point guard right now, her numbers rate her no higher than the fifth-best point guard in the conference so far this season.

That means, by these numbers, a choice has to be made between Crystal Langhorne, Glory Johnson, and Courtney Paris for the final frontcourt spot on the team. As you see from our earlier reserve picks, Albert and I went with Paris and Pat went with Camille Little (whose numbers don't do her impact justice at all). My reasoning for Paris is pretty simple: she leads the league in offensive rebounding and has contributed to Tulsa's biggest strength. That's worth the All-Star bid to me, but we'll see what the voting coaches decide tonight.

Yet before moving to the Eastern Conference performers, there's something else to highlight: the top five statistical performers in the Western Conference when looking at the numbers above are already the starting five fans selected, but you could even take that a step further and say that's a perfectly reasonable All-WNBA team or top five MVP candidates. That's because the Eastern Conference just hasn't had individuals performing at quite as dominant a level.

Top Eastern Conference players

Player

MVP

PER

WS/48

+/-

Usage

Pts/empty poss

Larkins

12.6

20.9

0.23

2

15.15

2.31

Charles

12.33

21.9

0.19

-0.3

26.09

2.23

De Souza

12.2

24.2

0.29

9.9

20.96

2.72

C. Ogwumike

11.07

23

0.24

-3.4

22.89

2.5

McCoughtry

10.9

22.2

0.23

11.9

30.29

1.93

Lyttle

10.6

19.6

0.25

8.1

18.81

2.08

Meesseman

10.01

20.4

0.21

-2.9

19.12

2.22

Pondexter

7.92

16

0.11

-3.4

24.97

1.88

Hayes

7.7

17.3

0.25

11.2

16.99

2.74

Breland

7.6

17.9

0.11

10.8

21.9

1.89

Cruz

7.47

13

0.1

1.7

15.88

1.61

Douglas

6.93

14

0.12

7.8

20.11

1.88

Vaughn

6.7

16.3

0.14

-0.9

20.79

2.02

Prince

6.5

21.1

0.2

-7.1

24

2.22

A. Thomas

6.2

13.9

0.1

2.5

18.62

1.81

Zellous

6.1

14.5

0.12

1.4

22.14

2.09

January

6.1

13.4

0.08

0.2

20.69

1.67

Bentley

6.06

14.8

0.09

2.1

24.72

1.71

Top Eastern Conference players as of 7/14/14

Although the top three players in the Eastern Conference have comparable numbers by MVP - meaning their individual value relative to team success is significant - when you look across at the other numbers you see that they don't quite measure up.

Erlana Larkins and Erika de Souza are definitely having impressive seasons, but are doing so as relatively low usage rates compared to those top performers in the Western Conference - Larkins' 15.5% essentially reflects a player who is only marginally involved in the team's offense. Tina Charles and Chiney Ogwumike have great individual numbers, but negative plus/minus ratings (although it's worth noting that Charles is responsible for 26% of her team's statistical production, which is ranked third in the league and worthy of MVP consideration).

But the point is that it's really easy to imagine a scenario where the Eastern Conference doesn't place a player in the top five of the MVP voting. A large part of that is that Tamika Catchings and Elena Delle Donne have both missed so many games that MVP votes will be difficult and both should be available come playoff time, but it's an interesting point nonetheless. And especially interesting when you look at how that affects All-Star selections.

The numbers above would be the top 18 candidates for my made up "Eastern Conference MVP" award; just two were selected as All-Star starters, with Angel McCoughtry and Cappie Pondexter being legitimate choices even if there are arguments against one or the other. So the problem is that someone is going to get snubbed here and when you look at how the conference stacks up, it's a post player who will just have to be left out due to Catchings getting a starting spot despite being out during the vast majority of the voting process.

There are seven players who have a legitimate claim on what amounts to four spots (the three frontcourt positions and a potential replacement for Delle Donne). You saw how we parsed things out earlier and I just left Breland, Lyttle, and Meesseman out because the top four are just too impressive.

The perimeter would've been tough to decide on regardless of whether Shoni Schimmel had gotten a starting spot: I generally think point guards deserve special consideration and, believe it or not, Epiphanny Prince is putting up some special ball handling numbers in Courtney Vandersloot's absence - her pure point rating (2.49) is tops among (currently healthy) starters in the East and third in the conference overall. Her ability to handle the ball that well while putting up better usage and efficiency numbers than the remaining guards in the East is significant for a team in need of ball handling with Vandersloot out and rookie Jamierra Faulkner being a turnover prone, though very much improving, point guard.

For me, Prince's ball handling numbers took away a spot from Shavonte Zellous, who Albert and Pat selected, and I wouldn't really argue against that pick: Zellous, if nothing else, is a better defender putting up comparable numbers to Prince. I just went by the numbers there.

Will anybody catch Moore in the MVP race?

But speaking of positional numbers, I don't think it's fair to say Moore has this thing wrapped up - although she's having an absolutely dominant season, what Taurasi is doing at point, Griner in the paint, and Parker all-around (assuming she can help get her team on track) is extremely impressive. But as of right now, when you look across the entire league, it's really clear that Moore is, statistically, head and shoulders above the rest.

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