Most Valuable Player — a talented athlete whose performance in a given season exceeds that of her peers. Players who win the MVP award often lead their teams to championships, but not always. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Liz Cambage was the most valuable player for the Dallas Wings in 2018; her history-making, high-scoring games elevated the Wings into the playoffs. Even bigger, she led the league in scoring (23 points) and ranked second in rebounding (9.7). She was fourth in field goal percentage and fifth in blocks. Yet, Cambage was not named MVP that year. Enter the key question — most valuable to whom or to what? The team? The league? A player’s value to her team should be considered in determining who gets the hardware, but the success of the team should have no bearing. However it may be that voters made their decisions, Swish Appeal reflects on the amazing players who won the MVP award this decade.
Lauren Jackson — 2010
2010 season averages
20.5 points (46.2 percent field goal, 34.6 percent 3-point, 91 percent free throw), 8.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.2 assists, 1.1 blocks
Lauren Jackson tipped off the decade by winning her third MVP award — she won the first two in 2003 and 2007 — and the 2010 championship with the Seattle Storm. During her WNBA career, Jackson ushered in the era of the versatile frontcourt player, which lives on today. She played for the Storm her entire career, with the 2012 season being her last. In 2016, Jackson, who had been playing in her native Australia hoping to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics, retired from basketball because of injuries. The Storm retired her No. 15 jersey number in a ceremony at KeyArena that fittingly took place on July 15, 2016.
Tamika Catchings — 2011
2011 season averages
15.5 points (43.2 percent field goal, 37.9 percent 3-point, 86.4 percent free throw), 7.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals
When people talk about players who play the right away, Tamika Catchings’ name is at, or near, the top of the list. A model of clean execution of fundamental basketball, Catchings’ MVP award was hard-earned. But it would be the following year, her 12th in the league, that she’d win her first championship and Finals MVP award. Catchings retired after the 2016 season and held front office positions with the NBA’s Pacers. In 2018, she was named vice president of Fever basketball operations. On Dec. 19 of this year, was nominated for possible induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Catchings remains the all-time WNBA steals leader, with 1,704 — a full 310 steals ahead of Ticha Penicheiro (No. 2, retired).
Tina Charles — 2012
2012 season averages
18 points (49.9 percent field goal, 20 percent 3-point, 80.2 percent free throw), 10.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 blocks
Tina Charles made a splash when she came into the league, winning the 2010 Rookie of the Year award. In the same year she helped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, Charles was named WNBA MVP. After four years with the Sun, Charles — who became the fastest player in league history to reach 400, 500, 600 and 700 career rebounds — forced a trade to play for her hometown New York Liberty. Although a championship has eluded Charles, she has made her mark on the New York franchise — becoming the Liberty’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Now 31, Charles’ chances of winning a title are slimming. However, she is still playing a consistent, high level of basketball, suggesting the possibility to win a championship remains.
Candace Parker — 2013
2013 season averages
17 .9 points (49.3 percent field goal, 25.7 percent 3-point, 76.2 percent free throw), 8.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.2 steals
Candace Parker burst into the league out of Tennessee and immediately met all expectations, winning her first MVP award in 2008 — the same year she also was named Rookie of the Year. Parker’s career took an unconventional turn in 2009 when she gave birth to a daughter, Lailaa. At the time, questions swirled about whether she could come back from pregnancy the same caliber player. Her second MVP award in 2013, multiple All-Star appearances and the 2016 championship and Finals MVP award answered those questions resoundingly.
Maya Moore — 2014
2014 season averages
23.9 points (48.1 percent field goal, 33.5 percent 3-point, 88.4 percent free throw), 6.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals
Maya Moore burst into the league out of UConn as the missing piece in the Minnesota Lynx’s campaign for dominance. In 2011, she was named Rookie of the Year and won her first of four titles this decades. The others were in 2013, 2015, 2017 — alternating odd years. Moore filled in some of the gaps with another MVP trophy (2014) and an Olympic gold medal (2016). For Moore and the Lynx, 2018 was a season of struggle and she announced at the end of it that she’d be taking a sabbatical from basketball which she has used to advocate for criminal justice reform. Will she rejoin the Lynx in 2020?
Elena Delle Donne — 2015
2015 season averages
23.4 points (46 percent field goal, 31.4 percent 3-point, 95 percent free throw), 8.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steals
As with many of the MVPs on this list, Elena Delle Donne began her WNBA career with a Rookie of the Year award (2013). She led the Chicago Sky to the playoffs that year, where they were bounced in the first round by the Indiana Fever. The Sky made it to the Finals the following year and lost to the Phoenix Mercury in a three-game sweep. Delle Donne would play one more season in Chicago before forcing a trade to the Washington Mystics to be closer to her family in Delaware.
Nneka Ogwumike — 2016
2016 season averages
19.7 points (66.5 percent field goal, 66.1 percent 3-point, 86.9 percent free throw), 9.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.2 steals
When Ogwumike graduated Stanford and signed with the Los Angeles Sparks, she joined Candace Parker in creating one of the best frontcourt duos in the league. In 2016, Ogwumike’s efficiency was all the buzz, and it took her to the MVP mountaintop. She and Parker won their first WNBA championship that year. For all of Ogwumike’s bright achievements on the court, her leadership as president of the players’ union equally has shined. The outcome of CBA negotiations, if favorable to the players, will cement her legacy. The league and union have until their extended deadline of Dec. 31 to agree to terms.
Sylvia Fowles — 2017
2017 season averages
18.9 points (65.5 percent field goal, 76.8 percent free throw), 10.4 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals
Winning the MVP award in the year Sylvia Fowles also helped the Minnesota Lynx to their fourth championship since 2011, her second, is apropos, if not poetic. She had been so good for so long, as much a part of the Chicago Sky’s 2014 WNBA Finals run as former frontcourt counterpart Elena Delle Donne. Fowles won two of her three Defensive Player of the Year awards during her tenure with the Sky. Whenever she decides to call it a career, Fowles will be remembered as one of the best to wear a WNBA uniform. On the all-time lists, Fowles is first in field goal percentage (59.3), second in rebounds (3,332), fourth in blocks (621) and 10th in field goals made (2,100).
Breanna Stewart — 2018
2018 season averages
21.8 points (52.9 percent field goal, 41.5 percent 3-point, 82 percent free throw), 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.3 steals
Breanna Stewart won everything that could be won in 2018: the league MVP award, a WNBA championship (her first, the Seattle Storm’s third) and the Finals MVP trophy. Stewart also was named an All-Star and won a FIBA World Cup Gold medal and the FIBA tournament MVP. Although her contributions to the Storm’s success that year are undeniable, she did not lead league-wide in any box score category — she was second in scoring, third in rebounding, eighth in 3-point percentage, 10th in field goal percentage and 22nd in free throws. Yet, Stewart’s dominant, cool-handed consistency not only was valuable to Seattle but vital to its success that year.
Elena Delle Donne — 2019
2019 season averages
19.5 points (51.5 percent field goal, 43 percent 3-point, 97.4 percent free throws), 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 blocks
In 2018, Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics to the Finals where they were swept by the Seattle Storm. The following year, hampered by a back injury, she — in a season in which she became the first WNBA player to record a 50/40/90 season — won her second MVP award. Delle Donne and the Mystics went on to win their first championship.
Also in this series:
PHOTOS: The WNBA’s Sixth Women of the 2010s
PHOTOS: The WNBA’s Defensive Players of the Decade