You're The Real MVP: Choosing an MVP From Each Team

An opinion about the true MVPs (Most Valuable Players) for each franchise for the 2018 WNBA regular season.

Now that we are officially in the postseason, talk naturally turns to the end-of-the-year leaguewide awards that are given to players.  The Associated Press has already named their awardees, but at the time of this article’s publication, the WNBA had only named one award, that of Sixth Woman of the Year which was awarded to the Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones.

The main award is the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. MVP is a rather subjective award, based on what is deemed most important to the voting committee. Is it a player’s season-long statistics? All-Star status? The face of a franchise? The player with the highest salary on the team? Does a deserving player’s team’s record have any bearing? For these reasons alone, MVP is one of the more controversial year-end awards; like All-Star voting, someone is going to feel snubbed.

While some rely heavily on a player’s stat sheets, my personal definition of MVP is rather simple: how badly would a team suck in a certain player’s absence? Sometimes, what a player adds to a team is not always quantifiable; you just know it when you see it. With that in mind, I have my own list of MVP candidates for each team in the league, but as always your mileage may vary. Spoiler alert: it’s not necessarily who you may think. Let’s discuss.

Atlanta Dream: Brittney Sykes

Angel McCoughtry is considered the Dream’s franchise player, and Tiffany Hayes has been getting a lot of shine (and she was robbed in the 2018 All-Star voting, but I digress). Both players deserve every bit of praise they receive, and then some; they are key reasons why Atlanta is sitting at the #2 seed in this year’s playoffs.

But if you recall Atlanta’s early-season struggles, a stretch of those losses occurred when Sykes went down with an ankle injury. Hayes went down with a similar injury shortly thereafter, and the losses mounted. Even with McCoughtry dropping 39 points in a game and having a career night, the Dream lost.

When Hayes returned, Atlanta still lost. The Dream went 3-3 during the six-game stretch when Sykes was out, both with and without Hayes. When Sykes returned, they started winning again. When Sykes was ejected in the third quarter (for no apparent reason) of Atlanta’s final matchup against the Phoenix Mercury, Atlanta lost.

You make the call.

Chicago Sky: Jamierra Faulkner

It goes without saying that Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, and Diamond DeShields are crucial to the Chicago Sky’s success. But things took a major downturn for the franchise when bench spark Jamierra Faulkner went down with a torn ACL (the second of her career) in a road game against the Dallas Wings.

The Sky just wasn’t the same team, despite Vandersloot’s record-breaking/record-setting, Quigley’s continued 3-point dominance, and DeShields’ insane athleticism. If you search for Faulkner on YouTube, you won't find a lot of highlight reels; there aren't even that many of only her on her official WNBA page. But she did so much in the paint for Chicago and could change the trajectory of a game by her mere presence; it was hard to replicate what she brought to the table. Chicago had a (slim) chance to make it into the playoffs; one wonders if they would have made it had Faulkner still been on the court.

Connecticut Sun: Alyssa Thomas

The Connecticut Sun started the season as a blaze of glory across the league sky, then guard Alyssa Thomas sat out ten games with a shoulder injury; Connecticut lost eight of those ten games.  

The Sun plummeted in the rankings and managed to get back on track once Thomas returned in July against the Minnesota Lynx.

Since then, Connecticut managed to secure the #4 seed in the playoffs and a single-bye -- even with Chiney Ogwumike missing games due to her knee. If that doesn’t spell “MVP” I don’t know what does -- and Connecticut concurs.

Dallas Wings: Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liz Cambage

Either Skylar Diggins-Smith or Liz Cambage could be considered the MVP of the 2018 season, but part of the team’s 9-game skid occurred when both of them sat out for two games (Diggins-Smith due to a facial injury, Cambage due to a neck injury). Part of it also occurred when Cambage was ejected from a game against the Los Angeles Sparks due to picking up two technical fouls.

Diggins-Smith is the soul of the Wings, but Cambage may be the heart. Together they are formidable; separately, neither can carry the team as far as she would wish. If Cambage does indeed decide not to return to the WNBA (though she may be wavering on that stance after the Wings managed to make the playoffs), we will see if the Wings can ever get the personnel to make a deep playoff run and perhaps a championship under the Wings banner; the franchise has three championships under its former identity as the Detroit Shock. 

Indiana Fever:  Natalie Achonwa

For all of the well-deserved accolades that rookies Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians have received for their performances this season, Natalie Achonwa (another All-Star snub, in my humble opinion) elevated her game this season, which is her fourth in the league.

The Notre Dame product has boosted her productivity and took her share of hits in what turned out to be very physical games, averaging almost a double-double per game and shooting 80% from the free-throw line. While the Fever struggled in the post-Tamika Catchings era, Achonwa was one of the constants of the young team, along with veterans Candice Dupree, Erica Wheeler, and late-season addition Cappie Pondexter. As we wait to see whether Dupree will return to the Fever next season (she has publicly cited a desire to be closer to her wife, DeWanna Bonner of the Phoenix Mercury, and their one-year-old twin daughters), Achonwa will be needed more than ever if Dupree decides to leave.

Las Vegas Aces: A'Ja Wilson and Kayla McBride

Rookie A’Ja Wilson may be the face of the Las Vegas Aces franchise, but Kayla McBride is the backbone. Together, they form one of the more prolific scoring duos in the league, and they haven’t even started hitting their collective or individual strides.

Like so many duos in the league, Wilson and McBride are two great tastes that taste great together; the sum is a lot bigger than their parts. It will be incumbent on Las Vegas’ dynamic duo to propel the Aces into the playoffs next season.

Los Angeles Sparks: Chelsea Gray

At first, I thought that Nneka Ogwumike would claim this honor for the Los Angeles Sparks, or perhaps Candace Parker, but let’s keep it 100: Chelsea Gray has been consistently on point for the Sparks all season, whereas Parker had bursts of off-the-hook production and Ogwumike missed games due to what was recently and finally diagnosed as mononucleosis.

Gray took over games when neither Parker nor Ogwumike showed up (literally or figuratively).

Her dominance in the first round of the playoffs is why Los Angeles lived to fight another day and the Minnesota Lynx are cleaning out their lockers.

Minnesota Lynx: Rebekkah Brunson

Rebekka Brunson is a four-time WNBA champion with the Minnesota Lynx, and the only player in the league to have five championships (her first was with the now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs in 2005). She is the league’s all-time leader in rebounds.

She’s a five-time All-Star. And Rebekkah Brunson’s absences this season due to injury was part of the derailment of Minnesota’s repeat championship train -- including missing the last games of the regular season, plus the one playoff game, due to a broken nose/concussion.

Brunson doesn’t get the shine that her teammates Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, and the retired Lindsay Whalen do, but she is the engine that keeps the Lynx train rolling. She is a wrecking ball in the paint who also happens to shoot the three-pointer rather well.

If Brunson decides to follow Whalen out the door of the Target Center to focus on parenting and making waffles, the impact on the Lynx moving forward regarding defense will be devastating.

New York Liberty: Tina Charles

This one is a no-brainer. There IS no New York Liberty, as currently constructed, without Charles.

Ever since she was traded to the Liberty in 2014, Charles has become the epitome of the franchise in a way that hasn’t been seen since retired Liberty standouts Teresa Weatherspoon, Kym Hampton, and Becky Hammon. She shows up every game and even when she’s on the bench (as she was with back spasms in the later part of the season), she coached her teammates.

Charles is a free agent at the end of this season, and you can bet that the Liberty will try everything they can to make her stay because if she leaves, that will be a decision from which it will be hard for New York to recover. Now that's an MVP in the truest sense of the title.

Phoenix Mercury: Brittney Griner

Diana Taurasi is inextricably woven into the fabric of the Phoenix Mercury franchise, and for good reason, but this season belonged to Brittney Griner.

When Taurasi, as brilliant as she is, got herself ejected, in foul trouble, or was somehow contained by opposing teams, it was Griner who wrapped the Mercury in her long, blonde locs and dragged them over the finish line. When Sancho Lyttle went down for the season with a torn ACL, the defensive burden primarily fell on Griner, and she rose to the occasion in a way that some may not have expected.

If something had happened to Taurasi this season, Phoenix would have limped along but survived. Without Griner, they’d be dead in the water this season.

Seattle Storm: Sue Bird

No disrespect to the über-talented Breanna Stewart (who was voted MVP by the Associated Press and deserves to be honored for her accomplishments), but Sue Bird will be the perennial MVP of the Seattle Storm until she decides to hang up her sneakers. As the oldest player in the league (Bird will turn 38 this fall), she continues to elevate her game to otherworldly levels.

When Bird sat this season for rest purposes, Seattle lost despite high-scoring games by Stewart and help from Jewell Loyd and Natasha Howard.

When she returned, she stopped the Storm’s skid and helped steer them into a #1 playoff seed. While Stewart is poised to take over the reins from Bird as the face of the franchise, she’s not there yet.

Washington Mystics: Natasha Cloud

On a team with the incomparable Elene Delle Donne and sniper Kristi Toliver getting the majority of the team’s media bandwidth, it’s easy to get overlooked. Yet Natasha Cloud is an important piece of the Mystics machine and a primary yet understated reason why they are sitting at the #3 seed in this year’s playoffs.

When Cloud missed 6 games with an injury, the Mystics went 2-4. When Delle Donne missed games at the beginning of the season, the Mystics still managed to win. Ball don’t lie.

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