Alyssa Thomas continues to do a little bit of everything for the Sun, including nearly notching triple-doubles in each of the two games against the Aces last week. She had nine points (3-of-11), eight rebounds, 12 assists and three steals in a 90-84 loss Tuesday. In the 94-77 Sun (8-2) win Thursday, she had 17 points (7-of-14), 12 rebounds, eight assists and three steals, though it came with a season-high seven turnovers. The loss was the first of the season for the Aces (8-1) and her line was the second such game in WNBA history, joining her own outing from last July.
Could Thomas, a 10-year veteran, be in good contention for the first league MVP award of her career? The odds are long since the honor often goes to a player scoring at a higher clip, but she’s easily in the conversation.
Thomas is averaging 14.1 points per game, ranking 26th and more than a dozen per game behind leader Jewell Loyd (26 ppg). The past five MVP awards have gone to players averaging no worse than fifth in scoring and that was A’ja Wilson (19.5 ppg) last season. Going back, in order, Jonquel Jones ranked fourth (19.4 ppg), Wilson ranked second (20.5), Elena Delle Donne ranked second (19.5) and Breanna Stewart ranked second (21.8).
Thomas is adding averages of 11.2 rebounds (tied for first with Satou Sabally), 7.3 assists (second to Courtney Vandersloot’s 9.3 apg) and 1.6 steals (14th). The five aforementioned previous MVPs all ranked in the top 10 in rebounding and often were toward the top in blocks and/or steals. None finished higher than 32nd in assists.
Everyone, from voters to fans, appreciate different aspects of the game when assessing MVPs and All-Stars. And that goes for any sport or league in the world. Often in basketball, MVP awards are won by forwards (almost exclusively in the WNBA) and players scoring bunches of points. That might mean another lower finish for Thomas, who was fourth in MVP voting in 2022 and ninth in 2020. Both years were won by Wilson.
But the Sun’s spot atop the standings might work in Thomas’ favor, despite the low scoring output. MVPs are almost always on the winningest teams and all of the previous five were playing for the No. 1 seed come the postseason. Three of the past five won championships the year they earned MVP.
That approach would omit Loyd, who doesn’t have much offensive help from anyone except center Ezi Magbegor (14 ppg). The Storm are a league-worst 1-6.
Sabally (21.2 ppg ranks sixth) is averaging a double-double, but the Wings (5-4) are fifth. Brittney Griner (22.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.7 bpg) and the Mercury are sitting in the lottery ranks as are Napheesa Collier’s Lynx (20.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.8 spg). Nneka Ogwumike (21.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.6 spg) and the Sparks are sixth.
The biggest competition for Thomas, a 6-foot-2 forward drafted No. 4 in 2014 by the New York Liberty and immediately traded to the Sun, is the league’s biggest stars and double MVPs in Wilson and Stewart. Stewart holds the edge averaging a 24.9-point, 10.1-rebound double-double with 3.4 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. She’s second in points and second in rebounds. Wilson is averaging 20.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.6 steals.
A lot can happen and change in 30 more games.
Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard reached 100 career 3-pointers in her 40th game, besting the previous quickest mark set by Cynthia Cooper in the early years of the league, according to Across the Timeline. She hit three 3-pointers in the loss against the Liberty on Friday, marking the 19th game of her career in which she hit at least three. That’s also a record mark for the first 40 games.
The reigning Rookie of the Year is averaging 2.49 made 3s per game, ranking second all-time behind Diana Taurasi (2.58) and leading Arike Ogunbowale (2.31), Kelsey Mitchell (2.28) and Sabrina Ionescu (2.22).
In a season of bonkers comebacks, the Lynx mounted the most statistically improbable comeback of all on Sunday to keep Sylvia Fowles’ jersey retirement a fully celebratory affair. The claim is courtesy of inpredictable.
The Lynx went on a 17-0 run, erasing an 11 point deficit with 3:32 left, and taking their win probability from 0.9% to 99.5%.
It was the most improbable comeback of the season.https://t.co/SEQPIWAT3m pic.twitter.com/bwTP0GTO8t
— Mike Beuoy (@inpredict) June 12, 2023
The Lynx trailed the Sparks, 83-72, with 3:38 left on the clock in Minnesota after a 3-pointer by Lexie Brown. It was Los Angeles’ largest margin of the game and Minnesota’s chances of earning its second win dropped to 0.9%.
Miller said afterward it was two missed defensive assignments out of that timeout and things “snowballed” from there for L.A.
“Their physicality. We couldn’t get a catch, we couldn’t get any actions we wanted down the stretch. They took us out of everything,” Miller said.
Collier hit all four free throws and Bridget Carleton’s back-to-back 3-pointers gave the Lynx the lead. They kept it with free throws by Mitchell. She hit two that made it 89-83 and two more after Ogwumike’s 3-pointer, which cut it to three, were the only Sparks points of the final 3:38.
Weekly status report
The Sparks are a surprising 4-4 a month into the season despite an often packed game status report (formerly injury report) that added another name over the weekend. Layshia Clarendon, the team’s veteran offseason addition at guard, will miss four to six weeks with a partial tear of the right plantar fascia, the Sparks announced ahead of the game Sunday. Clarendon is averaging 7.8 points and 3.7 assists in 26.7 minutes per game.
Dream guard Aari McDonald is expected to miss three to four weeks after sustaining a torn labrum, the team announced early last week. The starter leads Atlanta with 3.8 assists per game. Rookie Diamond Miller, the No. 2 overall draft pick, remains out with an ankle injury.
Delle Donne missed her first game of the season Sunday when the Mystics nearly blew a 28-point lead to the Storm. Head coach Eric Thibault had pulled the 2019 MVP from their Friday meeting in Seattle when her neck tightened up, per the Washington Post. She participated in light practices Saturday and the team decided it wasn’t a smart idea to risk any further injury between a late Friday night game and Sunday game that tipped at noon local time.
Thomas took a hard hit running into a screen by the Dream’s Naz Hillmon on Sunday. She returned from the locker room to play all 10 minutes of the third quarter and all but 47 seconds of the fourth.
Top four host playoff series — Aces (8-1), Sun (8-2), Liberty (6-2), Mystics (5-3)
There are no surprises at the top of the standings as all four teams were expected to be the best of the bunch. The Liberty scored triple-digits in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history this weekend with wins against Atlanta and Dallas. Of these teams’ eight combined losses, six are to each other.
Making the playoffs — Wings (5-4), Sparks (4-4), Sky (5-5), Dream (2-5)
The Sparks are a smidgen of a surprise so high up in the standings in Curt Miller’s first year as head coach. They’ve experienced constant injuries and illnesses that have kept star players out and in three games this past week took bad losses to the Storm and Lynx. The Sky are also dealing with injuries and dropped another set of back-to-back games by a combined 28 points to the Sparks and Aces.
Lottery — Mercury (2-5), Fever (2-6), Lynx (2-7), Storm (1-6)
The Mercury snapped their three-game losing streak Sunday by edging the Fever, 85-82. Indiana isn’t going down easy this season with No. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston looking more like an award-winning vet than a rookie. The Fever rank eighth in points scored (79.8) and points allowed (84.3). In their 1-4 skid dating back to May 30, they’ve lost by a combined 15 points with no loss greater than five.
What to watch this week
These are highlights for the week. The full schedule can be found here.
Tuesday — CBS Sports Network night
Three games on the docket, including back-to-back contests on CBS Sports Network that begin at 8 p.m. ET with Dream at Liberty followed by Storm at Mercury. It’s a good night to watch everything as the Mystics and Fever tip at 7 p.m. ET on Twitter.
Thursday — Prime Video night
There are again three games and they’re nicely spread out, starting with Dream at Sun at 7 p.m. ET on Prime. The Storm and Aces are the late-night offering at 10 p.m. ET. The Fever will rematch against the Sky in Chicago at 8 p.m. ET on League Pass.
Friday — ION
Things tip off for WNBA’s appointment viewing with Mercury at Mystics (8 p.m. ET). The Lynx and Sparks tip at 10 p.m. ET.
Sunday — Full day of basketball
Brittney Griner and the Mercury make their first trip of the season to Barclays Center for a noon ET tipoff on CBS. Stewart tweeted how long Griner was detained every day she was in Russia. Liberty teammates Stewart, Vandersloot and Jones have all played on UMMC Ekaterinburg, the team Griner was playing for when she was wrongfully detained in an airport near Moscow in February 2022.
Sky at Mystics, 3 p.m. ET on Twitter
Dream at Fever, 4 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
Sun at Sparks, 7:30 p.m. ET on League Pass
Lynx at Aces, 9 p.m. ET on League Pass
Catch up now
Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters the franchise followed rules on airport travel the day after Griner and teammates were harassed in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
Satou and Nyara Sabally played their first WNBA game against each other on Sunday after years of setbacks kept them from taking the court together.
Sue Bird, invoking a classing “Jersey Shore” saying, told Yahoo Sports the current collective bargaining agreement is the “CBA before the CBA” and there can be maternity protections that work for both sides in the next one.
Bird’s No. 10 jersey went to the rafters on Sunday during an emotional retirement ceremony that included her partner, USWNT star Megan Rapinoe, and Seattle rapper Macklemore. The running time of the ceremony was the length of an entire game.
Fowles’ No. 34 jersey rose in Minnesota on Sunday to cap a reunion weekend for the Lynx dynasty that won four titles in seven years. Fowles’ jersey joined that of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson. Maya Moore, who formally announced her retirement in the offseason, will be the next to join them. All were in town for the Lynx’s honoring of its 25 greatest players in franchise history.