- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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If you were picking which position has been the "MVP" for the WNBA season to this point, it would be small forward. These are the primo do-everything players. And the five small forwards we have picked as the best right now in the league are indeed doing everything at a high level.
Need someone to mix it up in the paint? They can do that. Shoot 3-pointers and slash to the rim? Gotcha. Rebound? Yep. Handle a big scoring load, or set up teammates, or both? Check. Defend players bigger, smaller and the same size? You've come to the right place.
The oldest of them is the only one of the five to have won the league's regular-season MVP award, but the other four -- all age 26 or younger -- could be future MVP honorees. Three of them have won the Rookie of the Year award, and another is in the running for that honor this year.
As the old "Schoolhouse Rock" video said, "Three is a magic mumber." Indeed, the 3 position in the WNBA has some of the most exciting players in the league to watch.
Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2, you can see two of these star wing players facing off when East-leading Atlanta (10-1) takes on West-leading Minnesota (8-3) at Target Center in Minneapolis.
1. Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta: How wrong were some of us about projecting how Atlanta would do this season? Well, let's put it this way: So far, it would be hard to be more wrong. The Dream lost their starting point guard from last year, but they don't look as if they've had any difficulties adjusting.
That's largely because McCoughtry is having an MVP-caliber season. She's averaging 20.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.7 steals. McCoughtry is one of the best scorers and best playmakers in women's hoops, as evidenced by her 15-point, nine-assist game against San Antonio on June 30.
McCoughtry has never been an especially strong 3-point shooter -- for her WNBA career, she's at 28.5 percent from behind the arc -- but that's really the only thing offensively she isn't great at.
She's as instinctively disruptive as you'll find on the defensive end; she can control games with big plays there.
2. Maya Moore, Minnesota: She's the best 3-point shooter among this group percentage-wise this season, at 43.4. Moore averages 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists. She doesn't have to handle as much of the playmaking chores as McCoughty does, because Moore has Lindsay Whalen at point guard.
But when the Lynx need a big play, they look to Moore -- as much as anyone -- to make it. She and teammate Seimone Augustus are able to share that role as go-to player gracefully, and Moore has been a natural leader for the Lynx. That has been true ever since her first game as a rookie in 2011, but now in her third WNBA season, Moore's leadership is even stronger.
And with Augustus suffering an ankle injury Sunday, Moore might need to do a little more than usual in facing the Dream on Tuesday. But Moore is ready for that.
3. Tamika Catchings, Indiana: Last season, Catchings played more at power forward and it helped pay off with a WNBA championship for Indiana. This season, the injury-riddled Fever have Catchings playing almost all over the court.
Traditionally, she has been a post-position tweener who is equally dynamic at either forward spot. The 2011 league MVP, Catchings will be 34 later this month, but her numbers are as consistent as ever.
She's averaging 18.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Catchings helped steady the franchise even through its painful seven-game losing streak, and she's coming off a 22-point, six-steal performance against Connecticut on Saturday.
And of course, nobody in the WNBA has been better defensively over the long haul than Catchings. She has won the league's Defensive Player of the Year award five times, including three of the last four years.
4. Elena Delle Donne, Chicago: The No. 2 overall pick in April, Delle Donne's only misstep so far in Chicago has been pronouncing her newfound allegiance to the Cubs. Trust us, Elena, getting emotionally involved with the "Loveable Losers" can be bad for one's mental health.
Seriously, though, she has fit in so well in her new city and with her new team that it has made some of the pre-draft questions about her -- like "how will she adjust away from Delaware?" -- seem a bit silly now.
She has a team-best average of 18.9 points, plus 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists. She was the league's top rookie for the month of June. There's a ways to go yet, of course, but with her 8-4 Sky in second place in the East, Delle Donne is a strong candidate for top rookie honors for the season, too. And the Sky are on track for the franchise's first playoff appearance.
5. DeWanna Bonner, Phoenix: She shouldered the load for just about everything last season for injury-ravaged Phoenix. Now surrounded again by veteran talent, Bonner is still having another terrific year, averaging 15.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
If Bonner learned in 2012 just how much she is capable of, the Mercury learned something too, about her durability and responsibility. She went from sixth-woman extraordinaire to a starter last year, and continues in that role in 2013.
If Bonner has had a weakness this season, it has been Minnesota. She had 18 points in Phoenix's first meeting with the Lynx. But in the last two versus Minnesota, she's a combined 3-of-26 for 11 points. Those two games are the only losses in the Mercury's last 10 games.