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Minnesota's Sylvia Fowles is the frontrunner for WNBA MVP

Sylvia Fowles is averaging 20.9 points and shooting 65.4 percent from the field, career bests in both categories. M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire

MINNEAPOLIS -- Seimone Augustus knows Sylvia Fowles better than anyone else on the Minnesota Lynx. Before they won a WNBA championship and three Olympic gold medals together, they were teammates for two seasons at LSU, reaching the Final Four in 2005 and '06 and sharing the heartbreak of two semifinal losses, the first as the tournament's No. 1 seed.

That shared history allows Augustus and Fowles to playfully bust on each other. But it also gives Augustus the best vantage point to explain why, a month into the season, her easy-going pal is dominating the WNBA Most Valuable Player talk.

The 6-foot-6 Fowles has been unstoppable in the low block, averaging 20.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, both second-best in the WNBA. Fowles shares the league lead in steals with the Sparks' Alana Beard (2.1 per game) while ranking fourth in blocks (1.7) and shooting a league-leading 65.4 percent from the field. Fowles scored at least 20 points in six of seven games until being held to 12 last time out in 9-1 Minnesota's first loss of the season, to Connecticut.

Fowles is the player the Washington Mystics (7-4) must stop Friday (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 8 p.m. ET) at the Xcel Energy Center. The Lynx used to be a ball movement, high-post, screen-and-slash team with Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. Now their offense runs inside-out, with Fowles as the focal point.

"I've never seen her this aggressive, and I've known her for over 10 years," Augustus said inside the team's video theater at the Mayo Clinic Square practice facility. "The things that she's doing now are the things we wanted her to do in college, and we might have had two championships if it happened back then."

Ah, busting Fowles again. Augustus chuckled before adding: "It's takes people a little bit of time to develop."

Fowles, 31, showed flashes at LSU and with the Chicago Sky -- demanding the ball in the post, taking her time with it, reading double teams, then either going strong to the hoop or finding an open teammate.

So why did it take Fowles 10 WNBA seasons to turn into this offensive force? It's not like the WNBA is loaded with dominant post players. Fowles was more than athletic enough to win three league defensive player of the year awards, most recently last year, and earn the finals MVP trophy in 2015. The latter followed a lengthy holdout that forced Chicago to trade her.

"This is not the first time that question was asked," Fowles said.

"When I thought about coming to Minnesota, they had everything they could possibly need. I was just thrown into the fire. I didn't want to step on anybody's toes. I didn't want to make anybody feel like I was trying to come and take over. I was just trying to fit in where I fit in.

"At the end of the season last year, Cheryl [Reeve, the Lynx coach] had this talk with me. She wanted me to step up and wanted me to be me and not worry about anything else. That's what I've been giving her."

Teammates noticed Fowles' newfound focus and determination from the first day of training camp. Once they saw how consistently she established position, they were happy to toss her the ball and let her go to work.

"Early on in her career, if you watch Chicago footage, people were able to push her off the block and get her in positions she wasn't really comfortable in," Augustus said. "Now she's getting everything she wants. Now you see her post up and she's got two feet in the paint at all times. It's rare that she's outside the paint unless it's a specific play that we're running that causes her to be outside the paint. That helps us and it causes the defense a lot of havoc."

The biggest adjustment, Fowles said, was learning to take her time.

"It was very hard, because I'm all about speed and wanting to do everything fast," she said. "But watching some film sessions with my position coaches, it helps the defender more than anything. So I try to just be patient, see what's going on, see where the double-team is coming from, see who's open at that point in time."

Fowles admitted to brief relapses early on, a preseason scrimmage and exhibition game at Washington.

"I was back into that old habit of getting rushed, getting rushed," she said. "We went back and saw it [on video]. ... I told myself, 'That was your last time.'"

It was.

"There's no one that ducks in and asks for it constantly as Sylvia Fowles does," Reeve said. "That's what makes her so hard to play against. Even when it isn't a play for her and an action for her, she's going to make herself available on a deep catch because she's really active."

And, Reeve added, "We're doing a great job getting her the ball. People are looking for her. The timing of her catches are putting her in good spots. She's not an afterthought."

Seattle center Crystal Langhorne needed no convincing earlier this month after Fowles put up 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting in a 100-77 Lynx blowout.

"She's not just a big post -- she's athletic, strong and fast," Langhorne told The Seattle Times. "There's no other post player like her. She's looking better than I can remember."

A delighted Augustus recounted a recent game in Dallas, where fellow LSU grad Theresa Plaisance drew the defensive assignment on Fowles. Coach Fred Williams let Plaisance guard Fowles one-on-one, without help. It didn't work. Fowles poured in 30 points on 14-for-19 shooting and added nine rebounds in a 91-74 Lynx victory.

"Plaisance had tears in her eyes because she didn't know what to do," Augustus said. "They didn't bring a double-team, and it was just her and Syl one-on-one. She's 6-5, so height-wise you would think it would work. But the base Syl has, the strength she had, the moves she's making, she's just hard to play against."

Fowles' emergence came at a time Reeve sought easier shots for Moore, Augustus, Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson, the core of Minnesota's three championships in six seasons.

Reeve encouraged Augustus, Whalen and Brunson to take more 3-pointers, stretching defenses and making it harder to bring help on Fowles. Brunson, who before this season attempted only 12 3-pointers in 13 seasons (she made two), is 8-for-17 already, tying Augustus for third in the league in percentage (.471). Moore ranks 13th at .407. Whalen is 7-for-14 (.500) but hasn't taken enough to make the leaders.

Another byproduct of Fowles' dominance? Augustus is taking far more uncontested jump shots than she is used to.

"My life is love-e-ly!," exclaimed Augustus, averaging 11.9 points while shooting .527 percent.

"We've got to knock down shots to create that. If we can continue to be that active and that effective on [the] exterior, inside we can dominate, because that's a beast in there. It's hard for anybody to defend."