I’m talking into the abyss, so I’ll make this short. Chicago PG Courtney Vandersloot is my WNBA Most Improved Player. I’m calling it early for my standards, but the Sky clinched early. Vandersloot, the former Gonzaga and Kentwood HS star, finished with 10 points, seven assists and one turnover in Chicago’s 82-64 win on Friday to clinch its first postseason berth since the franchise was established in 2006.
“It feels good. Just thinking about from the first training camp, into the first preseason game just knowing what you have around you,” Sky C Sylvia Fowles told reporters after the win. “All these good players we’re surrounded by just makes it all so much better to be on this team and have this opportunity with this group of young women.”
Since the All-Star break, Vandersloot is averaging 11.4 points and 5.8 assists. I know, she has three All-Stars swarming her in Elena Delle Donne, Fowles and Epiphanny Prince. Delle Donne is my Rookie of the Year (duh!) and Fowles is All-WNBA first team on my ballot. However, Prince was inconsistent/injured this season, shooting 32.6 percent from the field in August. Fowles, while extremely impressive in her first healthy season, can’t handle the ball alone like Delle Donne.
I remember Vandersloot’s wild ball handling and see how its improvement in running the Sky offense plus her improved defense has helped the Sky meet expectations they’ve had since its inception in 2006 because of the incredible talent of Fowles (and Candice Dupree, etc.). Without a steady PG and veteran leadership from F Swin Cash, a three-time WNBA champion, this Sky team doesn’t see this kind of success. And I’m talking about leading the Eastern Conference with a chance to clinch the WNBA’s overall best record.
Chicago plays at Atlanta (14-10) on Saturday at 4pm (PT) on ESPN2 in hopes of retaining its 3.5-game lead on the top spot in the East.
The fact that Connecticut G Allison Hightower was a leading candidate for MIP tells me I’ll be Vandersloot’s only vote. Perhaps that’s because, now that Hightower is injured, everyone is looking at someone on the Storm team for MIP? I thought Seattle disbanded from the WNBA the way it was disregarded at the beginning of the season. Shoot, until post-All-Star break.
The Storm is 6-3 in August, ridding a three-game win streak.
“It’s not that we’re setting out to prove anybody wrong, it’s that we never believed it,” Storm F Tina Thompson told the Associated Press of being dismissed.
Seattle (13-13) defeated Phoenix 81-73 on Friday to sweep the regular-season series 4-0. The Storm is four solid defensive games from F Shekinna Stricklen from finishing with a better record than 2012 when it finished at 16-18 with PG Sue Bird and C Lauren Jackson. OK, it’s not all on Stricklen. It just seems if Seattle had one more strong defender on the perimeter, it could defeat Minnesota (19-7).
In watching replays, Seattle looks to get the best of Phoenix and Los Angeles because Thompson and F Camille Little (along with the reserve posts) have done a solid job shutting down the inside since the All-Star break. The Mercury (14-13) and Sparks (18-8) don’t have consistent perimeter players to help its stars. The Lynx do…and backup off the bench. Until the Storm gets another consistent defender who can also score from outside, I believe Minnesota will always win the series in the end — regular season or playoffs.
Speaking of playoffs, Seattle needs to at least split its upcoming road games in San Antonio (9-17) to clinch the regular-season series and head-to-head tiebreaker with the Silver Stars for the fourth and final postseason berth. Sweep the weekend and defeat lowly Connecticut (7-18) at home on Thursday and Seattle clinches its WNBA-record 10th consecutive postseason berth. Its a scenario Storm co-captain Tanisha Wright looked forward to having a few weeks back when I asked about the Storm’s odd lineup in playing San Antonio (twice), Minnesota (thrice) and Tulsa (twice) in successive games to end the season.
“We’re in control,” she said.
L.A. and Minnesota have clinched Western Conference playoff bids.
PAY UP: New York coach Bill Laimbeer was fined an undisclosed amount for stating Lynx All-Star Maya Moore “should get hurt” for playing the waning minutes of a blowout against the Liberty. This was an odd move to me. Laimbeer shouldn’t have said that. But I’ve asked coaches why they’ve left stars in games during blowouts for concern they could get hurt. Being a former player, I can see why Laimbeer would make a comment like that. But he didn’t put a bounty on Moore or Minnesota. And he didn’t talk about officiating — an established no-no in pro hoops. So, why the fine for sharing a thought, albeit harsh? Laimbeer has said worse. I have the recordings and articles to prove it.
GOOD TRIP: Seattle U finished its week stay in Costa Rica with a 2-1 record. It lost to a boys u19 team but rebounded to defeat the Goicoechea Women’s Club Team 83-35 on Friday. Senior Kacie Sowell led SU with 21 points, including 10 points in the first quarter alone. Freshman Tatiana Howard added 10 points while freshman Claire Metoyer added nine.