Might as well start with Storm G Tanisha Wright, seeing how my mentioning of Wright as a first-team WNBA pick irked some on my Twitter timeline. It’s an opinion vote, so fans can have theirs and it can not count all the same. But mine isn’t a homer pick.
My ballot rules remain the same. A team has to reach the postseason to be considered. Only one pick broke that personal criteria this season, Tulsa’s Gary Kloppenburg as Coach of the Year. The Shock improved its win total, won the regular-season series against the Storm 3-2 to nearly clinch a playoff berth for the first time since relocating from Detroit in 2010 and Tulsa lost five games in overtime, which again, could have helped them get to postseason play. Considering this was done with a young squad that required tough decisions — benching a touted draft pick being one — Klop gets my nod despite not reaching the only goal in pro sports — postseason play to win a championship.
So, back to Wright and the team everyone said would be booty due to offseason surgeries in All-Star mainstays Sue Bird (knee) and Lauren Jackson (hamstring). The Storm finished 17-17, one better than last season with the hobbled stars. The Storm finished at .500, which either matched or is better than three of the Eastern Conference playoff teams. (FYI, there are only four playoff teams) Seattle swept No. 3 seed Phoenix and was 2-2 against No. 2 seed Los Angeles this season. What I’m saying is you can’t tell me Wright shouldn’t be considered a top player in the league because the Storm lost 17 games.
I vote by position — the old-school small forward, power forward, center, point guard, shooting guard lineup. The WNBA also requires voters to vote players by the position they start, so Candace Parker can play all over the court if coach Carol Ross would like, Parker is still a center on my ballot and not better than Sylvia Fowles (Chicago), so Parker is all-WNBA second-team.
I don’t care about the Olympics or college. I love this retort from fans, journalists and PR reps who actually put these stats in their emails to promote their players for regular-season awards, however. This is the WNBA. Only WNBA stats count when evaluating a WNBA season. Take your gold medals and NCAA championships or college records and marvel at them in the stands. It means nothing on a WNBA court; otherwise Chicago wouldn’t have the second-best record in the WNBA. (FYI, Sky F Swin Cash is the only Olympic and NCAA champion on the Chicago roster)
I pooled all my favorite shooting guards – Kristi Toliver (LA), Seimone Augustus (Minnesota), Epiphanny Prince (Chicago), Shavonte Zellous (Indiana) and, of course, Diana Taurasi (Phoenix). Then I looked them over and gee, Wright helped shutdown Toliver, Taurasi, and Augustus. Prince shamed Wright and the Storm’s defense at KeyArena, but was widely inconsistent this season. Zellous was a second-place against any of the rest because the Fever finished 16-18, worse than the other players’ teams.
The above list are superior offensive players. I love defense. Seriously, my favorite play is the block. I went to school at Arizona and the best thing was our home win streaks in the 1990s. Nothing is cooler than a team coming into your house and getting shut down — hard. So, I looked at the fancy offense numbers and dismissed it. There was so much parity in the league, I went with the shooting guard who shot 44 percent from the field — only attempting 49 three-pointers this season. Do you know what that means? Yeah, Wright drove down the paint, past the opposing guard’s defense, and scored in their teams’ face or was fouled to average 11.9 points on a team with no go-to scorer. Oh, and outside of Taurasi’s averaged 6.2 assists this season, Wright led my other faves in that category with 4.1 assists. Just to throw some numbers out there, Toliver was 49 of 128 from three-point range. Taurasi was 69 of 199. Prince was 61 of 154. Seattle only allowed teams to shoot 30 percent from three-point range this season.
There you have it. Wright is first team all-WNBA to me. Case closed. Appeal denied.
Here are my other picks:
MVP: Minnesota PG Lindsay Whalen. Aside from my displeasure in there never being a point guard MVP in a league so dependent on its point guards, I use this old quote from New York coach Bill Laimbeer to explain my philosophy. I’m from Detroit, so yes, I give Laimbeer more credit than he deserves because of his antics. Anyway, he told me in 2007: “Lauren Jackson puts up big numbers, but they’re (Storm) a .500 ballclub. The most valuable player wills their team and makes their team more competitive in terms of overall record during the regular season. That hasn’t happened in Seattle. I’m not dismissing Lauren and her talents. She’s the best player in the league, but this year she is not the most valuable player.”
In 2013, this would swing the vote to Lynx F Maya Moore or even Sky rookie Elena Delle Donne. I’m a rebel who’ll vote for a point guard until a point guard wins or my vote is taken away. Don’t get me started on anointing rookies as MVP and ROY. I love CP3 and think we might have mended the flaming bridge that was 2008. I don’t want to have to rebuild that relationship all over again. I love you CP3!
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chicago F Sylvia Fowles.You don’t know basketball if you need me to explain this.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Love the WNBA put in red that this award isn’t meant to be a comeback award as it has been abused in the past. I picked Chicago PG Courtney Vandersloot. That reasoning was explained in a recent blog post.
SIXTH WOMAN OF THE YEAR: When Augustus was out three games due to injury, Minnesota reserve Monica Wright averaged 16.7 points on 51.4 percent shooting from the field to keep the Lynx winning. Wright also averaged 3.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds in an averaged 33.3 minutes per game as a starter AND she can play defense like the league’s other Wright. Monica Wright could start on any team in the WNBA. She’s the best player off the bench.
ALL-WNBA FIRST TEAM:
F Maya Moore (Minnesota)
F Tina Thompson (Seattle)
C Sylvia Fowles (Chicago)
G Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota)
G Tanisha Wright (Seattle)
ALL-WNBA SECOND TEAM
F Angel McCoughrty (Atlanta)
F Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles)
C Candace Parker (Los Angeles)
G Lindsey Harding (Los Angeles)
G Diana Taurasi (Phoenix)
*I don’t vote rookies to this team unless they are truly the reason their team is successful. Elena Delle Donne is surrounded by some incredible talent. She helped the Sky get over that playoff hump, but I can’t say she carried her team more than Nneka, LoriAnn, TinaMarie and definitely not Maya.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Chicago F Elena Delle Donne. Again, you don’t know basketball if you need me to explain this one.
SPORTSMANSHIP: Chicago F Swin Cash. I really don’t know how to vote for this award. I can easily tell you who’d never win it, but is Cash more sportsmanlike than Indiana Fever F Tamika Catchings? I only went with Cash because she’s the obvious leader of her team on the court, rounding them up at every break to check-in. Catchings is an equally good leader and gracious competitor. I went with the better record.
This award should be taken away from media. I’m sure we don’t know what we’re talking about in this category. A sportsmanship award would be more poignant coming from the WNBA officials. And make it worth $1,000. Bet the players quit whining then, right Tommy Nunez?
COACH OF THE YEAR: Tulsa coach Gary Kloppenburg. See above. In regards to Storm coach and GM Brian Agler, the WNBA should have an Executive of the Year award so either he or Penny Toler, LA executive vice president and GM, can get some credit for their respective team’s success.
Now the fun picks. Whether it was budget or interest, I only traveled to one Storm road game — the season-opener in LA. However I’ve covered the Storm in every WNBA arena in the past and feel like I watched every game this season, so I’m confident in dishing out my own awards. They’re in the mail, ladies… *winks*
GOLDEN APPLE: We’ll start off with the trophy for the best WNBA player from our state (Washington). This year it’s PG Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago). Slooty, as Sky coach Pokey Chatman calls our former Zag star, really improved her defensive game and accuracy on offense. As stated above, it helped Chicago advance to the organization’s first playoff berth since its erection in 2006.
BEST DANCERS: I groan in frustration every time the New York broadcast cuts away from timeouts or halftime when the Lil’ Torches are performing. This little bunch of 6 to 14-year-olds has the precision and talent of a Beyonce backup dancer and I’m awed every time. Plus the kids have the right amount of glitz. True, kids shouldn’t be caked in makeup, but a little sparkle goes a long way.
BEST HAIR: San Antonio PG Danielle Robinson dyed her already cool, curly Mohawk pink in honor of the Silver Stars’ breast health awareness night. ‘Nuff said.
BEST IDEA: Leave it to New York to bring some flare to the league this season. G Cappie Pondexter, co-founder and CEO of 4Season Style Management, launched a”Style Suite” at the WNBA All Star weekend where players dropped by to either get styled for the midsummer classic’s events off the court or were briefed on the company’s services. It’s a similar setup to swag suites at the NBA All-Star weekend and I’m glad Pondexter is capitalizing on the simple fact that women love fashion to bring this version to the league. Promoting fashion and the players’ off-court style in this way can only benefit the WNBA’s image. Highlighting fashion, style and sex-appeal in league ads to promote games, however, remains a bad idea.
BEST ARENA: Minnesota averaged about 9,000 fans this season and you could feel the energy through the screen…when WNBA LiveAcess worked, of course. The team has grown to encouraging kids onto the court after games for a group dance with the players and the organization landed Nature By Nature to perform at halftime of one game, the second throwback hip-hop group to do so. Winning definitely helps create the fun, but the Lynx crowd is knowledgeable in its cheering and seems to be latching on regardless of season success, much like the StormCrazies. This is great for the league. A close second would be the crowds for the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky.
BEST ATMOSPHERE: This is biased because I couldn’t really get a feel of what New York did for Katie Smith in celebrating her retirement from a 17-year pro career, including two seasons in the defunct ABL. New York also lost the game 80-76 to Phoenix, the Liberty ultimately finishing the season on a seven-game losing streak. You definitely want to tip one back after that, but not in a good way.
Across the country, StormCrazies rivaled some of Tina Thompson’s crowds as a Houston Comets star in honoring her final regular-season game of her 17-year WNBA career, and last at KeyArena. Thompson helped the Storm advance to a WNBA-record 10th straight postseason appearance. Game 2 of the best-of-three series against Minnesota will be played at the Tacoma Dome, however, due to a scheduling conflict at the Storm’s home court. On Saturday, the standing ovations for Thompson during the Storm’s 85-73 win against Tulsa were endless and the way the 8,000-plus didn’t need to be coached to holler back “THOMP-SON” when they heard “TI-NA” over the arena speakers was touching. I just checked my Twitter timeline and, yes, the ceremony, including pictures, was about 90-minutes. Legend Cynthia Cooper showed up, Thompson’s Storm teammates wore her signature “Diva” lipstick and replicas of her No. 7 Storm jersey –F Noelle Quinn wearing the Comets version and PG Sue Bird putting on the All-Star jersey. There were video tributes, cool posters and beautiful gifts. Plus Thompson, 38, was gracious in signing every autograph and posing for every picture requested. Naturally her comment afterward was , “I’m glad it’s over. Now we’re not waiting for it, and we can just concentrate on the next game.” But Thompson is one of my basketball idols and that’s exactly how I’d dream her final game would be before her home crowd. Glad the Storm stepped in to fill the void since Houston was stripped of the opportunity.
BEST GAME: There were some exciting buzzer-beaters but you can’t top 51 points. I’ve watched Tulsa’s 98-65 win in San Antonio three times just to see G Riquna Williams post a WNBA-record 51 points. It’s awesome and sad at the same time.
I covered Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson’s game at Washington when she tied the then-record 47 points in an overtime loss. Then-Mystics F DeLisha Milton-Jones wasn’t having it, using every trick she could in trying to stop the 6-foot-6 center. Jackson scored 33 of the record-tying 47 points in the closing half of the 97-96 overtime loss. Then-Mystics G Alana Beard wasn’t impressed, shutting her teammates down when they tried to coo about the electric night. Beard told me: “She’s tremendous. But you know what? I came in the locker room and everybody was like, ‘Lauren Jackson scored 47.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, 47 and an ‘L.’ I’ll take that any day.”
On that sticky-hot day in July 2007, there was a defensive effort and a Mystics crowd ticked it was happening. Call me unsportsmanlike or whatever you want but I’d leave the building before I encouraged an opponent to post 51 points on my team — and on my home court?! Shoot, are you crazy?! For that…
WORST FANS: San Antonio.