WNBA Today, 08/29/2012 (Part Two): …and the Basketball

Yes, in amongst all the off-court shenanigans, they’re still playing some games. However, if the players can do whatever the hell they want, so can I. So chronology is going out the window today, and the Bullet Point Breakdown is kicking off with far and away the most entertaining game of the evening. Who cares if it was the last one to finish? Coverage of all the other games is here as well, you just have to scroll down a little.

 

San Antonio Silver Stars 84 @ Minnesota Lynx 96

  • While the maelstrom has been whirling elsewhere, both these teams just keep on riding the waves. Minnesota came in having won six straight, while San Antonio’s only loss in their last 14 games was last week in Los Angeles. Both teams had their well-established starting lineups out there to open the contest.
  • The matchups when these teams face each other continue to be absolutely fascinating. Compared to most teams, Minnesota are big on the perimeter. Lindsay Whalen isn’t huge, but she’s muscular and physical for a point guard; Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore are both pretty tall and strong for wings. San Antonio, on the other hand, are kinda tiny. Danielle Robinson and Becky Hammon make a diminutive backcourt, and while Shameka Christon is a similar size to Augustus and Moore, 5’8” Jia Perkins sees plenty of minutes as the de facto small forward. So inevitably, San Antonio has to deal with Minnesota shooters by using significantly smaller defenders on them, challenging as much as possible, and sending help. The Lynx, at the same time, have to worry about keeping up with the quick and tricky Silver Star guards.
  • Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve blinked first in the initial chess match, replacing Whalen and Moore with Candice Wiggins and Monica Wright less than 4 minutes into the game. That fixes the matchup problems for San Antonio, because there are instantly enough smaller players on the floor for them to guard more naturally. It was odd to see Reeve make that move even earlier than her usual rotation would dictate.
  • While the use of Hammon to defend Moore in the past has been particularly interesting and effective – and we saw that again periodically throughout this game – San Antonio also seem to have developed a fondness for using Robinson to guard Augustus. Presumably it’s because they like Robinson’s ability to use her quickness chasing Augustus around all the screens that Minnesota set for her, and at least be somewhere near her to challenge on jump shots. Because in straight-up matchups, Augustus can shoot right over her.
  • This was a fun game, played by two teams that are obviously brimming with confidence. Both teams were more than happy to push the pace whenever they had the chance, and both have the necessary team ethos to play effective defense. Neither could create much separation on the scoreboard. Continue reading
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WNBA Today, 08/29/2012 (Part One): The Drama

Edited to add: After writing, the Associated Press stated that Fred Williams had given Angel McCoughtry a written list of requirements she must sign and comply with before he will consider reinstating her. None of that changes anything written below.

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There’s been so much off-court nonsense going on around the WNBA this week, that we’re splitting today’s coverage into two parts: first up, the soap operas.

Back in Atlanta yet again, even with Marynell Meadors removed from her position as head coach and general manager, the drama continues unabated. Just as last night’s home game against Tulsa was tipping off, the broadcasters revealed that star player Angel McCoughtry had been suspended indefinitely by the team, news that was quickly confirmed by the franchise.

Beyond adding to the impression that the Dream are in disarray, all this does is raise more questions. Primarily, if McCoughtry was going to be suspended for whatever she’s done in recent days and weeks, why was Meadors fired in the first place? The widespread impression has been that there was a power struggle which was won by McCoughtry when Meadors was forced out, but apparently there’s still dissatisfaction or conflict remaining. Alternatively, McCoughtry did something else – on top of whatever she’d done to aggravate Meadors – in the 24 hours following the promotion of Fred Williams as the new head coach and GM. Which seems ridiculous, but at this point would hardly be a surprise.

Of course, this could just be a small effort by Williams and/or the Dream ownership to try to suggest that McCoughtry isn’t running the franchise. Get rid of the coach just like she wanted, suspend her ‘indefinitely’ for a couple of games, then bring her back with everything forgiven. Watching from the outside, it certainly seemed like Meadors was dumped at McCoughtry’s behest. If that was the case, any coach coming in – whether Williams or someone else in future – would’ve known that they had to kowtow to McCoughtry to keep their job. A suspension at leaves gives some mild sign that maybe – to borrow Geno Auriemma’s choice of metaphor – the inmates aren’t completely running the asylum. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 08/27/2012: McCoughtry Mess Moves Meadors Out

Reports on last night’s games are featured in this piece as well. Please scroll down beyond the opening section if that’s what you’re looking for.

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The big news around the WNBA today was that Atlanta Dream coach and general manager Marynell Meadors has parted company with the franchise, replaced with immediate effect by her assistant Fred Williams. The Dream’s official release carefully avoided using the terms ‘fired’ or ‘resigned’, although they did later confirm that she was ‘released by ownership’ and did not resign. The news initially leaked via UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s twitter page, who openly stated ‘@marynellmeaders gets fired atlanta owners cave in inmate in charge #coachingisaBitch’. Ignoring the horrible grammar and punctuation, along with his misspelling of Meadors’s name (in a Twitter handle that doesn’t exist even if he’d spelled it correctly), the message was clear. Geno was putting the blame for her departure squarely on a specific Dream ‘inmate’, and that’s where most of the discussion around this move will inevitably focus.

Angel McCoughtry has been the star attraction for Atlanta for several years now, but her attitude and personality have often made things difficult. She’s clashed with Meadors before, and her me-first approach rubs a lot of people the wrong way. There are rumours of teammates not particularly enjoying her attitude as well, although much of that is based on supposition and hearsay. When McCoughtry missed two games last week due to undisclosed ‘personal reasons’, including one where she spent the game sitting opposite the visiting bench and barely interacted with her teammates, it was clear that something strange was going on. She returned for the ESPN2 game against Minnesota on Saturday night, but was used sparingly by Meadors in a strange rotation, which seemed to be more focussed on making points than scoring them. Apparently, something had to give, and that ended up being the coach.

To a lot of people, this will look like another example of player power winning out – just as Auriemma seemed to be suggesting. We’ve seen it a thousand times before in a whole variety of major sports. In a lot of ways it makes sense – it’s much easier to replace a coach than it is to find a new superstar player, or get equal value for that player in a trade and reshape your team. But it always looks bad. As far as we, the viewing audience, are concerned, the players aren’t supposed to run things. They’re the employees. They’re supposed to show up and do what the coach says, play as hard as possible for the team, and that’s it. But in all walks of life, the talent usually rules the roost. From an ownership perspective, you can understand that.

Plus, of course, it’s never as simple as it looks, and there are always (at least) two sides to the story. Meadors has clashed with other players over the years, with more than one leaving the franchise on less-than-favourable terms. Chamique Holdsclaw was one notable example, although as with McCoughtry, she’s had issues with plenty of people besides Meadors in the past. There’s also always been a perception around the Dream that Meadors was a manager and figurehead, who hired others to do the nitty-gritty of the coaching, which led to people dismissing her skills. If you’re not drawing up the plays or coming up with schemes yourself, then people start to wonder if you’re a necessary part of the structure. There’ve also been some strange decisions over the years in terms of contracts handed out and even just her the bizarre and fluctuating playing rotations. At 69 years old – today was her birthday, in fact – Meadors may also not have had too many years left. Blowing up the team to appease a coach who could be gone in a year or two anyway wouldn’t make a great deal of sense either. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 08/26/2012: Superstars return, as WNBA leaders keep on winning

So with four games yesterday in the WNBA, and four comfortable wins for the obvious favourites, most of the interest was focussed on the soap operas. Would Angel McCoughtry return from her ‘personal reasons’ for Atlanta? Would Dream coach Marynell Meadors let her? Would Diana Taurasi finally play for Phoenix? Or would her dog eat her shoelace to keep her off the floor? Would the stars of Los Angeles and New York become so tired of all the attention drifting elsewhere that they’d start a fight to compete?

Well that last one’s a little unfair, but I had to throw in something from the other games. On to the Bullet Point Breakdown, where all will be revealed.

 

Minnesota Lynx 84 @ Atlanta Dream 74

  • As reported by Rebecca Lobo and her ESPN cohorts an hour or two before tip-off, McCoughtry was in uniform and ready to play in the nationally televised rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals. But there was still no coherent explanation for the absence, and Angel was ‘no longer a captain’ (they used to have three, now it’s just Armintie Price and Sancho Lyttle). So something happened, but we still don’t know exactly what.
  • Tiffany Hayes kept her starting spot ahead of McCoughtry. Minnesota, typically free from drama, had their standard five on the floor.
  • As she’d already illustrated in the two games Angel spent off-court, Hayes is developing into a pretty useful alternative. She was the one driving into the paint to create offense for Atlanta in the early minutes, while Minnesota settled for – and missed – a series of perimeter shots.
  • Barely three minutes into the game, Meadors got to make a pretty obvious point to her returning star. Armintie Price had picked up two quick fouls, and the straight swap off the bench would clearly have been McCoughtry. Instead, Meadors went to Cathrine Kraayeveld, who’s barely a small forward at the best of times – never mind when Maya Moore and Monica Wright are playing that spot for the other team. That was a pointed “the team’s bigger than you, Angel” statement from the coach. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 08/25/2012: Who needs Angel? And Sky suffering continues

Just two games last night in the WNBA, and it wasn’t exactly the high-flying, top-end teams providing the entertainment. In fact, heading into the matchups, the four franchises were a combined 27-59 this season. But as a Dolphins fan whose other option was watching that miserable team slog their way through another preseason defeat, basement-dwelling WNBA basketball was looking pretty appetising. And just because they’re down at the bottom, doesn’t mean the games can’t be close and exciting.

First up, we had Atlanta’s trip to Washington. The miserable Mystics actually won a game last week (albeit over one of the poor teams we’ll look at later), so at least they’d found some shred of light in the darkness of their 2012 WNBA season. Atlanta had played some decent basketball since the Olympic break, but were still dealing with the essentially unexplained absence of Angel McCoughtry. So they were only the favourites for this game, rather than the vastly overwhelming favourites.

Atlanta once again went with rookie Tiffany Hayes to fill McCoughtry’s spot, while Washington coach Trudi Lacey had decided she was done with this bizarre idea of playing a consistent lineup, and brought Noelle Quinn back in for Matee Ajavon. In fairness, when you keep losing games, you search for anything different that might help turn the tide.

The yin and yang, joy and frustration of Atlanta forward Sancho Lyttle was illustrated within the space of the opening few minutes. She started the game up on the low block, taking an entry pass, which was nice to see. Then she drifted out to beyond the arc, jacked up a three that missed, and following an Armintie Price offensive board, threw up another jumper from only slightly closer. Brick number two. Then she used those long limbs to poke the ball away from Crystal Langhorne, drove hard from the low post to score in the lane over Langhorne, then moments later ran the floor hard and knocked down another short finish in the lane. These are the things that are great about Lyttle. She can jump out of the gym to score over anyone, she’s got nice touch, she’s a strong defender – but that fondness she’s developed for outside jump shots is aggravating. Okay Sancho, we get it, you can shoot the three now. But you’re shooting 29% out there, and your overall field-goal percentage has plummeted to a career-low of 43%. More of those interior finishes, less of those bombs from 18-feet and out. Please.

As for the overall basketball game, it was about what we’ve come to expect from most Mystics games. Their defense was breaking down constantly, with the number of open layups for Atlanta frankly embarrassing. Offensively, the Mystics were giving the ball up far too cheaply, as lazy, sloppy turnovers once again plagued them. Atlanta happily grabbed the turnovers and ran, as they invariably do, and started to build a lead. It didn’t take long to hit double-digits, and it kept getting bigger. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 08/24/2012: Comebacks, non-comebacks, and the Sparks send a message

Last night in the WNBA was all about comebacks. One superstar returned for her first appearance of the year; one was supposedly on the brink, then yet again absent; another was a hot topic of conversation despite her team not even having a game. There was even a storming comeback to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in one of the games, while the dominant performance in the evening’s big matchup was by a player in her first season back after years out of basketball.

So read on, enjoy, and please come back again soon.

 

New York Liberty 89 @ Phoenix Mercury 77

  • So Diana Taurasi was supposed to play in this game. The Mercury swear her name was on the lineup sheet, and she was even going to start. Then apparently she felt dizzy and light-headed in warmups, so Phoenix head coach Corey Gaines pulled her. She spent the rest of the night offering encouragement from the bench. Now it’s perfectly plausible that someone who had multiple wisdom teeth removed last week, and has been on prescription drugs since, might not feel 100% when asked to play professional sports. And you’d expect the Mercury to be extra-careful with her, especially considering they have few remaining reasons to win games this year. But you just had to laugh. She’ll probably play eventually this season, and the Mercury are bad enough to carry on losing even with her on the floor, but on the face of it the excuses are becoming increasingly ludicrous. Maybe she’ll miss Saturday’s game with a hang nail.
  • Continuing the comeback theme, New York’s star and leader is Cappie Pondexter. She made her name and won a couple of titles with the Mercury, before forcing a trade to the Liberty. She’s had some spiky encounters with her old team in the years since, including one minor fracas that got her ejected. Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton both have chequered histories with the Mercury as well, but without quite the same profile.
  • Same starting five again for New York; Nakia Sanford arbitrarily in for Avery Warley in the post for Phoenix. The Mercury also had recent signing Briana Gilbreath in uniform for the first time, and with their pile-up of injuries, she had to join the action pretty quickly.
  • The early minutes were just like every other recent Mercury game. Terrible defense, allowing the Liberty whatever they wanted inside or out; and DeWanna Bonner and Sammy Prahalis taking virtually every shot at the other end, mostly from long range. With Pondexter leading the attack and point guard Leilani Mitchell knocking down threes, New York inevitably grabbed a comfortable 30-16 lead by the end of the first quarter. Continue reading

WNBA Today, 08/23/2012: McCoughtry mystery, while Dream pile on Sky’s misery

Last night the WNBA finally offered up an opportunity to concentrate on a specific matchup, rather than splitting our attention between at least three games. The Chicago Sky made the trip down to Atlanta in a desperate state. They’d lost seven games in a row, and 11 of their last 12. They’d also been beaten at home by New York only the night before, a defeat that left them perilously close to giving up their playoff position in the standings. Not helping matters, leading scorer Epiphanny Prince twisted her right ankle late in that game, in only her second game back after breaking a bone in the same foot. Star center Sylvia Fowles limped off in the final minute as well. Both started against the Dream, but neither looked 100% healthy.

Atlanta had their own issues. They’d beaten this same Chicago team in their first game after the Olympic break, then been turned over fairly comfortably by Indiana the following night. Given New York’s level of performance for the first half of the year, and Chicago’s collapse, Atlanta’s playoff spot had begun to look fairly secure. But a glance at the standings showed that if they dropped this contest, the Sky would move within half-a-game of them and seal the tie-breaker over the Dream. It was a big game for Atlanta to cement their position in the East.

Matters were complicated when it was revealed that star scorer Angel McCoughtry wouldn’t play for Atlanta, for what were described only as ‘personal reasons’ by head coach Marynell Meadors. McCoughtry was at the game, and smiled happily through a pre-game ceremony honouring her and Meadors for winning gold in London. Backup center Yelena Leuchanka was also in street clothes (no one seems to have bothered to ask or report what’s wrong with her). However, while Leuchanka sat with her teammates on the bench and cheered along with them, McCoughtry was on the other side of the floor sitting opposite the Sky bench throughout the game. She didn’t even join the player huddle after the game finished, as far as I could see. Asked afterwards if McCoughtry would play in Atlanta’s next game, Meadors said “I don’t know. I can’t answer that.” So no one outside the organisation seems to know what the hell is going on. McCoughtry’s rubbed coaches and teammates the wrong way with her attitude in the past, so it could be that this is a tacit suspension for something she did, without officially suspending her. It could be a health issue that wasn’t obvious, which the team don’t want to reveal. Maybe there actually is some kind of personal reason that allowed her to attend but not play. At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, on to the basketball. Continue reading