The WNBA community did a pretty solid job of selecting the All-Star starters this year. Not perfect (we’ll get into that in a minute), but we’ve seen some bizarre names voted in by the fans in previous years (Jayne Appel and Anna DeForge spring to mind). There was no one in that category this time around. But you know what? One of the benefits of deciding your own hypothetical All-Star rosters is that you can blithely ignore the voting public anyway. So before the results of the coaches’ votes for the reserves are released tonight, let’s decide who deserves to be heading to Connecticut for the big game on Saturday afternoon.
The fans had to vote for two guards and three frontcourt players, then the coaches had to provide two guards, three frontcourt, and one wildcard extra. So we’re looking to fill all of those, and because I like to ease into these things, we’re starting with the Eastern Conference. It’s easier in the East, because there simply aren’t that many players worth considering. Perusing the backcourt players available, our options are severely limited. Herrington, Bentley, Thomas and Hayes all seem like reaches from Atlanta, so there are zero candidates from the team that led the East for most of the first half of the season. Injuries or poor performance has knocked out Douglas, January and Phillips from last year’s conference champs. And even the hosts for the All-Star game have played so poorly this year that you can argue over whether they have deserving candidates.
So by my count we have seven vaguely viable possibilities. Epiphanny Prince and maybe Courtney Vandersloot in Chicago; Shavonte Zellous in Indiana; Ivory Latta in Washington; Cappie Pondexter in New York; and Kara Lawson or Allison Hightower in Connecticut. Lawson’s typically the Sun’s best perimeter player, but she’s missed 40% of their games through injury so far this season. It’s hard to overlook that without supreme performance when available, and she’s been good but not great. Latta and Prince both started the season strongly but have tailed off a little as it’s progressed (Prince also missed a few games through a combination of an ankle sprain and representing Russia at EuroBasket Women). Hightower’s improvement has been impressive, but she’s still the best of a bunch in Connecticut that have been awful as a whole. Pondexter continues to rank highly in raw scoring averages, but her percentages and efficiency have been terrible, she started the year playing no defense whatsoever, and she’s the central part of a team setting a record-breaking turnover pace.
So it’s not a great list. Pondexter’s an interesting case. She’s clearly been voted in more because of her superstar status and reputation than her performance this season. But she is still a star and carrying a heavy load on a team that expects her to generate a large percentage of their offense. To me it comes down to five – Prince, Zellous, Latta, Pondexter and Hightower – and it’s a matter of how you want to order them. And now that I’m trying to do this, maybe the East isn’t so easy after all.
I think I just about agree with the voters that Prince should start, despite dropping off lately and falling to the third-most important player on her own team. For the way she stepped up and helped carry a team through so many injury issues, while remaining relatively efficient and a part of one of the best defenses in the league, Zellous is my other starter. Latta and Hightower sneak in as the reserves, with Pondexter dropping to fifth in the guard rankings. You could make an argument for this group in almost any order, but that’s where I fall.
Starters: Epiphanny Prince, Shavonte Zellous
Reserves: Ivory Latta, Allison Hightower
Potential wildcard: Cappie Pondexter
Again, not a huge list, considering we’re trying to provide six, or maybe seven, names. McCoughtry is an obvious candidate in Atlanta, with Erika de Souza a potential (Sancho Lyttle is out due to the number of games she’s missed due to EuroBasket Women and injury). Delle Donne and Fowles from Chicago clearly come into consideration. Tamika Catchings is the only name worth talking about from Indiana. There’s nobody from New York, unless you really want to try to make a case for a semi-fit Plenette Pierson or the inconsistent and infuriating Kara Braxton. Both Crystal Langhorne and Monique Currie feel like fringe contenders at best with Washington being more of a collective effort this season rather than a star-based production. And then there’s Tina Charles from the Connecticut Sun.
The debate with Charles is similar to Pondexter – she hasn’t been anything close to her best, but what’s left still piles up a lot of raw numbers. A post player shooting under 40% is embarrassing, regardless of how little help you have and how many double-teams you see. But she’s still one of just three players in the league averaging a double-double. Catchings isn’t quite in the same bracket, but she’s not far off. Her jumper’s been clanking off the iron so much this season that her percentages are ugly, and there were several poor games early in the year. Thanks to her defense and her improvement since skipping a couple of games due to a back problem she’s still an All-Star, but starting seems like a reach.
The legitimate starters look pretty apparent to me. McCoughtry was much improved as a passer and helped carry the best team in the league for much of the first half of the season. Delle Donne and Fowles have been the pieces lifting the team that has now passed McCoughtry’s Dream at the top of the East. Fowles has missed a few games due to her ankle, and her scoring has dropped a touch this year, but she’s still been dominant enough to lead the Sky from the paint. Delle Donne’s remarkable offensive talents have pushed Chicago to the next level. So McCoughtry, Fowles and Delle Donne are your starters. Catchings is a definite reserve. Charles I suppose gets in through sheer weight of numbers and the load she’s carried in Connecticut this season, but I do that grudgingly. She’s not been impressive this year. That leaves a choice between Erika de Souza and Crystal Langhorne for the final spot. The strength of Atlanta’s defense gives de Souza the edge for me.
Starters: Angel McCoughtry, Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles
Reserves: Tamika Catchings, Tina Charles, Erika de Souza
Potential wildcard: Crystal Langhorne
I had five I could barely decide between in the backcourt, whereas Langhorne was pretty easy to leave out. So I think the spot goes to Pondexter, but (in my hypothetical world) she’s lucky to be an All-Star in 2013.
This feels much tougher than the East at first glance, because there are so many more potential candidates, but in some ways the stars stand out more easily. Names who can at least be considered: Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Monica Wright in Minnesota; Lindsey Harding and Kristi Toliver in Los Angeles; Diana Taurasi in Phoenix; Tanisha Wright and Temeka Johnson in Seattle; Riquna Williams in Tulsa; Danielle Robinson and Jia Perkins in San Antonio.
The deserving starters seem pretty blindingly obvious to me. Lindsay Whalen has increasingly stepped up her game as the season’s progressed, taking on an even bigger role offensively when Augustus missed a few games, and has led the Lynx to the best record in the league. Diana Taurasi has fallen off just a touch in recent games, but has been an MVP candidate in leading the offensive punch in Phoenix both with her scoring and her creation. There are your starters.
Now it gets trickier. While they’ve been part of the collective unit that has led Seattle to more wins than most expected, I think Wright and Johnson can be crossed off relatively easily. Perkins has done her best to help carry the scoring load in San Antonio, but she’s not been good enough to challenge the competition here either. Williams I love as a bench energy guard, but All-Star feels like a push.
That leaves us with five, in Augustus, M. Wright, Harding, Toliver and Robinson. Augustus missed three games, which doesn’t help her, but I still have her narrowly ahead of her teammate. Wright’s the leader for the Sixth Woman of the Year award right now, she’s Minnesota’s best perimeter defender, and she stepped in admirably for Augustus when Seimone was hurt, but that’s still what Wright is – a very, very good backup or fill-in.
The level of overall talent in LA almost hurts Harding and Toliver. Along with Alana Beard, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike there’s so much ability on their front line that it’s hard to stand out, and it’s hard to pick and choose an All-Star. For her work trying to carry San Antonio through trying times, Robinson actually stands out a little more. She’s leading the league in assists (and it’s not close), and for me she just sneaks in. If there was an LA player called Hardiver or Toling, combining the performance of the LA guards in one body, she’d be there in a heartbeat. But there isn’t.
Starters: Diana Taurasi, Lindsay Whalen
Reserves: Seimone Augustus, Danielle Robinson
Potential wildcard: Kristi Toliver, by an inch from Lindsey Harding and Monica Wright (in that order)
It’s not getting any easier. The long list of names that at least crossed my mind: Maya Moore and Rebekkah Brunson in Minnesota; Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike in LA; Candice Dupree and Brittney Griner in Phoenix (no, DeWanna Bonner doesn’t even make this list); Tina Thompson and Camille Little in Seattle; Shenise Johnson and whoever your favourite is from the Danielle Adams/DeLisha Milton-Jones/Jayne Appel group in San Antonio; Glory Johnson and Liz Cambage in Tulsa.
First, let’s cross people off. As with their backcourt, Seattle have had good players playing their part this season, but no one good enough individually to look like an All-Star. Thompson had the strongest start, Little’s been the most consistent, but both are still short. The collection in San Antonio are all out as well. Milton-Jones and Appel have been decent defensively and on the boards, Adams and Johnson have both produced at times whether off the bench or starting, but none of them are really close. Cambage doesn’t make it because three games do not make a season, and due to a slow start and then injury, three or four impressive games is all we’ve really seen from her.
Griner’s an awkward case. It was made easy for the coaches when the fans voted her in anyway, but she’s had some minor issues transitioning to the pro game and the injuries have obviously been a problem. As of right now, she’s missed 5 out of 17 games (29%). I think that keeps her out as a legitimate starter, but the strong statistical production at both ends of the floor still make her a candidate as a reserve (even though Phoenix’s defense as a unit was miserable whether she was on the floor or not).
For their scoring punch and all-round production, Maya Moore and Candace Parker are clear starters. The third is more difficult. Both Ogwumike and Brunson play very important roles on their talented teams, but in a lot ways that’s what they are – supreme, deluxe, role players. Candice Dupree has been the most consistent supporting act for Taurasi in Phoenix all year, although as ever her defense raises questions (and offers very few answers).
Meanwhile, over in Tulsa, they’ve had one consistent player all season. While so many other young players (and several veterans) around her have been underperforming, Glory Johnson has continued throwing herself into everything, providing scoring on the pick-and-roll or via putbacks, and grabbing a host of rebounds. Maybe it’s a sentimental choice because none of the players from leading teams stand out to me, but I think there’s a case for her as the third starter.
I think both Brunson and Ogwumike deserve to be there, which leaves a choice in Phoenix. Dupree’s consistency, playing heavy minutes as Taurasi’s sidekick but sometimes disappearing and generally only playing one end of the floor; or Griner’s bigger and more efficient impact in limited minutes in fewer games? I’d take Griner, but it’s a toss-up. And for those screaming Bonner’s name while reading this, she’s been painfully inefficient all season, still takes too many horrible shots, and her defense has fallen off dramatically.
Starters: Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Glory Johnson
Reserves: Rebekkah Brunson, Nneka Ogwumike, Brittney Griner
Potential wildcard: Candice Dupree (with Camille Little creeping back into consideration once I went through the list)
One of the deserving guards ahead of the frontcourt options, without hesitation. So Toliver gets in.
So for those who like nice, quick summaries, we have
Elena Delle Donne
Erika de Souza
So amazingly enough, all 10 of the players voted in by the fans make my teams, even if several of them wouldn’t be starting in the hypothetical WNBAlien version of the All-Star game. We’ll see tonight if the coaches end up agreeing with me.
I’ll also be appearing on the Dishin’ and Swishin’ podcast later this week to argue all this out with host David Siegel (and potentially bitch about what the coaches got wrong). There’ll be links posted here and on Twitter once it’s available.