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Past articles:
  • WNBA '07 mid-sesason report card

  • The 2007 Young All-American Team

  • WNBA 2007 draft preview

  • Phoenix wins 2007 draft lottery

  • 2006 WNBA season wrap-up

  • New Wave of Talent in WNBA

  • The 2006 Young All-America Team

  • 2005-06 College Awards

  • Academic All-America Teams

  • Candace Parker's Comeback

  • 2005 WNBA Season wrap-up

  • 2004-05 College Awards

  • Stanford walk-on Markisha Coleman

  • 2004 WNBA Awards

  • 'BEEF' up your shooting!

  • Gball's Players of the Year

  • UConn's two freshmen

  • Gball's 2003-04 All-Americans

  • Leslie repeats as Player of the Year

  • 2002-03 NCAA Awards

  • Sophia Young

  • WBCA All Stars

  • NWBL Draft

  • The Burge Twins

  • 2002 WNBA Successes

  • Title IX's 35th Anniversary

  • The 2002 High School State Champs

  • The 2002 Gball Awards

  • Being Recruited

  • Protecting Your Knees

  • Candace Parker dunks!

  • Michigan Playoff Results

  • WNBA Teen Advisory Board

  • St. Ann's girls' team

  • Leslie Gball's Player of the Year

  • Hitting the last-second shot

  • Scholarships,
    Part I

  • Scholarships,
    Part II

  • Improving Agility

  • WNBA ON THE UPSWING; WHAT'S THE NEXT STEP?
    By Dave Wohlhueter

    At this time of year, we annually take a look at the WNBA. We step back from the action, now that it is completed, and analyze what is good and what needs improving.

    Last year's synopsis was titled "What Do You Think of the WNBA Now?" We could ask the same question after the 2007 season that saw the league crown its sixth different champion in its short 11-year history. Better yet, we ask the question "What's the Next Step?"

    Collective bargaining is the big topic facing the WNBA currently. The last CBA agreement was reached in April 2003, which was for four years, with the WNBA having an option for 2007. With the final '07 competition having taken place, it's time for a new agreement between the league and the players' union. Improvements in salaries and better travel accommodations are two of the items to be negotiated.

    One thing is certain, and that's the WNBA cannot afford a strike by the players' union. Eleven years of progress and increased prestige would go right out the window. The top players would succeed because they could always make decent money overseas, but it wouldn't be the same.

    The product improves every year. Everyone was pleased with the progress made in the first 10 years. Season No. 11 was even better. It doesn't get much better than having your league championship decided in the fifth game of a best-of-five series.

    Competition for playoff berths once again went right down to the wire. Going into the final week, Phoenix held a half game lead over San Antonio for the top spot in the West. The Mercury (23-11) completed the regular season on a five-game winning streak and finished three games ahead of the Silver Stars (20-14).

    Defending champion Detroit (24-10) compiled its second-best record in franchise history to grab the Eastern Conference top rung, three games ahead of Indiana (21-13), a team that tied a franchise-best record for the third straight year. New York (16-18) and Washington (16-18) finished tied for fourth place in the East, and the final playoff spot went to the Liberty based on a tiebreaker system.

    Last year, scoring was at an all-time high. This season was better. In 2006, Phoenix broke Houston's WNBA record of 77.3 ppg. set in 2000, as the Mercury averaged 87.1 ppg. This past summer, the Arizona based team upped its league record to 88.97 ppg. For the first time ever, every team in the league averaged 70 points per outing or better. Phoenix also set a record for most points allowed (85.41 ppg.), breaking the old mark of 84.7 ppg. set by the Mercury in 2006. (Who said defense wins championships?) Indiana had the best defensive record, allowing 69.71 ppg., three points per outing better than Sacramento (72.94 ppg.).

    Seattle forward Lauren Jackson became the first international player to win the Gballmag.com Most Valuable Player award. The Aussie Olympian became only the second player in league history to capture both the scoring (23.8 ppg.) and rebounding (11.8 rpg.) titles. Chamique Holdsclaw, playing for Washington, won both titles in 2002 with 19.9 and 11.6 averages, respectively.

    Jackson made the Gballmag.com first team for the fifth straight season. She was joined on the first unit by Phoenix forward Penny Taylor and guard Diana Taurasi; San Antonio guard Becky Hammon; and Detroit guard Deanna Nolan. Taylor received the Gballmag.com nod for most improved player, while the WNBA voted for New York center Janel McCarville. For the third straight year, Indiana forward Tamika Catchings took home the Gballmag.com Defensive Player of the Year award. The WNBA opted for Jackson of Seattle.

    Chicago guard Armintie Price was the Gballmag.com Rookie of the Year, leading another fine group of first-year players. The 2007 NCAA Player of the Year Lindsey Harding, the No. 1 pick in the collegiate draft, had a great year for Minnesota, averaging 11.7 ppg. and 3.9 apg. She played in 20 games before suffering a season-ending injury. Forward Sidney Spencer started most games at Los Angeles, averaging 9.6 ppg., and 4.1 rpg. in all 34 contests. She made 43.9 percent of her shots from behind the 3-pt. arc.

    San Antonio head coach Dan Hughes garnered the Coach of the Year award for leading the Silver Stars to their second-place finish, after completing 2006 (13-21) next to the bottom in the West. Hughes also won the award in 2001 as the head coach of the now defunct Cleveland franchise.

    Houston veteran forward Tina Thompson registered 2,000 career rebounds during the season to become only the fourth WNBA player to accomplish this feat. Unfortunately Thompson's outstanding performance didn't keep the Comets from matching their franchise-worst record (10-19).

    The 2007 WNBA campaign was the first ever without participation from Los Angeles center Lisa Leslie, who missed the summer activity while out on maternity leave. The Sparks hope to have her back in 2008.

    Where is the WNBA headed next? It certainly would be advantageous to have an even number of teams in the league. Currently the Eastern Conference has six, and the West lists seven franchises. There was talk that the Seattle franchise would be moved, but the Storm is settled in the Northwest at least for 2008.

    This takes us to 2008. The Olympics in Beijing could impact the schedule. Taylor of Phoenix has already said that she wants to help the Mercury defend its WNBA championship, but is also torn between that feat and helping her native Australia win a gold medal. Seattle's Jackson is a key part of the Aussies national team. Indiana certainly would miss point guard Tully Bevilaqua, the 2007 WNBA recipient of the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award, who is also a member of the Australia national team.

    Here's what we can probably expect in 2008, providing all of the players are back. The teams are listed in the order they finished in 2007.

    WESTERN CONFERENCE

    Phoenix (23-11)
    Despite predictions of failure by this writer, "Paulball" is in, and is a winner. Coach Paul Westhead, rumored to exit the WNBA to become an assistant at Seattle in the NBA, got it done with his run-and-gun offense, setting the league scoring record (88.97 ppg.) for the second straight year. The Mercury's philosophy is to let the opposition score at will; we'll just score one more basket to win. Four starters averaged double figures in scoring: guard Diana Taurasi (18.6), forward Penny Taylor (17.8), forward Cappie Pondexter (17.2) and center Tangela Smith (12.6). Smith was an important import, when Phoenix traded its No. 1 pick in the collegiate draft to Minnesota for her services. And the glue that keeps this unit together is veteran point guard Kelly Miller, who averaged 9.4 ppg., and 4.5 apg. What are the needs of the champs? Someone up front if Taylor decides to compete for Australia. The bench strength is solid. Better defense is wishful thinking, but would improve the Mercury's scoring differential of +3.56 per outing. Even that wasn't bad, as it was No. 2 in the league behind Detroit (+4.61).

    San Antonio (20-14)
    Was it Dan Hughes or Becky Hammon who improved the Silver Stars' won-lost slate by seven wins? Certainly, the addition of the veteran Hammon in a draft-day trade with New York made a difference. Hammon bounced back from an injury-plagued season by compiling career highs of 18.8 ppg. and 4.9 apg., the latter stat No. 1 in the league. Hammon joined veteran guard Vickie Johnson (they spent eight years together in NY) to combine for 8.7 apg. in the backcourt. Johnson had the best assist to turnover ratio (2.89) in the league. Second-year forward Sophia Young improved her scoring output to 16.8 ppg., and was the team's top rebounder with 197 caroms. In 2008, San Antonio expects the return of guard Erin Buescher, who averaged 11.3 ppg. in 18 games before a season-ending injury. Second-year guard Shanna Crossley was a pleasant surprise, averaging 9.2 ppg., and recording 76 3-pt. baskets, second only on the team to Hammon's 79. A better scoring center than veteran Ruth Riley (5.9 pg.) is needed from the draft, although a healthy Chantelle Anderson would help. (Sylvia Fowles of LSU would be nice, but she won't be available by the time San Antonio chooses.) Hughes-type teams play defense, and the Silver Stars were third in the WNBA in points allowed (73.06 ppg.). This team is still on the rise.

    Sacramento (19-15)
    The Monarchs fell one spot in the West from 2006, and continued to succeed by playing tough team defense (72.94 ppg. No. 2 in WNBA). Up front, scoring power prevailed with forwards Nicole Powell and Rebekkah Brunson averaging 12.8 and 11.3 ppg., respectively. Brunson was also the top rebounder (9.0 rpg.). Guard Kara Lawson came off the bench to be the third-leading scorer (11.1 ppg.). For the fourth straight year, veteran center Yolanda Griffith's point production has decreased (9.1 ppg.). Defensive wizard Chelsea Newton, named to the WNBA Defensive team, and veteran point guard Ticha Penicheiro are solid in the backcourt, but don't provide much scoring output. It's obvious that Sacramento needs scoring help at center and in the backcourt. Stanford guard Candace Wiggins would look good staying on the West Coast. The return of all-star forward DeMya Walker, who played in just five games due to injury, will help in both scoring and rebounding, but she has missed 10 or more games each of the past three years.

    Seattle (17-17)
    The Storm was No. 2 in the WNBA in scoring (80.41 ppg.) this past summer thanks to four players in double figures. Forward Lauren Jackson of course is the leader of the offense (23.8 ppg.), and she rebounds well (9.7 rpg.). All-star guard Sue Bird (10.4 ppg.) is always amongst the league leaders in assists (4.7 apg.). Her running mate, Betty Lennox, is the team's second leading scorer at 13.4 ppg. With Jackson there, Seattle will always be competitive. The bench is weak, so a good draft would help, or the signing of top-flight free agent. The question of where the Storm would be located in 2008 has been settled, and that should be a calming influence on the team.

    Houston (13-21)
    The Comets tied a franchise record for most losses, and it's no wonder being that they began the season by losing the first 10 games. After the third contest, annual all-star forward Sheryl Swoopes was lost for the season with a lower back injury. A new coach, Karleen Thompson, made for more adjustments. Veteran guard Tamecka Dixon came back on July 2 to steady the ship, and Houston was 9-9 the rest of the way to compete for a playoff berth. Dixon averaged 12.0 ppg., second only to veteran forward Tina Thompson, a Gballmag.com second-teamer who averaged 18.8 ppg. and 6.7 rpg., both marks better than her career average. Center Michelle Snow tied Thompson in rebounds per outing while averaging 10.8 ppg. The big question for 2008 is the availability of both Swoopes and Thompson. The latter still has the fire to come back, and most likely will. Swoopes is a bigger question mark. This is a team that could use help everywhere in the lineup. If Swoopes and Thompson do come back, it must be remembered that both have had injuries over the past two seasons, and are 36 and 32 years old, respectively.

    Minnesota (10-24)
    The Lynx could score points (77.53 ppg.), it just couldn't stop anyone (80.94 ppg., second worst). Second-year guard Seimone Augustus turned in a superb season to grab Gballmag.com second team honors. She led the league in points scored (769) and field goals made (296), and was second to Jackson in points per game (22.6). Guard Lindsey Harding was headed for Rookie of the Year honors until she tore her ACL in the 20th game after averaging 11.7 ppg. and 3.9 apg. Center Nicole Ohlde scored in double figures (11.5), and grabbed a team-high 6.1 rpg. Veteran forward Svetlana Abrosimova is solid with 10.1 ppg. and 4.4 rpg., but Minnesota doesn't have much more. Rookie Noelle Quinn showed potential replacing Harding, and averaged 4.4 apg. The good news is that the Lynx finished the regular season on a two-game winning streak. A good draft or a top free agent signing is absolutely necessary for this team to improve.

    Los Angeles (10-24)
    The loss of annual MVP candidate Lisa Leslie to maternity leave, plus injuries to guards Mwadi Mabika and Tameka Johnson were too much for coach Michael Cooper in his return engagement with the Sparks. LA went from best in the conference in 2006 to worst in 2007, the first time the team has ever finished on the bottom. All-star performer Chamique Holdsclaw bowed out to retirement after just five games when she was leading the team in scoring (15.2 ppg.) and rebounding (5.6 rpg.). The addition of center Taj McWilliams-Franklin in a trade with Connecticut was welcomed, as she led the team in scoring (10.9 ppg.) and rebounding (5.7 rpg.). This could be a dynamite team in 2008 if Leslie returns to form and Holdsclaw decides to play again. Can you imagine a frontcourt of Leslie, McWilliams-Franklin and Holdsclaw? Add in Sidney Spencer, who just completed her rookie season averaging 9.6 ppg. and you have a winner. Help is needed in the backcourt unless Mabika and Johnson can revert to their career totals of 11.2 ppg., and 5.2 apg., respectively.

    EASTERN CONFERNCE

    Detroit (24-10)
    You can't get in the draft what the Shock needs: consistency. This is a great team with an all-star starting lineup and the winner of the WNBA Sixth Player Award, forward Plenette Pierson (11.6 ppg., 5.8 rpg.). Five players averaged in double figures. Detroit had its best record since winning its first championship in 2003. The Shock has the best backcourt in the league (disputed by Phoenix, Indiana and San Antonio) in Deanna Nolan (16.3 ppg.) and Katie Smith (13.2 ppg.). It isn't bad up front either. Forwards Cheryl Ford (13.0 ppg., 11.2 rpg.) and Swin Cash (11.1 ppg., 6.1 rpg.) can play with anyone. Kara Braxton (6.7 ppg., 5.4 rpg.) is up and down at center, while third-year center Katie Feenstra (5.2 ppg., 4.9 rpg.) gets better each season. Detroit has the strongest bench in the league. Outside of Phoenix, the only team that can beat this team is the Shock itself. And it has a great coach in Bill Laimbeer. No help is needed here except for a healthy Ford and playing every night like it is the last one.

    Indiana (21-13)
    Here's a team with consistency. For the third straight season, the Fever won 21 games for the most victories in franchise history. Indiana got off to its best start ever, and was one win short of the WNBA Finals. In between the Fever saw how important its all-everything forward Tamika Catchings really is, and what she means to the franchise. Catchings was injured on July 20, and missed 13 games. She still managed to lead the league in steals (66) and was named to the Gballmag.com and WNBA second teams. Catchings came back in the playoffs before another injury halted her postseason. In 21 games, Catching averaged 16.6 ppg., and 9.0 rpg. Center Tammy Sutton-Brown was a tremendous addition to the team, as she was picked up in the Charlotte dispersal draft. Sutton-Brown had 12.0 ppg. and 5.4 rpg. Guard Anna DeForge really came to play in the playoffs after averaging 13.5 ppg. during the regular season, and was as responsible as anyone for Indiana's postseason success. Guard Tully Bevilaqua was on the WNBA All-Defensive team in addition to averaging 5.3 ppg. Veteran forward Tamika Whitmore averaged 10.9 ppg., and second-year guard Tan White averaged 10.8 ppg. coming off the bench. No one knows how far Indiana might have gone with Catchings in good health the entire season.

    Connecticut (18-16)
    The Sun had its worst year since an 18-16 season in 2004. Guard Katie Douglas was Gballmag.com and WNBA second team after leading Connecticut in scoring (17.0 ppg.). Forward Asjha Jones is now starting after being the best sixth player in the league. Jones averaged 15.3 ppg. and grabbed 6.1 rpg. Point guard Lindsay Whalen averaged 13.4 ppg., and handed out 5.0 apg. Forward Nykesha Sales missed eight games, but averaged 13.1 ppg. when in the lineup. Center Margo Dydek doesn't score (6.7 ppg.), but led the league once again in blocks (2.1 bpg.). With Jones now starting, the bench is thin. The Sun needs scoring help up front from either free agency or the draft.

    New York (16-18)
    The Liberty has the youngest starting lineup in the league, and two of the top reserves up front were rookies. Having said this, New York finished the season with a three-game winning streak and extended Detroit to three games in the first round of the playoffs. Forwards Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld topped the worst offensive team (70.97 ppg.) in the WNBA in scoring at 11.2 ppg. and 10.8 ppg., respectively. Center Janel McCarville came from Charlotte in the dispersal draft and won WNBA Most Improved Player honors, averaging 10.4 ppg. and 4.8 rpg. McCarville was the top field goal shooter in the league at 54.6 percent. The most experience is in the backcourt with Erin Thorn (9.7 ppg.) and Loree Moore (9.6 ppg.). Moore was named to the WNBA Defensive team, leading the league in steals (75). Rookies Jessica Davenport and Tiffany Jackson are definitely players of the future, and they combined for 67 games played. Davenport averaged 5.3 ppg. and Jackson had 5.1 points per outing and grabbed 3.1 rpg., while playing 14.0 mpg. Calling 2007 a year of maturing, New York is a team to watch in 2008.

    Washington (16-18)
    Lost out to New York for the final playoff spot on a tiebreaker even though the Mystics won their last game of the season. Washington began the year 0-4, and then lost its head coach to retirement. The Mystics traded for forward Monique Currie and Tree Rollins took over as head coach. The team lost four more games, and then finished 16-10. The success of the Mystics begins and ends with guard Alan Beard. A Gballmag.com second-team performer, Beard averaged 18.8 ppg., 4.2 rpg., and 3.0 apg. She also was on the WNBA All-Defensive team. Veteran forward DeLisha Milton-Jones made the mid-season all-star game, along with Beard, and both players are on the USA Senior National team. Milton-Jones put up 13.4 ppg. and 6.4 rpg. Center Nakia Sanford, in her fifth season, doubled her 2006 output with 11.0 ppg., along with 7.1 rpg. Point guard Nikki Teasley had a so-so year (5.2 ppg., 3.3 apg.), which was lower than her career average. A couple more quality players will make this team dangerous in the future.

    Chicago (14-20)
    The most improved team in the WNBA with nine more victories than in its inaugural season. The Sky improved at both ends of the court. Center Candice Dupree bettered her rookie season, averaging 16.5 ppg. and 7.7 rpg. The second leading scorer was guard Jia Perkins, who came off the bench to average 11.7 ppg. Forward Stacey Dales of ESPN fame pumped in 10.3 ppg. The loss of Chasity Melvin (10.8 ppg.) to injury certainly hurt. The Sky was fighting for a top four finish when Melvin went out after 11 games. One of the keys to the team's improvement was the play of rookie guard Armintie Price, who was the Gballmag.com and WNBA Rookie of the Year. Price averaged 7.9 ppg., and at 5-9 was the team's second leading rebounder (6.0 rpg.). She was also second in steals (40). Price proved what a difference one player can make to the success of a team. Another find in the 2008 draft could make the Sky a playoff participant.




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