A Look at the Season's First Half
By Nancy Lieberman
Special to WNBA.com

First half surprises



Coach Van Chancellor gets an A-plus-plus for the job he's done with Houston. It's really been remarkable. I say it all the time. Many times he's gotten Coach of the Year, but he's had the athletes. This year he's got tremendous talent with Janeth Arcain and Tina Thompson, but there's no doubt he's doing his finest coaching this season. They certainly have exceeded everybody else's expectations. They're a very confident bunch. They're still world champions until somebody beats them.

Nobody really knew what to expect with the Comets this year, that's why they have to be the biggest surprise. They had the offseason to prepare for life without Cynthia Cooper, but they didn't have the offseason to prepare for losing Sheryl Swoopes.


During the NCAA Tournament, the funny thing is, Chancellor was driving to one of the regional sites and in his car he had his whole offensive game plan, and every offense -- everything that was drawn up -- revolved around Swoopes. Maybe this is a sign of what happens during the course of the season, but his car got stolen. Maybe somebody was giving him a little foreshadowing, a little peak into what was going to happen. Here, he had everything set up for Swoopes, his car gets stolen and in reality, he didn't need those plays because he had to come up with a whole different offense for Arcain and Thompson.


They have two stars and a pretty important role player in Coquese Washington. I'd say she's been one of the biggest surprises of the season in her consistency and her leadership. In her previous three seasons in the league, she's gotten only rookie minutes. She's playing 32 minutes a game now. She's not going to be perfect, she's not a superstar, but she's very intelligent.

I think Portland has been a surprise, and so has Seattle. I think the expansion teams have done a fairly good job. They had the draft positions, and their rookies paid off.


One team that is just flat-out consistent is New York. You've got to give GM Carol Blazejowski and coach Richie Adubato some credit here. They've been to three of the four championships -- they've been knocking on the door. I think they had the 57th and 60th picks in the 2001 Draft, but they pull of major deals every year, something to fill a hole and give them a little more depth. I'm not saying New York is a surprise. You always knew they were going to be contenders.

I wouldn't really say Cleveland's a surprise. They were so good last year, and they've had tremendous depth. The Sparks are not a surprise. I really think that Portland, Seattle and Houston, to me, are major surprises on the plus side.

The East is somewhat in disarray. Anybody that gets on a winning streak ... if you can hang within two or three games of that third or fourth playoff spot, you'll have a shot by then end of regular season.

Charlotte starts 1-10 and then wins six in a row. The Sting have tremendous talent, and even though they're playing better, they've been disappointing. Anne Donovan needs time to get her team where she wants it to be, but this is the WNBA. It's not a walk in the park. You've got to come with your best coaching strategies. You've got to get players to play above their abilities, you've got to get role players to play better than ever before, and you've got to get your superstars to play like superstars. You can't afford to start the season 1-10, and you can't afford to lose seven in a row.

Mediocrity is ruling. Who's the best of the worst? I don't know if that's parity I would've expected at this point. Let me say that Sacramento is turning it around. I'd put the Monarchs as a top-five team. They're really playing a lot harder for coach Maura McHugh, and she's got them motivated. That's half of it. If you play hard for your coach, if you connect with your coach, you're going to be successful.

Individual players


The rookies have been splendid. Jackie Stiles, I am a fan of hers. I love to watch her play. I know everyone was like, "Can this girl do it at the next level? She's not going to be able to get 20 on the best defensive players in the league -- Bridget Pettis, Vickie Johnson, the list goes on." And all she's done is play great basketball. They've got to be tired, the college kids. You don't get a break. And there's pressure on Jackie night after night. She's good for the game.



This might be the most impacting rookie class ever, from the college kids. Betty Lennox was the only player who had any impact during the 2000 season. This year, Marie Ferdinand is playing well. Semeka Randall might be the biggest surprise of all the collegian rookies coming out and Katie Douglas has played better than people thought. Deanna Nolan was a great pick by Detroit. She plays both ends of the floor and can score. That's an excellent, excellent pick. Stiles and Lauren Jackson are playing exceptionally. They're rookie of the year candidates -- the top two.



I think that Sparks forward Latasha Byears is having a fantastic year. That was a great trade for L.A. I think that Edna Campbell came in when the Monarchs didn't have Ticha Penicheiro and she played at a high, high level in a different position than she normally plays. The Mercury's Lisa Harrison, who's really been in a supporting role her whole career, is having to play at a major contribution level offensively, which has never really been her thing.


Olympia Scott-Richardson is unbelievable. What a story. She comes back, has the double-double against her former team, the Shock. She was ready to play and that helped her game. She's found confidence with the Fever. You have to have coaches who have confidence in you. If someone believes in you, you have a chance. If someone doesn't believe in you, you don't have a chance.

Teresa Weatherspoon has hit some really big shots this year. She's not going to score a lot of points, but she's really a clutch player. Anytime there's a big shot, she's done it a few times this year.


Lisa Leslie has had a very consistent year. She started off slow, but she can get a double-double virtually every night. The thing about Lisa, she's probably the best post player in the world, is that trying to get someone to change their game (to the perimeter) at age 30 is challenging, but all she wants to do is expand it. Lisa has gotten better every year.


I love Katie Smith. I love her game. She's a coach's dream -- she can play every position and she's competitive. She gives you everything you need. If you're going to war, you want Katie Smith on your team. She can play the 1, she can play the 5, she can shoot the three, she can make the great pass, she can break your heart in so many ways.

Second Half Expectations

After all is said and done, I think it's going to be L.A., Houston and Sacramento in those first three playoff spots out West. It's going to be New York-Cleveland or Cleveland-New York again in the East. As far as that last playoff spot in the West, somebody's going to get on a roll. They're going to secure that spot. Whoever gets that spot might not even have a winning record. It's hard to predict what's going to happen with those final two playoffs spots in the East and that one spot in the West.

You can try to predict, but every time you think someone's going to win, they lose. Night to night, you never know what's going to happen in the league this season.


Eastern Conference half-season highlights

Western Conference half-season highlights