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
else's expectations. They're a very confident bunch. They're still world champions until somebody beats
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
coach Maura McHugh, and she's got them motivated. That's half of it. If you play hard for your coach, if you
your coach, you're going to be successful.
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
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
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
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
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
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
going to happen in the league this season.
Copyright 2002 WNBA Media Ventures, LLC. All rights reserved. No portion of
WNBA.com may be duplicated, redistributed or manipulated in any form. By
accessing any information beyond this page, you agree to abide by the
. Employment opportunities