The 2007 Midseason Awards
In addition to the fireworks, hot dogs and pasta salad, there is something else to celebrate this week. This weekend will mark the halfway point of the 2007 WNBA season (we hardly knew ye). Actually, there is no real halfway mark because teams will play their 17th game anytime between today and next week. But since we'll be too busy following around the All-Stars next week in Washington (for the annual midsummer classic), now is as good a time as any to give out the 2007 Midseason WNBA Awards!
Again, I'm just one man and I have no say in the actual voting for the awards at the end of the season. That said, all of the fake midseason awards will be decided by me (1-0 votes) right now because, well, this is my column. There cannot be any ties (ties are a cop-out).
Most Valuable Player
Across the landscape of sports, this award has come to mean many different things. Depending on the sport and the voters, the award could be given to the best offensive player, the best all-around player, the best player on the best team or the player most responsible for the success of the team. Rarely does the winner encompass all of those attributes. But the two leading candidates for the WNBA Most Valuable Player Award at the halfway point are all of those things. One is a former winner and the other has yet to break through despite being the runner-up on a few occasions.
After weighing all factors, Storm forward Lauren Jackson loses out to Indiana's Tamika Catchings for one key reason: The Indiana Fever (along with the Detroit Shock) have the best record in the league. She is doing more with "less" around her (though Anna DeForge is an All-Star starter and they could potentially have one or two others playing in the game). Statistically speaking, it's pretty much a draw. Catchings is scoring six fewer points per game than Jackson and the two are virtually tied for second in rebounding behind Detroit's Cheryl Ford. Jackson shoots 40% from 3-point range and also leads the league in blocks. Meanwhile, Catchings is tops in steals and has nearly four assists per game.
Just like the WNBA does, I'm going to place two guards, two forwards and a center on my team. Because Lauren Jackson is technically listed as a forward-center, we're going to put her as the starting center on our team with Catchings as the other unanimous selection at forward. At the other forward, it has to be Tina Thompson, who continues to excel despite her team's struggles. Despite only four wins (worst in the league), Thompson is consistently putting up 20 points and six rebounds. Sheryl Swoopes has not played in weeks, but the Comets would be 0-16 without Thompson. At the guard spots, Becky Hammon is a lock for the First Half First Team (fifth in scoring, first in assists) and Deanna Nolan earns the last spot on account of her team's success and her part in that (posting the best numbers of her career).
Seimone Augustus and Diana Taurasi are scoring phenoms who make their offenses go. For forwards, I'm going with Candice Dupree and Alana Beard (she's playing a lot of 3 for them this year) and my center is Cheryl Ford. (I agree she's not a center, but she was an All-WNBA Second Team center last season, so it counts.) For the first time in history, there is neither a Swoopes nor a Leslie on these teams. (The times, they are a-changin'.)
Defensive Player of the Year
Once again, this one comes down to Catchings and Jackson. They dominate every statistical category and anchor their teams on both ends. Catch has won the award the past two years and will probably win it again. And she should. She will become only the third player to win the award three times (joining Swoopes). As a team, the Fever are allowing 69.0 ppg, best in the league. She is as tough down in the paint as she is defending on the perimeter.
Catchings is joined on this team by her Indiana teammate, Tully Bevilaqua, who we saw pick the Liberty clean like four times in the first five minutes of a game against the Liberty. Along with Jackson, who was a second-teamer in 2005, Connecticut's Katie Douglas and Washington's Alana Beard round out the First Team (I'm aware that that's three guards, but we'll make Douglas a forward for the purpose of this team). The Second Team includes New York Liberty guard Loree Moore (who is quietly becoming one of the best defensive players in the league), the Detroit tandem of Nolan and Ford, Candice Dupree and at center, it should be the Sun's Margo Dydek.
Rookie of the Year
For the second year in a row, the Rookie of the Year will be a member of the Minnesota Lynx. Point guard Lindsey Harding was the top overall pick back in April and has not disappointed. She has stepped right into the lineup and is the second-leading scorer for Minnesota behind Augustus. She's also averaging four assists and more than four rebounds per game. Her only legit competition is a 26-year-old "rookie" in Los Angeles (but we'll deal with her separately).
No, they're not bringing this award back (the WNBA used to give this out in the early days), but for the purposes of this column, we're making Sparks guard Marta Fernandez our top newcomer of the first half. In her first season, the Spanish national is scoring 12.3 ppg and averaging 4.1 apg. With the loss of Lisa Leslie to pregnancy and the retirement of Chamique Holdclaw, Fernandez has become one of the primary go-to players for the Sparks.
Since this is a relatively new honor and I cannot remember whether or not there is a First and Second Team or just the top five players, we're just going to stick with a First Team (it's just the Midseason Awards, people!). Harding and Fernandez are obvious, but that is where the debate begins. Third overall pick and Sky guard Armintie Price has been inconsistent on the offensive end as she learns the ropes in the WNBA, but her 8.8 ppg and 7.4 rpg are easily good enough to qualify for this team. The second pick in the Draft, Liberty center Jessica Davenport, may not be among the top scorers (6.4 ppg), but her presence on both ends of the floor has contributed to the improvement in New York. The last spot will go to L.A.'s Sidney Spencer (because I feel like she might introduce me to Candace Parker someday).
Coach of the Year
This is a tough one, but it comes down to one of two coaches. As they currently are in the standings right now, both the Chicago Sky and New York Liberty would be in the Playoffs (with the Sun and Mystics two and three games behind them, respectively). That is just crazy. Without any expectations whatsoever, both teams are 8-8 and do not play again until the weekend. So with only one vote and no ties, I'm giving the nod to Bo Overton. As a first-year coach with less experienced players, Overton had more shaping and crafting to do. Coyle has coached several of these players before and already had a system in place. Also, the Liberty have struggled of late and are the only team not scoring 70 ppg as a team. That said, both have done a great job (though no coach with a .500 or worse winning percentage has ever won the award).
Most Improved Player
When the Connecticut Sun traded veteran forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin to the Sparks in the offseason, it meant that Asjha Jones, who had been the first player off the bench the past three seasons, would finally get a chance to start (she started seven total games in her first three seasons with the Sun, but has already started 16 this year). She has not disappointed. Even though the Sun have already lost more games than they did all of last season, Jones is scoring 16 ppg and pulling in nearly 7 rpg. But perhaps more importantly, Jones is really hoping that it is her TEAM that is most improved in the second half, so that they can qualify for the postseason.
Since Asjha Jones is no longer the top reserve off the bench (a role typically called "Sixth Man"), we need to unofficially proclaim a new queen. As far as I know, there is still no Sixth Man Award for the WNBA, but that isn't stopping me from naming one for the first half of the season. It has to be Sacramento's Kara Lawson. She has come off the bench in all 17 games so far this season, a role she played so well for the Monarchs 2005 championship team (and Chelsea Newton's return has made it all possible).
Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award
Well we know Diana Taurasi is not winning this one. (Just kidding, Dee, you know I love ya.) Actually, I think I'd give it to Sophia Young. I think she's a good sport, so why not?
These aren't really awards, but there are prizes given to the top scorer and rebounder. At this point, I'm going to go with Seimone Augustus to win the scoring title and Cheryl Ford to win the rebounding title. (I know, I'm really going out on a limb with that one.)
So that's all for Midseason Awards... be sure to check back during the 2007 Playoffs to see who wins the real deal.