WNBA Tip-Off presented by Boost Mobile: Stories for the 16th Year
We spent 2011 -- the WNBA's 15th year -- honoring the past. Celebrating the steps, the people and the moments that took the 'W' from a fledgling league in 1997 to the world's premier destination for women's basketball in just 15 years.
But that doesn't mean the 2011 season didn't leave us with some new memories, too. From the rising crescendo of the Maya Moore Era to the history-obliterating run of the Minnesota Lynx to the scoring race between Angel McCoughtry and Diana Taurasi that basically came down to a single field goal across the season (Taurasi won by .07 points per game), 2011 didn't disappoint.
And it wasn't even an Olympic year.
So what's ahead in 2012, a season that'll see the London Games press pause on the action from mid-July to mid-August? Find out here.
Birth of a DynastyHeading into the 2011 season, the Minnesota Lynx didn’t have a whole lot to show from a dozen years of existence. They’d made the Playoffs twice, but picked up exactly one Playoff win and a grand total of 235 losses (along with 165 total wins). Then came 2012. And with a healthy Seimone Augustus back in the lineup every day for the first time since 2008, Lindsay Whalen turning out the best season of her career, Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin anchoring the middle and Maya Moore entering the fray – along with a second unit that’d start on some teams – the Lynx broke new bounds at every point in the season. Minnesota set a team record for wins, finished six games better than anyone else in the WNBA during the regular season, then picked up its first Playoff series win two rounds before taking home the WNBA title. Now, after some maneuvering that landed them Devereaux Peters at No. 3 in April’s Draft, they’re even better. And that all means that 2012 could be just a race for second.
London 2012Not only will the Olympics plant a monthlong hiatus in the middle of this season (July 14-Aug. 15), they’ll also steal away some of the WNBA’s premier talent, as players like Seattle’s Lauren Jackson (Australia, along with Tulsa Shock center Liz Cambage) and Atlanta’s Erika de Souza (Brazil) won’t join their WNBA teams until after the Games. San Antonio’s Becky Hammon will play for Russia again, according to the national team, and will join the club in June. As for the US National Team, the usual suspects will head to London, with Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi leading the Americans’ effort to capture their fifth straight gold.
Penny Taylor’s InjuryTaylor would’ve missed the first half of the Phoenix Mercury season to work with the Australian National Team, but her return would have given Corey Gaines’ team a boost as potent as any during the Playoff chase. But an ACL injury suffered while playing in Turkey ended Taylor’s WNBA (and international) season before it began, forcing the Mercury to go without one of the league’s best all-around players.
Freshman RushThe talk surrounding this year’s WNBA Draft held that it was – at best – a carousel of questions, with virtually no locks beyond No. 1 pick Nneka Ogwumike. At worst, it was a buffer between the 2011 Draft that ushered in the Maya Moore era and the 2013 one that promises to spill Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins and Elena Della Donne into the league. But remember the 2011 NBA Draft? How all worthwhile players stayed in college because of the impending lockout, and this year’s rookie class wouldn’t have any impact players? So do Kyrie Irving, Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Brandon Knight, Kawhi Leonard and Isaiah Thomas (the very last pick of that draft class). Don’t be surprised if a number of uncelebrated names light up the league in 2012.
Candace Parker’s PresenceOver the past two seasons, Parker’s spent more time off the court than on it. In 2010, a shoulder injury knocked her out for all but 10 games (a 10-game stretch in which she averaged more than 20 points and 10 boards), then in 2011, a torn meniscus she suffered just six games into the season kept her out until the home stretch, when the Sparks were already on the wrong side of the Playoff race. But in those 10 games, she got back to dominating, finishing the 2011 season with 18.5 ppg and 8.6 rpg averages. If she can stay healthy, she remains one of the world’s most dynamic players, and paired with No. 1 pick Nneka Ogwumike – not to mention new acquisition Alana Beard – she could turn the Sparks back into contenders this year.
Angel’s Bling (or lack thereof)Atlanta Dream guard/forward Angel McCoughtry now owns two of the top three single-game scoring marks in WNBA Finals history, after breaking her own mark of 35 with a 38-point effort in Game 2 of last year’s Finals. More and more, she’s rivaling Diana Taurasi (who won the scoring title by .07 of a point in 2011) for the title of league’s most unstoppable offensive force. Yet for two straight Finals, she hasn’t been quite enough to push the Dream to a win, with Atlanta taking six consecutive losses in the year’s final series. Has she evolved into the kind of player that can take the Dream – in only their fifth year of existence – to the Promised Land?
Bird Still the WordSue Bird was an outside favorite for MVP last year, after the longtime veteran nearly singlehandedly kept the Storm afloat while Lauren Jackson recovered from an injury. Not only did the Storm have to go without their main source of points and rebounds, they had to entirely re-work their offense, going from a center-and-spokes model with Jackson at the core to a more free-flowing one that relied on Bird’s skills as a floor general. They finished with the second-best record in the league. With Jackson gone until August, they’ll need Bird to do more of the same this year.
The Emergence of MayaWhen Maya Moore went first overall to the Minnesota Lynx in the 2011 Draft, the future of the league – and, for the very optimistic, the future of women’s sports – walked across the stage and into the arms of expectations. She then fell silent for a few months. She contributed from the start, sure – and did more than enough to almost unanimously win the 2011 Rookie of the Year award – but on a team full of stars, Moore just fell into the constellation. Never one to promote herself, Moore spent the year doing what she had to do to help the team and avoiding the spotlight. Turns out she did it all at about 70 percent. So with a year of experience behind her, expect 2012 to be the year when she fully arrives. Of course, she’ll have to share the pie with Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson (among others). But with the way this team plays, there’ll be more than enough to go around.
Shock TreatmentThe Tulsa Shock had a tough 2011. Finishing the year at 3-31, Tulsa set the record for fewest wins in a WNBA season and endured one especially stinging losing streak that saw them drop a record 20 games in a row from June 25 through Aug. 25. Now, they’re heading into the 2012 season without two of their top three leading scorers, with Tiffany Johnson out for the year due to pregnancy and Liz Cambage out due to Australian National Team obligations. However, a young core of talent centered around draft picks Glory Johnson and Riquna Williams – not to mention Ivory Latta, the team’s second-leading scorer from 2011 – and a brand-new head coach in former Indiana assistant Gary Kloppenburg have the team looking at a far, far brighter future.
Posting UpGuards tend to be the ones who command attention. Taurasi. Bird. Pondexter. Augustus. But right now, we’re witnessing the ascent of two centers that could end up as two of the league’s all-time greats. In Connecticut, Tina Charles rolled out an MVP-caliber campaign in 2011, with 17.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Sylvia Fowles carried Chicago almost by herself last year, racking up 20.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2 steals a game for the Sky and earning Defensive Player of the Year honors.
The Only Prescription is More Catchings (January, too)After wrapping up the most important – if not outright greatest – season of her career, 2011 WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings had the Indiana Fever just one win away from a trip to the WNBA Finals last September. Then, late in the Fever’s Game 2 loss to the Atlanta Dream, calamity struck again. A foot injury in the waning moments of the game added yet another bullet to Catchings’ long injury history and kept her – and, by extension, the Fever – from a trip to the Finals and a chance to bring home the legend’s first WNBA title. Now, Catchings and point guard Briann January (ACL tear in 2011) are healthy again and the Fever look to be the class of the East.
On the Up & UpThe 2011 season brought increased attendance for the fifth consecutive year , while TV viewership on ESPN2 reached its highest level since 2005. In addition, the league also formed eight new marketing partnerships in 2011 with several leading companies, including a landmark multiyear deal with Boost Mobile that made the company the WNBA’s first league-wide marquee partner. WNBA and Boost Mobile will continue full force into the 2012 season with increased activation at league premier events including WNBA Draft and serving as a presenting partner of select performance awards including MVP.
Chicago HopeOver their six years in the WNBA, the high point of the Chicago Sky dynasty came in 2009, when the Sky went 16-18. Not only has Chicago never made the Playoffs, it’s never even had a winning season. After showing some promise in 2011 – thanks largely to Sylvia Fowles’ brilliance on the inside – the Sky lost eight of their last 10 to finish 14-20. But there’s reason for optimism in Chicago after an offseason that brought in Swin Cash, Ruth Riley, Ticha Penicheiro and Le'coe Willingham (and their combined eight WNBA championships) as additions to the young nucleus of Fowles, Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot.
Changing DirectionsAfter seasons that fell short of expectations – in different ways – the L.A. Sparks and Tulsa Shock brought new coaches, with LA picking Carol Ross from the Atlanta Dream staff and Tulsa going with former Indiana Fever assistant Gary Kloppenberg. Ross comes in with the hopes of returning L.A. to glory (it’s been nine years now since the Sparks won back-to-back titles) after turning Florida into an NCAA women’s hoops power and helping to take the Dream to two straight Finals in their first four years of existence. Kloppenburg, a former Charlotte Bobcats assistant before stints in Indy, Seattle and Phoenix, becomes a head coach for the first time.
Title IXAll year long, WNBA.com will be commemorating the 40th anniversary of the landmark decision in women’s sports. Stay tuned for interviews, features and more celebrating the legislation that turned millions of dreams into reality and allowed, quite simply, for this to all be possible.
Best Seat in the HouseThe WNBA’s mission has long extended outside of the court, with special emphasis placed on social responsibility and community involvement. Now, that mission’s permeating many of the league’s front offices, where women – under-represented as executives in America – hold ownership stakes across the league. Female owners include Sheila Johnson of the Washington Mystics, Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler of the Atlanta Dream, Paula Madison of the L.A. Sparks, and even Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child is part of a group of minority owners of the Chicago Sky. In Seattle, three Seattle Storm fans formed an investment group, and drew enough local support to buy the franchise: Lisa Brummel, Ginny Gilder, and Dawn Trudeau.