Picking Sides for "The Game"

The middle of the season means, traditionally, it’s time to think about All-Stars. Because of the Olympics break, the WNBA won’t have a traditional All-Star game this season, but The Game at Radio City, which will pit Team USA against a group of the best non-Olympians the WNBA has to offer. The game takes place on Aug. 5, and the roster will begin taking shape this Thursday when the media – the same group of three broadcasters and beat writers per WNBA city and 12 national columnists that votes for post-season awards - chooses the WNBA All-Star team's starting lineup. A week later, coaches will choose five reserves, and WNBA fans will subsequently get their opportunity to make their voice heard by selecting the final player for the squad.

Alas, storm.wnba.com’s vote does not count, but here’s a look at what our WNBA All-Star roster would look like:

(All stats as of July 9)

Point Guard: Nikki Teasley, Los Angeles
The MVP of the 2003 All-Star Game, Teasley has firmly established herself as one of the WNBA’s top three point guards, and the other two - Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi - are on the U.S. Olympic team. Teasley has led the WNBA in assists per game most of the season while ranking in the league's top three in assist-turnover ratio. An argument can be made that with Ticha Penicheiro's assist numbers way down, Teasley may be the WNBA's best passer. Teasley's scoring has dropped somewhat this season, but she remains one of the league’s best long-range shooters.

Shooting Guard: Anna DeForge, Phoenix
While Taurasi has gotten the majority of the credit for the Mercury’s strong start this season, DeForge has been just as good this season. Her performance - 13.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.7 steals per game and a 57.2% true shooting percentage - has demonstrated not only that DeForge's breakout 2003 campaign was not a fluke, but that she may actually have been held back by Phoenix's lack of offensive talent. With Carrie Graf on the sidelines and Taurasi and Penny Taylor in the backcourt, DeForge has thrived, sharing ballhandling duties with Taurasi and taking some of the pressure off of her. Still only two years removed from being out of the WNBA, DeForge could be the best story of "The Game" if she's selected.

Small Forward: Nykesha Sales, Connecticut
Sales has been on the court for every All-Star Game in WNBA history, and while not being selected technically wouldn't end her streak, she still deserves to be on the Radio City court. At 15.8 points per game, Sales ranks eighth in the WNBA and second only to Olympic-bound Swin Cash amongst small forwards. She's also done it with some of the best efficiency of her career, shooting 43.9% from the field, above her 42.1% career mark. On the defensive end, Sales ranks second in the league with 2.2 steals per game.

Power Forward: Chamique Holdsclaw, Washington
Holdsclaw's absence from Team USA - she is far and away the biggest star not on the roster - remains something of a mystery. "From what I am told, she was not offered a spot," Nancy Lieberman wrote in a recent edition of WNBA.com's Ask Nancy. "I can't tell you the reasons, but a lot of people think Chamique actually turned down USA Basketball. You never know who is telling the right story, of course... I have heard both stories." Whatever the reason, Team USA's loss is the WNBA All-Star's gain, as Holdsclaw is off to another terrific start - 21.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg - and will anchor the squad from the power forward position.

Center: Tammy Sutton-Brown, Charlotte
Alas, Sutton-Brown's native Canada is not in the Olympics, leaving her free to join the WNBA All-Stars. The versatile Sting center ranks sixth amongst players at her position in scoring, third in rebounding, third in blocks, second in field-goal percentage and fifth in efficiency. In most of those cases, the players ahead of her are Olympic-bound Lisa Leslie, Yolanda Griffith and Elena Baranova. An All-Star in 2002, Sutton-Brown is clearly deserving of a repeat of that honor.

Backup Point Guard: Lindsay Whalen, Connecticut
After a slow start to her rookie season, Whalen has been simply fantastic since then and is one of the biggest reasons the Sun has vastly outstripped its preseason expectations. Despite turning the ball over too much - nearly three times per game - Whalen has been an offensive force. She's currently tied with Teasley atop the league in assists, and it is Whalen who has handed out the most assists in the league on a per-minute basis. Whalen's 43.7% shooting is unimposing, but factor in her threes and nearly a free-throw attempt per field goal tried and she's got an ultra-efficient 59.3% true shooting percentage. (The four WNBA players with the greatest differences between their true shooting percentages and field-goal percentages - aka secondary percentage - are Teasley, DeForge, Whalen and Olympian Katie Smith.)

Backup Shooting Guard: Betty Lennox, Seattle
Lennox's recent battle with a fractured nose may cost her the chance to start "The Game", but she's certainly earned her way onto the roster. DeForge, Smith and Lennox are the only three shooting guards ranked amongst the WNBA's top twenty in efficiency rating, and those who have watched the Storm night in and night out will tell you that accurately reflects Lennox's value. Detroit's Deanna Nolan is the only other two guard scoring more points than Lennox (but doing so with lower efficiency), while Lennox leads all guards in rebounds per game. Here's hoping Lennox is out of the mask and able to shine on a national stage.

Backup Small Forward: Mwadi Mabika, Los Angeles
A two-time All-Star, Mabika is probably having the second-best season of her career after 2002, which resulted in an All-WNBA First Team selection. Mabika isn't scoring as many points as that year on a deeper Sparks squad, but her 43.0% shooting from the field and 39.5% from downtown are both career highs. Mabika is also well-regarded for her defensive ability.

Backup Power Forward: Cheryl Ford, Detroit
Last year's Rookie of the Year hasn't suffered from any sophomore slump, averaging 11.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. That ties Ford for first in the league with Leslie, but on a per-40 minutes basis, Ford's 14.0 rebounds are nearly two better than any other player in the league. With either Holdsclaw or Ford in the game at all times, the WNBA All-Stars should be able to handle Team USA on the boards.

Backup Center: Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Connecticut
McWilliams-Franklin hasn't gotten a lot of attention this season, but the three-time All-Star in Orlando has been playing just as well for the Sun in her second year back after giving birth. McWilliams-Franklin is averaging 11.8 points per game on 47.4% shooting, pulling down 7.4 rebounds and blocking 1.1 shots per game. Sutton-Brown has been the slightly better hyphenated center this season, but McWilliams-Franklin is right there with her.

11th Player Candidates:
PG: Becky Hammon, New York
SG: Vickie Johnson, New York
SF: Sheri Sam, Seattle
PF: Wendy Palmer, Connecticut
C: Nicole Ohlde, Minnesota (officially listed as a forward on the media's ballot)

Any of these five players would be deserving picks, but the odds are that the Liberty will get a representative playing in their temporary home at Radio City Music Hall. Hammon may be having a slightly better season, but Johnson has the more accomplished WNBA career and gets the nod here, which would be her first All-Star pick since 2001. The notable omission from the 11th player candidates is Detroit center Ruth Riley, who has slumped a bit from last year - when she wasn't an All-Star - going from 49.8% shooting to 44.4%