Orange and Oatmeal: Picking the All-Star Starters

Bird, Jackson Named All-Star Starters
Orange and Oatmeal Archive
Storm News Archive
July 1, 2005
Good morning, afternoon, and evening everybody and welcome to the first edition of Orange and Oatmeal, the WNBA Internet exchange between Kevin Pelton, interactive marketing coordinator for the Seattle Sonics and Storm, and John Maxwell, director of public relations for the Detroit Shock. Be sure to check back for infrequent postings and general East vs. West musings with a statistical bent on the W throughout the season and beyond.

John Maxwell – Hard to believe that the All-Star Game is less than two weeks away, Kevin. The starters are being announced on Friday, July 1, which means the complaining about fans doing the voting will commence in about . . . oh . . . who are we kidding, the complaining began the instant the ballot was released.

I don’t know where you stand on the issue of fan balloting, but any hand-wringing and tearing out of hair that I used to do in my younger days is long gone. All-Star Games are for the fans, and if, for instance, major league baseball fans want to see the New York Yankees’ Tino Martinez start for the American League, more power to them.

" At the guards, I’m going with Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird. For the forwards, I like Chamique Holdsclaw and Lauren Jackson. All four of those picks, to me, are no-brainers."
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
It’s not like coaches do the best job in the world either. You would have been hard pressed to argue, back in 2000, that Phoenix’s Brandy Reed wasn’t one of the five best players in the world, but after missing out on the fan vote, the coaches snubbed her as well, and it took an act of Congress to get her on the team.

So when you vote for All-Stars do you vote for the players who are having the best seasons? Do you vote for the players with the best careers? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle?

Kevin Pelton: I'm right there with you, John. My hand-wringing peaked a few years ago, but has waned dramatically since then. One thing I've pointed out is that people do use All-Star appearances to determine how good a player was years after the fact, so I think there is some importance, but most of the decisions are close enough that indignation is misplaced.

We happen to come up against the All-Star Game at virtually the same time as baseball, and my baseball-loving ideological counterpart (with the notable exception, sadly, of our feelings on the W) Aaron Gleeman declared last week when picking his All-Star teams that he goes for about 75% past performance and 25% performance this season. I'm a little happier to pick rookies than Aaron is, but I generally agree. I don't think comparing stats of players this season is a fair way to make decisions.

I guess at the end of the day, I would characterize my opinion on All-Stars by paraphrasing Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart – ‘I know an All-Star when I see an All-Star.’ So, that being said, who would you start in the West?

JM: I’m afraid my Western Conference starters aren’t going to be all that exciting for you – no surprises whatsoever. At the guards, I’m going with Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird. For the forwards, I like Chamique Holdsclaw and Lauren Jackson. All four of those picks, to me, are no-brainers in terms of both popularity and talent.

I would listen to an argument for Katie Smith or Sheryl Swoopes as forwards, but I don’t think I’d be swayed, and even though I think Ticha Penicheiro’s open court style of play is tailor-made for the All-Star Game, Bird is my starting point guard.

Coming in to the season, the center spot looked like a tough choice, but with Sacramento playing as well as they are, and Lisa Leslie struggling through her toughest season as a pro to date, I’m giving Yolanda Griffith the nod.

Sorry if that seems boring. Maybe I’ll get more creative when we talk about the reserves next week.

So what’s your take on the East?

KP: John, John, John, don't you have any old ballots hanging around the Shock offices? (We have a few in the cubicle next to me.) Katie Smith is a guard, not a forward, and I think you have to consider her instead of Taurasi. On the other hand, it's hard not to pick Taurasi after that incredible one-woman show she put on against Connecticut last Saturday.

Anyway, to the East. At guard, Deanna Nolan is to me a no-brainer. Her coach at Georgia, Andy Landers, once called her the female Michael Jordan, and while she's not at that level, she's far and away the best guard in the East. Lots of candidates for the other spot. Becky Hammon has come on recently and runs the second-best offense in the WNBA in terms of Offensive Rating. Dawn Staley and Lindsay Whalen rank three-four in the league in assists per game, and if I wanted to go off the ballot, there's a terrific write-in candidate in the likely Rookie of the Year, Washington's Temeka Johnson. But at the end of the day, I have to go with someone who's not really a guard - Connecticut forward Nykesha Sales, who is listed on the ballot as a guard.

Forward is the spot of big controversy with my boss' favorite WNBA player, Swin Cash. Despite not having played a minute all season, Cash is on track to start. This is a case where I think the indignation is misplaced. Cash is one of the ten best players in the WNBA hands-down; so what if she's injured? She's an All-Star.

"Cash is one of the ten best players in the WNBA hands-down; so what if she's injured? She's an All-Star."
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty
That said, I'm not picking Swin. Taj McWilliams-Franklin is the easiest choice on this ballot, a three-time All-Star who leads the league in PER Rating this season. Despite her poor shooting (a dismal 31.1%), Catchings is still second amongst East forwards in PER and given her track record (and the fact that she's probably my favorite player to watch outside the Storm), she's on my squad.

At center, with apologies to Ann Wauters and her career year, I have to go with Margo Dydek. Not only is Dydek having a great season, her mere presence in the Connecticut lineup has changed the face of the East and the WNBA.

Wow … three Connecticut players in my starting five. Is it any wonder they're so good?

JM: Looks like the W beat us to the punch by announcing the starters a little on the early side.

My bad on the Katie Smith forward/guard thing. Yes, I know she’s not a forward. Guess I’d better proof these things before hitting send.

And no, I don’t have any ballots lying around. We filled all of ours out. Even had a woman who works in our mail room, Christina Alvarado, take ballots home to her five children where they formed an assembly line every night for three straight weeks and punched more than 5,000 of them.

Now that’s dedication!

Since we know the results of the balloting, congratulations to Swin Cash, Ruth Riley, Tamika Catchings, Dawn Staley and Becky Hammon in the East, and Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi and Yolanda Griffith out West.

Start to pondering your reserves now that we know who the starters are, and we’ll chat over the weekend. Have a safe and fun holiday!

KP: There were about a dozen ballots left over somehow, but let me do no disrespect to the ballot-stuffing efforts of the Storm and its fans. They did a great job making sure Bird and Jackson ended up starting, with fans filling them out at viewing parties and punching like mad during our last home game against Connecticut. Kudos to all!