Orange and Oatmeal: 2006 All-Star Reserves

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July 8, 2006
Good morning, afternoon, and evening everybody and welcome to the seventh 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 basketball operations and 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 during the 2006 season.

John Maxwell: Reserves for the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game Presented By Vonage are due to be released Saturday, July 8, at 4 p.m. so whatís say we try and beat the buzzer with our selections? To avoid getting pummeled by our respective Seattle and Detroit players, let's flip the conferences - you take the West, and Iíll take the East.

Kevin Pelton: Sounds good, John.

The voters in the East sent a pair of point guards to MSG, so I'm going to look at the shooting guard position. That's fortunate, because there are a pair of obvious candidates. Washington's Alana Beard has bounced back in a big way after a down 2005 season. She's sixth in the league in scoring at 18.9 points per game and her 58.1 True Shooting Percentage ranks in the league's top 15. Connecticut's Katie Douglas has been nearly as good. Not only is Douglas one of the league's best perimeter defenders, she's fifth in the league in 3-point percentage (46.7%) and also in the WNBA's top 10 in scoring. That's pretty sweet.

At forward, I must first look to John's Detroit Shock and Cheryl Ford, another young player having a breakout campaign. Ford has been her usual force on the glass, leading the league in rebounds per game (12.0) and the more advanced rebound percentage. The difference is Ford has added more offense to her game - a career-high 14.3 points per game on 48.8% shooting. Indiana's Tamika Whitmore is having far and away the best season of her career at age 29. Whitmore is eighth in the league in scoring and has carried an Indiana offense whose other three leading scorers are shooting under 40% from the field.

"Candice Dupree is playing well enough to be selected on her own merits."
Warren Skalski/NBAE/Getty
Center is probably the most difficult call for the East coaches, some of whom will surely slide over Ford. Taj McWilliams-Franklin's legacy of success probably gives her the edge over Washington's Chasity Melvin, but I'm actually not going to pick either of them. Instead, my (purely mythical) vote goes to Chicago's Candice Dupree. You see, I have a rule. When an expansion franchise has a chance to have an All-Star, which would be the highlight of that team's season, and the player is a rookie, and she's playing well enough to be selected on her own merits (13.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, along with being one of only five players league-wide averaging at least a steal and a block per game), I automatically pick that player. So Dupree it is.

That leaves me with one wild-card spot and one obvious choice: Washington's Nikki Teasley. Not only has Teasley been having a phenomenal season in Washington - her 5.7 assists per game lead the league and she's hitting 39.8% of her 3s - she's also exactly the kind of player that livens up an All-Star Game. We learned that first-hand in 2003, when Teasley won MVP honors with 10 points, six assists, six rebounds, five steals and too many highlight plays to count.

With apologies to the two veteran posts I mentioned earlier and a bunch of players on the Shock, that's my roster and I'm sticking to it.

JM: Although there are always plenty of good candidates left on the outside looking in for All-Star games, I canít really argue with five of your six selections. There are others in the discussion, but I canít really say youíve made any outlandish choices.

And Iíll let you slide on the Dupree pick. I both appreciate and empathize with your reasoning, but I donít know that I could talk myself into reaching that conclusion.

As to the Western Conference, WNBA fans left me with some rather easy choices by voting in as starters a few players who were perhaps less deserving than some of their compatriots.

Lisa Leslie is no-brainer number one. The best center in the game is still playing like the best center in the game. Heck, she might even be having her best season as a pro at the age of 34 (Happy Birthday LLL!!). Sheís scoring at a career-best clip (20.6), shooting better than she ever has (53.0 FG%, 46.2 3G%) and still finds time to grab 9.5 rebounds per game, and, oh yeah, sheís 15th in the league in assists!

No-brainer number two is Diana Taurasi. She obviously has the same kind of name recognition as Leslie, but her numbers back up her All-Star candidacy. Defense and ďPaul BallĒ have rarely been mentioned positively in the same sentence, but since when have we cared about D in an All-Star game? Taurasi is third in the WNBA in scoring (22.3), 12th in three-point field goal percentage (39.8) and 11th in assists (3.6).

No-brainer number three is Tina Thompson. After missing most of the 2005 season following the birth of her child, she is seventh in the league in scoring (17.1) while making a career-high 42.2 percent of her three-pointers and handing out a career-best 2.1 assists per game. For good measure she chips in with 5.0 rebounds per game.

"Iíve got Pondexter as the second best offensive player in the league this season based on Dean Oliverís Offensive Efficiency Ratings."
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
So those are my three players who have both the Q Rating and the numbers to back up inclusion on the All-Star Game. Next up are two more no-brainers who are new to the W, but will be forever attached at the hip by virtue of their draft positions in 2006 - Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter. Iíve got Pondexter as the second best offensive player in the league this season based on Dean Oliverís Offensive Efficiency Ratings, and she doesnít fare too poorly in the more traditional stats either. Her 22.7 points per game is second in the league, her 43.0 percent shooting percentage is seventh in the W, and she has 22 turnovers on the season . . . 22 TURNOVERS!!!! Thatís ridiculous for a team that runs as much as the Mighty Merc.

All Augustus is doing for the Minnesota Lynx is leading the league in scoring. And sheís not doing it by hoisting a bunch of ill-advised shots a la Mr. Iverson. Sheís making 47.7 percent of her field goal attempts, 35.2 percent of her three-balls and 88.1 percent of her free throws. Her numbers are even more remarkable when you consider that she doesnít have a Taurasi alongside her to take off some of the pressure of being the go-to- player.

My final selection was somewhat more difficult. Chamique Holdsclaw is having a great season, but has appeared in 12 games this year, all as a reserve. Betty Lennox is producing a lot of points this year for Seattle, but she isnít as efficient as a number of other players. Dominique Canty has had a great season for Houston, but is injured (not that that makes a difference).

But I finally decided on Sophia Young, who has stepped up as a rookie to help lead a resurgence in San Antonio (actually it would probably be just a surgence, since the Silver Stars have never surged to being with). She leads the team in scoring (11.4), is seventh in the WNBA in rebounding (7.6), 16th in total steals (25) and commits just one turnover per game. Sure, thatís three rookies on the Western Conference team, but theyíre three of the best this season.

KP: One player you didn't mention is, in my opinion, the most interesting All-Star question mark. What about Erin Buescher of the Monarchs? Her per-game averages (11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) aren't overwhelming, but Buescher has been as efficient as anyone in the league, shooting 54.4% from the field (third in the league) and getting to the free-throw line a ton. Her True Shooting Percentage is an impressive 60.3% (seventh) and Buescher has also been dynamite on the offensive glass (2.7 per game, fourth). I usually don't like to pick players based on a good half of basketball, but it's so exciting to see Buescher break out (well, not as a rival of the Monarchs, but as a fan of the game) I think you have to consider her.

We'll see in a little bit what the coaches ended up deciding.