Stuffing The Ballot Box

All week long, a big question around here has been fueling arguments getting people all riled up. Performances have been evaluated and critiqued, comparisons have been made and no definite conclusions have been drawn. At least for a little while longer, the debate will rage on.

I'm talking WNBA All-Star balloting. (What did you think I was talking about?)

2007 WNBA All-Star voting, which wrapped up this past Sunday, lasted nearly a month and engaged fans all over the country. And like any other All-Star balloting process, the biggest question was just who to vote for and why. Should you vote based on performance in the first few weeks of the season (not really enough time to judge)? Do you vote based on who you want to see play in the game (then it becomes a popularity contest)? Do you try and get as many teams represented as possible (this isn't baseball)? Vote only for all of the players on your favorite team (Detroit and Seattle fans have answered this one for us). Obviously, there is no right anwer, which is what makes the entire thing so fun (and thought-provoking).

The All-Star Game is for everyone. Yes, all games are for the fans, but what sets this game apart from the regular season is that everything during All-Star Weekend is fun and non-competitive. The game itself is fun, the photo shoots are fun, the practices are fun, the pregame events are fun, the community events are fun, the parties are fun and the fan interaction is fun (the train ride to Washington, D.C.? perhaps not as fun). That's why balloting should be fun, too. We're making way too big a deal about who is getting voted in, who is being left out and how flawed this whole process is (Lighten up!).

As fans, we have the honor of picking the starters. Fortunately, we were able to vote daily (which I did with my morning coffee). Based on how players were playing throughout the voting period, my picks changed and evolved. Not only did I account for recent performance in my picks, but also how players performed in the the second half of last season and through the Playoffs. We should always be selecting players based on a few weeks of games. I also vote for players that I really want to see at the Game (After all, I have to spend time with them during the weekend doing interviews and going to parties, etc.) and who will put on the best show for fans.

Instead of making the case for players and trying to sell you on my picks (since balloting is now over and we'll know soon enough, anyway), I decided instead to share with you what my final ballot looked like as I submitted it before the deadline this past Sunday night. I have no idea how the numbers will add up (ballots are being counted as we type/read this), though I do have my suspicions (things might look a bit different than the second round of results since a few teams that hadn't submitted their ballots yet). So without further delay, here is who I voted for and why.

East Guards

When evaluating how they performed in the past 12 months, it would be impossible not to vote for the Detroit Shock starting backcourt of Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith. In the past 35 games since the last All-Star Game (including the Playoffs but not counting preseason), either Nolan or Smith led the Shock in scoring in 23 of them. Washington's hometown hero, Alana Beard, and Connecticut's Katie Douglas are averaging more points per game than both Shock guards, but not by a significant enough margin for it to matter.

East Forwards

You could make a case for just about every forward in this category. Connecticut's Asjha Jones is having the best season of her career now that she is finally a starter. Her teammate, Nykesha Sales, has been at every All-Star in league history. Swin Cash is having a solid season once again, as is Tamika Whitmore, Shameka Christon and DeLisha Milton-Jones. Even Cheryl Ford, who has missed time with injuries this season, is a viable candidate based on how she finished in 2006.

All good choices. But the two most deserving starters to represent the Eastern Conference as starting forwards are Indiana's Tamika Catchings and Chicago's Candice Dupree. And that's who I voted for on the last day. To this point in the season, Catchings is the leading candidate for the M.V.P. (at least in my opinion). The Fever are off to their best start in franchise history (at least I think they are... who has time to actually do research on these things) and Catchings is up to her old tricks, leading the WNBA in rebounding and steals and leading her team in almost everything else. Dupree is also having a great season and is as responsible as any player for the success of her team thus far. The Sky have already won six games, which is more than they won all of last season. She is the third-leading scorer in the WNBA right now (averaging just under 20 ppg) and fourth in rebounding.

East Center

More than any other category, this pick was made by process of elimination. Kayte Christensen is my girl, but she was the first to go (she's not getting the playing time that the others are getting). Next to get crossed off the list is New York's Jessica Davenport. Look, I like her game a lot. She's going to be a very good player in the league, but she's not an All-Star yet. Kara Braxton has gotten a lot of votes, but she's not my pick. It's not her fault that she has a superb team around her, but just under seven points and rebounds per game doesn't cut it for me. Which means Margo Dydek's 5.8 points and 7.3 rebounds won't either.

That leaves Chasity Melvin and Tammy Sutton-Brown, both of whom I voted for at various times throughout the process. Melvin was traded to Chicago after just the third game of the season and has averaged 10.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game since joining the Sky. Indiana signed Sutton-Brown in the offseason to be another interior scoring and rebound force for the improving Fever, and she has responded by having her best season as a pro. That is why when it came to crunch time, I went with the TSB. (I'm not sure my votes actually counted, anyway.)

West Guards

Switching over to the West, you know they want to rebound from last year's loss in the All-Star Game in New York. The only no-brainer in this category was Becky Hammon, who has been nothing short of sensational this season. Hammon is enjoying a career year so far in her first season in San Antonio, currently leading the WNBA in assists per game and is in the top five in scoring and the Silver Stars have won five straight games. (Sorry to rub it in, Liberty fans.) But for the other pick, that is when the real head-scratching would begin...

Throughout the duration of voting, I went back and forth between three other guards who also got a fair share of my votes. Seattle's Sue Bird is a perennial favorite (not to mention a WNBA.com blogger) and scored 25 points on Friday night to make one last push, but alas she lost out because of some inconsistent play on the offensive end (injuries can do that to you). Also dealing with injuries of her own, Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter deserved consideration when filling out the ballot. She has been a bit inconsistent due to that upper leg issue, but her stats are quite similar to her rookie season (when she was an All-Star).

In the end, I couldn't deny Minnesota's Seimone Augustus the second guard vote. The 2006 Rookie of the Year had been leading the league in scoring for much of that time (until Sunday night) and has considerably improved her 2-point and 3-point field goal percentage in her second year (missing fewer shots is always a good thing). Augustus is a quieter superstar than some of her colleagues around the league, but that's all the more reason why loudmouths like me need to shout her praises.

West Forwards

How come Western Conference Forwards is always the hardest position to pick? The retirement of Chamique Holdsclaw and season-ending injury to DeMya Walker did a little to clear things up, but not much... not when Penny Taylor starts dropping 30 points...

Seattle Storm forward Lauren Jackson was a preseason favorite for the MVP Award and has played up to that hype this season. Not only did the 2003 Most Valuable Player overtake the scoring lead with a 35-point performance in Los Angeles on Sunday night, but she also leads the WNBA in blocks per game and is second to Catchings on the rebounding leaderboard. If that's not an All-Star, I don't know what is.

After LJ, things get a bit tougher. Diana Taurasi, the ejection and suspension not withstanding, is still a fan favorite (even if not a referee's favorite) and is still lighting up the offensive statistical columns. San Antonio's Sophia Young is another deserving candidate and will probably get in as a reserve. But Houston's Tina Thompson deserves to start, and that's why she gets my other vote. With teammate Sheryl Swoopes out for the past three weeks or so, Thompson has done everything she can and more to keep the Comets competitive. Despite the team's struggles, Thompson continues to show why she is one of the best players in the world (18.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 2.5 apg).

West Center

Okay, so maybe this one is the hardest category. (I used to think All-Star balloting was fun. Now it just gives me agita.). Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith is a living legend and continues to anchor the best team in the West. Seattle's Janell Burse continues to improve every year and is averaging the best numbers of her career. Nicole Ohlde and Michelle Snow are actually scoring more points per game than any other centers in the West, but I couldn't justify voting for two Comets and Lynx starters (they have the worst records in the conference).

So it comes down to Mercury center Tangela Smith and L.A.'s Taj McWilliams-Franklin who have nearly identical numbers. They are both averaging 12.7 ppg, Taj has one more rebound per game but Tangela has more blocks. Both were All-Stars last year (I remember clearly when Tangela showed up like three hours before the game...). I went with Taj because she is now carrying more of the load for her team and because I'm not sure how many All-Star Games she has left in her career.

No matter how the votes shake out (We will know on July 3), the WNBA All-Star Game really is one of the most exciting events on the calendar and something I find myself looking forward to each season, often before the first ball is tipped up on Opening Day. You can't always control who makes the Playoffs and Finals, but you do have a say in this one. That's what makes it so great.

And if you don't believe me, then come see it for yourself...

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