A Very Good Year
Coming into the 17th WNBA season there was great anticipation that the influx of exciting new talent, coupled with the continuing emergence of already established top players -- including the 2012 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists -- would drive the league to new heights on and off the court. As the Minnesota Lynx and their fans bask in the glow of a second championship in three years, it's fair to say this did indeed happen, with the quality of play on the court and general buzz around the league registering at an all-time high. Below, in no particular order, are some of the top highlights of the 2013 WNBA season.
The Big Three (or "Three to Fear" as they've been referred to in Minnesota) of Maya Moore (2013 Finals MVP), Seimone Augustus (2011 Finals MVP) and Lindsay Whalen are deservedly now household names to fans of the W, and were the top contributors on the 2013 title team. But we'd be remiss if we didn't mention key off-season acquisition Janel McCarville, X-Factor Monica Wright, perennially under-the-radar stud Rebekkah Brunson, and emerging energy player Devereaux Peters.
Led by Head Coach Cheryl Reeve, the Lynx closed the deal again this season with Moore's power and athleticism, Augustus' silky smooth moves and Whalen's old school, point-guard-as-floor-leader skills. But with McCarville, Wright, Brunson and Peters as capable supporting players, an argument can be made that the 2013 Minnesota Lynx were the most talented and deep team in the history of the league, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.
Despite the three-game Finals sweep, Game 3 may be a key indicator of big things to come in Atlanta as two young players, second-year southpaw Tiffany Hayes (out of UConn) and rookie guard Alex Bentley (Penn State) both demonstrated fighting spirit against Minnesota. Hayes scored 20 points, including 4-of-6 from three, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists, while Bentley had 18 points, 3-of-5 from three, six assists and three steals.
Perhaps the season's biggest highlight was Griner's clutch game-winning shot against the star-studded L.A. Sparks in the playoffs, a snapshot of the things-to-come in Phoenix, particularly if Griner can overcome the nagging injuries which slowed her progress in 2013.
HEART OF A CHAMPION
Injuries took their toll, however, but true to form, Catchings and the Lin Dunn-led Fever made a passionate late-season run to the playoffs and managed one of the upsets of the year by knocking off the Chicago Sky in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
EDD, SKY'S THE LIMITThere is a new team in town in the East and it's the Chicago Sky. The debut of rookie sensation Elena Delle Donne was nothing short of spectacular, with the 6-5 newcomer unveiling a dizzying display of skills: long-range shooting, sick handle and mid-range game resulting in landslide Rookie of the Year acclaim. EDD's abilities exceed the box score, as her intangibles, from her veteran-like calm in the clutch, to her savvy court-awareness, were just as impressive as her league-best percentage from the free-throw line.
PARKER COMES OF AGE
MR. THIBAULT GOES TO WASHINGTON
Thibault relied on a mix of established veterans (Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie and Matee Ajavon), key acquisitions (Ivory Latta and Kia Vaughn) and draft picks (Tayler Hill, Emma Meesseman and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt) to rebuild the Mystics, who can now build on the post-season experience gained in 2013 when preparing for what could be a promising 2014.
FAREWELL TO THE QUEEN
Thompson, the only W player to compete in all 17 seasons, the first No. 1 pick in league history and the leading points scorer in league history, turned back the clock in her final season, leading the Storm in both scoring (14.1 ppg) and rebounding (5.8 rpg), in addition to earning a well-deserved All-Star game nod. With the recovering Bird and Jackson slated for a return in 2014, Brian Agler's Storm are on course to keep their playoff streak alive.
Other highlights for the Shock include the development of a promising nucleus of young players, including 2013 All-Star Glory Johnson, Aussie center Liz Cambage and much-heralded No. 3 pick Skylar Diggins.
KATIE SAYS GOODBYE
While the Liberty had a challenging 2013, Smith, a two-time WNBA champ and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, didn't disappoint, becoming the second leading scorer in WNBA history, surpassing her former Olympic teammate Lisa Leslie, before hanging up her sneakers for the last time as a WNBA player.
SILVER LININGSWith Becky Hammon and Sophia Young unavailable due to injury, several players stepped up and grabbed the additional minutes and responsibility for the San Antonio Silver Stars, particularly guards Danielle Robinson and Jia Perkins and post-presence Danielle Adams. Robinson, perhaps the speediest player in the W, not only led the league in assists, averaging 6.7 per game, but earned a Second Team All-Defense nod, as did Perkins, who averaged 13.9 ppg for San Antonio. Adams posted a team-high 14.4 ppg. Robinson also made some noise in her first WNBA All-Star game.