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With a little more than a week to go in the 2006 WNBA regular season, the 10th season in league history, here are the top 10 players, teams and storylines that have made headlines for all the right reasons.
Lisa Leslie: Still the Best
Sparks center Lisa Leslie has been the most dominant player in the world for the past decade and she is not ready to give up that title.
Lisa Leslie |
Cynthia Cooper |
|1- Lauren Jackson (2003)|
|1- Yolanda Griffith (1999)|
Leslie, who was recently selected to the All-Decade Team, is currently averaging 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds this season. She has been named WNBA Player of the Week four times this season and recently became the first player in WNBA history to score 5,000 career points.
Among overall league ranks, Leslie ranks third in points per game (20.8), second in rebounds per game (9.8), and first in double-doubles with 15. On the defensive side, she ranks second in defensive rebounds per game with an average of 7.1, third in blocks per game with an average of 1.5. She also ranks No. 14 in the WNBA with 1.5 steals per game.
Connecticut Sun: Burning Bright
While Leslie is an M.V.P., the Connecticut Sun is an entire team full of M.V.P. candidates.
The Sun may very well be the best team in the WNBA, featuring a WNBA-record five All-Stars this season. That's right. Five All-Stars!
Despite falling just short of winning championships in each of the past two seasons, the Sun have already clinched a postseason berth and are on track to win the regular season conference title for the third straight season. The Sun are currently riding an eight-game winning streak, and have four players scoring in double figures.
Leading the way is M.V.P-candidate Katie Douglas (who also won the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game M.V.P.), no longer an underrated player in the shadow of her teammates, with nearly 17 points per game, followed by forward Nykesha Sales 13.7 ppg, Taj McWilliams-Franklin's 12.4 ppg and Asjha Jones 11.4 ppg.
Needless to say, the Sun are a force to be reckoned with and will be a tough team to beat come playoff time.
The Tenth Anniversary: Plenty to Celebrate
Ever think it would last this long?
Well it has, and the WNBA is stronger than ever. We've seen great dynasties in the Sparks and Comets, and both are still going strong.
And speaking of great teams, the WNBA also recognized and honored the All-Decade Team at the All-Star Game this year. Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Cynthia Cooper, Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson were chosen by fans, media and basketball personnel, while Ticha Penicheiro, Diana Taurasi, Ruthie Bolton, Chamique Holdsclaw and were named as Honorable Mentionees.
The WNBA has also teamed up with AOL.com to present fan voting for the Greatest Moments in WNBA history. From great shots to inspiring moments and milestones, this is your chance to re-live the memories that put the WNBA on the map.
Scoring: Up, Way Up
Let's admit it. No one likes low-scoring defensive games unless you are a fan of the winning side.
1. D. Taurasi, Pho, 24.0
|2. S. Augustus, Min, 22.5|
|3. L. Leslie, Las, 20.8|
|4. C. Pondexter, Pho 20.5|
|5. L. Jackson, Sea, 19.2|
Every team is scoring at least 70.0 ppg. Last season, only the Storm and Sun scored more than 70 ppg, with Seattle leading the league with 73.5 ppg. Diana Taurasi is one of four players scoring more than 20 points per game. In no other season have more than two players topped the 20-point mark.
Also note that in every other season, the team with the best scoring differential during the regular season has gone on to win the WNBA championship... and right now, things look good for the Connecticut Sun, who are currently enjoying a +8.6 margin.
Hard Work Pays Off
Indiana forward Tamika Whitmore, who is enjoying a career-year in her first season with the Fever, played in her first All-Star Game this season and has to be one of the leading candidates for the Most Improved Player Award.
Also up for the award is Sacramento's Erin Buescher, who has flourished with more playing time this year, Washington's Nakia Sanford. and Liberty forward Shameka Christon. Christon has shouldered more of the load for the young Liberty, increasing her scoring output from 9 to 13-plus ppg.
A rookie with the Silver Stars in 2004, guard Agnieszka Bibrzycka, also known as Biba, returned in 2006 and is scoring more than 11.0 ppg, up from the nearly 7.0 ppg she scored in her first season.
Yet the most improved player this season is probably Connecticut's Douglas. Yes, she has always been good. But this year she is a bona fide M.V.P. candidate, upping her scoring average from 11.0 to 17 ppg.
The Year of the Rookie
The WNBA is 10 years old and things just keep getting better each season. Need proof?
Look at this year's rookie class, the best in league history. The Minnesota Lynx took Seimone Augustus with the first overall pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft and the Phoenix Mercury took guard Cappie Pondexter. The two rising stars rank second and fourth respectively in scoring.
Augustus is currently scoring 22.5 ppg while Pondexter is averaging 20.5 ppg. They would be the first rookies to score over 20 points per game in history.
But it doesn't end there. Forward Candice Dupree, the first ever pick of the expansion Chicago Sky (fifth overall), is averaging 13.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg and Silver Stars forward Sophia Young is scoring 11.7 ppg. All four rookies played in the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game. Not even the 2003 NBA Draft class of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh can make that claim.
Can't Catch Her
There may not be a better all-around player in the WNBA than Fever forward Tamika Catchings.
Scoring: 16.4 ppg (8th)
|Rebounding: 7.7 rpg (5th)|
|Assists: 3.8 apg (8th)|
|Steals: 2.8 spg (1st)|
|Blocks: 1.3 bpg (8th)|
How so? This week's WNBA Player of the Week leads the Fever in every major statistical category. Last year's Defensive Player of the Year could very well win the award again this year.
Catchings currently ranks first in the league in total steals (70) and steals per game (2.8), fifth in rebounds per game (7.7), sixth in double-doubles (5) and seventh in blocks (32) The league's only player ranked among the WNBA's top 10 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, she is bidding to become the first player in WNBA history to lead the league in steals in three different seasons.
New, Young Stars
If the WNBA is getting older, it's marquee stars are getting younger.
Sure the rookies have been great, but they are not the only young stars who have garnered the headlines this season. Fourth-year forward Cheryl Ford, known for her rebounding, is averaging a career-high 14.4 points per game as well this season. Her offensive game has improved tremendously this season, and her rise to stardom has vaulted the Detroit Shock back to the top. Her league-leading 11.9 rebounds per game is also a career-high.
Her fellow All-Star starter, Mystics guard Alana Beard, has also vaulted to the top of the scoring leaderboard. Her 18.0 ppg are nearly four points better than her previous best. The third year guard has led the Mystics in scoring in 16 of her team's 28 games. She has also eclisped the 20-point mark 12 times this season.
Of course, Ford already has what Beard wants ... a WNBA title. The Shock won the 2003 WNBA championship in Ford's rookie year.
Farewell to Legends
And so the Dawn Staley Farewell Tour rolls on, which she hopes will culminate in her first WNBA championship next month. She has topped double digits in scoring ten times already this season and was voted in as a starter in the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game over other players like Taurasi, Augustus and Pondexter.
While in New York for the festivities, she showed that she still has some tricks up her sleeve in winning the 3-Point Shootout. One of the final stops takes her back to Charlotte on Tuesday, Aug. 8. Staley spent six seasons in Charlotte before being traded at the end of last season.
Upon her retirement at the end of the season, Staley will resume her duties as head coach of the Temple women's basketball team and an assistant coach with the U.S. Women's National Team. But Staley is not the only legend to retire.
Nikki McCray, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and original member of the Washington Mystics, retired earlier this season as a member of the Chicago Sky. Over her career, McCray played in five WNBA cities and scored more than 2,500 career points. The Mystics retired her jersey last month.
Two more current stars, Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith and Sun forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin, have also both hinted that this could be their last season. Even Sparks forward Chamique Holdsclaw has made similar remarks ... of course, that is, depending on how the playoffs play out.
Playoff Chase: It's On!
West: Games Back
The Monarchs and Comets are both approaching their own playoff berths while the Seattle Storm hold a slim lead over the San Antonio Silver Stars and Phoenix Mercury.
The Lynx are on the brink of elimination while the Mercury and Silver Stars have a few games to challenge. If Seattle can hold off the late-chargers, it will mean that all four of last year's Western Conference playoff teams will be back again in 2006, making seven of eight total. Only the New York Liberty failed to make it back, giving way to the Mystics.