Looking Back: State of the 2012 WNBA Season

After winning gold together for Team USA, Seimone Augustus, Candace Parker and Angel McCoughtry (from left to right) will once again become rivals in the season's second half..
Jesse D. Garrabant/NBAE via Getty Images


While Team USA yielded little drama while in London – winning games by an average of 34.4 points – on its way to an unprecedented fifth straight gold medal, what lies ahead in the second half of the WNBA season for the USA’s 12 conquering heroes is much more uncertain.

With WNBA action resuming on August 16, there’s currently no clear-cut favorite to win the title. There are three teams with 15 wins (Connecticut, Minnesota and Los Angeles) and two more with double-digit win totals (San Antonio, Indiana). The Olympic break should’ve provided time for teams to rest up, get healthy and focus on the season’s final two months.

But, before we talk about where we’re going this season, let’s talk about how we got here.

The 2012 WNBA season started the way the 2011 season ended – with the Minnesota Lynx seemingly unable to lose. The Lynx, who have three players that came home with gold, stormed out of the gates by winning their first 10 games to set a new WNBA record for most consecutive wins to start a season. And, if you go back to the 2011 postseason, the defending champion Lynx, prior to suffering their first loss of the 2012 season against Seattle on June 17, had won 16 straight games overall.

When it comes to streaks, however, the San Antonio Silver Stars had the last laugh in the first half. After a 2-4 start to the season, the Silver Stars rattled off wins in 11 of their next 12 games. Better yet, they ended the second half winning their last nine, claiming two wins over Western Conference rivals the Los Angeles Sparks and one against the aforementioned Lynx. Becky Hammon, who played for the Russian National Team in London, Sophia Young and Co. will try to make it ten in a row on August 17 versus Tulsa.

While San Antonio has a healthy win streak intact, teams that couldn’t stay healthy played a key factor in the first half. Phoenix was most devastated by injuries by losing Penny Taylor to a torn ACL in early April and having Diana Taurasi sit out all but two games due to a hip injury. As a result, the team struggled to a 4-13 record, but with Taurasi coming back to team up with DeWanna Bonner (20.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and lightning rod rookie point guard Samantha Prahalis, Phoenix could be an entirely different team the rest of the way.


Lauren Jackson's return will make Seattle a dangerous team in
the second half. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
Another key injury struck Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince, who broke her right foot on June 16. Prince, who was leading the league in scoring at the time of the injury, had three straight 30-point games in early June and she finished with a 22.3 points per game average in nine games. Immediately, the Sky sorely missed her presence. In the eight games Prince played - prior to getting injured eight minutes into Chicago’s ninth game – the Sky were 7-1, at the top of the Eastern Conference. Since then, the Sky have fallen to 8-9. When Prince returns, which could come as early as August 17 when the Sky take on Team USA’s Angel McCoughtry and the Atlanta Dream, she will form one of the best inside-outside combos in the league with Olympian Sylvia Fowles.

Another reunited inside-outside tandem will be Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Jackson, a three-time MVP, opted to train with her Australian team, along with Tulsa’s Liz Cambage, and did not play for the Storm in the first half. Jackson is planning on returning to Seattle’s lineup early next week and Seattle, currently in the fourth playoff spot out West, will get a substantial boost from her presence in the paint.

With both injured stars and Olympians returning to their WNBA teams, the second half of the WNBA season will be a sprint to the finish. So, before the starter fires his gun, it’s time to give out some awards for the first half. We don’t need to tell you who the top player or top team of the first half is -- that’s what Race to the MVP and Power Rankings are for -- but here are six other superlatives from the first half.

Top Rookie: Nneka Ogwumike

When the Sparks won the 2012 draft lottery, they won the right to select Nneka Ogwumike, everyone’s choice for the top overall pick. Through the season’s first half, the Stanford product has been everything she was billed up to be and more. She is leading all rookies in points (14.1) and rebounds (7.5) and is shooting 50.7 percent from the field.

An athletic and tough forward, Ogwumike is a double-double threat every night. In the first half, she saved her best for last as she recorded only the second 20-point, 20-rebound game of the year (and jus the 12th in league history) in L.A.’s last game before the Olympic break against Tulsa. Those 22 points and 20 rebounds are just some of the reasons why she is this year’s top rookie. All respect to Samantha Prahalis in Phoenix and Tulsa’s Glory Johnson, but Ogwumike has clearly separated herself from the rest of this rookie class.

Best Individual Performance: Candace Parker (June 13)

This was a tough one. It was between Candace Parker against Connecticut on June 13 or Candace Parker against Tulsa on June 20. In the latter game, the 6-foot-4 forward recorded 33 points, eight rebounds four assists AND nine blocks – yet that’s not even Parker’s best performance of the first half. On June 13, Parker racked up an identical 33 points on 12-for-22 shooting and also contributed a season-high 16 rebounds to go along seven assists and three blocks.

When healthy, there’s no player quite like Parker and she has shown why in 2012. This has been her best season in the WNBA since her MVP season in 2008 and after a strong showing in the Olympics, particularly in the gold medal game against France, it appears Parker may have a few more otherworldy performances in store for the second half.

Coach of the Year: Dan Hughes

The only thing that could stop the Silver Stars over the last month of the first half was the Olympic break itself. Despite a slow start, coach Dan Hughes took a team that won a total of 18 games last year to a 13-5 record in the first half. Hughes has maximized his team’s potential as many players are having career years under his tutelage. In the stretch where San Antonio won 11 of its last 12 games to close out the first half, the Silver Stars’ average margin of victory was 11.6 points per game.

Hughes also emerges as the top coach because San Antonio has performed well against the league’s top teams. The West is stacked with talent this year – three teams have at least 13 wins – but San Antonio beat Los Angeles three times and Minnesota once.

Breakout Performer: Kristi Toliver

Sure, the Sparks have the frontrunners for both MVP and Rookie of the Year, but point guard Kristi Toliver has been one the biggest catalysts for team’s success. In her fourth year, Toliver is obliterating her previous averages. In three years prior (93 games), Toliver averaged 9.2 points, 2.0 assists and 1.9 rebounds. Through 21 games this season, the Maryland product is averaging 17.4 points, 5.0 assists and 3.6 rebounds.

What’s even more impressive is that Toliver was really only thrust into the starting lineup after an injury to point guard Sharnee Zoll in the preseason. A streaky shooter from downtown, Toliver makes the Sparks a daunting task for any team to defend when she is on.

Best Moment: Toliver's Game Winner (May 29)

Call it a feel-good story wrapped up in just a 40-minute game. On May 29, the Sparks, then 3-1, took on the Tulsa Shock, then 0-3. On paper, it shouldn’t have been that memorable of a game, but Kristi Toliver changed all that. In 32 minutes of action, Toliver had the sloppiest game of her career as she committed a WNBA record 14 turnovers. As a result of an inefficient offense, the heavily favored Sparks were in a tight game with the Shock in the fourth quarter. In fact, L.A. was down 75-73 in the game’s closing seconds. Conventional wisdom would be to get the ball to the hot hand, which Toliver certainly was not, but nevertheless the Sparks turned to a non-dettered Toliver to win the game.

Given the name of the superlative, you know what happened next. Toliver drove down the left side and made a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, her only of three of the game, to seal the victory in one of the only buzzer beaters in the WNBA this season.

Craziest Stat Line: Maya Moore (July 12)

It’s hard to be surprised when it comes to Maya Moore’s abilities. The 2011 No. 1 overall pick has everything you could ask for in a wing player, but her performance against the Shock on July 12, the last game before she joined Team USA, had to have raised the eyebrows of even her staunchest supporters. Moore, who owns a career average of 14.8 points per game, scored 19 points – in the second quarter alone. That tally was a Minnesota franchise record.

Moore finished that game with 28 points on 8-for-12 shooting and she hit 11 of her 12 free-throw attempts. The UConn product also chipped in with a season-high 11 rebounds. Many predicted that this would be the year that Moore took a leap into superstardom and games like this one provide a telling glimpse at her extremely rare talent.

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