Head-to-head Finals reveal who's really deserving

Final Judgment

Regardless of who wins Game 5 between the Fever and Mercury, the 2009 Finals has enlightened this WNBA awards voter in two respects:

  1. Indiana’s Lin Dunn, who positioned the Fever to pull off one of the larger upsets in Finals history, is outcoaching my Coach of the Year pick, Corey Gaines. Despite masterminding the league’s record-setting offense, Gaines doesn’t seem to offer much if Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter’s shots aren’t falling. As someone who’s heard Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn’s Shock huddles over the years, it boggles the mind to see Gaines mention defense as seldom as he does, if ESPN2's look-ins are to be trusted.

  2. Tamika Catchings proved she should have been my MVP pick instead of Taurasi, who despite improving her all-around game this year still pales in comparison to Catchings as an overall player. The Mercury struggle when Taurasi can’t score 20, while Catchings could go scoreless and still win the Fever a game. This, her eighth season, may have been Catchings’ best chance to win her first MVP. If she never does, it will be a monumental oversight.

Besides those two votes, I’m pretty content with how my 2009 season awards turned out, especially my All-WNBA First and Second Teams, which were difficult to determine and even tougher to explain. (Thus why I’m finishing this nearly a month after the votes were cast.) I got eight of the 10 All-WNBA players correct, including the entire First Team, missing only the Sparks’ Candace Parker, who in hindsight I should have had on there, and Lisa Leslie, a sentimental pick who played well enough to earn consideration.

There were probably 14 candidates I deemed worthy of the 10 spots, with the pool of forwards to choose from especially deep. The NBA has a First, Second and Third all-league teams, and though there are far more players in the 30-team league, I think you could make a compelling argument for adding an All-WNBA Third Team in 2010.

Because it was so hard to distinguish between First and Second teams, I had two tie-breaking criteria, so to speak: players who played 30 or more games and/or performed particularly well against the Shock got a slight bump over those who didn’t, a credit to consistency and performing well against one of the league’s staunchest defenses.

Becky Hammon (19.5 points, 5.0 assists) and Cappie Pondexter (19.1 points, 5.0 assists) were the only players ranked in the top five of both categories.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
First Team guards: Cappie Pondexter, PHX, and Becky Hammon, SA

Statistically, they were phenomenal, and nearly identical. I couldn’t choose between them, so they got both spots. Hammon (19.5 points, 5.0 assists) and Pondexter (19.1 points, 5.0 assists) were the only players ranked in the top five of both categories, making it hard to demote either one to the Second Team.

Pondexter played all 34 games for Phoenix, which set new league scoring records in 2009, while Hammon carried a heavy load for the defending Western Conference champion Silver Stars, who may have missed the playoffs if not for Hammon’s 32 points in a comeback win in overtime against the Shock Aug. 29.

First Team Forwards: Tamika Catchings, IND, and Diana Taurasi, PHX

Taurasi, the league’s leading scorer for the third time in four seasons, had career high shooting percentages across the board - 46.1 FG%, 40.7 3FG% and 89.4 FT%. She also had career bests in other areas, including rebounds (5.7 rpg) and blocks (1.39).

Here was my MVP rationale a month ago: When the WNBA’s leading scorer, playing for the team with the league’s best record, has arguably the most complete season of her career, it’s hard to go argue against it…

Until you see what Catchings has done in these Finals: 16.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.5 blocks, besting Taurasi in every category but scoring, and even then only by three points. Nobody can fill the box score - the entire box score - like Catchings, and she did it while playing all 34 games for the first time in four seasons. The Finals aren't an aberration.

First Team center Lauren Jackson, SEA

Jackson’s season-high 36-point outburst at The Palace Aug. 18 was one of the most impressive performances I have witnessed in person. The Shock simply had no one who could stay with Jackson, who drained 14-of-24 shots, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range.

There is no shortage of statistical support for the former two-time MVP, who ranked third in scoring (19.2 ppg), fourth in 3-point shooting (43.0%) and second in blocks (1.73 bpg), among her myriad of top 10 rankings. Between Katie Smith’s herniated disk and Jackson’s stress fracture - which forced her to miss the end of the season and the No. 2 Storm’s first-round fall to the third-seeded Sparks - back injuries drastically altered the 2009 postseason.

See the Ryan Pretzer’s All-WNBA Second Team here.