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That’s likely why Nolan was named to the 2009 All-WNBA Second Team, the league announced Wednesday afternoon. This is the fifth All-WNBA honor for Nolan, who was on the First Team in 2005 and ’07 and Second Team in 2003 and ‘08. The Flint native doesn’t take the recognition for granted, especially after injuries nearly derailed her season.
“I felt as if I could barely run, play defense, even shoot the ball or get any lift like I normally do when I shoot,” Nolan said of how the injuries affected her. “Making Second Team is a great reward which I didn’t think would happen this season, just because of the first half I had with the injuries and not playing too well.”
Nolan averaged a career-high 17.7 points in 2009 despite playing the first two months in agony. A shoulder injury suffered overseas hindered her throughout training camp and the better part of June. On July 5th she strained her right hamstring against Connecticut and missed the next game, snapping a streak of 111 consecutive games that dated back to 2005.
“I didn’t really practice that much. I was more trying to rest the shoulder, the hamstring, everything that was wrong,” Nolan said. “When one thing healed, another thing popped up.”
The Shock suffered right along with her. Coming off an average of 23 wins over the previous three seasons, the Shock enjoyed consecutive victories just once in their first 15 games, finishing July at 6-9. The inconsistency, Nolan said, was the low point of the season.
“It was always win-one, lose-one; lose-two, win-one,” she said. “It was never two wins in a row and it was like, ‘OK, we’re going to have this type of up and down season.’ When that All-Star break came, I think that’s what we all needed - to get away from each other, refocus and get ready to work after the break.”
A four-time All-Star, Nolan was not named to the All-Star game by the fans or the coaches. At the break, she was shooting 35.9 percent from the field - the lowest since her rookie season - and averaging just 13.0 points per game. Missing the All-Star festivities, however, may have been Nolan’s salvation, because it allowed her eight uninterrupted days of R&R. “It gave me the time that I needed to get back to where I am now,” she said.
In her next game, Nolan scored 22 points in a home win over Minnesota July 31, setting up a torrid second-half performance. She averaged 19.5 points on 40.0 percent shooting after the All-Star break.
Defenses should have keyed in on Nolan after Katie Smith, Detroit’s second-leading scorer and top 3-point threat, went down with a back injury at the end of August. If they did, Nolan enjoyed the attention. In the first game Smith missed, Nolan scored a season-high 34 points with five 3-pointers in an overtime loss at San Antonio.
Since Smith departed the lineup nine games ago, Nolan has averaged 22.7 points, scoring fewer than 19 points just once, and the Shock are 7-2. She was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week the last three weeks of the regular season, becoming the first player in the East to accomplish such a three-peat.
Awards and honors, however, do not give Nolan’s sublime skill set its full due. Statistically, she suffers in comparison to other guards who can boast offensive superlatives she cannot. First Team guards Cappie Pondexter and Becky Hammon, for instance, both finished in the top-five in scoring and assists. But it’s unlikely that the league’s head coaches would name either player to the All-Defensive Team, as they have Nolan the past four seasons.
Nolan said she feels appreciated by the voters, though she acknowledged her numbers might be more eye-popping under different circumstances. The Phoenix Mercury, which set a WNBA scoring record, had two players on the First Team, Diana Taurasi and Pondexter. Taurasi led the league in scoring -- and First Team votes.
“I’m not a selfish player. I look for my teammates more than myself, so maybe they keep that in mind,” Nolan said of the voters, who are selected from national and team-market media outlets. “But if you put me in a system like Phoenix, well, I’d average 20 to 30 points, too.”
While Nolan’s scoring recovered by season’s end, her other figures didn't make it all the way back. She averaged 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists, marking the first time since 2004 that her rebounds and assists combined to total less than 8.0. Her shooting percentages (40.8% FG, 32.5% 3FG, 78.4% FT) dipped slightly as well.
But Shock fans have known all along that Nolan’s brilliance is never in the numbers. It’s in how she rises to the grandest of occasions, and with the Shock two wins away from another trip to the Finals, the best of Nolan in 2009 may be yet to come.