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Orange and Oatmeal: All-Decade Nominees

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April 29, 2006
Good morning, afternoon, and evening everybody and welcome to the seventh edition of Orange and Oatmeal, the WNBA Internet exchange between Kevin Pelton, interactive marketing coordinator for the Seattle Sonics and Storm, and John Maxwell, director of basketball operations and public relations for the Detroit Shock. Be sure to check back for infrequent postings and general East vs. West musings with a statistical bent on the W leading up to and during the 2006 season.

Kevin Pelton: Hey John, can you believe it is WNBA season already? The skies are clear and blue here in Seattle (believe it or not) and the first week of training camp for the Storm has been outstanding. I always love this time of year.

John Maxwell: Can I believe the season is already here? Heck no. I still have way too much work to do prior to the start of the season, and although we’ve had some 60-degree weather over the past several days here in Motown, I’m still waking up to 30-degree temperatures.

KP: Well, I’m sure things will start heating up in Michigan before too long, and while they do, we now have a fun WNBA debate to tip off the season. On Thursday, the WNBA released its list of 30 nominees for the All-Decade Team, which will be voted on by fans, media and WNBA players and coaches.

I thought it might be fun to talk about this initial list before we discuss who we would vote for later on in the process.

JM: I’m right there with you. I’ve been pretty excited about the possibility of an All-Decade Team for a while now, and the debates are already raging on the various message boards. It should be a good time. Rather than go through all 30 names and discuss their merits, we should probably just work backwards, and figure out who doesn’t belong on the list, and who may have been slighted.

KP: It's not just message boards. After practice on Thursday, Storm play-by-play broadcaster David Locke and I joined the local beat writers to discuss the list for at least a good 15 minutes.

When I look at the list, the name that jumps out at me is Rebecca Lobo. I hate to take away from Lobo’s great UConn career or her role in the birth of the WNBA as one of the first faces of the league, but judged strictly on her WNBA career, Lobo doesn’t seem to belong. Lobo was only a starter or a key player during the first two seasons of her WNBA career, before a torn ACL reduced her to a shadow of her former self. Lobo’s career averages of 6.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game simply don’t measure up to the elite players in WNBA history.


"This is where the various definitions that people use to define things like Most Valuable Player and Hall of Famer come in to play."
Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty
JM: I completely agree with you about Lobo - great person, over-publicized player entering the league, underappreciated for the two years she was healthy because of those initial high expectations. However ... and this is where the various definitions that people use to define things like Most Valuable Player and Hall of Famer come in to play ... the league’s press release on the All-Decade Team reads thusly: “Members of the All-Decade team will be selected on the basis of their overall contribution to the WNBA, with consideration given to on-court performance and ability, leadership, sportsmanship and community service, as well as contribution to team success and the growth of women’s basketball.”

I would imagine that this is the same directive that was given to the panel that picked the original list of 30 players, and including non-quantifiable things such as “leadership, sportsmanship and community service, as well as contribution ... to the growth of women’s basketball” means that there are plenty of players that can wiggle into the discussion without having the on-court credentials that I would like to see.

To me, an All-Decade Team should be the 10 best players based on their WNBA careers - PERIOD. That’s not how it was written, though. Thankfully, Lobo seems to be the only player who squeaked on to the top 30 list based more on her off-court credentials.

Now, if you’re voting Lobo off the island, who do you replace her with?

KP: One good nominee is actually about 50 feet away from me as I write this at The Furtado Center, the Storm’s practice facility. Wendy Palmer’s longevity deserves to be recognized. There are seven players, including Palmer, who have participated in every WNBA season thus far and remain active. Six of them are amongst the All-Decade Team nominees; Palmer is the only exception.

Palmer has an All-Star appearance (2000) and would probably have at least one other if the All-Star Game had existed prior to 1999. She was a member of the All-WNBA Second Team in 1997 and ranks seventh in WNBA history in rebounds (1,642) and 12th in scoring (2,937 points). Other than 2003, Palmer has been a starter and key player throughout her WNBA career, and she’s third in league history in games played.

As far as Palmer's leadership, Anne Donovan said this week that she's been "solid gold" off the court. If the All-Decade Team isn’t meant to celebrate players like Wendy Palmer, who is it meant to celebrate?

JM: Hey, at least we agreed on Lobo.

}:>)

To me, Palmer is the kind of player whose case for inclusion on the list of 30 players is based solely on the fact that she has been in the league since its inception and has been good enough to accumulate some impressive cumulative numbers. One of the problems with an All-Decade team is that there are plenty of players who were in their early to mid 30s when the league began, who never had the opportunity to play the number of years that Palmer did - players like Michelle Timms, Ruthie Bolton-Holifield or Kym Hampton.

Now Palmer can’t help when she was born or when the league began, so I don’t hold that against her, but I would like to have seen the Top-30 list lean more towards the players whose contributions are likely to be forgotten, or indeed may have already been forgotten, in the coming years. If I had to pick one player who fits that mold, it would be Vicky Bullett.

I always felt that Vicky was one of the most underappreciated players in the league. She did play in the inaugural WNBA All-Star Game, but she was always overshadowed by one or two teammates in terms of star power - Andrea Stinson and Dawn Staley in Charlotte, and Chamique Holdsclaw in Washington.

Bullett could still probably be playing in the WNBA, but chose to retire from playing in the US following the 2002 campaign. She never missed a game in six seasons with the Sting and Mystics. When she retired, Bullett ranked 12th in the league in points scored (2,018), third in total rebounds (1,191) and was one of only two players with more than 200 blocked shots (288, third in the league) and 200 steals (353, second in the league) in their careers, the other being Lisa Leslie.

So for me, Lobo would be the player I would remove, and Bullett would the player I would add.


"Dydek has led the WNBA in blocks in seven of the nine seasons of its existence. Nobody else has been so dominant in a given category."
Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty
KP: I like Bullett as a choice for the reasons you've mentioned. If I could make one more change, I'd probably trade Diana Taurasi for Margo Dydek. Yeah, Dydek hasn't always had the best reputation around the league, but she's led the WNBA in blocks in seven of the nine seasons of its existence. Nobody else has been so dominant in a given category.

Dydek's career averages (10.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) compare favorably to Bullett's (10.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and she's played 255 career games to Bullett's 186. I consider Dydek a fringe candidate for my All-Decade Team, so she definitely should have been in the final 30.

As for Taurasi, there's no doubt in my mind she will be one of the 30 greatest players in WNBA history soon - possibly even by the end of this season. However, two years aren't quite enough to put her in my Top 30.

JM: I agree with you about Taurasi. I think if I had been on the selection committee, I would have started my list with players who had at least three or four All-Star-caliber years to their credit. Then I think I would have gone down to players who had at least five or six good years with some All-Star caliber seasons thrown in.

Two seasons is an awfully short period of time to make your mark. Is Diana Taurasi a great player? Yes. Does her current body of work in the WNBA indicate that she’s a Top-30 player? Not for me it doesn’t. In ten years, she’ll probably be in the Top-10, but for now, I think I would have left her off the list. We’re ranking players based on what they’ve done, not on what we think they are going to do.

As to Dydek, I think I’d have a tough time adding her. I’m one of the bigger Dydek fans out there because I think too often that we look at a player and focus on what she can’t do rather than on what she can do. Dydek is a defensive force - the best shot-blocker in league history and an Oreck XL Deluxe on the defensive glass. She can help a team win, but her offensive shortcomings are too much for me to get past and include her on the Top-30.

As to who I might add if I dropped Taurasi, some of the names I’ve read on the various message boards include Tari Phillips, Kim Perrot, Betty Lennox and Nikki McCray, but none of those players excites me. So I’m going with Elena Baranova. She’s never put up gaudy offensive numbers, but 10.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.03 steals, 1.53 blocks, 39.1 percent shooting from three-point range and 84.5 percent shooting from the free throw line looks to me like a player who falls outside of the all-time greats, but right in line with the all-time really, really, really good.

KP: I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on which players to add to the list. That's it for this discussion, but readers should check back starting Monday as we go over the actual Top-30 list player-by-player analyzing their chances of making the final 10-player All-Decade Team with the help of a modified version of Bill James's Keltner List using the following questions:

1. Was she ever regarded as the best player in the WNBA? Did anybody, while she was active, ever suggest that she was the best player in the WNBA?
2. Was she the best player on her team?
3. Was she the best player in the WNBA at her position? Was she the best player in the conference at her position?
4. Did she have an impact on a number of postseasons?
5. Was she a good enough player that she could continue to play regularly after passing her prime?
6. Was she selected to any All-WNBA Teams?
7. Do the player's numbers meet All-Decade Team standards?
8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by her statistics?
9. How many MVP-type seasons did she have? Did she ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was she close?
10. How many All-Star-type seasons did she have? How many All-Star games did she play in? Are most of the other players who played in this many likely to make the All-Decade Team?
11. If this woman were the best player on her team, would it be likely that the team could make the playoffs?
12. What impact did the player have on WNBA history? Did she help establish the league? Was she responsible for any rule changes? Did she change the game in any way?
13. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and community service that the All-Decade Team, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?