2009 First-Half Awards
We at WNBA.com felt that with the WNBA All-Star break fast approaching, this was an opportune time to highlight the best of the best of the first half of the 2009 WNBA season -- the best player, the best rookie, the best coach and other intriguing categories.
Don't agree with our selections? Don't be shy about handing out your awards in the WNBA.com Fan Voice.
Best Coach � Lin Dunn, Indiana Fever
It�s actually difficult not to give the nod to Minnesota�s Jennifer Gillom, who in her first year as head coach has led the young Lynx to a 9-7 record. Gillom�s feat is even more impressive when you consider a.) former head coach Don Zierden resigned just a few days before the season and b.) leading-scorer Seimone Augustus went down with a season-ending knee injury on June 17. But it�s also hard to ignore the fact that Indiana Fever enjoyed a franchise-record 11-game winning streak during the first half of the season that vaulted them to the top of the Eastern Conference and a league-best 12-3 mark. So Dunn gets the edge here. In just her second season as head coach, Dunn has figured out how to divvy up touches for stars Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, balanced playing time at point between veteran Tully Bevilaqua and rookie Briann January, overseen the continued development of Ebony Hoffman, and, perhaps most important, gotten the team to buy into her defensive philosophy.
Most Surprising Team � Indiana Fever
The fact that the Fever are in contention for a playoff spot is not a surprise. But the idea that they have become not only the class of the East, but the class of the league, is. There were doubts about the Catchings-Douglas experiment after the team underachieved in 2008. And after the team started off 0-2 this season, those doubts persisted in Year Two of the duo. But a full training camp together and finally being healthy (!) has apparently made all the difference, and the rest of the team has followed their lead, despite losing
Honorable Mention: Minnesota Lynx, Atlanta Dream.
Best Breakout Season � Charde Houston, Minnesota Lynx
If you were told that the Lynx would lose Augustus in mid-June and that Candice Wiggins� production would actually decline from June to July, you would have probably assumed that the Lynx would have sunk to the bottom of the Western Conference by now. But at 9-7 the Lynx are still holding strong, and a big reason for that is the leap Houston has taken this year in nearly every phase of her game. This isn�t the first time Houston has turned heads with her play. The UConn grad entered the league under the radar after she was picked in the third round of the 2008 Draft by Minnesota and became a steady producer off the bench. This year, however, Houston has literally become an All-Star, averaging 14.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.
Best Comeback � Chamique Holdsclaw, Atlanta Dream
One of the better stories in the first half of the WNBA season has been the return of women�s hoops great Holdsclaw, who came out of retirement to play for the Atlanta Dream after the team acquired her rights from Los Angeles in the offseason. Holdsclaw had been out of the game since leaving the WNBA five contests into the 2007 season, and it wasn�t the only time the talented wing had taken a hiatus from the league. Previously in her career, Holdsclaw had put basketball on the backburner to deal with some personal issues. But at age 31, Holdsclaw is back where she belongs doing what she does best with a new appreciation. And the time away from the court didn�t do much to deteriorate her skills. Through 17 games this season, Holdsclaw leads the Dream in scoring at 15.2 points per game and is also averaging 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg and 1.4 spg. As a result of Holdsclaw�s presence and leadership, the Dream have already surpassed last year�s win total and are in the mix for a postseason berth.
It was tough to decide between these two thrilling affairs so ultimately I called it a draw. Initially, I was leaning toward the Fever-Liberty game, but I was in attendance for that game, so I could be biased. Still, that battle between Eastern Conference titans had everything: great individual performances, clutch shots, inspiring rallies, playoff-like intensity. It was Catchings who forced OT with a three-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation, and Hoffman who hit the free throws that won it in the extra session, but it may be remembered as the game Douglas simply caught fire in the second half and would not let her team lose. The Fever ended up pulling out an 82-81 victory in hostile territory and keeping their winning streak alive.
The Mercury-Monarchs game featured a little less defense, but wasn�t any less intense. In that contest the teams combined for 212 points, 13 lead changes and 16 ties while 12 different players scored in double figures. And there was plenty of drama late, as the final 8.5 seconds featured three straight crucial buckets, starting with DeWanna Bonner�s jumper that put Phoenix up two, followed by Courtney Paris� jump hook that tied it, and ending with Temeka Johnson�s game-winning runner at the buzzer.
Another aspect of that Mercury-Monarchs matchup that made it so entertaining was the number of highlight plays to come out it. One of those was Pondexter�s dynamic spin and dish on a fast break in the third quarter as Phoenix was mounting its comeback. On first glance the play may seem somewhat routine, but that�s probably because Pondexter is so talented that she can make plays like this look rather easy. Watch the play again and take into account that Pondexter was going full-steam down court, spun while keeping her dribble -- and balance -- to avoid a steal attempt by Nicole Powell and then had the presence of mind to find a darting Tangela Smith on the other side of the lane for the lay-in.
Best Rookie � DeWanna Bonner, Phoenix Mercury
Bonner came out of Auburn viewed as a bit of a project, a multi-dimensional player with loads of potential that would need time to develop and fill out her slender 6-4 frame. However, someone forgot to relay this to Bonner, who quietly has put together the finest season of any rookie so far. Bonner, the fifth overall pick in April�s draft, currently leads all rookies in scoring (11.5 ppg), rebounding (6.0 rpg) and double-doubles (3). But beyond the numbers, Bonner has become a valuable asset off the bench for a Mercury team that was done in by a lack of depth in 2008. It�ll be interesting to see what affect the return of
MVP � Cappie Pondexter, Phoenix Mercury
Last year at this time we had a really tough debate on our hands as to who was the league�s MVP at the mid-season point. This year the pool of serious candidates has been whittled down a bit, to essentially Seattle�s Lauren Jackson and Phoenix�s Pondexter and Diana Taurasi. And quite honestly, over the past three weeks it�s been whittled down to just one -- Pondexter. On Monday, Pondexter was honored with her third Western Conference Player of the Week award in as many weeks, marking the first time in WNBA history that a player has ever achieved such a feat. It�s no coincidence that right now the Mercury are also the hottest team in the league, having won six straight to sit at the top of the West with a 12-4 record. For the season, Pondexter is second in the entire league in scoring � behind only Taurasi � and first in assists. Take a second to let that sink in. Second in scoring and first in assists. Again, second in scoring and first in assists. Thanks for making my job easy, Cappie.