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WNBA Decade In Review: 2015

League Champion: Minnesota Lynx (Third title in franchise history)

Top Draft Pick: Jewell Loyd (SEA, University of Notre Dame)

 

Awards

 

Top Players

  • All-WNBA First Team: DeWanna Bonner (PHX), Tina Charles (NYL), Elena Delle Donne (CHI), Angel McCoughtry (ATL), Maya Moore (MIN)
  • All-WNBA Second Team: Tamika Catchings (IND), Brittney Griner (PHX), Candace Parker (LAS), Epiphanny Prince (NYL), Courtney Vandersloot (CHI)
  • All-Rookie Team: Natalie Achonwa (Tie) (IND), Brittany Boyd (NYL), Ana Dabovic (Tie) (LAS), Jewell Loyd (SEA), Kiah Stokes (NYL), Ramu Tokashiki (SEA)
  • All-Defense First Team: Tamika Catchings (IND), Brittney Griner (PHX), Briann January (IND), Angel McCoughtry (ATL), Nneka Ogwumike (LAS)
  • All-Defense Second Team: DeWanna Bonner (PHX), Tina Charles (NYL), Sancho Lyttle (ATL), Kiah Stokes (NYL), Tanisha Wright (NYL)

 

Stats Leaders

  • Points Per Game: Elena Delle Donne (CHI): 23.4
  • Rebounds Per Game: Courtney Paris (TUL): 9.3
  • Assists Per Game: Courtney Vandersloot (CHI): 5.8
  • Steals Per Game: Sancho Lyttle (ATL): 2.3
  • Blocks Per Game: Brittney Griner (PHX): 4.0

 

Regular Season

After finishing with 12 wins in 2014 – their lowest win total since 2001 – the Seattle Storm won the Draft Lottery and held the first pick in April’s WNBA Draft. In addition to holding the No. 1 pick from the lottery, the Storm also made a trade with Connecticut to acquire the Nos. 3 and 15 picks in the draft and guard Renee Montgomery in exchange for Camille Little and Shekinna Stricklen.

At the draft, the Storm selected Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd with the No. 1 pick, making her the first Fighting Irish player ever chosen with the top pick. After the Tulsa Shock chose Amanda Zahui B. of the University of Minnesota with the No. 2 pick, the Storm added Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from Connecticut at No. 3.

Once the season tipped off, it was clear that Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne was back and ready to take her game to new heights. After a remarkable rookie season that saw her finish third in MVP voting, Delle Donne was limited to 16 regular season games during her sophomore season due to the effects of Lyme Disease.

Delle Donne opened up her third WNBA season by scoring at least 24 points in her first seven games, including a pair of 40-point performances, highlighted by a career-high 45-point effort in a win over Atlanta. Delle Donne became the fourth player in WNBA history to have two 40-point games in the same season – and she did in the same month.

Behind the play of Delle Donne, the Sky finished the season at 21-13, second in the Eastern Conference behind New York. The Liberty posted the top record in the league at 23-11 behind the play of Tina Charles, who averaged 17.1 points and 8.5 rebounds in her second season in the Big Apple.

In the West, the Minnesota Lynx finished atop the conference standings for the fourth time in five years as they went 22-12 during the regular season. The Lynx also executed one of the biggest in-season trades in WNBA history when they acquired Sylvia Fowles from Chicago as part of a three-team deal with the Sky and Dream. With Seimone Augustus missing time due to injuries, the mid-season addition of Fowles helped bolster the Lynx and added another All-Star to their already stacked roster of talent.

The defending champion Phoenix Mercury finished second in the West at 20-14 and did so without Diana Taurasi, who sat out the 2015 WNBA season. The Mercury were led by DeWanna Bonner (15.8 PPG) and Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner (15.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG), who averaged a WNBA-record 4.0 blocks per game.

 

Some major milestones were set during the 2015 season:

  • Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry became the second-fastest player in league history to reach 4,000 career points. McCoughtry hit the milestone in her 206th game; only Taurasi did it faster in 197 games.
  • Seattle’s Sue Bird became the first player in WNBA history to reach 5,000 career points and 2,000 career assists; she was just the 13th player to reach the 5,000-point benchmark at the time (by the end of the decade that number climbed to 21).
  • While Seattle’s No. 1 pick Jewell Loyd would win Rookie of the Year in 2015, the Storm still struggled to amass wins as they finished the year at 10-24. Seattle’s biggest win of the year came in September – months after the 2015 season concluded – when they won the Draft Lottery for the second straight season to speed up their rebuilding process.
  • After receiving relocation approval from the WNBA Board of Governors in July, franchise majority owner Bill Cameron announced on Nov. 2 that the Tulsa Shock, which were newly relocated to Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, would begin play in 2016 as the Dallas Wings.
  • Two days later, the WNBA announced that Laurel J. Richie, the third President in league history, would be leaving to pursue other interests, including serving as a board member of several for-profit and not-for-profit institutions. Richie ended a tenure that began on April 21, 2011.

 

All-Star

The 2015 WNBA All-Star Game featured 10 first-time All-Stars as the top players from the East and West competed at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Elena Delle Donne led all players in fan voting, followed by Skylar Diggins and Maya Moore.

Moore scored an All-Star Game record 30 points to lead the West to a 117-112 win over the East. Moore scored eight straight points in the final two minutes that turned a one-point deficit into a seven-point lead for the West. After the East cut the lead to five, she hit another jump shot to seal the win for the West.

Moore was named Most Valuable Player, becoming only the second player (along with Lisa Leslie) to win all the MVP honors that the league awards: league MVP (2014), Finals MVP (2013) and All-Star MVP (2015).

 

Playoffs

  • West Semifinals: Minnesota Lynx def. Los Angeles Sparks, 2-1
  • West Semifinals: Phoenix Mercury def. Tulsa Shock, 2-0
  • East Semifinals: Indiana Fever def. Chicago Sky, 2-1
  • East Semifinals: New York Liberty def. Washington Mystics, 2-1
  • West Finals: Minnesota Lynx def. Phoenix Mercury, 2-0
  • East Finals: Indiana Fever def. New York Liberty, 2-1
  • Finals: Minnesota Lynx def. Indiana Fever, 3-2

 

In the Western Conference, the playoffs played out according to the seeding: in the opening round, the No. 1 seed Lynx defeated the No. 4 seed Sparks, while the No. 2 seed Mercury defeated the No. 3 seed Shock. In the Conference Finals, the top-seeded Lynx swept the Mercury to advance to the WNBA Finals for the fourth time in five years.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference had some upsets: in the opening round, the No. 1 seed Liberty prevailed over the No. 4 Mystics after dropping the first game, while the No. 3 seed Fever eliminated the No. 2 Sky in three games. In the Conference Finals, the Fever pulled off another upset as they defeated the top-seeded Liberty in three games to get back to the Finals for the first time since 2012.

That set up a rematch of the 2012 WNBA Finals, which the Fever won in four games. For the first time in six years, the WNBA Finals needed the full five games to determine a champion. The first four games of the series were each decided by single digits – none closer than Game 3, which provided one of the biggest shots in WNBA playoff history.

With the scored tied at 77 in the closing seconds of Game 3, Indiana’s Shenise Johnson missed an open 3-pointer and in a scramble for the rebound, the ball went out of bounds off Indiana to give Minnesota possession with 1.7 seconds to play. After a timeout, Lindsay Whalen inbounded the ball and found Maya Moore just outside the 3-point line. Moore gathered the pass, gave a ball fake and sidestepped around Fever defender Marissa Coleman to free herself for the game-winning shot. Moore drained the shot at the buzzer, the officials took a few moments to review the shot with replay and confirmed it was good to give the Lynx an 80-77 win and a 2-1 series lead.

The Fever would respond in Game 4 on their home court as they earned a 75-69 win to force a decisive Game 5 back in Minnesota and improved to 5-0 in elimination games during the 2015 postseason. However, that record would end at 5-1 as the Lynx took the winner-take-all Game 5, 69-52, behind a 20-point, 11-rebound performance from Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles. The Lynx won their third title in five years and for the first time clinched the championship on their home floor in front of their fans.