BY: ABACUS REVEALS
Was the WNBA’s schedule-maker trying to be funny, mean-spirited or just marketing-savvy?
The best women’s pro basketball circuit in the world ended its 33-day work stoppage a mere five days after the wrap-up of the competition for London 2012. Re-opening night offered the potential of a match-up of Team USA’s dream backcourt of Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury vs. the Seattle Storm featuring Sue Bird (though not yet All-World Australian star Lauren Jackson, who had been showing a lot of Kevin McHale-like post play in her stint with the national team).
Such quick turn-arounds are nothing new to a female pro hoopster, the most successful of whom (including any WNBA star worthy of note) can and do regularly play highly competitive ball eleven months a year. While the eagerness of successful newbies like the Los Angeles Sparks’ nonpareil Nnemkadi Ogwumike and versatile Tennessee ex Glory Johnson of the Tulsa Shock is to be expected in this new world of play-for-pay, the wisest among the pros who didn’t go to London used the month-long sabbatical for rest and recuperation. San Antonio’s Sophia Young chose not to play overseas at all following the 2011 WNBA season, and she’s a key cog on a genuine title contender, the hottest team in the league heading into the break.
The New York Liberty had limped through July, their post situation so dinged-up and bleak they nearly turned to Isiah Thomas for help. But restored health, particularly to veteran Plenette Pierson, jumped started the Gotham Girls to a decisive 79-66 victory over East-leading Connecticut in their first game back Thursday night in Newark. The Liberty’s ultra-athletic scoring machine Cappie Pondexter, perhaps still stinging from her exclusion from the Olympic experience, contributed 24 points, five assists and a very aggressive attitude. Gold-medal winner Tina Charles, her hustle and hook shot arrived safely in New Jersey for the Sun, though not her timing or rhythm.
Defending champion and West-heading Minnesota blended its three returning gold medalists quite smoothly while dispatching the Washington Mystics as if they were Olympic preliminary-round cannon fodder. Sadly, Ms. Pondexter’s Liberty have no more match-ups with Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and the rest of the Lynx. She’ll simply have to take out her frustration on the rest of the league and hope Maya Moore’s magic brings the Minnesota Wrecking Crew through to them in the Finals.
Here are two more players who, like Cappie, may be operating with a chip on their shoulders. Guard Erin Phillips of the Indiana Fever was passed over for the Australian national team. The return of her countrywomen (Jackson, Tulsa’s Elizabeth Cambage, Jenna O’Hea of LA) may have induced a heady nine-point, four-assist bench effort Thursday, albeit against the Mystics.
The other extra-feisty player to keep an eye on is Becky Hammon of Dan Hughes’s determined Silver Star outfit. A medalless, still ringless Hammon is likely to have a focus like no other time during a Hall of Fame career fueled by grit and wit. Minnesota’s gold reflects nicely in the Land of so many Lakes, but the stars at night are big and bright (especially in Baylor country) deep in the heart of Texas.
The Lynx, Silver Stars, Sun and LA Sparks (with their one-two punch of the otherworldly Candace Parker and Ogwumike) have been the cream of the 2012 WNBA crop. (That theme of “Fourplay” epitomizes elite women’s ball this year, as Stanford, Notre Dame, UConn and undefeated Baylor were the clearly superior teams in college ball.) Those four teams, in that order, are the most offensively efficient teams in the league, and all rank in the top six in defensive efficiency.
The first half’s most efficient defensive team, even without the inside presence of Brazilian Olympian Erika de Souza, was the Atlanta Dream. Big Erika might be another candidate for the “Chip on the Shoulder” Club after her squad’s dismal showing in London. And was Angel McCoughtry’s impressive performance with the Golden Girls an indication that she’s ready to challenge Ms. Parker for the title of most talented American female hoopster?
With all the Olympic and Title IX hype, a steady stream of gifted young players (Griner, Diggins and Delle Donne due to arrive in the next draft), and an overall growth in the game, these would seem to be the glory days for the WNBA. Ogwumike (a 22-point, 20-rebound gem against Tamika Catchings and Indiana), Johnson (a 30-point explosion against the Lynx) and the Mercury’s Samantha Prahalis (filling in ably for injured veterans Taurasi and Australia’s Penny Taylor) are adjusting nicely to the size and speed of the pro game. Grizzled veterans like Pierson (Abacus feels old—his daughter played against Plenette in high school), former Houston Comet mainstay Tina Thompson of Seattle, DeLisha “D Nasty” Milton-Jones of the Sparks and Minnesota’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin channel their inner-Robert Horry and chase a championship.
Three-time MVP Jackson is expected back with the Storm this week, the 6’8” youngster Cambage will join the Shock for its final 10 games according to ESPN, and nobody seems to know what’s up with Taurasi.
Phoenix wouldn’t be tanking its season for a better draft positioning, would they?