Monday, August 20, 2007

Season Award Picks

Meant to do this sooner but here are the Bulletin's picks for this year's WNBA awards, with a little note on each:

Most Valuable Player: Lauren Jackson (Seattle, F/C) 23.8 ppg, 9.68 rbg, 51.9 FG %
(Runner-up: Tamika Catchings, Indiana, F)
Notes: Of any of the awards, this is the easiest to predict. Jackson has been almost unstoppable this year, as she leads the league in scoring, rebounds per game, is third in field-goal percentage and second in blocks per game. At 6-foot-5 and athletic, she is the hardest player to guard in the league whether she's playing as a forward or center. Tamika Catchings (16.6 ppg, 9.0 rbg, 3.14 spg) is the league's best all-around player and would have made this a great race, but she has missed much of the second half of the season after suffering a foot injury on July 20.

Best Defensive Player: Lauren Jackson (Seattle, F/C)
(Runner-up: Alana Beard, Washington, G)
Notes: It's basically the same situation here, with Jackson being a cut above everyone else except Catchings, but the injury makes this a one-horse race. Beard gets a nod here as runner-up, though. The Mystics' leading scorer is also their best defender at 1.94 steals per game, and has been among the leaders in the category all year with Catchings, New York's Loree Moore and the Sun's Lindsay Whalen.

Sixth Player Award: Plenette Pierson (Detroit, F/G)
(Runner-up: Kara Lawson, Sacramento, G)
Notes: This may have been the toughest category to pick, with players like San Antonio's Shanna Crossley (9.0 ppg), Houston's Tamecka Dixon (11.9) and Indiana's Tan White (11.2) serving as viable candidates. But Pierson has been a catalyst in the Shock's run at a second straight title all season, and is playing better than ever. Her 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game are both career highs and she led Detroit in scoring four times this season. Lawson would make a great pick here, too, as she was the only reserve to be named to the All-Star team. Her numbers (11.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.0 apg) back that selection up, but they're not enough to push her past the best reserve on the league's best team.

Most Improved Player: Janel McCarville (New York, C) 10.4 ppg 4.75 rbg, 54.6 FG %
(Runner-up: Asjha Jones, Connecticut, F)
Notes: The first overall pick in the 2005 Draft, McCarville struggled in her first two seasons as her mother engaged in a lengthy battle with cancer before passing away prior to this season. But after a solid campaign overseas, McCarville came back refocused and has been perhaps the biggest reason the Liberty surged into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. She leads the entire league in field-goal percentage and has posted career highs in virtually every category. She's also a solid defender (1.2 spg) with the ability to make a steal in the open court on the quickest of guards.

Jones gets the nod here over several other worthy candidates because of her ability to raise her game under immense pressure. Faced with the task of replacing Taj McWilliams-Franklin in the starting lineup, the former UConn star posted career bests in scoring (15.3 per game), rebounds (6.1) and assists (2.5), and has turned into a lock-down defender capable of handling the best in the league. It all led to her first All-Star selection.

Rookie of the Year: Armintie Price (Chicago, G) 7.9 ppg, 6.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists
(Runner-up: Lindsey Harding, Minnesota, G)
Notes: Harding (11.7 ppg, 4.35 rebounds, 3.9 assists) would have been the hands-down favorite here if she didn't tear her ACL in mid-July. But Price is just as deserving. The 5-foot-9 guard showed an incredible knack for working around the rim and was as durable (she didn't miss a game) as she was consistent. Her season-high was a modest 17 points but she scored in double figures nine times and scored nine points on seven occassions.

Coach of the Year: Bill Laimbeer (Detroit)
(Runner-up: Tree Rollins, Washington)
Notes: Yes, Laimbeer has a heck of a lot of talent to work with, but the fact that few of his players are being considered for season awards and the Shock proved to be far-and-away the best team is a testament to what he was able to do with this club. Even after Cheryl Ford went down, he made the decision to go with Katie Feenstra in place of starter Kara Braxton to carry the load and it worked out beautifully, as Detroit went 9-3 to end the season, only losing after it locked up homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

Rollins may have been the pick here if the Mystics made the playoffs. But there's still no denying what he did, taking over midway through as interim coach and turning an 0-8 team at the start of the year into a playoff contender until the regular season's final day.

All-WNBA First Team:
Center -- Lauren Jackson (Seattle)
Notes: She's technically a forward but is usually regarded as a center in these circles.

Forward -- Katie Douglas (Connecticut) 17 ppg, 4.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists
Forward -- Penny Taylor (Phoenix) 17.8 ppg, 6.3 rbg, 2.9 assists
Notes: Douglas, a first team selection last year, was even better this season, setting a franchise record in scoring and career bests in rebounds, assists, steals (1.9) and three other categories. Taylor was in the same boat and was arguably the first-place Mercury's best player. The 6-foot-1 Aussie started every game and topped 30 points on five different occasions.

Guard -- Becky Hammon (San Antonio) 18.8 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.3 spg
Guard -- Diana Taurasi (Phoenix) 19.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.3 apg
Notes: After being traded from New York, the 30-year-old Hammon enjoyed her best season as a pro, tying Lindsay Whalen for the league-lead in assists per game and finishing among the top four scorers in the league. Taurasi didn't have the season she did last year scoring (a league-record 25.3 per game) but she was a better all-around player this year with career bests in rebounds, assists and steals (1.4) per game. It also helps that the Mercury were the best team in the West behind the former UConn star.

Honorable Mention: Deanna Nolan (Detroit) 16.3 ppg, 4.4 rbg, 3.9 apg
Notes: The league won't give this out but we will. Nolan is considered the league's most athletic player and is certainly one of its toughest to stop. The seventh-year pro set career marks in scoring and assists and has never shot better (46 percent from the field). She also set a franchise-record with 36 points against the Sun on July 24.

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