And without further or do, grades:
1. Los Angeles Sparks (12-6)
W/L Record: A-. The Sparks are 9-2 at home while they are 3-4 on the road. Most of those losses were against top opponents, though they have since won three straight road games, which includes one against Phoenix.
Young Player Development: B-. Nneka Ogwumike got her first All-Star bid this year. However, other younger players and rookies like Jantel Lavender, A'dia Mathies, and Farhiya Abdi haven't been playing a steady flow of minutes, and in Abdi's case, she has a large number of DNP-coach's decisions.
Overall Grade: B+. So far so good for the Sparks. They now head on a five game road trip and if they can continue to string wins on the road, they could be the team to beat in the Western Conference Playoffs.
Has Candace Parker answered the bell by being on the hot seat? No, not yet. The reason why is only because at this point, Parker has to get into a WNBA Finals and we're still in the regular season. But she has otherwise played at a very high level. No one else gets on the hot seat for now.
Best Case Scenario - 1st in the West, and the team wins the ship!
Worst Case Scenario - Team falls to #2 or #3 and loses in the first round of the playoffs.
2. Minnesota Lynx (14-3)
W/L Record: A. I expected to see this team as the #1 team in the West. I didn't expect to see them in position to match their 2011 and 2012 regular season records. That alone gets them an A. Also, their only losses have been on the road to the Sparks, and also in DC to the Mystics which is their only truly bad loss of the year.
Young Player Development: B. Maya Moore is developing into the top wing player in the league, but we were expecting this since she started playing in the pros. While Monica Wright is the clear sixth man for the team and Devereaux Peters is playing good minutes off the bench, the team's three rookies: Sugar Rodgers, Lindsey Moore, and Rachel Jarry aren't much more than extra dancers after each Lynx home win.
Overall Grade: A. So, it looks like I discounted young player development, but this team is designed to win now and it legitimately can. Are they winning now? You bet they are! That said, Reeve should try to see which of the three rookies is best fit to get regular minutes in the rotation now, because you never know when they're going to have to step up and play major minutes with championships on the line if there should be injuries at the top of the roster.
Has Cheryl Reeve answered the bell by being on the hot seat? Reeve is still on the hot seat, and the answer to this question will be determined at the end of the season. That said, she has led this team to a juggernaut level despite many thinking that Phoenix will simply win it all just because Taurasi is back and Griner's now on the team.
Best Case Scenario - Just like LA. 1st in the West, and the team wins the ship!
Worst Case Scenario - Team falls to #2 or #3 and loses in the first round of the playoffs. So just like LA.
3. Phoenix Mercury (9-9)
W/L Record: C-. Normally, you'd think that a team that's at .500 is getting a grade better than a C-. However, I thought that this team would be playing at a higher level than where they are. I didn't think that the Mercury would be swept by the Lynx, and also there were a number of inferior teams that they have lost to such as the Storm on the road and the Stars at home. This team is certainly playing better in a win and loss perspective than last year, but it's still clearly a work in progress.
Young Player Development: B-. Brittney Griner has had a knee injury but otherwise has played like the defensive presence I thought she can be. Briana Gilbreath has started most of the team's games this season and has been their glue player of sorts. Lynetta Kizer and Krystal Thomas are playing spot minutes. Also, I can't help but think that the team mishandled the Sammy Prahalis situation. It's amazing to see that a player can start, and fall out of the rotation faster than I can blink. I thought Jordan Crawford's situation was bad when he was still on the Wizards, but this one arguably tops that.
Overall Grade: C-. So this team is built to win now, and has shown its moments. However, the Mercury is inconsistent and the second half will show us if Corey Gaines can get this team playing more consistently. In addition, Gaines MUST keep Diana Taurasi's temper under control due to the number of technicals she has this season where she's already earned a suspension for it. Her suspension due to technical fouls is as much on his shoulders as it is on hers. Lastly, how does Sammy Prahalis fall out of favor that fast?
Has Diana Taurasi answered the bell by being on the hot seat? Yes, she has for the most part with her play. She is the second leading assister in the league, after Prahalis fell out of favor at the point guard position. She is also still the leading scorer in the league. I actually like DT at point guard full time to be honest and my ideal point guard unlike some others, is someone who is great at scoring and can make plays for others.
However, like I said about Gaines needing to keep her temper in check, Taurasi has to stop getting T's. The Mercury needs her shooting and playmaking for any chance to win in the playoffs, let alone the championship.
Best Case Scenario - First place in the West is a stretch at best now. But the Mercury still has the pieces for a championship run if everything goes right but it is a stretch too based on their first half performance.
Worst Case Scenario - The Mercury should make the playoffs no matter what considering that the Storm, Stars, and Shock are all playing at a lower level, but losing in the 1st round of the playoffs and having a regular season record of around .500 even is still a disappointment.
4. San Antonio Silver Stars (6-12)
W/L Record: B-. Considering that both of the Stars' top players are out for the season, though Beck Hammon played part of one game, you can't just give them an F for that. The Stars also have yet to play Tulsa and have only played Seattle once so it's arguable that this record is a bit deflated. In their six wins, some have been feel good victories too, as they did beat Chicago at home, swept New York in both meetings, and beat Phoenix on the road.
Young Player Development: A-. Third year players Danielle Robinson and Danielle Adams have been the team's biggest contributors this season. Robinson leads the league in assists and rightfully earned an All-Star bid. Fourth year Jayne Appel has gradually turned into a rebounding force though she isn't the best post scorer out there. Shenise Johnson has also stepped up and is scoring in double digits. Rookie Kayla Alexander is still not a main part in the rotation and rookie Davellyn Whyte has played every game this year, but Dan Hughes is arguably the best player developer in the league along with Mike Thibault of the Mystics. And the GM survey said he was the best.
Overall Grade: B. I may be too generous in my grade. But with Sophia Young and Becky Hammon out, the Stars' record suffered. That said, they played a tough schedule, and younger players are playing good minutes. Even if they were playing this year, Coach Hughes would still be playing his younger players good minutes.
Has Danielle Adams answered the bell by being on the hot seat? I wished that she'd be a bigger time rebounder so in that respect, no. She's only averaging 4.5 boards, but that may also be partly because she is a stretch forward. In terms of being a consistent performer, Adams did answer the bell because she scored at least 10 points in 14 of 18 games this year, and scored 10 or more points in every game except one in July.
Best Case Scenario - Jake Sundstrom has argued that playing Alexander and Whyte more is good for their long term future and that making the playoffs is not good for their long term future. So he at least concurs with me that the "treadmill of mediocrity" is a really bad place to be. I also agree that they should play more. But at the same time, many people on this team are young players already with the exception of Jia Perkins, so it may be best to let the chips fall where they may though Perkins should be tradeable for assets like Jake noted.
Worst Case Scenario - I don't want to say that the playoffs are a bad thing for this team specifically given that there are a number of young players who are developing together and haven't peaked yet. But I would say additional injuries to key players will be sad to see, in particular if it involves their younger group.
5. Seattle Storm (7-10)
W/L Record: C. Last year with Sue Bird leading the way and with Lauren Jackson practicing with the Australian team, this team was 8-9 at the halfway point. This year Seattle is just one game behind that, which most of us thought wasn't feasible in the preseason. That said, I was a bit surprised that Noelle Quinn was starting at forward for much of the season while Shekinna Stricklen was playing at a much higher level off the bench. Perhaps having Quinn starting and shooting the ball at a low rate may have been partly why the Storm often had very slow starts, some of which were too much to overcome. But overall, it's commendable to see that the team didn't just "wait til next year" from the beginning.
Young Player Development: B-. I have hammered the Storm pretty hard in the past on neglecting to develop younger players in the hopes of extending the playoff window for this team. While the top four scorers on this team are all veterans, Shekinna Stricklen and Alysha Clark play rotation minutes and made significant progress.
Given that Clark is now 26, I don't really know if I want to call her a young player but it is her second WNBA season and she's now playing rotation minutes so that is still a big plus either way so I'll give Seattle the benefit here. And for Stricklen, she is showing more flashes as to why she is a core player for the future, and as a starter we should see her get even more chances to do that. As for Tianna Hawkins, it looks tough for her to get time with Camille Little and Tina Thompson on the roster.
Overall Grade: C+. I am glad to see that some younger players are taking bigger roles for the Storm right now. But at the same time, this roster still is too veteran heavy without Bird and Jackson.
Has Brian Agler answered the bell by being on the hot seat? No. He is winning more than many thought he would. But this team has been on the treadmill of mediocrity for the last couple of years, and this year it's still on that treadmill and it's clear that even though there are some new young pieces (Stricklen, Clark, Hawkins), he is banking on a 2014 do or die season with this group when Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson return.
Best Case Scenario - Like with the Liberty, I honestly think that missing the playoffs is in the Storm's best interest. Doing so is not an indictment on Agler or his team, but doing so will give this team a chance at a top four pick who could be a young core piece for the future, and if things play out right there could be players that could succeed Bird and Jackson as they enter the twilight of their careers.
Worst Case Scenario - Making the playoffs is worse for their future like I said with New York. From what the Western Conference looks like, if the Storm, or the Stars, or the Shock makes the playoffs, it's just because two other teams were just a bit less competitive rather than because the team that makes the playoffs did so because it played well.
6. Tulsa Shock (6-14)
W/L Record: C-. I thought that the Shock would be in playoff contention and be the best of the three teams in the West that aren't named the Lynx, Sparks, or Mercury. Oddly enough, despite the fact that they were sixth place in the West most of the year, the Shock is still in playoff contention thanks to a three game win streak just before the All-Star Break. The record this team would have would be in large part dependent on Skylar Diggins, who hasn't played at the same level that the players drafted ahead of her were, and a 6-14 record isn't too surprising.
Young Player Development: A-. Young players continue to be the driving force behind the Shock's play. Glory Johnson has made a major leap in her performance and became an All-Star this year. Liz Cambage has also stepped up her game on the rebounding end and is averaging 8 per game.
Then with the guards, Skylar Diggins has been given a more than sufficient chance to show that she can be a starting point guard in the WNBA but after an injury that put her on the sidelines one game, Angel Goodrich took her place and she's been starting ever since. Diggins does have scoring and assisting potential but it hasn't come together as well as I would have hoped.
Overall Grade: C. I know this team is still building its young core and I still believe it will be a very scary one in the WNBA once things are going, but I do think that the Shock could have had a better record than 6-14 at this point, and it's going to be tougher for them to make the playoffs as opposed to any other team in the league because they've played the most games of everyone in this league.
Has Skylar Diggins answered the bell by being on the hot seat? No. Many people were hoping that she'd be playing at a high level not unlike the way she did in college. That didn't happen, and as of the last few games she hasn't been starting. Still she has a lot of potential and arguably has the highest ceiling of the players on this team and it's still her rookie year.
That said, many people, including users on our site believed that this Draft was a Big Two plus Two, with Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner as the clear stars in this draft, and then Skylar Diggins and Tayler Hill being the "plus two" players who still could be major impact, if not MVP caliber players, whether now or down the road.
Best Case Scenario - Unlike San Antonio and Seattle, I think Tulsa should make a push for the playoffs so for them, they do make the playoffs in a best case scenario.
Worst Case Scenario - It is likely that they will miss the playoffs in 2013, but if they end up with less than 10 wins for this season, that's going to test the fans' patience for sure.