As the regular season winds down and followers of the WNBA begin to cast their votes for the end-of-season awards, I sat down to chat with the General Manager of the Washington Mystics, Angela Taylor, to discuss Monique Currie and the case for her as Most Improved Player of 2010. In a recent article from QMcCall about the top contenders for this season’s MIP award, Currie was listed as #2 behind the Liberty’s Leilani Mitchell.
While Mitchell’s improvement came as a result of increased shooting efficiency and better decision-making as a point guard, Currie’s all-around game has been affected by the loss of the Mystics’ franchise player, Alana Beard, and the need for her to step into a primary role-player position.
Before our interview began, Taylor mentioned to me that she was surprised by the amount of attention the competition for MIP was receiving this season, but she was more than happy to discuss why her player is deserving of the award.
How do you think, just from watching her last year to this year, that Monique's game has changed or improved?
I guess first when I look at the most improved award, for me, when you’re looking at the criteria, I wanna look at three different things. First is- who’s improved their game? And then the second is who’s improved statistically? And finally, whose improvement has had a direct impact on the team’s performance? And if you look at Monique, she’s one of the few players in the league that I can say across the board meets each of those criteria.
She’s improved her game tremendously in the off-season. She went overseas, she had a great year in Italy and then she finished it off in Russia. And you see that she’s done a couple different things, like she handles the ball much better, so that was one of the things she worked on in the off-season. She also looked at her middle game… she can get to the rim, she finishes very well, she gets to the free throw line, and she shot a pretty high percentage from the floor, but it was the middle game- being able to take whatever the defense gives you, making better decisions- she’s gotten better there.
And then you also look at her, I compare her to Tamika Catchings, one of the few players that can fill up the stat sheet in a lot of different categories and so she’s done that as well. So she’s sharing the ball, and…creating opportunities for her teammates, and so her assists are up. She can rebound the ball offensively and defensively so she’s one of the better offensive rebounders from the three position. She can run the floor and then she’s scoring pretty well for us, and she’s defending and her steals are up as well so I look at that improvement in a lot of different categories.
And then you know, obviously statistically she’s improved. From points per game she’s up from 8 to 14 so, what, a 70% increase? She’s up in rebounding about 14% or 15% as well, and then you look at her shooting percentages across the board- she’s always been a great free throw shooter- but her free throw percentage has gone up in the top 5 in the league. Her three-point field goal percentage; she was our best three-point shooter last year at 38% but now she’s at 44%, which is huge. And then also to be able to get to the free throw line as one of the top 5 in the league, in fact, getting to the free throw line and getting those attempts, she’s really improved her game in a lot of different categories.
And then, you know, Alana Beard is out. Alana’s our franchise player and so she’s done this under the auspicious position of not having our player, our main player there. And having to be the go-to player from the start, she was really the catalyst for us this season, so I think that those three criteria, Monique has met.
How much do you think her increased statistics and improvement is a result of Alana not being on the floor?
You know, I think that it’s a combination, more scoring opportunities, a little bit more responsibility. All of our players knew coming into the season that everyone was gonna have to step up their game to make up for the loss of Alana Beard because she does so much for this team. So you look at Monique and I think she took that personally and as an opportunity for her to step into her game.
But I also think that improvement happened before Alana was injured and before we knew that she was injured. But you look at some other candidates, I think, for most improved player, their stats have improved but they … may be a secondary player …and Monique is having to be a primary role for us this year, so under those circumstances I’ve been impressed with her play.
A lot of people wrote the Mystics off after losing Alana Beard to injury. In spite of that, they have had a stellar season. Do you think that’s as a result of players like Monique Currie and Crystal Langhorne stepping up, or if it’s more of a team cohesion that’s really given them their success?
It’s both. You know, you look at, with Alana being out, a lot of times you experience success when there’s obstacles put in your way. And so our team really stood up to the challenge of having Alana not being in the lineup this year… You know, Julie Plank, our head coach, says ‘The Tough Ten’. We have 10 players who all have known that they had to step up their games so from Lindsey Harding to Matee Ajavon to Monique Currie to Marissa Coleman, everyone knows that on any given night we need somebody to elevate their game. Consistently that’s been Crystal Langhorne and Monique Currie.
And finally, Crystal [Langhorne] won the Most Improved Player award last year and you have Monique who’s really considered as one of the top contenders. Do you think there’s something about this team that’s conducive to allowing players to grow?
Absolutely. It’s part of our vision. I think Coach Plank and I both share the fact that in order to get your team better a lot of times you can’t control where you’re gonna be in the draft or who you’re gonna draft. You can’t control free agencies, but you can control getting your players better. So player development has been one of the primary things that we focused on from Dr. Johnson to Ted Leonsis we realized as an organization we need to develop or talent from the inside out and if we do so, and then you’re able to add pieces here and there, then you will be able to build a long-term successful program. So player development has certainly been something that has been a strong focus for us, and I think it started with Crystal Langhorne last year and I think a lot of her teammates, Crystal motivated her teammates to use the off-season as a platform for getting better and improving their game as well.
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The interview with Taylor was conducted prior to the Mystics’ ugly victory at home against the Minnesota Lynx. After the game, I asked Currie herself why she thought she might be in contention for the award and she jokingly told me that after that night’s performance she wasn’t deserving of it at all. But then she said, "I think it’s a variety of things. You know, I’m definitely always working in the off-season to get better, trying to expand my game and add new things to it. Also the opportunity had presented itself for me to be a bigger contributor to the team with Alana missing the entire season and just being more aggressive and just playing, and I don’t know much about what I’m in the running for, but I just try to go out there and do the best that I can."