So now, some grades. I gave a separate grade on wins/losses which isn't just about standings but will take team chemistry and coaching into account, young player development which is what it is, and an overall grade.
The overall grade is NOT an average of W/L and young player development. Some teams that are expected to win it all this year will have an overall grade that takes wins more into account than player development. Teams that are rebuilding will be judged more on player development than wins.
1. Atlanta Dream (11-5)
W/L record: B+. The Dream started out really hot, but a four game losing streak on the road is what held me back from giving this team an A for record.
Young Player Development: A- Alex Bentley is arguably the best guard in the rookie class as of now, and she arguably should have been picked ahead of the 13th spot. In addition, Tiffany Hayes and Jasmine Thomas have played well though Hayes has recently been sidelined with injury. To see a number of young guards holding the fort in the wake of Lindsey Harding's departure is commendable and that's where the bulk of this A- goes.
Overall grade: B+. The Dream certainly is playing at a high level this season, even considering their recent four game losing streak. However, can this team translate its regular season success to the postseason, and will one of the current guards step up to become a true long term starter for the team?
Has Fred Williams answered the bell by being on the hot seat? Yes, he has. Even with the four game losing streak out West, the Dream started out the season on the right foot and his job is safe.
Is someone else on the hot seat now? Not really.
Best case scenario: Bentley merges as a legitimate starting guard for the Dream. McCoughtry becomes more efficient with the ball. This team gels, is the number one team in the East, and gets back to the Finals, though I doubt they're winning it all. And Coach Williams wins the Coach of the Year award.
Worst case scenario: The Dream continues to play poorly on the road, and loses matchups at home against the Western Conference's big three of Minnesota, Phoenix, and LA. They'll make the playoffs but end up losing in the first round.
2. Chicago Sky (12-5)
W/L record: B+ I am happy to see that the Sky is playing at a high level at the mid point and is poised to finally make the playoffs. But it was expected that the Sky would be a top Eastern team, and they lost games to San Antonio and Tulsa on the road, and Seattle at home which is why I am not giving them an A. This team shouldn't have lost all of those games.
Young Player Development: A The Sky has a young core that is providing the bulk of the contributions with rookie Elena Delle Donne who's 23 and Epiphanny Prince who is 25 and they're All-Stars. Sylvia Fowles is 28 and should still be in her prime when Prince and EDD are entering theirs. Lastly, Courtney Vandersloot has been overlooked a bit but has improved statistically as well where she's averaging 5 assists a game against 2.12 turnovers, and is making her free throws at a career high rate.
Overall grade: A- The Sky is enjoying its best season ever so far. Considering that a number of their key players are still yet to be in their prime, the future could be very bright in the Windy City.
Has Pokey Chatman answered the bell by being on the hot seat? Yes so far.
Is someone else on the hot seat now? I will say no, because the Sky hasn't made the playoffs yet. Second, once they make the playoffs, can they advance and perhaps go to the Finals, even this year with a roster that's not playoff tested at least for the WNBA that is?
Best case scenario: The Sky remains #1 in the East, makes the Finals, and wins it all. EDD is Rookie of the Year, and Chatman is the Coach of the Year.
Worst case scenario: I find it very hard to believe that the Sky doesn't make the playoffs at this point. But if Chicago is 3rd or 4th in the East and gets bounced out of the first round, it would be disappointing after this start.
3. Connecticut Sun (4-12)
W/L record: F. The Sun has lost Asjha Jones and Danielle McCray for the season as well as Renee Montgomery and Kara Lawson for multiple games, but the team shouldn't be 4-12 with Tina Charles, the reigning WNBA MVP anchoring the low post.
Young Player Development: D+ Rookie Kelly Faris isn't doing much for them. Tina Charles, the reigning MVP is still playing well statistically but her shooting percentage has dropped to below 40% which is easily a career low by a good margin. Kalana Greene is starting but not doing much more in the absences of Kara Lawson and Renee Montgomery. However, Allison Hightower has made the most out of increased opportunities to score and was named an All-Star and has been a bright point in an otherwise dismal season which is mirroring the Mystics' 2011 campaign in many ways.
Overall grade: F. The W/L record rationale more or less explains why the Sun gets an F for the midseason.
Has Anne Donovan answered the bell by being on the hot seat? No. Maybe it's just me, but players probably aren't buying her message, or maybe that's just a self fulfilling prophecy too.
Is someone else on the hot seat now? Yes. GM Chris Sienko is on a hotter seat now than Donovan. Also, Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Sun CEO and the Governor for the team can't be blameless either.
Best case scenario: The Sun stays healthy and sneaks in as the 4th seed out East. Another alternative scenario is that the Sun could just play Faris rotation minutes to see if she is worth keeping on their roster beyond this season or trade her to another team that could use more young talent. That said, getting a lotto pick doesn't hurt.
Worst case scenario: The team stays in last place for the East and current players are unhappy, especially Tina Charles who should be in restricted free agency this offseason. The Sun can give her the franchise tag of course, but the Mystics did that to Katie Smith in 2010-11 and still traded her away because she demanded it. This is selfish for me, but seeing Tina Charles demand a trade to DC in order to get back with Coach Thibault sounds like a possibility...
4. Indiana Fever (8-9)
W/L record: C- After the first month of the season, Indy would have received an F. But winning 7 out of their last 10 games, even if they were primarily against non-elite teams certainly was a boost of confidence to me that they can still make it back to the Playoffs.
Young Player Development: B I had to think a bit about this team. Besides Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, this team is made mostly of players who aren't past their 6th season in the league, but some of them are closer to 30 than not, like Erin Phillips and Jessica Davenport.
I'm pleased with Shavonte Zellous' performance this year and she stepped her game up from last year. But the story about the Commendable Expendables is that role players just struck the iron while it was hot last fall. Some players have kind of hit the law of averages more or less like Erlana Larkins, But all that said, they are still gelling and finding their way. Lastly, Layshia Clarendon is getting steady stretches of time even if it's due to injuries at the top of the roster.
Overall grade: C Considering that the team made a commendable midseason run to get back into playoff position after a 1-7 start, this C is pretty generous. Then again, if Katie Douglas were healthy, I think they'd be a lot better too.
Has Erlana Larkins answered the bell by being on the hot seat? She didn't repeat the same stats like her playoff stretch last year, but I kind of expected that anyway because of the law of averages. But Larkins has shown that she is a starting post player for the foreseeable future so I'll say yes, but not convincingly.
Is someone else on the hot seat now? I'll give it to Lin Dunn. She was considered the best WNBA head coach and the best motivator of players in this year's GM survey. Can she continue to steer this team back to the Playoffs, and possibly at least the #3 seed?
Best case scenario: The Fever gets to the playoffs, and advances to the Conference Finals. I don't think they'll make the Finals or repeat, but if it happens again, that will be excellent. In addition, Katie Douglas returns from injury and gets to play some games too.
Worst case scenario: The Fever misses the playoffs. The team has to wonder whether it should keep Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, or if it's time to blow it up.
5. New York Liberty (7-11)
W/L record: C- I kind of expected that this team would be a borderline playoff team at best but not necessarily the worst either, and they're living to that billing.
Young Player Development: B Kelsey Bone is playing good minutes for the Libs and is a solid rebounding and scoring presence for the team. She could even be a top three player in the class when history looks back on this class. Toni Young and Kamiko Williams are not playing as many minutes, but are playing regular minutes in most games, and Young in particular is a "project" player so we may not see her be a star right away, but if she does become one down the road, that will be really sweet.
Overall grade: C We have questioned whether the Liberty can get off the treadmill of mediocrity this year for better or for worse. Unfortunately the answer to that question is that this team is still on the treadmill right now. That said, it does appear that Kelsey Bone is a clear building block for the future and Toni Young is a wild card who also could help. Essence Carson was playing well in the few games she played but unfortunately she tore her ACL.
Has Cappie Pondexter answered the bell by being on the hot seat? No. Since she started playing for this team, her best showing was in 2010 or her first season when the Libs made the Conference Finals. This year she is averaging a career low in shooting percentage and a career high in turnovers with almost four per game.
Is someone else on the hot seat now? Pondexter is still on the hot seat, along with Bill Laimbeer. For Laimbeer, there should be no mandate for him to win now this year. However, can he continue to build a perennial contender around Pondexter, Carson, Bone, and additional younger players over the next several years? That is the 1 million dollar question.
Best case scenario: It wouldn't shock me to see this team in the Playoffs, but like I have said and continue to say with the Mystics, missing the playoffs is not bad for the Liberty, and it may be better for them to miss the postseason. Best case scenario is to see Bone continue developing and becoming a clear starting center, and seeing Pondexter considerably improve her assist to turnover ratio. And with Sammy Prahalis now on the team, maybe she can get her mojo back if she stays beyond one seven day contract.
Worst case scenario: With most teams, losing is the worst case scenario. I'm taking the opposite approach. Making the playoffs will continue this team's run on the treadmill.
6. Washington Mystics (9-9)
W/L record: A+ The standings alone will be why Mike Thibault is the 2013 Coach of the Year should he win it, since he is coaching a team that was 5-29 last year and is doing it with the same core from that team, and a 17 win regular season isn't out of the question. Also, DC has won many close games in the final minutes. Last year they would've lost all of them, which is another reason why Thibault is Coach of the Year at least to every Mystics fan. As of today, Coach T's my vote for that award as opposed to earlier this month when I said that I would go for Coach Williams in Atlanta which was before that four game road trip out West.
Young Player Development: C+ Tayler Hill's lack of acceptable development, at least to my liking is where this grade comes from though most other pundits will give DC a B+ or even an A in this area simply because of the standings and that rookies are in the rotation. I however think a C+ is appropriate because of Hill who would get a D from me though you can say I'm just being harsh. But If Hill isn't considered at all in this grade, I'd give DC a B+ or A- given that every other rookie is playing at or above expectations.
Overall grade: B The wins are nice to see and the culture of this team has been changed for the better. The non-first round draft picks are playing above expectations as well. But it's still debatable as to whether this team is on the right track to be a perennial contender and even if any of the rookies will be core players long term.
Has Crystal Langhorne answered the bell by being on the hot seat? No. She's still the team's best post player, and an All-Star this year because she's a consistent performer, but she's not playing at a level like Candace Parker, Tina Charles or Sylvia Fowles are, and some Mystics fans probably think that Langhorne can be right there, especially with a coach like Thibault. Well, she's not playing at that level with him.
I'm not saying that Langhorne sucks as a player. She's an All-Star and a dependable piece to any team in this league. But what I'm also saying is that she is not a franchise-level player along the likes of a Candace Parker or a Tamika Catchings.
Is someone else on the hot seat now? The hot seat goes to Mike Thibault, now that his honeymoon's over. He came to DC talking pretty tersely that he's not afraid to make major personnel changes, but when four of the top five Mystics players on this 2013 team were part of the 2012 team, he hasn't followed through on that statement.
Also, the way this team has been playing is more indicative of a team trying to win right now even though there is good youth development with the exception of Hill. With the Mystics apparently willing to pass up a chance at the 2014 Lottery, is that in their best interest? If it really is in the Mystics' best interest to win now, can they lure Tina Charles or another younger A-List player to DC this offseason because Coach Thibault is one of the best coaches in the league? And when will Thibault make major changes to the top of the roster in order to accelerate the building of this team?
Best case scenario: Most Mystics fans will say the best case scenario is making the playoffs and getting to the Conference Finals and it is a possibility. To me, it's seeing Hill take the starting guard role back and Meesseman becoming a starter as well, where they start becoming core pieces for the long term. Postseason berths are just a bonus.
Worst case scenario: DC's current starters decline in performance and lose games yet Thibault doesn't play the rookies enough. Then we see the Mystics miss the playoffs AND not see any rookies play truly pivotal core roles all year. While I'm 110% on board with a lottery draft pick coming to DC in 2014 if it happens, most Mystics fans probably disagree with me because they may think I want "tanking" and I've said what my definition of it is and I'm against that.
Also, seeing Indy, Connecticut, and NY all collectively raising their games may be enough to bump the Mystics down to 5th or even 6th in the East due to talent alone. The Mystics have avoided the injury bug and are at 9-9 while most other teams in the league have had significant injuries too so it's arguable that this is an inflated record.
These are just some of the many thoughts I have on each team right now in the aggregate. Do you think I'm too nice in grading, or am I too harsh? Debate on how you would evaluate each team's performance in the comments below, or if you have longer thoughts, feel free to make a FanPost.