NBA All-Star Weekend is one of the biggest events in the basketball world during the winter. The WNBA has participated in the event annually for community service and events like the Celebrity Game and the Shooting Stars contest on All-Star Saturday night. The latter events unfortunately don't showcase the players quite enough. This year's NBA All-Star Weekend this February appears to be more of the same.
I wrote up four suggestions on Sunday regarding how the WNBA can be better showcased during the weekend. The first was a proposal to get every WNBA team to have one representative for the weekend's festivities, which is what we will discuss in detail.
Which type of player is the best representative for each WNBA team?
More on NBA All-Star Weekend
More on NBA All-Star Weekend
Each WNBA team's representative should have some combination of the following, as I noted on Sunday's post. Let's go through each criterion in more detail:
Be the "franchise player" or one of the better overall players on the team - This is a common sense criterion. Generally speaking, the face of the franchise should be a leading candidate to represent the team. However, this isn't a hard and fast rule.
In a case where the top player of the team isn't representing the team, the player selected still should be one of the higher performers on the team, and that player should be very strong in at least one of the subsequent categories I will talk about below.
Be a player who has a strong national profile to a non-women's basketball fan audience - This criterion is equally as important as the first. In a December 23, 2014 interview on SourceLifeRadio.com's La Diva Latina Show, Washington Mystics guard Bria Hartley made a point about a "women's basketball world" where players and existing fans could be a bit insulated at around the 52:30 mark of a nearly 70 minute show. Hartley went on to say this afterwards:
You got to understand the big picture, that there are a lot more people in this world than these people who just care about women's basketball. You need to extend out there and get people to watch this. Women's basketball is coming up.
The best players on each WNBA team who are best able to reach out to non-women's basketball fans, or are best known to them are the best representatives for this event. In addition, Hartley's quote above is also a major (but not the only) reason why the NBA and the WNBA should figure out how to better showcase women's players in an event like All-Star Weekend in the first place.
Women's college basketball is better publicized than the WNBA, even today, so some of the representatives I have are younger players, as opposed to more accomplished veterans, largely because they are better known to a mainstream audience and that their college days weren't that long ago.
Have a game that is "highlight" friendly - Players who have exciting or exceptional parts to their game like a killer crossover, sharpshooting, etc. get more points than players who don't. All-Star Weekend is about highlights!
The player should be a WNBA All-Star herself - This ties with the first criterion, since every WNBA team has an All-Star. That said, just because a player is an All-Star doesn't mean that she is a shoo-in to represent the team.
So without further ado, the 12 players I'd pick from each WNBA team in alphabet, regardless of overseas commitments:
1. Atlanta Dream: Shoni Schimmel
The now-sophomore point guard has a flashy, fun-to-watch game, and a fearless demeanor on the court. She was the 2014 All-Star Game's MVP after scoring 29 points and 8 assists, leading the Eastern Conference to a 125-124 overtime victory, with plays like, but not limited to this:
In addition, Schimmel has a strong backing from the Native American community, given her ancestry. That's also a plus to what she already brings to the table as a player.
I know I didn't include franchise player Angel McCoughtry as the representative, but what makes me pick Schimmel instead? All-Star Weekend, celebrity games, and other big events just seem to be meant for her. If there was a co-ed NBA/WNBA game here, she will definitely come out ballin,' and who knows if she could end up as the MVP of that game!
2. Chicago Sky: Elena Delle Donne
The 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year and member of that "group of three" led Chicago to the 2014 WNBA Finals despite battling a midseason Lyme Disease flare up, and back injuries once the Finals began. Nevertheless, Delle Donne has been well known on the community outreach front, where she has been named an ambassador for Lyme Disease research and the Special Olympics over the past year. Given her three point shooting skills, could she be a dark horse in an NBA Three Point Shooting Contest?
3. Connecticut Sun: Chiney Ogwumike
Ogwumike was the WNBA's 2014 Rookie of the Year and was also named an Eastern Conference All-Star. As the #1 pick of the 2014 Draft, Ogwumike is also the centerpiece of the Sun's current rebuilding efforts, but I don't think it will be too long before they're back in the playoffs, or even contention again like they were for most of the 2000's.
4. Indiana Fever: Tamika Catchings
The 2011 WNBA MVP and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist has been active for the Fever during the offseason on a regular basis. She also has been very visible with her Catch the Stars Foundation and as the WNBA Players Association President. With no one else on the Fever having anywhere close to a presence that she has, Catchings is a "no-brainer" selection .... ONCE she signs her contract on February 1!
5. Los Angeles Sparks: Candace Parker
The 2008 and 2013 WNBA MVP is the franchise player for the Magic Johnson-led team, while also winning two Olympic Gold Medals along the way. Even though Parker has played overseas nearly every offseason, she is still one of the Top-5 most recognizable names in the WNBA, and it's a must that she represent this team.
6. Minnesota Lynx: Maya Moore
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The Lynx's franchise player and current WNBA MVP gets the nod, and she is one of the Top-5 most recognizable WNBA players. Yes, I know she's technically a restricted free agent, but let's face it. Moore's going to be in Minnesota for the foreseeable future.
Moore has been in NBA All-Star Weekend before, and she would be a welcome representative for the Twin Cities, where there otherwise is little to root for on the NBA side. I know Moore would figure to be a Three Point Shooting Contest Candidate, but I think she'd also more than hold her own in the Skills Challenge.
Moore hasn't just taken part in All-Star basketball events. She also played in the MLB's Legends & Celebrity Softball Game during its All-Star Weekend last summer in Minneapolis, where she got a hit off of softball pitching legend Jennie Finch. It's not just that Moore played in the game. She did so just hours after playing a great game against the Seattle Storm. Talk about dedication!
7. New York Liberty: Cappie Pondexter
I went back and forth between Pondexter and Tina Charles who are the Libs' co-franchise players. I ultimately went with Pondexter because she is the 2007 WNBA Finals MVP and Top-15 player in WNBA history. In addition, Pondexter is known for her crossovers and documented scoring ability on men's players, so she is as strong of a co-ed game and Skills Challenge participant as any from the W.
8. Phoenix Mercury: Diana Taurasi
This was a tough call, because the Defending WNBA Champions have two of the WNBA's most recognizable faces, who include Taurasi and third-year center Brittney Griner. But ultimately, Taurasi gets the nod due to her resumé as a three-time WNBA champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, as well as her well-known shooting ability. I definitely want to see Taurasi show what she could do in a co-ed All-Star Game, and like Moore, she could be in the Three Point Contest or a Skills Challenge. The tough part is that there's only one spot for Moore and Taurasi if they both want to shoot threes, since they're both Western Conference players.
It gets more complicated when I talk about the next team representative.
9. San Antonio Stars: Kayla McBride
I could see the WNBA try to pull a fast one and get Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon to put on a Stars uniform one last time after retirement. However, I want to see the team highlight the youngsters instead. I go with Kayla McBride, who is still better known as a Notre Dame basketball player than as the Stars' young star. Pun unintended by the way.
McBride is the only young draft lottery pick in San Antonio, was deadly from three point range where she shot nearly 40% (57-144) from deep in 2014 and averaged 13 points a game. Along the way, McBride also scored multiple game winners for the Stars who returned to the playoffs and earned a higher seed than an underachieving Los Angeles Sparks team. Those accomplishments helped give her a spot on the 2014 All-Rookie Team.
With sharpshooters like Moore, Taurasi, AND McBride coming from the Western Conference, I'm now starting to waver on my suggestions regarding the Three Point Contest. Perhaps these three should hold a shootout against each other before the final rep is selected.
And I didn't forget, McBride willl be great with the kids, since she held a basketball camp right before the new year in her hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania.
10. Seattle Storm: Sue Bird
Bird, despite her long overseas career has consistently been one of the most recognizable faces in the WNBA to non-women's basketball fans. Her debut as "Summer Bird" for State Farm Insurance during a commercial break of a Christmas Day Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks game only helps her brand, which deserves to be larger than it has been. State Farm is also sponsoring All-Star Saturday Night, so Bird's probably the easiest selection to make because Summer has to make an appearance, right?
But seriously, Bird's recognition to non-women's basketball fans and selection on this list isn't because of trivial reasons. She is a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, two-time WNBA Champion, and is the only player in league history to score at least 4,800 points, dish 1,000 assists, and grab at least 1,000 rebounds for a career.
11. Tulsa Shock: Skylar Diggins
Diggins is known as well outside the women's basketball world as in it, given that she has been active in public events during each of her two WNBA offseasons and much more. In fact, she alone puts the Shock on the national scene as a WNBA team, despite the fact that they haven't made the playoffs since 2009 when they were located in Detroit.
But Diggins is a rising superstar on the basketball court, where she was the 2014 Most Improved Player of the Year, and had career highs in nearly every statistical area. In fact, her improvement over one offseason is one of the best in league history.
12. Washington Mystics: Bria Hartley
Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson are the Mystics core players who have the largest national profiles and awareness to non-women's basketball fans. Both were featured players on the UConn Huskies' 2013 and 2014 national championship teams, so most non-women's basketball fans will associate them with UConn more than with the nation's capital. Given that they don't have the starpower most other teams have, the Mystics cannot afford to have anyone else represent them but Hartley or Dolson because of that reason alone.
The Mystics or the league already made some blunders, most notably Hartley's and Dolson's inexcusable omissions from the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game Ballot. This prevented Hartley from possibly being an All-Star in my opinion and the Mystics from being exposed in a better light. But I digress.
Why did I pick Hartley over Dolson? After all, Big Mama Stef has a bigger individual national profile given her dance-offs and White House shenanigans. Well, Hartley was a starter and 2014 All-Rookie team member while Dolson was a bench player. In addition, Hartley has a very highlight-friendly game like the best play in Mystics franchise history,
she also has some well-publicized dribbling skills videos,
AND she makes clutch plays BESIDES "The Crossover"!!!!
With multiple clutch plays in the WNBA and in college, there is a reason why Hartley has the nickname "Baby Mamba" from her fans.
And to top it all off, Hartley's also great with kids. She's mobbed like a rock star!
If there's a WNBA player, let alone a Mystics one who has the most to gain from an event like NBA All-Star Weekend, it's Bria Hartley. That skills challenge could make her trend on Twitter.
Some decisions were harder than others given the star power the elite teams have. But I'm happy with my WNBA selections for NBA All-Star Weekend. Do you believe someone else should represent a particular team instead? Sound off in the comments below!