The WNBA’s All-Star Weekend is back in full force this year, with a Saturday showcase of the skills challenge and 3-point shootout preceding the All-Star Game on Sunday. It is the first time since 2019 that all three events will be held, and also the first time in three years that 22 All-Stars will be selected; last season, there was only one “All-Star” team as that squad competed against the Team USA 5x5 Olympic team.
Today, June 20, is the last day of fan voting for the All-Star starters. Six frontcourt and four backcourt starters, with no regard for conference, will be selected through a combination of fan, media, and player voting before the coaches decide on the reserves.
Getting to 22 All-Stars, starters plus reserves, was an unpleasant task, but the real challenge was narrowing the field to 10 starters. Swish Appeal had two media votes this year (starter ballots were due Sunday). Zack Ward already publicized his choices, and here are the ten players that I landed on to start the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game.
Frontcourt (in alphabetical order)
This was the easier part of the ballot by far. Four players — Jones, Stewart, Thomas, and Wilson — were locks and don’t require further explanation.
Ogwumike was almost a lock as well; she’s top-10 in the WNBA in points, rebounds, and steals per game, and her true shooting percentage (the second-highest of her career after her 2016 MVP campaign) trails only the recently-signed Marine Johannès among players who have suited up for at least 100 minutes. The fact that Los Angeles still has a minus-4.6 net rating with Ogwumike on the court left her a notch below the aforementioned quartet, but the Sparks’ struggles are not Ogwumike’s fault. She has been outstanding in this bounceback season, one of the lone bright spots in a disappointing start for L.A.
The final frontcourt spot could have gone in several directions. Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin have both been excellent for Washington, the team with the third-best net rating in the league. Delle Donne’s minutes total (295) was just a smidge too low for consideration, and Austin’s role as a play finisher instead of creator makes it harder to select her over players who initiate more offense, even though the rookie center does a magnificent job of getting herself in position to finish those possessions.
Bri Jones got some consideration since she leads the league in win shares and the rest of her advanced stats are astounding, but in such a deep field, it was hard to pick a reserve since Jones gets to eat against a lot of second-unit bigs who don’t have a prayer of stopping her in the post. Just look at what Jones did to Awak Kuier for an idea of how she has been thriving against backup centers. Also, a hat tip to Ezi Magbegor, who has been other-worldly defensively, and to Sylvia Fowles, who unfortunately seems unlikely to be available for the All-Star Game.
The choice ultimately came down to Dearica Hamby, Candace Parker and Meesseman. Meesseman has been a more efficient scorer than her Sky teammate — and been more available — while being close enough as a facilitator and defender to edge out Parker. Then, the Hamby/Meesseman debate was almost a pick-em. Hamby does more defensively than Meesseman — though less than she did a year ago now that Jackie Young can guard the best perimeter player — but she is the fourth or fifth scoring option on Las Vegas while Meesseman is second in points on Chicago. Hamby would have been a fine choice, but Meesseman’s expanded role in the Sky landed her the final spot.
Backcourt (in alphabetical order)
Truthfully, a backcourt of four different starters may have been acceptable given how deep the guard pool is in the WNBA. These choices were excruciating.
Diggins-Smith is responsible for so much in Phoenix. She’s the primary ball-handler, leading scorer, and defends the opposing team’s best guard. Diggins-Smith leads the league in minutes per game, is sixth in points, ninth in assists, and fifth in steals. The Mercury’s high-profile offseason acquisitions haven’t produced, and Diggins-Smith spends most of her minutes in a starting lineup with three players who have strongly negative net ratings, yet the 31-year-old guard has found a way to make the most of a bad situation. Her consistency and gets her in above other high-usage guards such as Kelsey Mitchell and Sabrina Ionescu and Diggins-Smith’s efficiency exceeds that of Arike Ogunbowale and Jewell Loyd.
Kelsey Plum feels like a consensus pick, with her box-score stats jumping off the page. She’s second in the league in scoring, tied for fifth in assists, and leads the WNBA in 3-pointers per game. Her teammate Chelsea Gray is the second backcourt Ace because she is the “brain” behind the Las Vegas offense, the best pure point in the league.
Jackie Young’s raw stats are more impressive than Gray’s, but the Aces are 21.1 points per 100 possessions better with Gray on the court, more than double Young’s on-off differential. Gray is the decision-maker and simplifies the game for her teammates. Her execution in the clutch is also insane year in and year out — she’s currently sporting a true-shooting percentage of nearly 80 with 20.5 percent usage in clutch situations. If Young hadn’t sprained her ankle, she might be in this position; right now, it’s Gray’s spot.
Allisha Gray comes in as the final starter. This is arguably a year too late, but Gray missed some time at the start of 2021 for Olympics 3x3 qualifying. This year, she’s been available and been excellent. Gray is scoring more efficiently than ever before while maintaining her level as a defender and rebounder.
Her value to Dallas is undeniable thanks to Gray’s ability to fill in a number of roles on both ends. After a two-game set against the Wings, Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said, “Gray is the key to their success. There’s a significant drop-off when she’s not on the floor.” That sounds like an All-Star.
Apologies to Ariel Atkins, who was at one point on my ballot but eventually became the final cut. Honorable mentions to Courtney Vandersloot and Natasha Cloud as well.