A’ja Wilson and Elena Delle Donne will captain the All-Star teams this Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Ned Dishman/Jeff Bottari/NBAE/Getty Images.)
The All-Star game is this Saturday and it is a good time to look at the top players in the league. With such a small league, not every team can have an All-Star. However, there are usually a few overlooked players around the league to choose from.
Based on recent results above all else.
1) Las Vegas Aces (12-6): A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage, Kayla McBride
One of two teams with three selections the Aces have slowly turned into a juggernaut with a talented starting five and a strong bench. After trading for Cambage to play with Wilson, the combination started off a little slow. However, the duo has improved as the season has gone along. After starting 4-4, the Aces have gone on to win 8 of 10 as everyone has begun to get comfortable. The Aces have improved, although both players have had decreases in production across the board. They have had to learn to be more efficient and there only truly is one ball to be shot or rebounded between two of the most active players.
Kayla McBride is the veteran of the starters for the Aces in her sixth season. McBride has played a key role in providing explosive offensive performances in the games in which the Aces need an extra punch. McBride gives Las Vegas three players all averaging 15 points per game. McBride is the option that is going to burn you for double teaming either post player with her three-point shooting, connecting on 47 per cent. On both ends of the floor, there might not be a better and more well-rounded trio in the league.
2) Washington Mystics (11-6): Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver
The other team captain opposite Wilson will be perennial All-Star Delle Donne. Only Tina Charles and Candice Dupree have made more than her six appearances out of this year’s roster with seven each. Although Washington may be the deepest team in the league, they need Delle Donne to keep the offence flowing. They are 11-2 when she plays a majority of the game and 0-4 when she sits. The All-Star forward is fourth in points per game, three-point percentage and rebounds per game, including leading the league in defensive rebounds per game.
In her 11th season, Toliver is making her third appearance in the All-Star game. Her passing has continued to improve even late in her career. She has reached a new career high of 5.8 assists per game, which second best in the league. With Toliver helping to keep the offence constantly flowing, she has taken fewer shots but been more efficient in her selection and is hitting just under 50 per cent of her field goals this season.
3) Connecticut Sun (12-6): Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas
Jonquel Jones was looking like an MVP candidate early in the season, as she was tearing apart the league with double double performances on a regular basis. After losing five straight though, Connecticut fell back to the pack and Jones began to regress. However, she is still playing at a very high level. Jones needs to be a force down low for Connecticut to get away with their offensive plan of ball movement and attacking defences as they are spread thin.
Thomas is joining her teammate in their second All-Star appearance. Both also appeared in 2017 when Nneka Ogwumike was out injured. Thomas has had a few breakout performances this year, with a career-high 28 points against Dallas, including a career-high 12 made field goals. With Jones taking on so much attention, Thomas has been able to slide into a secondary star role and flourished cutting back on turnovers.
4) Seattle Storm (12-8): Natasha Howard, Jewell Loyd
Howard and Loyd, in their sixth and fifth years in the league respectively, have taken advantage of the absences of Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. Howard is making her All-Star debut in Saturday’s game. She has taken on a larger role to lead the Storm as they try to continue their title defence. Howard has increased her production to career high levels of 18.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and two assists per game, after previous highs of 13.2, 6.4 and one respectively.
Loyd has had to try and step into a much larger role this season and has less than stellar results. Although still putting up respectable numbers, her numbers have also taken a dive across the board and has only played in 13 games this season due to injuries. In 11 games in which she has played more than 10 minutes, the Storm are 7-4. If Loyd can improve a little, the Storm could find themselves ready to defend their title with Bird back later in the season.
5) Los Angeles Sparks (10-8): Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray
After all the excitement over Chiney Ogwumike joining the Sparks in the offseason, it has been her sister who has carried the team through all their early season injuries. Nneka leads the team with 16.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game to start the season. Nneka will be making her sixth appearance and has had to help the Sparks deal with injuries to Candice Parker, Alana Beard, Alexis Jones, Maria Vadeeva and the suspension of Riquna Williams.
Gray has had to take on a larger role in the backcourt for LA with the offseason trade of Odyssey Sims. For the most part, she has responded well to the increase in pressure. As the season has progressed, she has gone from a scorer to more of a playmaker role which has helped her put up a triple double two weeks ago, and come close a few other times recently.
6) Minnesota Lynx (10-9): Sylvia Fowles, Odyssey Sims
After the roster was overhauled over the winter, the old guard and the new guard have combined to give Minnesota some stability this season. Fowles put up four consecutive double doubles to set the career WNBA record with 157 now. After coming over in the previously mentioned trade from LA, Sims has been putting up career numbers as she has room to grow her game playing for the Lynx.
A player who may not have been deserving to be an All-Star just yet is rookie Napheesa Collier who has stepped into the Maya Moore role for Minnesota and been able to hold her own. The former NCAA star could become a perennial All-Star herself if she can become just slightly more consistent.
7) Phoenix Mercury (9-8): DeWanna Bonner, Brittney Griner
This might be the most dominant duo in the league. They are most definitely the most relied upon. If either Griner or Bonner has anything less than a stellar game, the Mercury tend to lose. With Diana Taurasi only appearing in one game before re-tweaking her back injury, the Mercury may end up riding these two hard.
8) Chicago Sky (11-8): Courtney Vandersloot, Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley
There are two ways of looking at this situation. In the first one the Sky have three of the top players in the league, the top playmaker, one of the top shooters and one of the most athletically promising players in the league. On the other hand, the Sky have barely managed to crack even with these three playing at a high level. If more help doesn’t arrive in the windy city, the Sky could be looking at a wasted chance to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.
9) New York Liberty (8-10): Tina Charles, Kia Nurse
In a season which started rough, took a drastic turn for the better, then returned to expected performance, the Liberty have seen the good and bad of every player on their roster. During their strong stretch of seven wins in ten games, the Liberty got to see what happens when their stars get enough support that they aren’t overly relied upon. During the losses, the team loses their depth and Nurse and Charles are both forced to try and carry their teammates to a win. Charles has been through this before in New York and has shown time and time again she can put up big numbers. In Nurse, the Liberty are getting a glimpse of the future in which her and rookie Asia Durr could form a dominant backcourt that buries shots from all over the court.
10) Indiana Fever (6-14): Erica Wheeler, Candice Dupree
The Fever have matched last season’s win total of six but there is still a sense of disappointment after a strong start has seen them crashing back down. A bright spot has definitely been the play of Erica Wheeler, who slipped through the cracks and was never drafted. Getting a chance to start this season with Victoria Vivians out injured after a strong rookie season, Wheeler has been putting up terrific numbers running the point for Indiana. She could help provide more options for the offence going forward. Dupree is the lone regular with more than four years of experience entering this season and has had to be someone the young roster can lean on, while still playing at a high level.
11) Dallas Wings (5-14): None
Two of the most underwhelming teams unsurprisingly did not have any players selected to play in the All-Star game. In Dallas, Rookie Arike Ogunbowale is the closest they have to an All-Star, but she has had too many poor games shooting wise to be truly considered for a spot. When Ogunbowale learns to take more efficient shots, she has the game to be a top player worthy of a future selection.
12) Atlanta Dream (5-14): None
It’s been a tough season for a team that was in the final four last season but has now had to deal with missing their top player, Angel McCoughtry, for a full season. The Dream are made of a deep cast of players who excel on the defensive end, however they struggle to score unless someone gets hot offensively. With no consistent offensive star, realistically the easiest way to make an All-Star team, the Dream will compete some nights but are in for a rough second half of the season.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
A starting line-up with one bench player who were the best over the last six days; amount of games has an impact.
G: Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky)- Led the league in assists last year and has an even bigger lead this year on second place, Vandersloot is building up a name as one of the best set-up artists in league history. After setting the record last year with 8.6 assists per game Vandersloot is only .1 behind her own pace this year, although her turnovers have also taken a slight downturn.
G: Odyssey Sims (Minnesota Lynx)- Now that she is in Minnesota, Sims has become one of the top players in the league on a nightly basis. With so many new faces and players adjusting to new surroundings, a point guard that can orchestrate the offence and keep a rhythm becomes that much more important.
F: Elena Delle Donne (Washington Mystics)- Despite missing basically four games already this season, Delle Donne deserves a spot based on the major impact she has been having for one of the league’s elite teams. Doing a little bit of everything based on what the Mystics have needed at the time, Delle Donne has proven why she is considered a top player every season.
F: Nneka Ogwumike (Los Angeles Sparks)- We all expected an Ogwumike to be a star for the Sparks, but we just didn’t expect it to be the new sister in town. Nneka has shown her little sister who is in charge in LA. With a litany of injuries depleting the roster, Nneka has provided new coach Derek Fisher someone he can rely on nightly.
C: Jonquel Jones (Connecticut Sun)- As player who came out on fire and was the early front runner for MVP she has slowed down a little, but not enough to drop her from top spot in my MVP vote. Her performances have made the trading of Chiney Ogwumike much more palatable for Connecticut.
Bench: Dearica Hamby (Las Vegas Aces)- By far the easiest choice of any of these, Hamby has been a force from the start of the season. Averaging 10 points and 6.5 boards per game, she has played a key role in the success of the Aces, especially early in the season when Cambage and Wilson were adjusting to their shared role.
A few games worth checking on over the next six days, all times are eastern standard time.
Team Delle Donne vs Team Wilson, Saturday 3:30 ABC: Pure fun and a chance to see all the top players in the league, yeah, I would say worth watching.
Seattle @ Las Vegas, Tuesday 10 ESPN2: The game they played last Friday was tight throughout and a chance to see how this game could play if Wilson plays a full game.Washington @ Minnesota, Wednesday 1 NBA TV: With so many teams tightly compacted and few games to choose from this one is the top of the pile.