Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Guru's WNBA Musings: Tanks For The ... Well Not Just Yet

By Mel Greenberg

Question of the day.

Not really, but the Guru needed some way to start this post.

Sizing up the matchups in the Olympic quarterfinals the most competitive one seems to be the Turkey vs. Russia contest on Tuesday.

So will New York Liberty fans, or whatever remains of them, gather to wax nostalgic as former All-Star Becky Hammon on the Russian squad goes against Quanitra Hollingsworth, the former Virginia Commonwealth sensation who has been one of the stars of the Turkish squad.

Hammon was traded away to San Antonio on draft day 2007 where she has continued her All-Star status on the Silver Stars while what was gained in return, well head to the "where are they now?" section that several women's basketball bloggers keep.

Hollingsworth surprised the Liberty staff right before the start of the season around draft day with the news that she had a lucractive deal with Turkey and unlike several other WNBA players on foreign national teams, she would not be returning, period, after the Olympics are over.

But as important as she has been to Turkey in London, she may yet unwittingly become quite valuable to New York's prospects for the future.

Which now brings you to the only topic worth discussing until there's a playoff positioning race resumed following the conclusion of the festivities in London.

Though Delaware's Elena Delle Donne and Note Dame's Skylar Diggins are going to be valuable additions to wherever they land on two of the four teams in the draft lottery, most agree that which ever of the non-playoff squads wins the ping-pong ball dance and the rights to the No. 1 pick, then that team needs to be picking incoming Baylor senior Brittney Griner.

So as was the case in the stretch drive of 2010, who might become the person most responsible for the landing of Griner when the 2013 draft is held in April?

To recap history again as has been done here in the past, somewhere in the final games of the 2010 season dominated by the Seattle Storm an entanglement of mediocrity existed in the West in a 3-for-2 chase for the final playoff spot.

Inthe East, the Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky were too good to be that bad but not good enough to land playoff spots.

The Minnesota Lynx, who had struggled with injuries, was one of those West teams while the Los Angeles Sparks, another one, was playing without superstar Candace Parker, who bypassed the season because of pregnancy.

Minnesota met Los Angeles in a tight battle and seemed to win the game and lose the matchup of tankers vying for the rights of UConn star Maya Moore when the Lynx scored with a few seconds remaining in regulation.

But then the Sparks went coast-to-coast with former Los Angeles veteran Tina Thompson, now part of Seattle, making the shot to give her team to win.

It was a moment of despair for the Lynx because ultimately the outcome in this particularly game could be looked upon as to who goes to the postseason.

But, of course, it also determined who would be part of the lottery field.

Still, luck would be needed because Minnesota was bested by the Tulsa Shock with the worst overall record in terms of who would be given the best odds to land the No. 1 pick and, hence, the pleasure of announcing Moore as the selection on draft day.

Well, luck came through, the Lynx picked Moore and while that alone didn't totally account for the turnaround, the Olympian was a key addition, none-the-less, in Minnesota's domination last season on the way to its first-ever WNBA crown.

So when everything is looked upon in hindsight, it all came down to one play, which means either credit Thompson for being most valuable to the Lynx that season or, going the other way, the five Minnesota individuals on the floor who failed to defend on the play.

Grinding For Griner

Now that we're back in the present, much has yet to happen before the ping-pong number comes up this winter for the lucky winner and two quasi-lucky runnersup.

Right now it is still hard to define what will match that Lynxesque catch but like a brook trickling down a mountain having its path determined by the geographic landscape of nature, key situations can be found among four current has-beens as to who might become the reverse most valuable person or situation to land the Baylor star.

The first item is that the four teams out of the playoff picture right now are not likely to make a reversal while in 2010 spots went down to the wire.

Obviously, injuries could be a factor that would alter this discussion but although the teams likely to be in the playoffs are seemingly decided, the Griner standings are quite tight in terms of best odds in ping-pong action.

At the break this is how the pending four lotto-bound squads rank in terms of worst record being in the best position. Of course, yeah, it is known how being the all-time worst team worked out a year ago for Tulsa, being awarded fourth in line.

That was a big ouch in Los Angeles winning the prize and landing Stanford star Nneka Ogwumike, though not as painful as not getting any of the top three this time around.

Standingswise, things haven't changed for Tulsa, though most would agree the Shock floor performance is much improved.

This is the list right now:

1. Tulsa Shock 3-15
2. Phoenix Mercury 4-15
3. Washington Mystics 4-14
4. New York Liberty 6-12.

With Lauren Jackson taking the first half off to train with the Australian squad, it seemed Seattle might be in this mix with an 0-7 start but the Storm turned things around and now with Jackson returning it is hard to believe they would slide out of the postseason mix.

Which gets us to our first candidate, another Australian, whose similar move has had an impact on Tulsa.

Until the Olympics got under way, the working phrase for second-year Shock pro Elizabeth Cambage was "duck," as avoid playing with Tulsa as long as possible through the Olympic break.

But last weekend she changed one letter in that word with an action spilled "dunk" as the first Olympian to throw down one in the women's game.

But the "duck" may be her greatest action because had this not been an Olympic year, she surely could have had a positive impact on at least four games -- an 89-87 loss to Phoenix, a 64-61 loss to Washington, a 76-75 loss to Los Angeles and a 73-70 loss to Indiana.

Reverse those scores and Tulsa would be be 8-11, still not good enough for the playoffs, but also with suddenly holding the poorest shot at Griner right now.

And with the tightness of the four teams, Cambage's return is likely to get Tulsa winning games -- maybe not enough to make the playoffs, but enough to needing the same luck Minnesota realized two years ago.

Mercury Not Rising in Phoenix

Well, if Phoenix hits the jackpot on top of the jackpot, there are several players who will share the honor on the Mercury. Begin with Australian Penny Taylor's injury late in the offseason that not only deprived her country of being a stronger gold medal contender but also began the slide of the Mercury from where it had been in recent seasons.

But there are others in the mix.

By the time this week is over former UConn star Diana Taurasi could be the most celebrated on the USA squad if it captures another gold on Saturday.

In Phoenix, however, whatever harm Taylor's absence caused, Taurasi may become the most valuable candidate in the Tina Thompson sense -- or become the least valuable.

Suffering from a hip flexor, she chose to rest most of the way to date to be in condition for the Olympics, depriving Phoenix of any chance to be more of a playoff contender. Like Cambage, her return could mean more wins for the Mercury changing their standing in the group of four.

But maybe not. Though Taurasi will be back, remember Taylor is still on the sidelines for the season and Phoenix will be missing former Temple star Candice Dupree for several weeks following surgery and now former UConn player Charde Houston is also on the sidelines following surgery.

Talking Turkey To New York

As for the Liberty, Hollingsworth has been the key component, though Plenette Pierson's absence most of the way has been a factor as has missed time by veteran DeMya Walker along with some missed action by former Rutgers star Kia Vaughn who suffered a concussion.

There are few games among New York losses to point to Hollingsworth's absence in that regard in terms of the Liberty having a better record. But her departure also resulted in the drating of Kelly Cain, the former Tennessee post player who left the Lady Vols prior to her senior season.

Cain was the seventh overall pick telling you almost everything you need to figure about this year's draft, though Phoenix has done well in terms of yield, if not record, with former Ohio State star Samantha Prahalis, while San Antonio has done likewise with Shenise Johnson in terms of yield and record.

So one could make a case that Hollingsworth in tandem with Cappie Pondexter might have been worth much more in terms of playoff pursuit but in terms of Griner pursuit, her absence might have been priceless.

But games ahead and conditions could still point to key moments to come for New York. While Pierson is expected back on the floor, the Liberty gets no one back from London -- though Pondexter was promising changes on the final day before the breeak when the team lost to Washington.

So it's possible New York will continue to struggle and could dip below -- or above depending how one looks at things -- the other three teams that are a small distance in front in terms of lottery odds.

Nothing Mystical About Washington

At the end of this discussion is the Washington Mystics. But unlike the others, there's no one moment because it has been a team and organizational effort to continue what has been a two-year slide since finishing with the best record in franchise history and the No. 1 seed in the East in 2010.

No one tries to lose but since you get credit for wins, you must also get credit for losses. If Washington should get in position to have the best odds and capitalize, or the mere fact of being in the lottery and then getting lucky in landing the pick, off the first half there were several helpers from the opposition to supress the Washington performance.

On May 30 after Minnesota squandered a 24-point lead at the Verizon Center in the nation's capital, Olympian Lindsay Whalen scored on a putback of her own miss to give the Lynx a 79-77 win.

Two other Olympians -- Swin Cash feeding Sylvia Fowles with 1.8 seconds remaining -- combined to give the Chicago Sky a 65-63 win on June 1. The Chicagoans have been on a slide since an injury to Epiphanny Prince but the Rutgers star is expected to return after the break and perhaps the Sky will back on their way to their first playoff berth in seven tries as a franchise.

Washington also coughed up a big lead in Phoenix, which won when Prahalis snapped a tie in the final minute. Maybe that will become the key moment.

Monique Currie had a chance to tie the game but didn't score inside in the final seconds and the ball ultimately went back into the Mercury's hands.

So that's it for now. All of this may be moot. It would have been in 2010, though how many times has it been said after a close loss in any game -- that one play didn't decide the outcome.

So maybe that's true but like Thompson's shot in 2010, if a similar moment occurs between now and late September the goat of the moment as was the Minnesota defense could well become the heroine of whatever franchise ultimately benefits.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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