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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Guru's WNBA Draft Lottery Musings: Washington Top Dog Chasing No. 1 Pick

(Guru's note: The post above this focuses on the playoffs leading with Connecticut clinching the East top seed thanks to Maya Moore's career night in win over visiting Indiana)

By Mel Greenberg

Not only has Lindsay Whelan been one of the impact players in leading the Minnesota Lynx to their first-ever WNBA title in 2011 as well as having them in the hunt again, the first-time member of the Olympic gold-medal winning USA squad is also making a difference for other teams.

Last weekend she hit a last-second shot that carried the Lynx to the first of a two-game sweep of the Indiana Fever that played a role in her former Connecticut Sun squad clinching the Eastern Conference top seed Monday night.

Early in the season, Whalen hit another buzzer-beater, this one came on the road at the Washington Mystics that rescued Minnesota after the Lynx squandered a huge lead.

But the Whalen shot may go into the lure of this year's lucractive draft lottery in which only one of the four non-playoffs teams will miss out on the bountiful riches offered at the top in defending NCAA champion Baylor's Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.

Though the ping pong system ultimately determines who gets the top pick, besides who gets the second, the third, and the fourth, there still needs to be a ranking of the participants in terms of getting the best shot at winning the No. 1 pick.

And thanks to Whelan, along with the Chicago Sky's Sylvia Fowles and Swin Cash, Washington (5-27 with two games remaining) has clinched the best shot because it owns the tiebreaker in case the Phoenix Mercury (7-24) were to catch the Mystics when the regular season comes to an end Sunday.

It's already quite a sports year in the nation's capital with the Washington Nationals heading to major league baseball's playoffs and Heisman-winning rookie quarterback sensation Robert Griffin III (RGIII) causing excitment with his play for the NFL Redskins.

But the second straight season of ineptitude might be the charm for the local WNBA affiliate, though the debut season of the Mystics in 1998 was also especially miserable in the pre-lottery days where the worst finish enabled Washington to land former Tennessee sensation Chamique Holdsclaw, though her offcourt mental health issues, from which she has since recovered, made her arrival a mixed bag.

The Tulsa Shock (8-23), which has suddenly begun winning, despite not having Australian Elizabeth Cambage show up after the Olympics, cannot catch Washington in terms of loss-won records (getting in the spirit of things with the lingo), but they can catch Phoenix, their bottom-feeding rival in the Western Conference.

Fowles and Cash are mentioned because the next game following Washington's home loss to Minnesota, the Mystics lost at the buzzer in Chicago, when Cash fed Fowles for a layup.

So those two wins help define the "Tina Thompson Moment," as it may play out for Washington in giving the Mystics the edge, if they get the No. 1 pick, though Nos. 2-3 won't be shabby, as previously referenced.

For those of you new to the Guru's musings, etc., a brief history of the Tina Thompson Moment.

In 2010, Seattle dominated a poor Western Conference filled with losing records below the Storm.

Still, as referenced by the records of teams that were chasing (perhaps not the right word) Seattle in the West, and this time around New York/Chicago in the East, someone still has to fill the fourth spot, no matter what the record.

Maya Moore, who became rookie of the year last season, was in everyone's sights as the 2010 season came to a close, the same way this year's draft is viewed, but even more so.

Minnesota met the Los Angeles Sparks the last week of the season running neck and neck the way Chicago and New York are currently in the running in the East.

(Truth be told, if Chicago didn't go on the long plunge following Epiphanny Prince's injury that had her out of action till after the Olympics, the East race for the last spot would be over.)

Anyhow, in that famous Lynx-Sparks game, Minnesota went ahead with seconds remaining. But Los Angeles then went length of court in those final seconds and Thompson, the former star of the four-time champion Houston Comets, nailed the game-winner.

Looked upon a few games later, everyone decided that was the difference maker that put the Sparks in the playoffs for their short-lived appearance, and Minnesota in the draft lottery.

Bummer at the moment for first-year coach Cheryl Reeve, the former assistant to Bill Laimbeer on the three-time champion former Detroit Shock.

But not bummer for long.

Minnesota was lined up No. 2 behind Tulsa for best chance at gaining the top pick, but the ping pong balls dropped in favor of the Lynx and the road to Moore was paved.

There are a slew other talented Lynx who were already on the roster so the addition of Moore was one of the final additions to mine WNBA gold completed with a 7-1 playoff run, including 3-0 over the Atlanta Dream in the finals.

Tulsa, which took Cambage with the No. 2 pick behind Moore, has not had good fortune at the bottom, which is why no one is using the "tank" accusations at a squad that was stuck with the fourth pick last April after finishing with a WNBA all-time worst 3-31.

That actually has worked out not too bad, considering that Glory Johnson out of Tennessee has been productive in Tulsa.

But to continue at this moment, with some issues to be decided, here are all the other "Tina Thompson Moment" gems lurking prior to next Wednesday when the draft lottery results are determined and announced on ESPN.

Here are the records in reverse order and what's left:

Washington (5-27) vs. Indiana, Friday, and at Chicago, Saturday.
Phoenix (7-24) visits Los Angeles, Tuesday; hosts Minnesota, Friday; hosts Seattle, Sunday.
Tulsa (8-23) hosts New York, Thursday; visits New York, Saturday; visits Indiana, Sunday.

New York (14-17) visits San Antonio, Tuesday, visits Tulsa, Thursday; hosts Tulsa, Saturday. (A little interesting: the Tulsa-NY juxaposition in the schedule, don't you think?)

Chicago (13-18) visits Seattle, Tuesday; hosts Atlanta, Thursday; hosts Washington, Saturday.

New York or Chicago will have the fourth worst record, either way, among the four draft lottery teams, so either will need even more luck than Minnesota had to leapfrog over Tulsa for Moore.

Since Washington and Phoenix could tie, here is how things get broken in reverse as to what happens on the plus side of standings and playoff seed designation or eligibility.

Because Washington and Phoenix are in opposite conferences, according to a league source, whoever has the worst record between the two against the opposition conference, gets the nod for a better percentage chance in the drawing.

Well, Washington was 2-10 against the West while Phoenix was 3-9 against the East.

If Washington wins out for the No. 1 pick, another Tina Thompson moment could be former UConn great Diana Taurasi playing for the Mercury when the Phoenix recently beat up on Connecticut on the road.

Phoenix has been injury riddled but has taken abuse as the chief intent-to-tank because of the resting of Taurasi, though a lot of it on the front half had to do with her wanting to be in top shape for the Olympic squad.

DeWanna Bonner had a big night against Connecticut in that game. There was the narrow early-season win at Tulsa.

On the other hand, there was the Kristi Toliver shot to give Tulsa a last-second lost to Los Angeles to go with the loss to Phoenix. And there was that near upset but still a narrow loss by Tulsa at Connecticut.

Once the lottery order is announced, the Guru will re-visit all this in defining the actual Tina Thompson moments in terms of the results. This exercise is more of a nomination to show how things got to where they are in terms of differentiating the percentage order.

For example, being No. 2 in line could be the winner instead of being first.

Phoenix clinches No. 2 by losing out its last three games.

But Phoenix and Tulsa could still tie for the second best lottery percentage at 8-26, and, if so, the first tiebreaker goes out the window because the teams were 2-2 after Tulsa's recent win in the final game of the series for this season.

And mathematically, they could tie for worst conference record. Tulsa is done at 5-17 in conference competition while all three Phoenix games are against the West.

The Mercury are 4-15 in conference standings so 1-2 this week could create an overall tie at 9-26 if Tulsa loses all three games to East squads.

That would make both teams 5-17 in the West so, in reverse manner to how the Connecticut Sun took the East, worst record against teams .500 or better, gets the better position.

Actually, it would seem more consistent if it was worst record against teams .500 or worse, but why quibble.

Anyhow to go through the drill as was done in the other post to show how Connecticut edged Indiana for East top seed, we start:

Tulsa vs.
Connecticut 0-2
Indiana 0-1 - 1R
Atlanta 1-1
Minnesota 0-5
Los Angeles 2-2
San Antonio 1-4
*New York 0-2 would have to do that for New York to reach .500

Tulsa total 4-15 plus 1R if NY doesn't get to .500 4-17 if NY gets there; or 5-15.

Phoenix vs.
Connecticut 1-1
Indiana 0-2
Atlanta 0-2
Minnesota 0-3 1R
Los Angeles 0-4 1R
San Antonio 1-3
*New York 0-2

Phoenix total 2-15 right now and 2-17 including NY. Factoring remaning games 2-17 plus 2-19 with NY; or 3-16 or 3-18 with NY; or 4-15 or 4-19 with NY.

Phoenix may have an edge right now on projections but the Guru will update as the numbers become more refined.

Whither New York or Chicago?

And getting to the last part of this exercise, the New York vs. Chicago discussion is closer to paralleling the actual Tina Thompson moment involving the Minnesota-Los Angeles game.

This will become super relevant if with the fourth best odds, whichever of the two lands the first or second position for the actual draft, or in a little lesser sense, the third, just as we looked at Thompson's shot putting Minnesota out of the playoffs, what might that moment be involving New York or Chicago.

Well, it's still a race with New York holding the edge. So maybe the real Tina Thompson moment has yet to happen. It will certainly have to go that way to knock out New York or put Chicago in.

If a tiebreak is needed, we'll deal with it on the weekend.

But for now, if it becomes a one-game differential, in terms of dropping Chicago in the lottery (and then the Sky might land a premium pick), credit the recent narrow win for New York against Los Angeles.

At the finish two key things happened when Kristi Toliver missed one of her patented three-point shots and Candace Parker missed two free throws.

And on the Chicago side there was the August 19th game in Washington, in which the Mystics won 75-71 in overtime. In that game, the home team's Matee Ajavon nailed a trey with 1.9 seconds left in regulation to force the extended period and former Duke star Jasmine Thomas' three-pointer in it in the closing seconds.

That's one, for sure, in terms of a Sky dive.

The other came a few days later at Tulsa -- an 81-78 setback in overtime after holding a 10-point lead during the fourth quarter.

Roneeka Hodges put the game in overtime with two foul shots for Tulsa with 9.3 seconds left in regulation. Then Epiphanny Prince missed a trey, but Swin Cash grabbed the rebound only to have Eshaya Murphy miss a trey in the final seconds giving Tulsa the win that was insured with rookie Riquna Williams scoring with 46.4 seconds remaining in the overtime.

Of course, on the other side, since Tulsa is in the lottery and if one game determines its order and it pays off, this will go into the Shock pile.

One thing is for sure: this time around there's as much anticipation in the Bottoms Up Division as there is among the playoff bound contingent.

And, because of the arrangement with ESPN to broadcast the lottery on the 26th, next Wednesday, this time the last shall go first and perhaps a year from now leapfrog right into the championship hunt.

Just ask Minnesota if it can be done. It just takes a little help from some unwitting situations and, oh yes, it doesn't hurt to have lady luck wearing your team jersey.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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