Commentary

Starters mix of popular, productive

All-Star Game will be played at Mohegan Sun Arena on July 27 (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)

Updated: July 19, 2013, 2:14 PM ET
By Michelle Smith | espnW.com

Fan voting for All-Star teams can sometimes be a dicey proposition. Fans frequently care less about who is playing well and more about loyalty to their favorite teams and the names they know best. And then you end up with something that doesn't quite resemble the most deserving All-Star team. But then again, what does it really matter?

These are the people who are paying for tickets and buying jerseys and popcorn, and they should see who they want to see, regardless of how the statistics read. Let the people have what they want.

Yet somehow, in a WNBA season infused by a youth movement and then dampened by a spate of injuries impacting the majority of teams in the league, the fans have selected themselves a pair of pretty darn good teams. They managed to achieve a balance between popular and productive. What else could you want for the All-Star Game at the Mohegan Sun Arena on July 27 (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)?

If you are Elena Delle Donne, not much else.

The Chicago Sky forward became the first rookie in league history to become the leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game. Delle Donne's outstanding season so far -- 19.1 points, 5.7 rebounds a game -- has earned her the admiration of her teammates, her opponents and the fans alike. Any doubt that she was pro-ready was dispelled in the season opener at Phoenix -- when she scored 22 points and 8 rebounds and 4 blocks -- and she has done nothing but put up MVP-caliber numbers since.

The 6-foot-5 wing is one of two rookies on the All-Star roster -- the first time in league history that two first-year players have been named All-Star starters. The other, of course, is Phoenix phenom Brittney Griner, who was the biggest name in the game when the season began -- and still might be after Monday night's stint as a guest on "Conan" -- and has been an undeniably impactful player when she's on the floor, averaging 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. She also leads the league in blocks at 2.8 per game.

But Griner has been in and out of the Mercury lineup with a knee injury (she did not play in Thursday's game in Los Angeles). Presuming Griner's available to play, she will more than likely get the opportunity to dunk a time or more, which raises the excitement level in a game that is already set up as a showcase.

In fact, it could be a veritable dunk-fest if Candace Parker, the top vote-getter in the Western Conference, decides to get into the action. Parker was selected as an All-Star starter for the second time, but will play in the game for the first time after missing the 2011 All-Star Game because of a shoulder injury.

Delle Donne will be joined in the Eastern Conference backcourt by fellow forwards Tamika Catchings, selected for the eighth time, and Angel McCoughtry. Catchings, who has been voted as a starter for every All-Star Game since her rookie season in 2002, is currently leading Indiana back from a 1-7 start, and McCoughtry is playing like an MVP but dealing with a nagging Achilles tendon injury.

The East backcourt includes two of the league's most exciting scorers in two-time All-Star Epiphanny Prince and five-time All-Star Cappie Pondexter, each averaging more than 17 points a game. Pondexter will be making her second start.

Out West -- where five former No. 1 draft picks make up the starting five -- the starting backcourt consists of Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, the league's scoring leader and a six-time All-Star, and Minnesota's Seimone Augustus, though Augustus has been sitting out with a sprained left ankle. Joining Parker and Griner in the frontcourt is Lynx star Maya Moore, who is having a breakout season as a scorer and tone-setter for the deep, talented Lynx.

As a group, these starters include a little bit of everything, a WNBA sampler platter of sorts. Rookies, superstars, champions, players who can score and defend, a collection of the best the best league in the world has to offer.

Notably absent from the list is Connecticut center Tina Charles, the only one among the league's top nine scorers not to be named a starter (she finished fourth in voting for East frontcourt players). But the Sun's tough season likely cut into Charles' vote total, as did the burgeoning popularity of the rookie Delle Donne. Charles will likely find her way onto the team as one of the six coaches' selections.

Meanwhile, the only one of the "3 to See" who didn't get into the starters' vote was Skylar Diggins, the Tulsa point guard whose Shock are still struggling to win games. Diggins could also be named to the game as a coaches' pick, though competition for guard spots will be fierce in the West. Diggins ranked third in voting for West guards.

The fans deserve plenty of credit here for getting it right. Let's hope the game lives up to the roster.

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

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