Picks for all 22 2019 All-Star spots
The 2019 WNBA All-Star starters were announced last week. 12 reserves (three guards, five frontcourt players and four wildcards) will be selected by the coaches to join them at this year’s All-Star game in Las Vegas.
Here’s a run through my starter ballot, ‘lock’ reserves and the final spots. First, some criteria also seen in last year’s picks column:
- There are exactly 22 spots. There is zero wiggle room on that number. If you don’t like a pick or want to make a case that someone got snubbed, then you need to make a case for said player to take the place of somebody else. Wringing hands over 30+ names without choosing some over the others makes a mockery of the entire process.
- The degree to which people care about Team X having three All-Stars compared to Team Y having two All-Stars even though Team Y is ahead of Team X in the standings will always be different. It most definitely should not be any sort of tiebreaker, though. Voters should always choose the players that they believe to have played best thus far.
- Just a wild thing to remember: At least seven locks in any ‘normal’ year—Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Angel McCoughtry—almost certainly will not be in this year’s game.
- It is always difficult to determine how many missed games should disqualify somebody from All-Star consideration. I don’t have a rule. Perhaps I, and others, should. Parker has only played seven (hamstring, ankle) and hasn’t performed at her typical All-WNBA level. Jewell Loyd has played in 12—not enough to be a disqualifier in this year’s field—and, of course, already got voted in as a starter.
Kristi Toliver, Washington Mystics
Kayla McBride, Las Vegas Aces
Chelsea Gray, Los Angeles Sparks
Kia Nurse, New York Liberty
Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Natasha Howard, Seattle Storm
Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury
Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
Toliver and Fowles were the only two slots I differed on compared to the actual results. Both absolutely belong in the game. These arguments should be viewed accordingly.
Is Toliver noticeably more comfortable in her third season with Mike Thibault and the Mystics? An outline for a statistical argument is there, and her playmaking has been even more important with both Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman missing some time.
Toliver has an assist percentage of 33.0 through 15 games per Basketball-Reference, which would be the highest of her career by far. She’s shooting nearly 50 percent from the field without the monstrous 3-point rate (66.4 in 2017, 58.1 in 2018) seen in the last two seasons, made possible by money midrange shooting. She’s on pace for a third season shooting north of 51 percent on paint shots outside the restricted area and 47 percent (2019 league average: 35.4 percent) or better on midrange attempts outside the paint per WNBA.com.
One word, sometimes seen as a backhanded compliment, continued to bolster Syl’s clear-cut case over the other two top centers: Steady.
The Mercury can’t rebound and their two non-Taurasi stars aren’t doing enough to set everybody else—one of the league’s best 3-point shooting supporting casts—up for open spot-up looks. Everything is still new for the Aces. Liz Cambage started the season on a minutes limit.
Also: Don’t forget the first 40 minutes of that June 29 overtime win over the Fever. Remember what happened before Cambage scored 12 points in overtime? She didn’t get a few calls early, didn’t like it, completely took herself out of the game and was benched for the entire fourth quarter.
Fowles remains the league’s best defensive center. The Lynx are second in defense and rank in the top four in both offensive and defensive rebounding per WNBA.com.
Her teammates owe her a gift—a nice dinner, maybe a new TV. Two more accurate entry passes per night, either from the pool of passes they haven’t seen or made or the bad ones that were deflected or stolen, and the four-ish points that would come from that would probably completely change the perception of her case for a starting nod.
Odyssey Sims, Minnesota Lynx
Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Tina Charles, New York Liberty
DeWanna Bonner, Phoenix Mercury
Liz Cambage, Las Vegas Aces
Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
Gray was my fourth starter among the guards, narrowly edging Sims. I didn’t feel great about it. But carrying L.A. to those early-season wins was such a heavy lift that has to be rewarded.
She had to keep their heads above water with an unproven head coach, no Maria Vadeeva, no Candace Parker, no Alana Beard and a crop of young guards that hadn’t produced consistently at this level yet.
Sims has played quite well. The Lynx desperately needed her off-the-bounce creation. They’ve now been hit by the injury bug, too.
I didn’t want to just break the tie by going with the better player. L.A.’s season really could have gone off the rails even before the latest Parker (ankle) and Vadeeva (knee) injuries. Just knowing you don’t have to dig out of a hole in the standings (hello, Atlanta) has value. More than anything else, Gray is the reason Sparks will be able to enter the All-Star break feeling pretty good about themselves.
Only one stat matters with Charles. It can’t be repeated enough. The Liberty scrapped their way to 7-8 before Rebecca Allen (hand) and the EuroBasket participants returned. They won seven games last season.
No, star players can’t just get a total pass for poor shooting performances. But with offense down across the league, knocking Charles any further down this list is silly. Without a proven second star on roster, she might be more dependent on her supporting cast than any other top-10 player. Many of them weren’t here for a big chunk of those first 15 games.
Whether Ogwumike could produce and get comfortable in more of a spot-up role was one of the biggest questions entering the 2019 season. She has produced and will only look better with two more awesome passers in Parker and Vadeeva back on the floor.
The talk around Bonner’s season has been interesting. She proved that she can scale her scoring even before this season. Her name is coming up a lot in early MVP talks. Unless some things really change, it’s time to settle down a bit with that.
She doesn’t pass as well or score as efficiently as the super-duper-stars. Griner (rightfully) catches a lot of flak for the team’s rebounding struggles. Bonner has a hand in it, too, along with the many botched switches leading to open layups for their opponents. The Mercury really miss Taurasi offensively, but her potential impact on their defensive communication may actually be even more important to round them into form as the title contender many expected them to be.
Thomas continues to be a rock on both ends, quite literally defensively. She’s undersized in some matchups but makes up with it with how she holds her ground once she digs her heels in. Consistency on the other end is what the Sun are still lacking around her. You can gameplan for Shekinna Stricklen. Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams have struggled from the midrange and their aggression is all over the place. Jonquel Jones has been the other MVP we’re racing to crown before she comes close to sustaining the requisite level of play.
The Indiana game knocked Cambage down a very small notch among some great company. Aside from that, my only complaint has been that the Aces at times haven’t been able to get her the ball enough.
The final six
Jasmine Thomas, Connecticut Sun
Allie Quigley, Chicago Sky
Napheesa Collier, Minnesota Lynx
Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm
Diamond DeShields, Chicago Sky
Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta Dream
The first four names were the easiest choices. Collier has been a remarkably steady two-way starter from day one for a likely playoff team, taking it to opponents that dare stick a smaller guard on her. (Can we please stop with the carryover anger over UConn getting a No. 2 seed and the Naismith voting results? Nobody is saying Napheesa isn’t good; everybody agrees that Napheesa is good. Put the strawman away.)
Thomas has had some stretches where she’s been oddly passive for a team that will not beat great teams if she doesn’t go to the rim. She’s still an All-Defense-level performer and is in a good place as an off-ball threat as long as she stays in the mid-30s from deep. Loyd, in her own way, is also consistent enough on both ends while producing in a bigger ball-handling and creation role.
I think this entire discussion on the reserves boils down to how the coaches evaluate Chicago’s backcourt. Ranking the three of them was the most difficult thing to do, though slotting everybody else in doesn’t get much easier.
Quigley’s consistency as a shot-maker won the day. She’s such a deadeye on-the-move shooter. You feel her on trips when she doesn’t even get a touch.
DeShields has actively hurt the team at times with her shot selection. How do you wrestle with that and her ability to make plays defensively that not even five other active players can replicate?
Courtney Vandersloot missing out doesn’t feel right. But are we putting her in just for the assists? How much would our opinions change if she were averaging 6.8 assists per game instead?
The Chicago dilemma for me came down to what I felt put them over the top when it came to winning games. Quigley is a permanent threat to score—something that constantly makes life easier for everybody else. DeShields leaves a bigger imprint on the game defensively, can do more damage by getting to the foul line and has put together more big scoring games (which really matter if opponents are disciplined in tracking Quigley’s every move) than Vandersloot.
Hayes was getting this last spot.
How could you not take last year into account?
Most of these guards have been up and down with their scoring. Imagine how much better Atlanta’s offense—and Hayes’ stat line—would look if we could snap our fingers and turn two of their role players into league-average 3-point shooters. Like Thomas, she gets a bump as an All-Defense performer, and her relative ability to instantly collapse a defense is special. She does more with one crossover than some of the names on this list can do across entire games in that regard.
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