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October 9, 2009

Giving the WNBA a Second Look

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:00 pm

This post is long overdue. In fact, for many of you, it probably comes too late. The deciding Game 5 of the WNBA Finals is tonight (9:00 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2), and my plan to extend the series to best-of-nine has thus far fallen on deaf ears. You might have plans on a Friday night, or you might be watching the baseball playoffs. If not, the matchup between the Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury is well worth the look. This series has been riveting for hard-core WNBA fans like myself as well as newcomers to the women’s game. While I may be biased as an employee of a WNBA team, here’s a sampling of what some other NBA analysts (and friends of BP) have had to say about the WNBA this season.

The WNBA: Much Better Than You Think – Bethlehem Shoals, The Baseline

As far as I can tell, WNBA players can’t jump, run or throw their weight around like their male counterparts. And they do play a more technically adept game. But they are also seriously skilled, in ways that college (amateur) athletes are not, for simple reasons of arithmetic. Both guards handle the ball and run the offense; big men—er, women—post up all over the place, regularly pass off the ball, and reliably hit jumpers like it’s expected of them; everyone cuts like crazy, keeping up a level of activity that at some point is bound to outstrip or shed the coach’s instructions.It’s less a diminished version of the NBA than a mutant strain of it, not unlike various incarnations of Nellieball or D’Antoni Land. It might be even a more sophisticated form of basketball than either the NBA status quo or men’s college ball, which it pretty much makes a mockery of when it comes to both style and content. I don’t know enough about European ball to draw that analogy with confidence, but there might be a family resemblance there.

SLAM Adventures: The WNBA – John Krolik,

But all in all, given the eye-popping ability of the stars, the beauty of watching chalkboard basketball work, and how much fun it is to watch these women play the game, I couldn’t recommend the WNBA more highly as something to tide over die-hards until the regular season begins.

The WNBA? I Think You Should – Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie

It turns out that the WNBA is awesome.

You’ll have to excuse me for sounding like a blithering idiot, because I am a blithering idiot when it comes to this league. Not only am I lacking in the knowledge department, but it turns out I’ve wasted quite a few summers not paying attention to this league.

Not that I regret not staying inside when it was 80 degrees and sunny, but I still should have been watching more games. Because, as we’ve seen in this year’s WNBA Finals, this league is frightfully entertaining.

The Finals matchup between the Mercury and the Fever is a classic contrast of strengths. Phoenix possesses the league’s best offense, one that in context is as good (and as fast) as anything the Suns have done over the last five years. Meanwhile, Indiana offers a stifling top-ranked defense akin to the 1990s Sonics (and understandably so; Fever assistant Gary Kloppenburg is the son of longtime Sonics assistant Bob Kloppenburg, who invented the SOS Pressure Defense). Game 1 went to overtime, and Game 3 was decided at the buzzer; expect tonight’s finale to be as competitive and intense.

I understand the WNBA isn’t for everyone, so this isn’t a hard sell. What these columns we’ve seen all year long reinforce, however, is that the level of play has improved immensely–especially in a series with as much talent as is on the floor during the Finals. If you wrote the WNBA off years ago, now is the time to take another look.

Shameless plug: Here’s my preview of the Finals (predicting Phoenix in five games) as well as game-by-game coverage along the lines of my Playoff Prospectus reports.

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