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WNBA / MIKE TERRY

MVP Award Is No Slam Dunk

August 20, 2003|WNBA

Break out the tuxes and formal gowns. Alert the paparazzi. It's awards time in the WNBA, as the 2003 regular season begins its final week.

There are six awards: most valuable player, rookie of the year, coach of the year, most improved player, defensive player of the year and the Kim Perrot sportsmanship award. As usual, some choices are no-brainers while others can lapse into endless debates.

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Most valuable player: With her great start, this was Lisa Leslie's trophy to lose. But she won't get it after missing 11 second-half games because of a knee injury.

Which makes it a good time to examine the argument of what defines an MVP -- does the player in question lift her team to unimagined heights, or was the player's performance so outstanding it almost doesn't matter what her team does?

Seattle's Lauren Jackson, in her third season, is a leading choice. Jackson is the top scorer in the league at 21.3 points a game. She is shooting 48% from the field and 84% from the free-throw line, and averages 8.9 rebounds.

She set a league record for consecutive double-double games with seven and became the fourth player to record 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game. She also is the youngest player (22 years, 27 days) to reach 1,000 points.

The problem: Seattle must play Houston twice, Sacramento and San Antonio this week, and could miss the playoffs. Yes, the Storm has some injury issues, most recently the loss of Kamila Vodichkova. But there won't be a team in the playoffs that hasn't lost a key performer at some point.

Should Jackson's season carry the day without a playoff appearance?

On the other side is Detroit's Swin Cash. Her numbers are not gaudy. She is seventh in scoring (16.6), 18th in rebounding (5.7), 20th in field-goal percentage (45%) and is a below-average free-throw shooter (66.5%).

But even with the other improvements Detroit made, getting Ruth Riley in the dispersal draft and picking Cheryl Ford in the college draft, there is no way the Shock goes from the league's worst record in 2002 to perhaps the league's best record in 2003 without Cash's talent and leadership. That makes her, to my thinking, a legitimate candidate.

Other worthy claims can be submitted by Leslie, Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw, Indiana's Tamika Catchings and Houston's Tina Thompson. Of the four, Leslie showed she was the most valuable last week when her return spurred the Sparks to road victories at Minnesota and Houston and clinched a playoff berth for Los Angeles.

I sense Jackson will prevail. But I'd feel better about it if the Storm makes the playoffs.

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Rookie of the year: One of the no-brainers. Ford, the third pick in the April draft, wasn't as heralded as No. 1 LaToya Thomas of Cleveland or Chantelle Anderson of Sacramento.

But she has been, hands down, the best first-year player. Ford was the only rookie to appear in the All-Star game. She is one of three players, along with Leslie and Holdsclaw, averaging double figures in points and rebounds.

Just as important, she has been a key figure in Detroit's earning the top playoff seeding in the East.

After a slow start, in part because of injuries, Thomas has come on as a scorer; she and Ford lead all rookies at 10.6 points a game. But she should be a better rebounder. Anderson has had injuries too, but she never looked like she deserved to be the second overall pick.

Other players who have enjoyed good first seasons include Sacramento's Kara Lawson, San Antonio's Gwen Jackson, Indiana's Coretta Brown and Minnesota's Teresa Edwards -- if you can call a five-time Olympian a "rookie."

But Ford tops them all.

Coach of the year--Another easy choice even though there are several worthy candidates.

Oddly enough, both Van Chancellor and Michael Cooper may have done their best WNBA coaching jobs this season. Both had to work around some key injury stretches as well as compete in the league's toughest division. And both still have their teams dueling for the West title in the final week.

Still, Chancellor, who won the league's first four titles, and Cooper, who has won the last two, are victims of their own success and will be bypassed.

In another year, Minnesota's Suzie McConnell Serio would be a leading candidate. In her first season, she has the Lynx -- who have never had a winning season, much less made the playoffs -- with a franchise-record 17 wins. And, with the exception of Phoenix, she's doing the most with the least amount of talent in the West.

Also deserving consideration is Trudi Lacey, who in her first year at Charlotte has the Sting in second place in the East.

But no one can match Detroit's Bill Laimbeer, who took over a disorganized and dispirited team last year when it was 0-10, made strides toward respectability with nine wins in the final 22 games, and guided the Shock to the East's best record this season. Depending on how Los Angeles and Houston settle the West, the Shock, currently at 22-9, could finish with the league's best record.

You may not like Laimbeer, but you can't dismiss how he got the Shock to this level.

Other recommendations: Spark guard Nikki Teasley edging Houston forward Michelle Snow for most improved player, Houston's Sheryl Swoopes repeating as defensive player of the year, and Sacramento's Edna Campbell for the sportsmanship award.

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