The Step Back

How does one choose a WNBA team? Maybe this can help


The WNBA is fun. Fun is good. However, fun is difficult to truly appreciate without some sort of emotional tie to the funsource. Many media markets aren’t lucky enough to have a WNBA team of their own, so one may instead be forced to pick a team for whom to cheer without the conventional shortcut of geographic proximity.

So what is one to do, especially when one, like me, is a WNBA neophyte? Buy League Pass while it’s nice and cheap then hope for the best? Well, yeah. That will do kinda.

But we can do better. The Step Back has a few people more well-versed in the league. One of these people, Brendon Kleen, was gracious enough to give his time while I prevaricated on picking a team. Maybe our conversation can help another come to their own conclusion.

Read More: 2017-18 NBA calendar dashboard

There are no bad choices, except choosing not to make a choice. Don’t do that. Don’t be that person.

Matt Rutkowski: Hey Brendon.

So last year after watching Game 5 of the WNBA Finals, I promised myself I would watch more of the WNBA this year. Up until about a week ago, that served as a reminder why I don’t like making promises.

I like to think it’s not too late for me, though. I think I can turn this around. The WNBA season is hitting peak “oh flippin’ h*ck” mode. There are only a handful of games remaining for each team, squads are jockeying for position in a unique playoff system and League Pass is only like nine bucks for the remainder. This feels like a good time for someone like me (or other people like anyone who may somehow break into my email and read this conversation) to jump in and pick a squad.

I think you can help me, Brendon. I think you’re the dude for me to go to in order to get neat WNBA perspective. I don’t know much. I know star players, I know a bit from casually watching a few games and I know the Detroit Shock don’t exist any more. I gotta find a team to pull for.

Are you willing to hold my hand for a bit? Not literally. That’d be hard to do on a computer, but I’m going to firmly place my left hand on the middle of my monitor as I click “Send.”

Here I go,

Matt

Brendon Kleen: Hey Matt.

It is indeed “oh flippin h*ck” time, if by that you mean the stretch run. I think that baseball term can apply here to basketball. Let me hold your hand.

I saw on Twitter that you’ve been falling for the New York Liberty pretty hard. Tell me about that — when I watch them, I get frustrated that Tina Charles doesn’t just play center full time.

Take the plunge,

Brendon

Matt: I wish I could explain it. I don’t like liking New York teams, but the heart wants what it wants.

It’s mostly Shevonte Zellous. For one, she has an awesome name. For two, I just found myself following her around the court when I was watching. From the second the announcers were calling her a sort of glue player for the team, I was locked in. I just happened to catch her on a game where she took and made more 3s than she had in any other game this year. At this point, she is my favorite player.

But I don’t know if the Liberty should be my favorite team. As a Detroit sports fan, I’ll be one of the few people who won’t be put off by the mention of Bill Laimbeer coaching, but I don’t know if that’s enough.

I feel like we can knock both the Lynx and the Stars off the Potential Favorite Team list. The Stars seem likely to be eliminated from playoff contention any day now, and the Lynx feel like deciding I’m suddenly a Warriors fan.

Does that seem fair?

Brendon: Zellous is for sure a fun player, as is Sugar Rodgers (also cool name, also bombastic style). You can love whomever you want.

As for me, I think you’re correct about the Lynx. They’re having a historically great season, and so buying in most of the way through the season is cheap. You’re better than that. They’re an incredible team, but you need something to fight for come playoff time. The Lynx will have a bye in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Stars are fun because Kelsey Plum, this year’s No. 1 draft pick, is finally getting minutes, but there’s nothing left to cheer for with that team. No Playoff Plum, for now.

If we’re talking playoff battles, though, there are several options. The fight for the last few seeds is tight. Have you watched any Storm or Wings games thus far in your WNBA spree?

Matt: Epiphanny Prince is tremendous as well. The Liberty are killing it with memorable names I’m jealous of.

I’ve watched one Storm game against the Mercury because Griner and Taurasi are two of the names I know, and Jack Maloney/Ryne Prinz sold me pretty well on the Storm in their podcast. Two young stars on a young, coalescing team is easy to root for. Having any sort of basketball in Seattle is heartwarming as well. The Storm are the team I want to root for based on my exceptionally limited knowledge.

The Wings I’ve not seen any of. What’s their story? Fun? Are they fun? Brendon, are they fun?

Brendon: They have two of the best players in the league this year in Skylar Diggins-Smith (do-it-all combo guard and general badass) and Glory Johnson (tremendous scoring big). So yes, they’re tons of fun.

But I really can’t argue with cheering for a Seattle team in which the wildly fun Kaleena Mosquera-Lewis is merely a tertiary piece. I got to see the Storm in person on Saturday night in Phoenix and it was one of the most fun teams I’ve ever watched live.

Matt: Okay, so the Storm are looking like a good choice. They’re fighting for a playoff spot as well, so there’s drama to their remaining games. That’s a plus.

The Connecticut Sun were the other team I was drawn to from the games I’ve watched mainly due to Jonquel Jones. I see she had a 20-20 game earlier in the year, and I didn’t know that was a thing that could happen in 40 minutes. Any issues with picking them as a favorite? Women’s basketball has a following in Connecticut, so it seems like you’d get to fall into a fun crowd.

Brendon: I think what you mean, Matt, is a “Sun” crowd. Yes, the Sun are massively fun, and Jonquel Jones might be my favorite player in the whole league. However, if picking the Lynx is like rooting for the Warriors, then picking the Sun is almost like rooting for the Cavs. They’re the No. 2 to the Lynx’s No. 1, and I don’t think it’s close.

The only other team I might suggest would be those Mercury. I’m a reporter for the team this year through FanSided’s The Summitt, and the team has really won me over as the season has gone along. They’re just getting Brittney Griner back from injury and have gotten one of the WNBA’s best offensive seasons this year from Monique Currie. Obviously Diana Taurasi is a legend, but they run a fun offensive system around her abilities and are generally good.

What did you like from the Mercury?

Matt: Griner. Reading your articles, it’s cool to see she’s taking on more of a leadership role and more of a scoring responsibility. I mean, I know she’s a defensive menace, but she’s leading the league in scoring by almost two full points. Plus she can dunk sometimes. From the perspective of an uninformed observer, is she not the best player in the league? I’ve watched more Mercury games than any other team simply because of wanting to see what she does and how she does it.

I’m curious about the LA Spark, though. My knowledge of WNBA history goes back less than a year. With the Lynx being the Warriors, and the Spark upending them in the last game of the finals with their own LeBron in Candace Parker, couldn’t they fit the bill of the WNBA Cavs as well?

That is grossly oversimplified, but I’m a simplistic person.

Brendon: Yeah, maybe the Sun are more the Celtics? Hmm. I think it makes it easier for NBA fans to digest fandom if it’s related to NBA teams like that, but in general I like the Sparks because they’re the Sparks.

I think a great team for anyone looking to catch the end of this particular season is how well the bigs are playing. Not to say anything against the wings in the WNBA (Maya Moore and Candice Parker might fight me if I didn’t give them shouts), but it’s a nice foil for the NBA in how the player groups rate out.

Anyway, LA is awesome because they are incredibly talented, from Parker to Nneka.

Matt: Alrighty. So I’ve crossed off Stars, Sun and Lynx. I’m going to cross Chicago as well just due to the weird amount of tumult described by Ryan and Jack in their early season podcast.

The Sparks are going to remain, but right now I’m thinking either Liberty, Storm and Mercury because I know there’s a pretty awesome Mercury resource in this dude Brendon that I know who writes about them and also Griner.

Out of the remaining teams, are there any others that have interesting stories or players or play styles I should take note of? I’d be lying if I said I knew much about the Wings, Dream or Fever.

Brendon: I would mention the Sky because they’re very sneaky-fun, but you don’t want to be let down in your first-ever WNBA season. But Vandersloot and Quigley might be my favorite backcourt in the league.

Anyway, I would love to recruit you to the Mercury bandwagon, and to answer your question, she very well could be the best player in the league. That is certainly well within her reach, but an injury derailed her MVP-caliber season. It is a real reason to latch onto Phoenix this year, to see if she can fulfill that potential.

I would say the Mercury or the Storm, sir. And seeing as how Seattle just went on the road to beat Phoenix, they may have won your fandom by default.

What say you?

Matt: I suppose it is time to make a decision. I don’t like making them. Easy, you know, does it, dude. I’m trying to distract myself by searching for Detroit Shock jerseys on Ebay, but I feel like there are no real bad options.

It’s difficult. I was coming in to this thinking I was going to end up picking the Storm. I was thinking I could lead into a thought about going into their game against the Lynx on Wednesday and looking at it as a time to jump on the bandwagon for a rising team from a deserving city against the incumbent power. Sure they’d probably lose, but one has to face adversity in their fandom to really lay a foundation.

Except I’m not feeling it. I’m still feeling that tie to Zellous. I’m more drawn to the individual players, and writing out my thoughts on the Mercury made me realize I have a similar admiration for Griner. It has to be New York or Phoenix, and since it’s not New York (it’s never New York. It can’t be New York.), I think it’s the Mercury.

This was not what I expected, and I like things going according to my expectations, but I’m happy with this. Maybe Griner isn’t MVP this year, but who knows about next.

I’m good with this choice. Go Mercury.





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