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Friday, July 22, 2011
ESPN experts pick top 15 players of all time


In honor of its 15th season, the WNBA has asked fans to vote for the top 15 players of all time. That group will be announced at halftime of the All-Star Game on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC). We wanted to get in on the fun, so we decided to poll our experts, too. Four of ESPN's women's basketball gurus compiled their top 15s, and from their lists, we determined a consensus 15.

Here are the players and the number of votes they received from our panel of four:

Here's the individual voting:

Carolyn Peck, former WNBA coach and ESPN analyst

Picks: Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith, Tamika Catchings, Lauren Jackson, Diana Taurasi, Yolanda Griffith, Deanna Nolan, Sue Bird, Candace Parker, Ticha Penicheiro, Becky Hammon and Taj McWilliams-Franklin

I am so excited to be celebrating 15 years of the WNBA. The league has evolved because of the continual influx of great talent. When asked to pick my 15 all-time great players, I thought that would be easy. When I started to put pen to paper, or fingers to computer, I found the task to be more difficult than I expected. The first 10 are pretty easy, but limiting the list to 15 is a tough task.

I could keep adding to the list but was asked to stop at 15. My selections include MVPs, statistical all-time leaders and WNBA champions. I've included Taj McWilliams-Franklin because she was a third-round draft pick, has remained in the league for 13 years and sits second in the WNBA in rebounding. Taj has been named All-WNBA and an All-Star, and has won a championship. I also had to include Becky Hammon. What a great story of motivation and determination. She was not drafted and then turned a training camp contract into a 13-year career. She has developed into one the best shooting guards in the league.

When fans, critics or girls who dream of playing in the WNBA look at this list, they might agree or disagree. That's fine. It's nice to have an argument because there are so many great players to choose from. The WNBA consists of the best players in the world.

Mechelle Voepel, ESPN.com columnist

Picks: Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Lauren Jackson, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Yolanda Griffith, Deanna Nolan, Katie Smith, Sue Bird, Cappie Pondexter, Swin Cash, Becky Hammon and DeLisha Milton-Jones

When the WNBA approached some of us in the media to help pick 30 nominees for the top 15, there were some difficult omissions, such as Vickie Johnson, the longtime guard for New York and San Antonio.

But for the most part, the process of getting to 30 was not too painful. Cutting to 15 was. The last three to make my list were Swin Cash, for her two WNBA titles in Detroit and her career resurgence plus another title in Seattle; Becky Hammon, the little engine who has energized two franchises, New York and San Antonio; and DeLisha Milton-Jones, who won two titles with the Sparks, and has provided consistent offense and tough post defense for both Los Angeles and Washington.

You can rightfully ask how I can possibly leave off Katie Douglas (three appearances in the WNBA finals) and Penny Taylor (two WNBA titles with Phoenix), for instance. Trust me, I've second-guessed myself on them, too. Ultimately, they were the most difficult to omit.

Graham Hays, ESPN.com columnist

Picks: Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Cynthia Cooper, Yolanda Griffith, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Deanna Nolan, Ticha Penicheiro, Cappie Pondexter, Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Tina Thompson

The only consolation easily found in the frustration of squeezing 15 years of basketball into a list of 15 players came in realizing how much more difficult a task it will be 15 years from now. Good luck with that.

There are eight players who made my list from my first moment of contemplation and never budged: Tamika Catchings, Cynthia Cooper, Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi and Tina Thompson.

In coming up with the remaining seven, point guards were the biggest stumbling block. I wasn't trying to limit the list to a certain number of players per position, but at one point, Sue Bird, Ticha Penicheiro, Dawn Staley, Teresa Weatherspoon and Lindsay Whalen seemed to be vying for the same real estate. Bird's scoring ability and Penicheiro's longevity stood out. So identifiable with the league's early days and so good defensively, Weatherspoon was the toughest omission from the list of 15.

It came down to Weatherspoon or Deanna Nolan for the final spot, and while readily admitting I might be guilty of unintentional bias, having seen the latter play in person far more often, Nolan's all-around game and athleticism helped her stand out on some loaded Detroit Shock teams and helped her stand out on this list.

Michelle Smith, espnW.com columnist

Picks: Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Cynthia Cooper, Cheryl Ford, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Ticha Penicheiro, Katie Smith, Tangela Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, Tina Thompson and Teresa Weatherspoon

If it's all about winning the ring, bringing home a championship -- and who are we kidding, it absolutely is -- the majority of my picks for the WNBA's top 15 players of all time know how to get it done.

Among the 15 players I voted for, there are 26 championship rings. Two of the players who don't yet have them -- Indiana's Tamika Catchings and San Antonio's Becky Hammon -- seem destined to win theirs before the end of their outstanding careers.

These elite players and pioneers hold the league's record books and its history in their hands, not to mention quite a few trophies.