Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the WNBA season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:01 PM)
Good afternoon, everyone. We'll get right to it.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Lauren Jackson seems to be a close to a lock to win the MVP award at this point. How much is her case helped by all of the games she gets to play against the terrible teams in the West? Does any player have a reasonable chance to catch her in the race?
Mechelle Voepel (2:03 PM)
Several questions about the MVP race, including whether Tina Charles might repeat the Candace Parker feat in 2008 of being ROY and MVP. Certainly, Charles is in the running for MVP, and she's got to be unanimous rookie of the year. As for LJ ... I think when she's healthy, she's just phenomenal. The West's weakness aside, I don't see how if she continues as she has, there is much reason not to vote for her. But as I said in an earlier chat, I never vote until the last minute. Want all the evidence to be in. :)
kevin (macon ga)
What's wrong with Nicole Powell? Last year she was an All Star, now she can't seem to hit anything.
Mechelle Voepel (2:07 PM)
Will combine this with another questioner who wonders if Plenette Pierson should be moved into the starting role instead of Nicole Powell for the New York Liberty. From talking to both Powell and Cappie Pondexter earlier this year, I got the feeling they were still getting used to playing as a tandem, and it wasn't going to click all that easily. Powell is a very different player and personality than Diana Taurasi, and I think the dynamic between Pondexter and Powell is not really working as well as both probably hoped. But add to that that Powell is in a new setting after having such a comfort factor in Sacto, which she didn't want to leave. She had no choice with the franchise going under. Pondexter, of course, did ask to be traded from Phoenix. And the fact that most shooters do go through slumps of some degree, and Powell is no exception. Pierson has, of course, made her reputation as the great sparkplug off the bench, but maybe the idea of making the starting lineup switch isn't a bad one. She's not a 3-point shooter, though, of course.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
During Tuesday night's broadcast, one of the announcers compared NY's Leilani Mitchell to Chris Paul. The comparison is not even close. Her game is closer to Tyronn Lue, and the way she pays with a ball-dominant electric shooting guard makes her more Steve Blake. I understand an NBA comparison, when it is relevent, but why do the announcers and commentators feel the need to make completely unfounded comparisons to sell the game? They end up looking (and sounding) ridiculous. Even Richard Williams is calling them crazy. :)
Mechelle Voepel (2:15 PM)
I don't know what goes on in most broadcasters' decision-making process on what to say ... while I am friendly with them, I've never broadcasted a game. So I don't know all the dialogue that goes on between them and producers, or how they might be encouraged to make such comparisons, if they, in fact, ever are. I think if you're going to make a comparison to the NBA, you have to realize that people who follow the NBA tend to be very informed and opinionated about the complexities and specifics of players' games. So they are going to call BS on you if you make a comparison that is tenuous or just plain wrong. I don't make many comparisons to the NBA ever - or men's college basketball, for that matter - because I don't think it's necessary or even wise - unless there is some really specific similarities that are worth pointing out.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What is your favorite NBA team if you follow the NBA?
Mechelle Voepel (2:17 PM)
I don't have a favorite and I never did. I grew up near St. Louis, and the Hawks moved to Atlanta when I was 3 years old. So even I wasn't a basketball fan yet then. If they'd been in St. Louis when I was growing up, I would have been attached to them. But instead, I just watched whoever was on TV. I've never developed any favorites, and as journalist, that's just as well.
kevin (macon ga)
Lisa Leslie is campaigning for a spot on TNT with Charles Barkley, Cheryl Miller, and company. Do you think she would fit well in that dynamic?
Mechelle Voepel (2:20 PM)
I don't know. Lisa Leslie has become very well-spoken, but she would really need to be very well-informed about the NBA to add something to the broadcasts. If she is, then maybe so. I never recall asking her much about the NBA. If this happened, she would have to be ready to spar with two experts who are not shy about extreme opinions, to say the least.
How many players in the WNBA can you name that are more UNDER-rated than Taj McWilliams-Franklin? Tuesday night, against Connecticut. she put in more minutes and out-performed McCarville and Powell who are nearly half her age. She's amazing!
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
I have to say that whatever water Taj is drinking, we could all use some of it. Fountain of Youth stuff. It's interesting talking to her teammates - she's fit in well in many different situations, which is also to her credit - because they admire how she plays very hard but doesn't "waste" energy. She's just the consummate pro in every sense. And an incredibly smart person, too, which I'm sure has helped prolong her career.
Ellen (Lusby MD)
Hey Chris Fiegler, this is about WOMEN'S basketball. I couldn't care less which NBA team is MV's fave, or if she even has one.
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
Chris has posted that question every week I've done a chat, it seems, so I decided to answer. :)
Marion Jones' Olympic teammates successfully won their appeal to keep their gold medals. Do you think that's fair? If one member on an Olympic team cheats, should the rest of the team be penalized or not? (I think yes. There's no guarantee that the cheating teammate could have otherwise replicated his or her performance, and there's no guarantee a different teammate could have replicated that winning performance, either. Win together or lose together, that's the way it is with team sports.)
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
A few questions on this topic, too. I have to say I was actually quite surprised by the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision. But if I understood it right, it was really on more about a technicality than a judgment on the issue itself. In 2000, there was no official rule in place by either the IOC or the IAAF (track's international governing body) for dealing with the situation of relay members losing their medals if one person had committed a doping offense. It would seem fairly obvious that the IOC and IAAF would have made the decisions they did based on how both bodies have tried to respond to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and their particular quest to punish Marion Jones as much as possible. But CAS went more by the specifics of rules as they existed - or didn't exist - in 2000.
kevin (macon ga)
Do you think Tina Thompson's comments about playing "hard and wrong" after the San Antonio loss were a swipe at Jen Gillom?
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
Well, of course, Tina and Jen were once contemporaries playing in the league at the same time. So I'm not sure there is much, if any, deference on Tina's part. And Tina pretty much says exactly what she thinks. But maybe this was more a message to her teammates? Maybe to both. This certainly has not been the kind of season Tina thought she was coming back for. The frustration has to be pretty intense.
Is Alyssa DeHaan planning to enter the league at some point or not? With the intense competition for roster spots, is it feasible for a player to take a year off before entering the draft? Or will there always be room in the league for a player that tall?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
I guess it's always possible that DeHaan could make improvements to be a WNBA player ... but I would be pretty surprised. Considering she averaged around 10.6 points and less than 6 rebounds per game, plus only shot around 41 percent from the field - at 6-9, how should *that* number be so low? _ in her senior year at Michigan State, I don't see much evidence that she could be effective in the WNBA.
Hey Mechelle....I know it's a *wee* bit early, but: College Hoops. With Charles gone, and Ogwumike#2 climbing on board, how do you like Stanford's odds at breaking UConn's winning streak at home this season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:41 PM)
All things considered, the Cardinal should have a good chance to do this. But ... that will make UConn even more determined to not let it happen, of course. We'll all make a little more informed decision (wild guess) closer to that time. I'm not ready for winter, though. :)
Judith (Washington DC)
In college, Crystal Langnhorne did everything USA Basketball ever asked of her, playing internationally -- and successfully -- on all those age group teams. Yet she's not even in the pool now for the team that will compete in the Worlds. Is this a leftover from her rookie WNBA season? What gives?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
I think so, actually. We've seen this before, when a player seems to "blossom" at the so-called wrong time for her to really catch USA Basketball's eye. Or something like that. The way Crystal has played this season, I think she's making a case that people better get up to speed about her very quickly.
"The West's weakness aside, I don't see how if she continues as she has, there is much reason not to vote for [Lauren Jackson]"How about Tamika Catchings as a reason? Just as dominant as always, producing outstanding numbers, and she's removed the one thing people always held against her for MVP consideration - she's shooting .494 from the floor and .426 from three-point range. I still can't fathom why people seem to have moved her below the likes of Charles, Langhorne etc. in the debate.
Mechelle Voepel (2:47 PM)
Well, there seems to be a lot of people on the Tamika Catchings' bandwagon for MVP, and for good reason. I do not intend to leave her out of the discussion, certainly not. Catch is still strongly to be considered, for sure.
Blake Whitney (Washington, DC)
Both Monique Currie and Marissa Coleman seem to be players who deal with confidence and consistency issues. They both play the position (most of the time) for the same team, and both are up and down. What gives?
Mechelle Voepel (2:53 PM)
Monique Currie has, I believe, always tended to over-think the game, going back to her time at Duke. She knows this, and she's really tried hard to overcome it. She's very, very bright. And it's hard when you are someone who has what I call a really busy brain to sometimes play without that distracting you. Athletics at the highest level demands this ability to think well, but not too much. It's the damnedest thing, really. As for Marissa Coleman, I think she may be just going through some ups and downs of a younger player trying to find her way in the league. It's been a weird year for her in regard to confidence issues, which is something I don't think she struggled with much at Maryland. And ... she also has to play defense now at a level and with a consistency that she didn't in college, and I think that's probably affected her, too.
stever (ann arbor)
...any thoughts on the Paris sister's lack of WNBA success?...especially Courtney?
Mechelle Voepel (2:57 PM)
The questions about just how healthy Courtney is this summer have persisted. But overall, a lot of factors go into winning and earning a job in the WNBA, and I think a real "need" and desire to do it is part of the equation. I guess we'll see in the next few years how much the Paris twins really want this and how hard they'll pursue it.
What do you think (honestly) of the officiating in the WNBA? As bad as people say?
Mechelle Voepel (3:04 PM)
Well, considering we just had the biggest sporting event on the planet - the World Cup - overshadowed by officiating issues ... earlier there was a perfect game in MLB taken away by an umpire who quickly admitted he made a mistake ... and there was plenty of griping during the course of the NBA playoffs ... I think officiating is in the cross-hairs constantly because viewers have more ways than ever to examine and critique officials' work. There are ways that some sports can immediately help their officials - like by using readily available technology instead of ridiculously resisting it. But basketball is still so much about judgment and split-second decisions that are not obviously clear as in other sports ... it's just a hard job to consistently do well enough to satisfy people. I'm not trying to be an apologist for officials, just trying to be realistic.
kevin (macon ga)
The ruling went against cheerleading in the Quinnipiac case. Do you think that's a victory for Title IX?
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
I am really still debating in my mind what I think of this. It's not as cut-and-dried to me as it might be to some people. I'm really trying to get an entry done about it (and a few other issues) on my personal blog later today. As soon as I get it up, I'd really hope to get some comments about what other people think. My quick and completely unsatisfying answer is that I think it's always tricky to decide what "is" and what "isn't" a sport based on traditional models. For a lot of reasons, I can see multiples sides to this.
I'm getting ready to attend my 10th WNBA game next Tuesday (Shock v. Dream). At the games I'm always surprised at the low attendance numbers because it really is a fun and affordable experience. What do you think the league and individual teams need to do differently to increase the fan base?
Mechelle Voepel (3:13 PM)
I think the bulk of it needs to be each team's local marketing and community outreach. You must have people who are just tireless in selling the product, and who won't get discouraged if they have to go after the audience in all kinds of different ways. You have to work really hard to get people who would never think to come to a game on their own to actually not only consider it, but pull the trigger and spend their money to do it. But you also have to keep the fans who've been loyal to you and not take them for granted. It's very multi-faceted, and I'm not convinced most teams really put enough resources into this.
Seattle has practically locked up the #1 seed. Not only are the big 3 playing well, but Wright, Little, Willingham and Abrosimova probably make this the best top 7 in the league. Come playoff time, who matches up best against them?
Mechelle Voepel (3:15 PM)
Well, this answer could be shot full of holes by various folks who strategize better than I do, but ... I would say in the West, it's Phoenix, and in the East, Indiana.
With the Sparks needing offense, do you see them going to a 3 guard lineup(Ticha, Andrea, Kristi) anytime soon?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
I just don't know that I would see that as being all that effective. That said, the Sparks really do have to figure out what (and who) can be salvaged from this season to get a jump start on next year. Not saying they just throw in the towel on 2010, but what they do has to be about serious development for whatever players they have that they truly believe will be part of the future. And deciding whether coach Jen Gillom will be part of that future, too.
Will there be any serious threats to Team USA this summer?
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
I don't want to give an answer that might seem to somehow disrespect the other countries or sound like some kind of homer-Americanism. But .. I think this team is going to be very difficult to beat because it will be confident, well-coached, as prepared as possible, and very hungry. Since the United States got "only" bronze in the last World Championships, there's actually an "underdog/prove yourself" card that Geno Auriemma can use. Not that I think he'll necessarily need to. I just have a lot of respect for how hard he's worked to separate his roles as UConn coach and Team USA coach, and I think it's enormously important to him to get this title back for the United States. And I think the American players, tired as they might be from the WNBA season, are going to be very fired up for this tournament.
Mechelle Voepel (3:27 PM)
I really appreciate all the questions, and am sorry there were a few I didn't get to. Those of you who asked me to predict playoff teams from the East are probably thinking, "You big coward! Come on, at least guess!" Shoot, folks, I really don't know! So I kind of avoided those. :) Maybe I'll wander out on that tree branch next week and see if it collapses on me.