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 (2:00 PM)
Good afternoon, folks. Let's get started.
Who Atlanta's better PG: Lehning or Miller? It seemed that Washington scored more against Lehning.
Mechelle Voepel (2:03 PM)
I think they both serve good purposes for the Dream. Lehning is a true point guard _ sees the court so well, wants to set up her teammates, keeps people in system. She is not a great scorer, never has been, but she does a lot else well. Miller is quicker and, I think, a more capable one-on-one defender. And she has always had more scoring capability than someone like Lehning. But depending on the personnel on the floor with them, they both fit the Dream's needs. I think the Dream has a really serviceable bench all the way around.
richard (cortland, ny)
If Tulsa fails to win the draft lottery, how much improvement can they make next year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:05 PM)
Obviously, there is a crown jewel in the next draft class, just as there was in 2010. Maya Moore would change everything about the franchise ... provided Nolan Richardson didn't get her and decide to trade her. :) That said, I see some other pretty darn good players in the 2011 draft class as well. Nobody else is Maya, of course, but there are players I think can help WNBA squads. And as good as Maya is, even if the Shock get her, they have to figure out how much of what they currently have they want to keep.
Julia Coleman (Altamonte Springs, FL)
Did you or anyone else imagine that Atlanta would be better for losing the Claw before the start of the season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:07 PM)
Somebody else may have thought that ... I certainly can't say that I did. However, in talking to Angel McCoughtry and Shalee Lehning fairly soon after Chamique Holdsclaw left, I didn't get the sense at all that they were worried about her being gone. And I thought, "Well, maybe for the Dream this actually is a good thing." And it's turned out that way. Despite the loss to the Mystics on Tuesday, I thought the week prior had shown how good Atlanta can be when things are clicking.
Helen (NY, NY)
Some writers have called into question the "effort" of pro players v. college players. What's your take?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
I guess I'm surprised at that ... because I can't say I've really ever doubted effort on the part of the WNBA players. Actually, I think they're playing with skill and effort to such a degree that I find the games even more enjoyable to watch than then were earlier in the league's history. I've seen a lot of Tulsa, of course, because of the proximity to me in KC, and you'd think that might be a team with effort lacking because they've struggled so much to win. But I've yet to see a game where I thought the Shock weren't trying as hard as they could. Obviously I don't see every game in the WNBA, so maybe others have witnessed things I haven't ... but I really don't question players' effort at all.
Minnesota blew another big lead the other day. Is it the players, or the coaching?
Mechelle Voepel (2:16 PM)
I always think it's really pretty hard to separate the two unless you have all-access to what is being said before games, at halftime, after games and at every timeout. Since you don't know, you are left to assume a fair amount. You can make judgments on substitutions, play calls out of timeouts, clock management, switching defenses, etc. ... but you still don't know how well the players are implementing what the coach is saying. Or if the coach is just not giving them much valuable direction. I guess my point is, in the end, they have to work in tandem for a team to be successful. And since the Lynx have had problems with different coaches, maybe the players who spent time under those coaches have to take some additional responsibility for figuring this out.
kevin (macon ga)
Will the MVP race be close after all? Cappie Pondexter is coming on strong!
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
Yes, she really is. Chatted about that with some of the writers who cover the UConn Huskies/Conn Sun when I was at the Sun-Liberty game on Sunday. The sentiment was that Cappie has definitely put herself in that race. The other thing is there are some players who will be in the MVP pool and yet might not make all-WNBA first team. Speaks to the talent of the league, that's for sure.
Barry (Phoenix, Arizona)
Who is more long-suffering?1) New York Liberty fans2) Minnesota Lynx fans3) Heathcliff, from "Wuthering Heights?"
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
1. Heathcliff, because Cathy is more vexing than either the Liberty or the Lynx. 2. Liberty fans: Because they're New Yorkers (mostly) they actually expect that their opinions and suggestions should be at least somewhat acknowledged. They care so much, and yet I think they feel really frustrated by the Liberty front office much of the time. Plus, they've come close but haven't won the championship. And they really do bleed for their team. 3. Lynx fans: They're northern Midwesterners, so they don't think anybody will listen to them. They're ridiculously patient. They are used to suffering - if you think NYC winters are rough, spend November-April in Minnesota. Plus ... look, they finally got Lindsay Whalen back. They are going to live off that happiness for a while _ even if they don't make the playoffs. But I imagine some of them are starting to get a little ticked after all these years.
kevin (macon ga)
FIBA named the finalists for hosting the 2014 World Championships. Where do you think it will be; Australia, Brazil, or Turkey? Will the US ever host this event?
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
Turkey has become a hotbed for the pro women's game, and it could be nice to award the growth of that with the World Championship. Australia does big events well, they would love to have it and everybody loves going there, minus the long plane ride. Brazil has the 2016 Summer Olympics and the next World Cup ... so I think that country already has enough big events coming up. And I don't sense that there has been a really strong movement by any cities here in the United States to go after this event.
First, thanks for all the great insight you provide in these chats. Question 1: do you think the big game from Nicole Powell is a sign of things to come or just a one game fluke?Question 2: are the Liberty a real threat to win the Eastern Conference, either in the regular season or the playoffs?
Mechelle Voepel (2:31 PM)
I'm not sure that one game means the switch is flipped for Nicole Powell, and that she's going to be in her 2009 All-Star form the rest of the 2010 season. However, her performance against the Fever on Tuesday does speak to what we've all chatted about here - that at any time, she does have the capacity to break out. What impressed me from seeing the Liberty in person was that Powell, even when she wasn't playing well, was so supportive of her teammates, quick to jump off the bench and give high-fives and was very engaged in the game. As for the Liberty's chance to win the East, yes, I do think it's possible. They have come on very well in the past couple of weeks. But they have to have consistent offensive help for Cappie - even if it comes from different people every night.
Tangela Smith is about to pass Vickie Johnson for most games played. Two of the unsung heroes of the WNBA in my opinion. Can you comment on the importance of this record.
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
Considering that is it not easy to keep a WNBA job because there is always going to be a lot of competition, there is a lot to be said for just surviving this long. Tangela Smith has done more than just survive - she's been an important cog on every team she's played on. So many of the things a player like her does are not necessarily going to be noticed except by her own teammates or coaches. But if she wasn't there, her absence would be definitely noticed. She's also been able to stay relatively injury-free, and that's not easy, either. I hope Tangela is as appreciated as she should be by the University of Iowa and by the Big Ten for how she's represented both as a professional athlete.
Has Katie Smith been the big difference maker for the Mystics this season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:38 PM)
I think she would be a difference-maker on any team. She's a winner, she's a consummate professional in how to prepare for games, and she puts as much effort into the less-glamorous parts of the game as she does into scoring. You can't underestimate her value, in my mind, because of how many ways she contributes.
Helen (NY, NY)
How important was it for the W to have President Obama attend the Mystics game?
Mechelle Voepel (2:45 PM)
I looked at it as an example of what kind of father he is. He took his daughter to see a lot of strong, capable, powerful women who are being admired and cheered for by people of all ages, races and both genders. That's empowering to his daughter. It's certainly nice publicity for the WNBA, but I honestly mostly thought about the fact that it mattered enough to him to take his child to this event. Even the president needs to take time to be a dad ... if nothing else, everyone (no matter their political beliefs) should agree on the great importance of fathers spending quality time with and supporting their daughters in this way.
Last year, Diana Taurasi appeared in commercials with the LifeLock CEO. This year the spokesperson duties are being handled by GM Ann Meyers Drysdale. Was that always the plan, or is that a consequence of Taurasi's DUI arrest?
Mechelle Voepel (2:48 PM)
I would guess the latter ... but I don't sense there is really much negative aura surrounding Diana Taurasi now. I think she handled the situation forthrightly, and don't think she would be seen as a "bad" spokesperson in the future. Maybe a little more time needs to go by, though.
Helen (NY, NY)
Since it's never to early to talk college ball - what games are you looking forward to this fall?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I think everybody is going to be particularly keyed into Baylor vs. UConn in Hartford in November. Obviously, if the Huskies get by that test, then there will be even more attention on them as they attempt to break 88.
Helen (NY, NY)
Lots of articles on the great Tina Thompson's career. What are some of your favorite memories of her?
Mechelle Voepel (2:53 PM)
What I think I'll remember about Tina Thompson more than anything else is how she often when her team - be it the Comets or Team USA or the Sparks - most needed the "big" shot, she was the one who hit it. She never seemed panicked in a game - always ready to strike when she had the opportunity. It's that consistency in excellence that's made her so remarkable.
Mary (Minneapolis, MN )
Do you get the opportunity to watch games as a fan of the sport, or are you always looking at it from the perspective of the journalist who covers the sport?
Mechelle Voepel (2:57 PM)
I can't watch any women's basketball games without thinking about what I would, should or could write about them. Because you always feel "on call" about the sport you cover. But that's not a bad thing, and it doesn't mean I don't enjoy the games a lot.
Next week Cynthia Cooper becomes the first "real" WNBA player to be inducted to the Naismith Hall of Fame. How important is the credibility this brings for women's hoops and the W?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
I guess I don't think of it so much as a credibility thing ... more that it will be an historical indicator of the WNBA establishing its long-term existence. That's the hard part of any business: just establishing yourself as something that was there yesterday, is here today, will be there tomorrow. The WNBA is still in the early stages of that, but it has a real "history" now, and Cynthia Cooper was as crucial as any player in helping establish that.
kevin (macon ga)
Will this finally be the first WNBA season with no in-season coaching changes? Time's running out!
Mechelle Voepel (3:04 PM)
I guess I can't see much point to any franchise making a head-coaching switch with a couple of weeks left in the season. That doesn't mean there won't be changes made before next season, of course.
Jay (Peekskill, NY)
Seattle just lost two straight to Minny and Tulsa. Does it still look like they will easily win the western conference championship?
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
I still think Seattle is fine ... although there's normal concern about LJ's thumb and hoping that there are no more injuries. The only West team I could see possibly beating Seattle twice and upsetting them on the way to the Finals is Phoenix, and they would have to beat them at least once in Seattle to do that. It's just hard to see the Storm not in the Finals. That said, I think the losses were "good" for them because it probably got them a little worried and worked up, and that's not a bad thing when you're that far ahead in the standings.
Connecticut fell even further back thanks to results on Tuesday - are they starting to look done in the Eastern playoff race?
Mechelle Voepel (3:12 PM)
Several questions about the Connecticut Sun ... I got the sense in seeing the team in person and talking to various folks that Tina Charles is dealing with some fatigue (understandable), that the team misses Lindsay Whalen's leadership and on-court presence quite a lot, and that the various injuries that have put players on the bench or limited them might be too much for the Sun to overcome. Plus ... it's a pretty young team, and there was a lot of off-season change. Especially with the Liberty surging, it indeed may be the Sun that is left out of the East's playoff picture.
RP (United States)
Five years from now, who's the best point guard in the league?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
A great question that I don't know the answer to. Part of this may depend on how Lindsey Harding continues to develop and whether she avoids injury. She'll be 31 in five years ... will she be at the peak of her skills then and the best PG? Or will someone else younger emerge then? Where will Renee Montgomery be in that discussion? I think it's so hard to project things like this because you never know what impact injuries will have on a player's development. Part of why Sue Bird has become as great as she has is that she's taken good care of herself and has been so durable. It's allowed her game to continue to mature, and there is no situation she hasn't faced and nothing that will rattle her.
Alex (St. Paul)
Are the recent consecutive losses by Indiana and Seattle a significant sign of concern for either team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:20 PM)
I would be more worried about Indiana. To me, Seattle's losses were more blips on the radar. The Fever, on the other hand, has been streaky all season. Admittedly, part of this is just playing in the East Conference this season. But part of it is that I don't see a consistency in defense/rebounding from the Fever, and they have to have that to win.
Mechelle Voepel (3:20 PM)
I would be more worried about Indiana. To me, Seattle's losses were more blips on the radar. The Fever, on the other hand, has been streaky all season. Admittedly, part of this is just playing in the East Conference this season. But part of it is that I don't seen a consistency in defense/rebounding from the Fever, and they have to have that to win.
After seeming to turn it around this year, how much will the New York Liberty be hurt in having to move from MSG for the next 3 years?
Mechelle Voepel (3:23 PM)
It stinks. You can't replace the feeling of being in downtown Manhattan and at the Garden. If they are at the Prudential Center in Newark, at least it's not too great of a hardship in terms of getting there with public transportation. In the end, it's unavoidable to be out of the Garden, so I hope the Liberty front office will REALLY understand how important it is to communicate with the fans, make some concessions if need be on how they handle ticket pricing and packages for the next two-three years and convince people that they really care about the fans' welfare and need their support. If the franchise really communicates well (I know, that's asking a lot from the Lib) the fans will go out of their way to be understanding. I really believe that.
How big is it for the WNBA to have Jamba Juice as a sponsor?
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
I think any sponsor with name recognition is a great thing for the league. Since it is a product I would guess lots of fans and players actually use, that makes it even better.
Barry (Phoenix, Arizona)
Which is the most difficult?1) Finding Kosher for Passover vegan meals2) Finding a Lynx coach who can harness the talent and construct a cohesive offense3) Finding a player Norm Richardson wants to keep
Mechelle Voepel (3:29 PM)
1. The "mystery" of finding the right Lynx coach seems to have been pretty difficult, hasn't it? I thought Cheryl Reeve was saying all the right things before the season, but the Lynx have been as inconsistent as ever. Maybe she needs more time.2. Nolan Richardson has seemed to like Scholanda Robinson. So that's something. :)3. I'm going to guess (I emphasize "guess") depending on what city you were in, you could possibly find kosher for passover vegan meals. That would probably not mean, um, Tulsa, though.
Jenn (Boston, MA)
How will the WNBA ever be in a position to pay as well as teams overseas? How can those of us who live too far away from a team to attend games support the league?
Mechelle Voepel (3:33 PM)
The league may not pay as well as some of the opportunities overseas, that's true. But ... there is some stability and consistency to the WNBA - not necessarily all its franchises, of course, but the league itself - that is not always available overseas. And despite the pay differences, the best players still all want to compete here. It still provides the best overall competition and visibility. And if you live a ways from a WNBA city, I'd suggest trying to attend maybe just one game a year someplace, watching the games on television and live-access, and taking time to write e-mails or letters to companies that advertise with WNBA. Let them know you are a consumer that appreciates their support of the league.
If you were president of the WNBA, what is the one big change you would push for?
Mechelle Voepel (3:36 PM)
I would really look to making sure the league's official Web site was top-notch, always up-to-date and comprehensive and that it served the needs and interests of the fans. Making sure Live Access worked extremely well and reaching out to make sure fans with various difficulties watching it ... that would be a major priority for me. There are lots of other issues, of course, but to me these would be relatively easy things to address and would really be appreciated by fans.
kevin (macon ga)
What impact will the new playoff format (1-1-1 instead of 1-2) have?
Mechelle Voepel (3:40 PM)
I think it's a good thing ... just makes more sense and is more fair, really ... but for the most part, the old format didn't make for a lot of crazy upsets in the playoffs. It put some teams in a corner as far as the "better" team having to go on the road, losing and then having to face an elimination game at home. But ... usually, the best teams have prevailed, I think.
The Tulsa win over Seattle looked like it was a signature win for that team. How would you say it affected their confidence and the potential for attendance growth?
Mechelle Voepel (3:43 PM)
I don't know if, after all the losses, people who were turned off about the Shock are going to really notice one win - even if it was against the league's best team. I do think it gave some hard-working (they cheer for everything) and loyal fans in Tulsa a nice reward for continuing to come out. There was real enthusiasm in the BOK Center on Tuesday, even though they'd certainly like to see a lot more fans. The keys for the Shock are to work hard at re-shaping this team, be in the community a lot during the off-season ... and hope that they win the draft lottery.
Julia Coleman (Altamonte Springs, FL)
Is Indiana suffering more from lack of post presence or trying to make one starting point guard out of two backup point guards?
Mechelle Voepel (3:46 PM)
Great question ... and I tend to think the point-guard situation is more problematic, only because I wonder if everything else would fall into place better with the "answer" being in one PG. At least with this particular team. That said, the Fever's post players need to achieve more, especially on the boards, consistently. They're good enough to do it.
Mechelle Voepel (3:48 PM)
I really want to thank everybody for the questions, and sorry I didn't get to more of them. Please come back next week.