Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the 2011 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 (2:07 PM)
Good afternoon, back on the chat this week. Spent a few days on the Texas gulf coast after the All-Star Game. Luckily, nothing too major happened in the WNBA to pull me out of vacation mode last week ... however, during that time I managed to get sunburned *and* need 8 stitches in my leg after tripping while doing yard work at night (to avoid the heat). I really wish I were making up that last incident, but I'm not. Clearly, it's much safer for me when I'm just tied to my laptop all day.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
Serena's triumphant return to the court is great for women's tennis and bad for her competitors. But it is a tremendous shot in the arm for the sport. It also demonstrates how, even when she is not at her physical peak, she can destroy top opponents. The question is this...how good would she have been had she focused on tennis full-time? Or have her outside interests kept her in the game longer by avoiding burnout?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
Barry gets the first question, which so far is also the only non-hoops one. I go with the latter view ... I think Serena's career has been helped by her having outside interests and not getting burned out emotionally or physically. She's still one of the best ever (some would say THE best at her peak) and with her sister, Venus, has carried American women's tennis for the last decade-plus. How bad would USA women's tennis have been during that time without them? I shudder to think. So I believe Serena has done what's best for herself, both as a person and an athlete.
kevin (macon ga)
With Danielle Adams sidelined for several weeks, is the Rookie of the Year race over?
Mechelle Voepel (2:12 PM)
It's starting to look that way, isn't it? Especially as Maya Moore and the Lynx are playing so well, individually and as a team. Hopefully, Adams can make a fairly quick recovery and be able to finish out the season with the Silver Stars, who need her.
kevin (macon ga)
It now looks likely that Rookie of the Year will go to the #1 pick for the 4th consecutive time and 6th time in eight seasons. What does that say about the depth of talent coming into the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (2:20 PM)
Wanted to follow up with this. I have few thoughts ... if you look at the NBA ROYs of the past eight years, I think there are three No. 1 picks among them. One of them being Blake Griffin, who was the top pick in 2009, but missed his true rookie season with a knee injury. Of those eight, I believe only one of them played four full seasons in college - Brandon Roy. Lebron James, of course, didn't play in college at all. For the WNBA, the last seven rookies (and whoever wins it this year) are all four-year college players except Candace Parker, who was in school four years but only played three. My point being, on the women's side, you are generally getting a more polished product with the overall No. 1 pick because she's played throughout a college career. But, WNBA rookies have drastically less time to prepare for their first pro season after their last college season ends ... they are drafted in April and start the season in May or June. NBA rookies have several months to prepare before they start their first pro season. And there are 30 to 12 teams, 82 to 34 games between NBA and WNBA. All of which adds up to me that the most proven women's players are likely going to win that ROY honor year after year. I'm certainly not discounting that there is more overall men's talent, but I think those other things are big factors.
Hey pretty funny when Minnesota's WNBA team is on pace to have more wins than the Timberwolves, even though the WNBA season is less than half of the NBA's!
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Not so funny if you are a Timberwolves fan, I'm sure. :) But it is good to see the Lynx having this kind of success ... WNBA fans in Minnesota have waited a long time for it.
Tracy (Los Angeles)
Why are the Sparks struggling so bad witthout CP3. I thought they had enough TALENT on the team to withstand her injury but it seems they are not playing together or are motivated to play every nigth. Your thoughts please.
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
Chemistry is one of the hardest things to really define in sports ... it isn't always about people liking each other that much, just that they work well together as a unit. The Sparks haven't done that, they've changed coaches, and they are dealing with a pretty tough Western Conference top four teams. The Sparks gambled on some older players meshing well with some younger ones, but it hasn't seemed to work.
Penny Toler (Los Angeles)
Is it time for me to trade my 89 year old players?
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
Hahaha! Coudn't resist posting that after the last question. I don't think this is the, um, "real" Penny Toler, but the real one may be asking herself this question.
Judith (Near the White House)
What's going on with Atlanta? Will they right the ship?
Mechelle Voepel (2:31 PM)
I talked with coach Marynell Meadors yesterday after she got the bad news that Shalee Lehning is out for the season with a torn ACL. I am supposed to speak with Angel McCoughtry this afternoon, so you may deduce I am writing about the Dream later today. MM said that injuries have been the biggest problem ... Angel, Sancho Lyttle (who also missed time at the Euro championships), Shalee and others have been hurt. Now the Dream has to use Coco Miller as Lindsey Harding's backup at point guard, and Atlanta will go the rest of the way down a roster spot as MM will not waive Lehning. The Dream had a bump up in play before their recent loss, but they are going to have ups and downs the rest of the way. Of course, last year, they played their best in the postseason, so that's something MM and the Dream players will try to keep in mind to boost their spirits.
Just watched NY hold Chi-town to 49 points and one in the 4th...not the most interesting game...what does Chi-town have to do to make it into the playoffs?
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
That game was gross, sorry. One point in the fourth quarter? Anybody got a Rutgers joke handy? Of course, the funny thing is that it was two former Scarlet Knights - Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson - who led the way for the Liberty against Chicago today. It's going to be a race between the Sky and Dream to see who can get their act together well enough to grab that fourth playoff spot in the East. Chicago has to find some more consistent scoring options.
Blake Whitney (Washington, DC)
So the Mystics made a big deal about "building with youth" but then dumped Ta'Shia Phillips?? Who everyone knew would need some time to adjust to the quickness of the league?? After half a season, in favor of DeMya Walker, who in three games for the Mystics has averaged 3.7 points on 18 percent shooting, and whose best season was in 2005?? Quite some time ago. Huh?
Mechelle Voepel (2:40 PM)
You know the old line about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing but expecting different results? I say the Mystics are the definition of the definition of insanity. :) I don't need to reiterate it, but I will: This is an organization that finally appeared on track for some stability. Not saying things were perfect under the Taylor/Plank regime, but there was success and a foundation being built. That all got wiped away, players wanted to be traded, new coach for the millionth time, injuries ... yes, the Mystics have had their bad luck. But they greatly supplemented it with impatience, too little savvy and overall bad decision-making. Whether Phillips develops or not, at this point wouldn't it make more sense to at least try to see her through the end of the season? They're not making the playoffs anyway.
What is your reflection on Teresa Edwards stint so far as interim coach? Last week, I was encouraged to see the team in ball games and slowing the ball down. However, learning new set plays will be a learning curve this late. I feel eventually the win will come before the season is over. I can tell the atmosphere is a whole lot better in Tulsa now. I feel the fact our team can lose under ten points is seeing the glass as half full. (Plus still banking on your prediction of the L.A. win in a few weeks *no jinx*...lol).
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
I am actually headed down to Tulsa tomorrow, where I expect it will be a balmy 112 degrees when I get out of my car and breathe in the oven-baked Oklahoma air. Not that it's been so much more pleasant here in Kansas, of course. But as for the Shock ... I think you may be right that the atmosphere is changing even if the final results - so far - are not. Teresa Edwards goes into the Naismith Hall of Fame next week, and she didn't spend a career winning to be saddled too long with a franchise going nowhere. Which is to say, I doubt she will stick around if she doesn't see she's making tangible progress.
Have you seen enough of San Antonio these days to tell me what's wrong with Sophia Young? She's not her *old* self, IMO.
Mechelle Voepel (2:47 PM)
Do you think so? Well, her scoring is a bit down from last year, but rebounding is a bit up. Shooting percentage is the biggest difference, it seems. She's at about 41 percent, I believe. I think she's had a lot on her shoulders inside, and that could be weighing on her a little. But ... also, she was very positively influenced by working with former SASS coach Olaf Lange. She talked very extensively about how much he helped her game over the years - with footwork, post moves, timing, defense, etc. She really credited him with a lot of her progress, and she may be missing him this season. They communicated very well and worked great together.
Troy (Gilbert, AZ)
Any idea what the story behind the Kara Braxton suspension is? Could that situation have made an impact on the Mercury's chemistry, which has seemed off during the last few games?
Mechelle Voepel (2:56 PM)
Seth Pollack reported on SB Nation Arizona that this is an "attitude" issue in response to criticism from Coach Corey Gaines. If that is indeed the case, I'm sure everyone is totally shocked. (A 10-foot wave of sarcasm just drowned that statement.) We all know that Kara is ... Kara. She's always had consistency and disciplinary issues going back to college. Luckily for her, coaches tend to put up with more when you're 6-foot-6 with talent. But everybody has their breaking point with players like her, and Corey Gaines is a pretty intense guy at times. I think the vets on the Mercury will find a way to fix any chemistry problems if they are there, and will do whatever they can to help Braxton avoid further trouble.
kevin (macon ga)
We're 15 years in. In order, who would you say were the top 5 to primarily play the PG position?
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
Can I say six? Well, of course, because I get to moderate the chat, so I can cheat. :) Let's try this: 1. Sue Bird, 2. Ticha Penicheiro, 3. Becky Hammon, 4. Lindsay Whalen 5. Teresa Weatherspoon, 6. Shannon Johnson. I know some folks would swap Hammon and Whalen, among other things. But off the top of my head, I'll say those six. Pee Wee was never quite with the right team at the right time - even in college at South Carolina - to get as much attention as she probably deserved for her scoring/play-making prowess.
Damian (Brooklyn N.Y.)
What do you think the Libs need to do to make a good playoff push and how can they do it?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
I think if the Liberty can continue to improve on defense - we saw that today against Chicago - and Kia Vaughn continues what could be a most-improved player season, and if the Liberty can just be a bit better from behind the arc ... they will be a decent playoff team.
LA desperately needs a younger PG. Any suggestions?
Mechelle Voepel (3:10 PM)
I think there is a dearth of really good point-guard play in women's basketball now, in terms of someone who can truly direct her team and make things happen. But that can take a while to develop, and I don't think the league - with 11 roster spots on 12 teams - always provides much chance for players to develop. There have been players who've been pretty good college point guards in terms of understanding the game and being very smart about decisions, but a lot of them aren't deemed athletic enough on offense or (especially) defense to really get a chance to spend time in the league and get better. So I don't know for sure the answer for LA, because they are not the only team who needs better, on-the-rise PG play.
Jonathan (New York)
How does a team like Tulsa pitch their club to their fans given their current struggles and the outlook that Cambage will miss half of next season? Maybe the Shock win the 2013 lottery and build a team around Cambage AND Griner.
Mechelle Voepel (3:13 PM)
At this point during a miserable summer, weather-wise and victory-wise, the biggest pitch Tulsa has may be that the BOK Center is air-conditioned. I hope for the franchise's sake, people have a lot of patience. Because they are seeing a pretty uninspiring product for the second season in a row, and attention spans are not necessarily that long. Even here in the dull Midwest. However, I still hope that if Tulsa does develop a product worth watching, you will see fan support despite the past ineptitude.
Michael Phelps didn't win every event in the Worlds this time. Does it make for a more interesting Olympics?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
Depends on your nationality, probably. :) Maybe to everyone but Americans, Phelps seeming vulnerable could make next year's Olympic men's swimming competition more interesting. I shouldn't speak for all Americans, but what the hell ... we can't ever seem to get enough of winning gold. So the interest level will always be way up here in the United States of Gluttony if we are finishing first. :)
Do you expect Sheryl Swoopes to announce her retirement soon?
Mechelle Voepel (3:21 PM)
The last time I talked to her, she said she was still enjoying her stay in Tulsa even though the team was struggling - to put it mildly - with winning. So we'll have to see ... it seemed to me like she was totally taking things day-by-day and not looking ahead, cliche as that sounds.
ESPN the Mag has an article on Woods and Federer asking the question if they can win another major...can they?
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
I'll say no. Both have a few too many younger, hungrier "obstacles" in their way now, combined with the fact that age can be very cruel (especially in tennis.) Tiger is also dealing with an accumulation of injuries issues over the years to his knees, of course. I think we've seen their best, and it was truly amazing. But it's probably over. That's sports.
What was your favorite part of all-star weekend?
Mechelle Voepel (3:29 PM)
I liked Angel McCoughtry's off the backboard pass to herself and basket. I was very sorry to see Penny Taylor get hurt, but I have to admire how Tamika Catchings just can't help herself: She HAS to play some defense even in an exhibition. And the dancing/posing stuff with the cowboys hats for the starting lineups was fun. Hope that doesn't sound too cheesy, but I enjoyed it.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
Which of the following is the most important factor in determining why the Minnesota Lynx are experiencing success now rather than in the past recent seasons: talent, health, or chemistry?
Mechelle Voepel (3:32 PM)
May sound simplistic, but I say talent. The Lynx had a history of putting too much on one person's shoulders and not having other players around her who were just as capable of taking over in games. The other night against Phoenix, we saw Maya Moore dominate the first half and then Seimone Augustus and Charde Houston be more the offensive catalysts in the second half. The game before that, the winning shot came from Lindsay Whalen. I just think this is a Lynx team that finally has the talent to match other top teams. That can go a long way to making better chemistry, too.
I know that most feel Maya Moore is the frontrunner to win Rookie of the Year with Danielle Adams hurt. If Maya doesn't out and out just dazzle -- as she has the past few games -- and the Silver Stars struggle (as they have the past two games), do you think voters will still take into account that impact Adams had on the team when she was playing?
Mechelle Voepel (3:36 PM)
I know as a voter I do not get set in my mind that one person is a shoe-in for an award and not look at all the evidence right down to the last game. We don't have to turn in ballots until the final regular-season game is completed, so whatever each player does should be evaluated in full. Obviously, though, if Adams is gone a month-plus, it's going to be difficult for her to get that honor, especially with how Maya and Minnesota are currently performing. That said, Danielle has still accomplished a lot in her rookie season and just needs to concentrate on healing/rehab to try to add more to what she's done.
Genny (Western MA)
Why are people so down on Holdsclaw? She did not make the 15, or even get a vote from the ESPNW crew. She is the only one to go 20/10 for a season, 9th in total points, and 8th in PPG for a career. Is it because she did not live up to expectations, and was only a star, rather than taking over the game? I wonder if she would get more respect had she been saddled with physical, rather than mental, health problems.
Mechelle Voepel (3:40 PM)
Obviously, there is no such thing as a list of anything that everybody will agree with. That said, I think what probably hurt Chamique most was that she's piled up a lot of stats but not really even come close to playing on a championship team in the WNBA. I am pretty sensitive about issues with mental health, and I know I don't respect her any less because she battled depression. If anything, I respected her more for talking about it publicly. In the end, I tended to weigh team success very heavily in picking the top 15.
Blake Whitney (Washington, DC)
We're less than a year out from London! Other than basketball and tennis, what are some of your favorite Olympic sports to watch?
Mechelle Voepel (3:42 PM)
Track and field is my favorite sport to watch in the Summer Olympics. Love swimming, too. But I'll watch anything and love it. I covered fencing one night in Beijing and thought it was awesome. :)
What have you thought of Seimone's play the past couple of weeks?
Mechelle Voepel (3:45 PM)
I have been mildly critical of Seimone in the past - at least I have intended it to be mild - for not always being a player who takes charge in huge-pressure games. And that goes back to LSU. But she has been really, really good most of this season - especially the past few weeks - and I am very happy to see it. She's one of the game's top talents.
Will the Shock win another game this year?
Mechelle Voepel (3:49 PM)
Watch them beat Indiana tomorrow just because I'm going down to Tulsa to do a feature on the Fever. Uh ... actually, I don't think I can jinx the Fever that much. I think I predicted the Shock would win one more game. But those who want the 1998 Mystics to retain their fewest victories crown (3-27) will root hard for the Shock to finish strong, especially against some teams that might be resting people for the playoffs.
Everyone should be reading WNBAlien - http://wnbalien.wordpress.com/ - on a daily basis, shouldn't they Mechelle? [/blatant plug]? To throw in a proper question, should LA even let Candace Parker come back this season? That team's going nowhere, and they're surely better off adding to their lottery balls. Take your time with that rehab, Candace.
Mechelle Voepel (3:53 PM)
Rich, I know you work hard on that, so hope people get a chance to check out your thoughts on games/the league. As for CP3 ... I think there is a lot to take in as far as what she wants to do and how much there will be on her plate for next year with the Olympics and the WNBA season. Candace has never been one to take it easy on herself; to the contrary, she has always pushed herself very hard. It may be best for her to take the rest of this summer/fall to heal, but I don't know if *she* will think that's best.
Who wins tonight - Lynx or Silver Stars?
Mechelle Voepel (3:56 PM)
Heck, who is going to pick *against* the Lynx right now? Not me. (Have we ever uttered those words about Minnesota before this season? I think not.) Sorry I don't have any juicy trade rumors with enough truth to them to give you today. And, no, I'm not picking an MVP just yet. :) Hopefully, I will not melt in Tulsa over the weekend and be back to chat next week. Stay cool ... unless you're in Seattle, in which case, stay warm. :)