Fans favor popularity over productivity

One thing became clear when the All-Star starters were announced late Thursday: The 10 spots were awarded based on popularity, not productivity.

How else do you explain Swin Cash – who has yet to step on the court this season as she is rehabbing a torn ACL this past September – getting named a starting forward for the Eastern Conference, or Minnesota's Katie Smith finishing ninth in voting among West guards with almost 70,000 fewer votes than Sue Bird? (Here, of course, the bigger question really should be why isn't Smith – the all-time leading scorer in U.S. women's pro basketball history and who has been part of two Olympic squads – more popular?)

Though it's easy to criticize the fans' picks – fan balloting determines the 10 starters, with All-Star coaches naming the reserves Tuesday – it's a road we should hesitate to take. The All-Star Game is for the fans, and they're entitled to vote for and honor their favorite players. Perhaps the league should, however, set a minimum number of games played for candidates or omit injured players from the All-Star ballot.

We still prefer to gauge players based on productivity, and here's our take on which players should help fill out the All-Star rosters when the reserves are announced:

• In the East, Detroit's Cheryl Ford and Connecticut's Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in voting for the East forwards, are easy picks, and one of them likely will be named as Cash's replacement. Cash was finally cleared to resume on-court activities Wednesday, but Shock coach Bill Laimbeer isn't sure when she will be able to play.

• Detroit could get a fourth All-Star in Deanna Nolan, who is playing an MVP-caliber season. Second-year guard Lindsay Whalen of Connecticut should be another backup guard.

• Though Washington guard Temeka Johnson, a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year honors, has garnered a lot of attention, Mystics teammate Alana Beard is more deserving of an All-Star spot. New York center Ann Wauters might vie for one of the reserve positions, as well.

• In addition to Minnesota's Smith, another obvious West reserve should be Los Angeles' Chamique Holdsclaw.

• Decisions get a lot tougher after that, however. Minnesota center Nicole Ohlde, who plays with a lot of energy and intensity, is a possibility, and San Antonio's Marie Ferdinand has done a solid job coming back at a high level after a serious injury last year.

• The biggest surprise might be Lisa Leslie's status. She has career lows across the board – Leslie is scoring four fewer points, grabbing three fewer rebounds and shooting 10 percentage points worse than last season – and really remains on the bubble.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.