WNBA: “Expect great” in ‘08

I know the WNBA season is a few weeks in and I’m late with this post, but it’s not my fault: I was working on an overview of the teams and players, predictions about which teams will be in the playoffs, etc., and then I saw this and completely lost my train of thought:

Damn. Sheryl Swoopes is one fine lesbian. Of course, she’s one fine basketball player, too. At 37, Swoopes is getting her game back after sitting out most of last season due to back surgery. And she’s doing it with a new team, the Seattle Storm, after 10 years with the Houston Comets.

Swoopes is not the only Storm player who’s hot both on and off the court, though. I mean, just look at this starting lineup:

Swin Cash (whose full first name Swintayla means “astounding woman”) also made a big move this year when she was traded to Seattle by the Detroit Shock. She’s already made a big impact on the team. This photo of her made a big impact on me:

Veteran Yolanda Griffith surprised everyone when she decided to join the Storm instead of retiring. Griffith wants another championship ring and she intends to get it in Seattle. And Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson , who played together in Russia during the off-season, just keep getting better. Bird has played with Cash, Swoopes and Griffith previously in the Olympics, so should easily adjust to their play. She’s expected to step up her offensive game under new coach Brian Agler. Jackson may be in the best shape of her life. (And it’s certainly a shape I can appreciate.) In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she has another MVP season this year. (I hope she finds a new manicurist soon, though.)

On the opposite end of the West Coast is the team who snagged this season’s No. 1 draft pick, Candace Parker. Do college stars ever live up to their hype? You tell me: Parker’s debut with the L.A. Sparks yielded 34 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists – a record for a rookie start. Match that with three-time MVP winner Lisa Leslie, who’s back after a year of maternity leave, and you have in inside court that will be hard to beat. The WNBA GMs, in their annual preseason survey, predict Leslie will be MVP and Parker, Rookie of the Year. If that would mean more photo sessions of the pair, I’m in.

The Sparks’ only loss so far – in double overtime – was to the Indiana Fever, who made one of the off season’s best trades when they got Katie Douglas.

Douglas had an incredible season with the Connecticut Sun last year and is doing even better this year. Her per-game average so far is 24.3 PPG, putting her squarely in the race for MVP as well. If Douglas plays at that level with the injured Tamika Catchings returns, the Fever will be headed for the playoffs.

Another contender for Rookie of the Year is the Chicago Sky’s top draft pick, Sylvia Fowles, who at least should win an award for Most Stylin’. I don’t know about you, but when I saw this picture of Fowles and Parker, only one word came to mind: slash.

A surprise, at least to me, this year is the Minnesota Lynx, whose one loss thus far was in the preseason to Los Angeles – by one point in overtime. Last year, the Lynx ended 10-24 and the team still doesn’t have Lindsay Harding back from her injury. But Seimone Augustus is on fire and rookies Charde Houston, Candice Wiggins and Nicky Anosike already are contributing to the team in a big way. At this rate, the Lynx definitely will be a playoff contender.

At the other end of the surprise scale is last years’ champ, the Phoenix Mercury. The Mercury’s only win was in preseason over the WNBA’s newest team, the Atlanta Dream. True, the Merc have a new coach (Corey Gaines), but he was Paul Westhead’s assistant and shares his philosophy of play. Four of last seasons five starters are back (Penny Taylor stayed in Australia to train with her national team for the Olympics), but Saturday’s stats typified this season: 18 turnovers, 3 of 20 three-pointers and sending Minnesota to the free throw line 40 times. Phoenix needs to get its act together, and fast or Diana Taurasi will not be happy. And when Dee’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.

I know I’ve left out a lot of teams and players (including one of my crushes, Becky Hammon) and I’m certain you will remedy that in the comments. Whomever your favorite player or team happens to be, you’ll be able to see more of them this year than ever before, since ABC broadcasts a game most Saturday afternoons and ESPN shows one every Tuesday night. But the best news for WNBA fans is the increased broadband coverage – 90 games this year. The WNBA Broadband Season Pass is free when you register at wnba.com.

What do you think of the WNBA season so far? Is the acclaimed 2008 rookie class living up to its hype? Who will take the championship this year? And who’s your favorite baller?

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