The robots are coming. In peace, but they’re still coming. They sent advance notice, which was kind and considerate. This isn’t some Black Mirror situation where we all must scatter for our lives. All they requested was a game of pickup hoops. Odd, but straightforward. Apparently, the All-Robot Team has ripped through its competition in RoboWorld. The robots just want a close contest. The robots just want to feel alive.
It’s on us to assemble a starting five and a reserve five to appease and potentially beat the All-Robot Team (average point differential: +50). Every WNBA player has gathered at a playground in the Wubble, awaiting a schoolyard-style draft to determine who will do battle against this extraterrestrial wrecking crew. Lives aren’t at stake, but pride is, and we must make a good impression. A good impression in the form of buckets.
Basketball has become a positionless game. The robots are an evolved bunch. The All-Robot Team’s best player, R2-Threeeee2, can play 1-through-5. They aren’t tied down by labels. It’s what has made them coalesce so seamlessly. To match their mettle, I’m selecting the five/ten best players in the league for this pickup game, regardless of position. I need a ball handler who distributes; other than that, anything goes.
I suppose it’s time to get to the point. Three paragraphs is a long lede (bordering on indulgent, some might say). Here goes: All-WNBA should be a positionless award. The 2020 season illustrates why.
Some years, the league is guard heavy. In others, wings and bigs dominate. All-WNBA must reflect this reality.
It’s clear to me who the four most impactful, all-around best players are in the WNBA this season. None of them are guards. In order, I believe A’ja Wilson, Candace Parker, Napheesa Collier, and Breanna Stewart have provided more value to their respective teams than anyone else over the course of this hectic 22-game schedule. Though I have Courtney Vandersloot in the fifth spot, you could make a compelling case that the top five players in the league this year operate in the frontcourt, adding Connecticut’s DeWanna Bonner to the aforementioned four.
We should be highly skeptical of advanced statistics when dealing with a 22 game sample, but Stewart, Wilson, Collier, Parker, and Bonner are the five leaders in Wins Added this season.
Operating under the assumed parameters that All-WNBA teams must be comprised of two backcourt players and three frontcourt players, I’ve seen Collier receive the short end of the stick on numerous occasions, with folks on social media nominating Wilson, Parker, and Stewart along with two from the group of Vandersloot, Arike Ogunbowale, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Diana Taurasi. Guards are great, but this is a shame.
The All-Robot Team is extremely efficient on both sides of the ball. Vandersloot is dishing at unprecedented rates. Ogunbowale is rounding into a more accurate, comfortable player, no longer solely a scoring threat (though there’s much work still to be done). Taurasi’s three-point makes have bordered on absurdity. Diggins-Smith missed all of 2019 after giving birth and now might be playing the best basketball of her career. Remarkable. But none of these top-tier guards are providing the two-way value put forth on a nightly basis by Wilson, Parker, Collier, Stewart, and Bonner. In some cases, they are actually net negatives on the defensive end. All-WNBA is an all-encompassing award, and all-encompassing means valuing defense as we value offense.
Speaking of two-way greatness, people don’t throw Collier in the MVP discussion enough for my liking. She will win that award sooner than later if the voting body has any sense. Her game isn’t flashy – shimmies excluded – and her point totals aren’t staggering. So what? Collier is the reason why I’m presenting this case.
Many didn’t have Minnesota making the playoffs this year, and that was before Sylvia Fowles – playing at an absurdly high level for a 34 year old – went down after appearing in only seven games. Somehow, the Lynx still grabbed a first-round bye. Yes, Crystal Dangerfield, Damiris Dantas, Bridget Carleton, and others have been magnificent. But this team’s record would be flipped, or worse, without Collier. You couldn’t create a more steady, shrewd young player in a lab.
The idea of the All-WNBA honor is to reflect the elite players who dominated a given season. Simple. Most Valuable Player is a singular award. The All-Star game, while incredibly prestigious, honors upwards of 20 players. No accolade better identifies the elite tier of players than All-WNBA.
If Collier doesn’t make First Team All-WNBA, that’s a misrepresentation of what has occurred in Bradenton, Florida, these past seven weeks. With the way All-WNBA voting is currently constructed, it would be a miracle if Collier beat out Wilson, Parker, or Stewart.
It’s easy to dismiss this debate as meaningless hypothetical hogwash. I did spend three grafs rambling about robots. Perhaps I’m not helping my case. But consider how much basketball fans love delving into the history of our storied sport, and engaging in conversations about the game’s greats.
How do we go about ranking certain players’ careers? How do we compile Hall of Fame resumes? How do we remember who defined a certain season, one that was special to us personally?
We do it by looking at statistics and accolades. We do it by memory, too, but memories are faulty. They are subject to personal bias. Stats, awards; those are real. Or at least they should be.
Okay. Enough talk. It’s time to face the All-Robot Team. It’s time to select our superstars. I’m throwing in a third team for good measure because we’re all about spreading the love and because there are too many deserving players.
Courtney Vandersloot, Napheesa Collier, Candace Parker, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson
Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner, Angel McCoughtry, Alysha Clark
Jewell Loyd, Arike Ogunbowale, Alyssa Thomas, Dearica Hamby, Myisha Hines-Allen
Ogunbowale falls to the third team because she is among the worst defenders in the league. Watching her progression on offense has been extremely enjoyable. Her potential is limitless. Third Team All-WNBA in a league this deep is not a diss. Bonner gets the Second Team nod over Thomas because she’s Connecticut’s go-to bucket getter in crunch time. I spent plenty of time extolling the brilliant play of Alysha Clark and Jewell Loyd. The Phoenix backcourt isn’t solid defensively, either, but considering the number of injuries the Mercury suffered late in the season and where they ended up in the playoff picture, Diggins-Smith and Taurasi deserve all kinds of praise. The top three Aces are truly exceptional. Hines-Allen has been spectacular.
There you have it: positionless All-WNBA selections. See how smoothly this went? Even with no positional requirements, we still have a pretty even distribution of backcourt and frontcourt.
Good luck, robots! You will need it.