WNBL MVP race: can Suzy Batkovic win her fifth?
It’s been another tightly contested WNBL season with some of the competition’s legends joined by exciting new names. As the league rounds into its second half, we take a closer look at some of its standout players.
Sami Whitcomb (Perth Lynx)
The WNBL’s leading scorer with an even 24 a game, the Perth shooting guard has been both a revelation as both an inside and outside threat. Possessing an explosive first step and a range of jab steps and crossovers to get separation, Whitcomb has been deadly from three-point range (41%). She is also a strong enough facilitator to frustrate double teams, with 4.1 assists per game and a disruptive defender, with 37 steals, good for first in the league. In a tightly-contested competition, her plus/minus stats of +69 for the season are impressive, and include a crazy +44 in just 25 minutes against Adelaide. Whitcomb’s 33 points first half masterclass against a quality team in Bendigo must have sent shivers through the league and is the kind of scheme-wrecking dominance which makes her the MVP frontrunner.
Susy Batkovic (Townsville Fire)
Batkovic already has four WNBL MVPs to her name and a record-breaking fifth wouldn’t surprise, given a monster season which has seen her rank second in both points (21.4) and rebounds (10.4) per game. Her size, touch around the rim and sheer canniness as a low-post player remain undiminished and she gets to the foul line more than any other player in the competition. Controversially left out of the Opals Olympic team, Batkovic has proceeded to bend opposing defences to her will, recording a whopping 9 double doubles and has also made some huge clutch plays, not least an off-balance reverse layup to force overtime against Sydney Uni Flames in a match the Fire eventually won.
Marianna Tolo (University of Canberra Capitals)
A hydralike rim protector (her 33 blocks ranks 3rd in the competition) and supremely reliable inside scorer, Tolo is having another strong year with her combination of length, instincts and mobility making her one of the competition’s elite bigs. Her 38 point, 12 rebound performance against the tall timber of Sydney’s frontcourt was one of the most dominant single games of the season.
Laura Hodges (Adelaide Lightning)
Usually players on winless teams don’t figure in MVP discussion, but Hodges’ work on the battling Adelaide lightning makes her an exception to the rule. The four-time Olympian has used her quickness and finishing nous to again put up strong numbers as a scorer (18.50, 4th in the WNBL) and rebounder (7.90, 8th in the league) despite a glaring lack of support.
Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (Bendigo Spirit)
The athletic Canadian has made an immediate impact in her first season, with her polished offensive game netting 16.27 points a game (7th in league). She has been a particular menace on the offensive glass (53, 2nd in league), a major reason why Bendigo have won the battle of second chance points in 12 of 15 games. Raincock-Ekunwe has also been a model of efficiency as an inside scorer, with her 58% shooting percentage tied with Marianna Tolo for the best in the competition.
Asia Taylor (Sydney Uni Flames)
Another first year WNBL import who has made a smooth transition to the league. In the games Taylor missed through a concussion, the Flames went 1-2, as opposed to the 9-3 record they have with her on the floor. Taylor is crashing the boards (8.67 per game) and dishing out assists at a rate rarely seen by a frontcourt player. Having failed to score double figures only once, she figures to be one of the most influential players in the race for the finals.
Steph Cumming (Dandenong Rangers)
The reigning defensive player of the year has quietly become one of the most productive on the offensive end, with her 17.53 per game ranking 6th overall. Against Perth, her 31 point, 12 rebound and 4 assist tally included five three-pointers. Cumming’s outside shooting (46%) rates among the league’s best and her strong two-way game has been a major factor in Dandenong heading into the new year first on the ladder.
Honourable mentions: Kelsey Griffin (Bendigo Spirit), Mikaela Ruef (University of Canberra Capitals), Leilani Mitchell (Sydney Uni Flames), Jen Hamson (Sydney Uni Flames).