The Evening Game

Sports with brains. Pop culture with heart.

 

13 Things We Loved in the WNBL This Year

13 Things We Loved in the WNBL This Year

BATGIRL RETURNS

Two constants in the WNBL in recent years have been the ongoing success of the Townsville Fire and the machine-like production of Suzy Batkovic. One of only two players to score 20 points a game (21.3) and one of only a pair of players who averaged more than 10 rebounds (10.6), she was again utterly dominant in the paint, continuing to use her imposing size and unorthodox leftie game to devastating effect.

THE RIM PROTECTION OF MARIANNA TOLO

Of the league’s three elite shot blockers (With Jennifer Hamson and Ruth Hamblin), Tolo is the most mobile and an instinctive defender. Her return to the Capitals, along with her undiminished ability to swat shots and change countless others was a key reason last year’s last-placed Canberra squad improved by eleven wins and hovered on the edge of the finals this year.

 One of 58 blocks Marianna Tolo collected.

One of 58 blocks Marianna Tolo collected.

THE RISE (AND RISE) OF CARLEY MIJOVIC

Increased minutes don’t always lead to increased production, but Perth’s Carley Mijovic relished the chance to become the Lynx’s second scoring option behind Whitcomb and her stats climbed in almost every category. Agile, tall enough to play the five and a good enough shooter to be a floor-stretching matchup nightmare, Mijovic was Perth’s most improved player in the 2015/16 and if anything only hastened her improvement this season. She recorded 3 times as many blocks as last year, along with more than doubling her rebounds (7.5) and assists (1.29) per game and rocketed up the points per game chart, from 28th to 13th in the league.

THE FANTASTIC STEPH CUMMING

God damn, what a basketball player. While some pros carve out perfectly respectable careers by being excellent at one thing, Cumming’s particular niche is being good at everything: outside shooting, persistent perimeter defence, dishing out assists, scoring efficiently with her back to the basket, getting to the foul line. She passed 250 WNBL games this year and has never been better, nor played with such controlled fire.  “No-one ever wants to lose” she told a reporter recently, eyes grim with intensity. “You're a liar if you say you like losing".

Steph Cumming: Not losing

 

SAMI WHITCOMB, TORMENTOR OF DEFENCES

Initially arriving in the WNBL via the Western Australian Basketball League with little fanfare, the California-born Sami Whitcomb is now the league’s MVP frontrunner. Her late-blooming game includes superior ball-handling, herky-jerky drives to the basket and pure shooting from well beyond the three-point arc. It’s a multi-faceted puzzle nobody around the league has managed to solve on a consistent basis and her continued dominance has led to a well-deserved call-up to the WNBA. As Perth coach Andy Stewart recently told local press, it’s not a question of whether she is up to the sports premier competition, “My question would be – can she dominate it?”

 

Sami Whitcomb shoots over a double team.

THE MASCOTS

Look at them go!

CARLY WILSON GOES OUT A WINNER

A great outside shooter and scorer who also collected blocked shots at a rate normally reserved for towering centres, Wilson was an Opals mainstay in the early 2000s. She retired from the league this week with 363 WNBL career games, 1016 3-pointers, 3 WNBL championships, 2 all-star five selections, countless pairs of her trademark pink socks and a level of respect amongst fellow players and fans that would be impossible to quantify. The good news for the league is that she wants to stay involved in some capacity; a commentary gig in a new TV deal would be a win for all involved.

LEILANI MITCHELL, FLOOR GENERAL SUPREME

Leilani Mitchell is one of the smallest players in the WNBL, and also one of the best. Overcoming some uncharacteristic struggles with finishing earlier in the season, she was dynamic in the Flames' 8-game winning streak, particularly down the stretch of close games where her calmness running the point, uncanny ability to get to the rim and redoubtable pull-up jumper were invaluable and loom as major assets come Finals time.

MADDIE GARRICK, FUTURE OPALS STAR

Melbourne’s unwanted penchant for losing close games condemned them to an early exit from the playoff race, but the continued growth of Maddie Garrick was a bright spot. With a tight handle and an arsenal of feints, fakes, jab steps and hesitations polished enough to get separation from even the most dogged of defenders, she seems headed for Opals selection.

DOING IT FOR THE KIDS

Broadcasters continued to shun the league, but that didn't stop the younger generation turning out in force. 

Kelly Wilson with some young fans.

 

KICKING IT OLD SCHOOL

NBA fans have bemoaned the decreased importance of post-up players as D’Antoni ball has taken over the league, all but wiping out the old style of bigs with low-post repetoires. Pace and space basketball is spectacular and efficient, but there is still a place for the old skills and in the WNBL, the back to the basket game is alive and well with players like Suzy Batkovic and Bendigo’s Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe being post-up juggernauts.

SARA BLICAVS, BIG TIME SMALL FORWARD

Whether flying around screens, acting as an ambassador for charities or churning out comedy gold on Twitter, Sara Blicavs was a star in season 2016/17. A genuine two-way force and one of only two players to average at least 16 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal (the other was Asia Taylor), her athletic ability and well-rounded game were a major reason why Dandenong secured a home semi-final in a congested ladder. 

THE ATHLETICISM OF ASIA TAYLOR

Experienced WNBL journalists were projecting Sydney to miss the finals; the eye-catching play of the Louisville alum was one major reason they exceeded expectations. She was a difficult cover for any type of defender: too physically strong for fleet-footed wings and possessing a first step too quick for lumbering bigs. Explosive enough to swipe rebounds and run the floor, her top 10 scoring and rebounding numbers saw her named in the team of the week 8 times, equaling Suzy Batkovic and behind only Sami Whitcomb (13). 

Asia Taylor goes coast to coast.

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