West guards, forwards toughest to pick

Updated: July 5, 2005, 10:04 PM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

Fan voting ultimately will determine which 10 players will start the WNBA All-Star game July 9 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

And while the latest returns would reunite former Connecticut Husky stars Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi in the West backcourt, Katie Smith gets the nod over Taurasi on my ballot. Taurasi remains one of the league's best players and will be an All-Star. But she has taken more field-goal attempts (173) than anybody else in the league, and needs to be more efficient in her shot selection and improve her defending.

That said, picking the West guards and forwards – a position where voters have to choose between the likes of Lauren Jackson, Sheryl Swoopes and Chamique Holdsclaw – were probably the toughest areas of the ballot.

A look at how mine shapes up:

Alana Beard, Washington
Though limited early on by an ankle injury, you can't overlook Beard. She offers so much versatility, continues to expand her shooting beyond the arc and is a prolific slasher. And if you need a stop, Beard's one of the best defenders in the league.
Sue Bird, Seattle
The consummate leader, Bird is a great passer who makes people on the floor around her better. Her injury is at least partly responsible for Seattle's four losses. And Bird just might have the best pull-up foul-line jumper in the game.
Deanna Nolan, Detroit
In an MVP-caliber season, Nolan continues to be one of the league's most gifted one-on-one players. She's electrifying, yet also very much a team player and has improved at getting to the foul line.
Katie Smith, Minnesota
A wonderful pro who has worked so hard to come back, Smith is so mentally and physically tough. Her incredible strength and shot make her one of the hardest players in the league to defend.

Tamika Catchings, Indiana
The ultimate matchup nightmare, Catchings can play multiple positions and is a great rebounder and scorer. She's relentless on both sides of the ball and an amazing physical presence.
Lauren Jackson, Seattle
Despite an ankle injury that required offseason surgery and playing out of position and more away from the block, Jackson just seems to get better each possession. She's a hard matchup, and very physical now.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin
With exceptional fundamental skills and understanding of the game, she's versatile inside and out, has a great face-up game from the top of the key and in, and can take a defender either way off the dribble.
Sheryl Swoopes, Houston
She has tremendous pride and plays hard all the time. Swoopes also remains a great defender and is as reliable as ever – when you need a bucket, she can get it.

Margo Dydek, Connecticut
Ruth Riley is having a solid season and led the early returns, but no center is having a better season in the East than Dydek. If Connecticut's recent eight-game win streak isn't evidence enough, Dydek's All-Star numbers are.
Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento
She still anchors the Monarchs both offensively and defensively, but doesn't have to have big numbers to have an impact on a game. Griffith is also the best rebounder the league has ever seen.

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.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.