- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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When the All-Star Game starters were announced Wednesday, it wasn't necessarily surprising to see three Sun players on the list.
Following two straight trips to the WNBA Finals and virtually every key player back, Connecticut tops the Eastern Conference standings and has the second-best record in the league.
But if three Sun players were selected, Katie Douglas should have been among them.
Douglas is having a career year and deserved the fans' vote not only for her first All-Star appearance but for a spot in the starting lineup. Instead, fans -- who voted online and in WNBA arenas to determine the starters -- gave the nod to Connecticut's Lindsay Whalen, Nykesha Sales and Margo Dydek, as well as Indiana's Tamika Catchings and New York's Becky Hammon in the East.
Seattle's Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, Houston's Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley and Sacramento's Yolanda Griffith will start for the West.
I understand the All-Star Game is for the fans, and I don't want to disrespect them. But it's clear the fans voted for their favorite players, not the ones who are playing the best basketball this season.
Sadly, Douglas is hardly the most jaw-dropping omission. In my eyes, there are six, beginning with the Sparks' Lisa Leslie, who's considered a leading candidate for MVP honors and is averaging a career-best 20.7 ppg (fourth in the league) and 9.3 rpg (third) while shooting 54 percent from the field (fifth). Leslie also has led Los Angeles to the best record in the league.
Starting alongside Leslie in the West should also be the Mercury's Diana Taurasi (No. 1 in scoring with 22.9 ppg) and Lynx rookie Seimone Augustus, who is unquestionably the best 3 in the West right now. Augustus also ranks second in the league in scoring (22.4 ppg) but first in total points (358) and made field goals (138).
Swoopes, last season's regular-season and All-Star Game MVP, unfortunately is having what could be considered an average season for her, and her points per game are down 4.5 points since last season. Like Swoopes, Staley is one of the game's all-time best and a pick that's hard to argue with. But even though she's shooting 50 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3-point range (which helps make up for Swoopes' 8 percent dip to 28 percent from downtown), Staley seems more of a sentimental pick for the fans, who are well aware this is Staley's last pro season.
In the East, perhaps fans are making up for Whalen's omission last season, which remains perhaps the biggest All-Star snub in WNBA history. But this might be the one season Whalen didn't deserve the honor as she continues to recover and still seems somewhat limited after offseason surgery.
Instead, I would have liked to see Douglas and/or the Mystics' Alana Beard get the nod. Douglas has improved her game off the dribble and in attacking the rim, and as a result is getting to the foul line about 2½ more times per game than last season. She hurts you on both sides of the ball, ranking second in 3-pointers made (40), third in total steals (34) and steals per game (2.0), fourth in 3-point percentage (47.1 percent) and ninth in scoring (16.2 ppg).
Beard, meanwhile, also is excellent on both sides of the ball. She isn't just one of the East's top players; she has become one of the league's best.
And lastly, Cheryl Ford, who is having a great season and could wind up with the regular-season rebounding title, deserved a spot among the East starters. She leads the league with 12.2 rebounds per game and is currently the only player in the WNBA averaging a double-double (15.1 ppg), though the Sun's Taj McWilliams-Franklin isn't far behind with 11.0 ppg and 9.7 rpg.
Now it's up to the All-Star head coaches -- Sacramento's John Whisenant and Connecticut's Mike Thibault, who are automatically selected based on their team's finish as the previous season's conference champions -- to fill out the rest of the roster. Reserve players, selected by each team's coach, will be named on Saturday. Let's hope names like Leslie, Taurasi and Douglas are among the players added then.
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.
13dBonnie D. Ford