Commentary

A jam-packed start to the season

Originally Published: June 19, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

As well as Phoenix is playing now, do you think the other WNBA teams shudder when thinking, "Good grief, what if the Mercury had signed Lauren Jackson?"

Phoenix is at the top of the Western Conference at 4-1 going into Friday's game against visiting Los Angeles. And who would have thought that the Sparks (1-3) would be near the bottom of the standings as they entered this contest?

[+] EnlargeDiana Taurasi
Barry Gossage/Getty ImagesDiana Taurasi is averaging 23.2 ppg for 4-1 Phoenix.

It's one of many examples that, just two weeks into this season, we've gotten more than we bargained for.

Washington (3-0) and Minnesota (4-2), for so long the "if it can go wrong, it will go wrong" franchises, are off to terrific starts. However …

Against Phoenix on Wednesday, Lynx star Seimone Augustus suffered a knee injury, which was confirmed to be an ACL tear on Friday. She is done for the season, which is devastating for Minnesota. And Mystics rookie Marissa Coleman, who really hit the ground running as a pro, is out four to six weeks with an ankle sprain.

The Chicago Sky, in their fourth season, and the Atlanta Dream, in their second, both have competed well so far. But defending WNBA champion Detroit has struggled -- and lost coach Bill Laimbeer, who resigned Monday and was replaced by assistant Rick Mahorn.

Winless New York isn't out of the gate yet, as if the doors are jammed. New York fans wanting to see longtime Lib Becky Hammon in Madison Square Garden again won't get the chance this season -- unless somehow the Liberty and Silver Stars end up in the WNBA Finals. Hammon will miss two San Antonio games -- this weekend against New York and Connecticut -- because she's still part Russian. (That is, she's playing in the European championships for her not-quite Motherland.)

Yolanda Griffith's farewell season only lasted three games, ending with an Achilles' injury against Seattle. There was no room for Jessica Davenport with post-heavy New York, but the former Ohio State Buckeye has come back to Big Ten country, taking Griffith's roster spot for the Indiana Fever.

It has been that jam-packed of a fortnight for the WNBA. And while we wait to find out if the Lynx and Mystics are for real, it seems safe to go ahead and say that Phoenix is.

Diana Taurasi (23.2 points per game) and Cappie Pondexter (18.4 ppg) remain among the most dynamic offensive players in the sport, and now rookie DeWanna Bonner (14.4 ppg) is filling the Penny Taylor role -- except doing it off the bench.

Tangela Smith (12.2 ppg), in her 12th season, continues to be dependable. Le'coe Willingham, a former Auburn Tiger like Bonner, came to Phoenix last season and became a starter after four years as a reserve in Connecticut. She's the fifth Mercury player currently averaging double figures in scoring, at 10.0 ppg.

Temeka Johnson, acquired in the offseason in a trade from Los Angeles, has been a very good fit thus far for the Mercury, averaging 9.0 ppg and 6.2 assists per game. The rest of the presently healthy Mercury players -- Kelly Mazzante, Brooke Smith, Allie Quigley and Ketia Swanier -- are cogs. But it's important to have good cogs.

There is one other player on the Mercury roster who could have a very positive impact when she returns from injury. Nicole Ohlde, who suffered a broken bone in her left foot at the end of her season in Hungary, is expected to return soon.

The 6-foot-5 center has the mobility to fit well in the Mercury's system, and this move to Phoenix is a change that should do her good. Ohlde spent five seasons in Minnesota, and the final one was by far her worst.

Last season, she averaged 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds while playing just 16.4 minutes per game. The Lynx needed more than that from her, but the Mercury might not.

If everyone else keeps doing what they're doing, Phoenix will just need Ohlde to be solid. She is a consummate teammate whom everyone likes, who is always upbeat and who will do anything she's asked. Plus, she could not care less if she's completely out of the spotlight. In fact, she prefers that.

Meanwhile, it's just the opposite situation for Los Angeles -- the player the Sparks are waiting for is going to be front and center as soon as she steps on the court in her first game this season.

Candace Parker, still on maternity leave, has been missed even more than expected. As loaded as the Sparks are with talent, right now she's the most talented -- and she's still just 23 years old. Even with having to return from pregnancy, she seems likely to be as key a figure for the Sparks this season as she was last year as MVP and rookie of the year.

Even though the Sparks knew she'd be gone for the start of the season and tried to prepare for it, you get the feeling that they are almost counting the minutes until she's back.

Whenever that is, a lot will have happened this WNBA season. Because a lot already has.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

ALSO SEE