The 15th WNBA All-Star Game is set for this Saturday, July 28, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hosted for the first time by the Lynx in their home arena, Target Center. The league followed suit with the NBA, changing the format so that instead of playing East vs. West, the top vote-getters square off against each other in teams picked by the leading vote-getters. In this first year of the format, six players were selected from the Eastern Conference, while 16 were chosen from the Western Conference, so we can already see this format dramatically changes the distribution of All-Star picks.
Because of this change and the game coming up this weekend, it’s a good time to look back on the All-Star games leading up to this season.
Before diving in to the year-by-year results and slicing up numbers, keep in mind that the first WNBA All-Star Game wasn’t held until the league’s third season (1999). Additionally, due to the timing of the Olympics and World Championships, there was no official All-Star Game (ASG) in 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, or 2016. And, to be clear, the rest of this post will only be considering data from the ASGs up to and including 2017. 2018’s selections are not considered in this data since the format drastically affects how the data should be perceived.
Okay, let’s get moving…
In the East vs. West format, the West was utterly dominant. The West won the first six ASGs and after last year’s game led the East 10-4. This makes some sense, given that the league was dominated in those early years by the West. It wasn’t until 2003 that a team from the Eastern Conference won a championship. Overall, the winner of the ASG has been a good predictor of which conference would win the WNBA Championship. Out of 14 years, it was wrong just four times (2003, 2007, 2011, 2014).
|Year||East Score||West Score||MVP||East Coach||West Coach||Arena||Location||Attendance|
|1999||61||79||Lisa Leslie||Linda Hill-McDonald||Van Chancellor||Madison Square Garden||New York City||18,649|
|2000||61||73||Tina Thompson||Richie Adubato||Van Chancellor||America West Arena||Phoenix||17,717|
|2001||72||80||Lisa Leslie||Richie Adubato||Van Chancellor||TD Waterhouse Centre||Orlando||16,906|
|2002||76||81||Lisa Leslie||Anne Donovan||Michael Cooper||MCI Center||Washington, D.C.||19,487|
|2003||75||84||Nikki Teasley||Richie Adubato||Michael Cooper||Madison Square Garden||New York City||18,610|
|2005||99||122||Sheryl Swoopes||Mike Thibault||Anne Donovan||Mohegan Sun Arena||Uncasville||9,168|
|2006||98||82||Katie Douglas||Mike Thibault||John Whisenant||Madison Square Garden||New York City||12,998|
|2007||103||99||Cheryl Ford||Bill Laimbeer||Jenny Boucek||Verizon Center||Washington, D.C.||19,487|
|2009||118||130||Swin Cash||Lin Dunn||Dan Hughes||Mohegan Sun Arena||Uncasville||9,518|
|2011||118||113||Swin Cash||Marynell Meadors||Brian Agler||AT&T Center||San Antonio||12,540|
|2013||98||102||Candace Parker||Lin Dunn||Cheryl Reeve||Mohegan Sun Arena||Uncasville||9,323|
|2014||125||124||Shoni Schimmel||Michael Cooper||Cheryl Reeve||US Airways Center||Phoenix||14,685|
|2015||112||117||Maya Moore||Pokey Chatman||Sandy Brondello||Mohegan Sun Arena||Uncasville||8,214|
|2017||121||130||Maya Moore||Curt Miller||Cheryl Reeve||KeyArena||Seattle||15,221|
Let’s start by breaking down a few high-level records and points of interest:
- Overall record: As mentioned, the West hold a wide lead over the West having won 10 out of the 14 games.
- Attendance: The 2002 and 2007 games, both hosted by the Washington Mystics, boast the largest attendance at 19,487 each. The first two ASGs in Madison Square Garden also put up big numbers in 1999 (18,649) and 2003 (18,610).
- Coaches: Van Chancellor (Houston), Richie Adubato (New York), Michael Cooper (Los Angeles and Atlanta), and Cheryl Reeve (Minnesota) are tied with the most appearances as head coach at an ASG with three each. Only Chancellor did it consecutively in 1999 – 2001. Chancellor and Cooper are undefeated as coaches in the ASG, while Reeve is 2-1.
- MVPs: The only three-time ASG MVP, Lisa Leslie was also the first to win back-to-back MVPs. Her first came in the inaugural game in 1999, and then she won the award again in 2001 and 2002. Those are also the years her and the Los Angeles Sparks won the WNBA Championship; she also won league MVP in 2001. The only other players to win two ASG MVPs are Swin Cash (2009, 2011) and Maya Moore (2015, 2017), and they each won theirs in back-to-back games.
- Player to coach: Sandy Brondello was selected as an reserve for the East in the inaugural All-Star game, and she coached the Western Conference in the 2015 game, becoming the first person to have played in and been a head coach in a WNBA All-Star game.
- Free basketball: 2014 is the only year the ASG went in to overtime. The teams were tied at 112 points apiece at the end of regulation, but the East outscored the West 13-12 in the extra period to nab the win.
- Switching allegiances: Anne Donovan — head coach of the Charlotte Sting at the time — coached the East squad in the 2002 game; then, coming off her championship with the Seattle Storm three years later, she coached the West squad to a win. Michael Cooper coached the West twice (once in 2002 against Donovan) while in his time with the Los Angeles Sparks, and then while head coach with the Atlanta Dream, he led the East in the 2014 ASG. They are the only two coaches to have coached for both the East and the West in the ASG.
Now, on to some team scoring:
- Scoring Lows: The lowest-scoring game came in 2000 with a total of 134 points scored in a 73-61 win by the West. These are also the lowest scoring marks for each conference, respectively. To put that in perspective…
- Scoring Highs: The highest scoring effort came just last year by the West with a total of 130 points. The 2017 ASG also marked the highest scoring game overall, as the East poured in 121 points for a total of 251 between the squads. The highest-scoring game from the Eastern Conference All-Stars came in their 2014 win when they beat the West 125-124.
And individual statistics:
- Points: Maya Moore scored an ASG record 30 points in the 2015 game, edging out the record set just the year prior by Shoni Schimmel (29), marking the third year in a row the record was broken. (In 2013, Candace Parker had a record 23 points.)
- Rebounds: The individual record of 14 rebounds is held by both Lisa Leslie (2002) and Yolanda Griffith (2005). Players have come close since: Cheryl Ford had 13 rebounds in the 2007 game, and Tamika Catchings had 13 in the 2014 game.
- Assists: Sue Bird set the mark at 10 assists in 2009, and she upped that to 11 last season when her Seattle Storm hosted the event.
Selections by Player
I’ve broken down the All-Star selections from 1999 to 2017 by player and year. The image that follows lists the data using the following notation:
- Each selection is preceded by “E” (Eastern Conference) or “W” (Western Conference)
- “S” indicates the player was voted a starter.
- “R” indicates the player was selected as a reserve.
- “Re” indicates the player was selected as a replacement for another injured player.
- The remainder of the legend is listed in the bottom-left corner of the image.
Keep in mind that this data is indicative of the official selections, not how the game was actually carried out. For example, Elena Delle Donne was voted a starter in 2013, so she is listed as such, even though she could not play in the game and Tina Charles started in her stead. Tina Charles is still listed as a reserve. (You may need to tap/click on the image to enlarge it.)
Based on that data, there are are a few interesting takeaways:
- Consistency: Tamika Catchings was named an All-Star starter every year she played in the league, and she is alone in that feat. Her total of 10 All-Star selections in the East vs. West format is matched by Sue Bird, but Sue was not named an All-Star in 2013. (As of the 2018 selections, Sue has now passed that mark with her 11th All-Star selection.) Tamika still owns the record for total All-Star starter votes with 10. (Sue has 8 in this period.)
- Newcomers: 2011 saw the most first-time All-Star selections (11), while 2007 and 2014 are tied with the least (5). This is, of course, ignoring the inaugural year when everyone was a newcomer.
- Rookies: Most years at least a couple rookies are selected to an All-Star team, but five times there have been no rookies on the teams (2005, 2007, 2009, 2015, 2017). Taking into consideration that there are gap years without an ASG, you could consider Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard “rookies” in the 2005 game. The same could be said for Charde Houston and Sylvia Fowles in 2009 and Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince in 2011. In 1999 there were a record seven rookies selected to an All-Star team. Of course, that is also the year many players migrated from the folding ABL to the WNBA, so several of the “rookies” were experienced professional players.
- Replacement MVP: In 2003, Marie Ferdinand (now Ferdinand-Harris) and Nikki Teasley were selected as replacements for the injured Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson. Teasley took full advantage in her replacement reserve role, recording ten points, six rebounds, six assists, and five steals in just over 24 minutes to secure her ASG MVP award. She is the only player selected as a replacement to go on to win the MVP. Lisa Leslie (2001) and Katie Douglas (2006) are the only others to win ASG MVP coming off the bench.
- No need to win: Swin Cash secured her second consecutive MVP award in the 2011 game with 21 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block for the West. She is the only player to lose the ASG but win MVP.
- Waste no time: Shoni Schimmel is the only rookie to win the ASG MVP, which she earned with her (then record) 29 points, three rebounds, eight assists, and two assists for the victorious East squad in the 2014 game. Teasley and Douglas are the only other players to win MVP in their first appearance (ignoring the 1999 game).
- Switching allegiances: Multiple players have been selected to All-Star games for both the East and the West:
- Natalie Williams was selected as a reserve for the West from 1999-2001 while playing for the Utah Starzz; she then was a reserve for the East while playing for the Indiana Fever in 2003.
- Chamique Holdsclaw was voted a starter for the East in the first five ASGs while playing for the Mystics. In her first year with the Sparks (2005), she was selected as a reserve for the West.
- Taj McWilliams-Franklin started her career in Orlando and Connecticut, where she earned five All-Star selections (1999-2001, 2005, 2006). In 2007 she played with the Sparks and was selected as a reserve for the West.
- DeLisha Milton-Jones was a reserve for the West in 2000 while playing for the Sparks and a reserve for the East in 2007 while with the Mystics.
- Katie Smith was selected as a reserve for the West five times (2000-2003, 2005) while with the Lynx and twice for the East while with the Detroit Shock (2006, 2009).
- Dawn Staley played the majority of her career for the Charlotte Sting, and during that time she earned four All-Star nods for the East. In her short time with the Houston Comets, she was voted an All-Star starter once for the West.
- Penny Taylor was selected as a reserve for the East squad in 2002 while with the Cleveland Rockers; she played a reserve role on the West squad in 2007 and 2011.
- Margo Dydek was selected as a reserve for the West in 2003 while in San Antonio, and she was voted as a starter in the East in 2006 while in Connecticut.
- Becky Hammon played for the East squad in 2003, 2005, and 2006 while with the Liberty, and after her move to San Antonio, she played three more times for the West (2007, 2009, 2011).
- While in Detroit, Swin Cash was an All-Star in the East twice. She was voted a starter twice more for the West while in Seattle.
- Cappie Pondexter has been selected as an All-Star while with three different teams. She was a reserve in the West in 2006, 2007, and 2009 while with Phoenix. Across her time in New York and Chicago, she was voted a starter three times and selected as a reserve once for the East.
- Lindsay Whalen earned her lone starter vote while in the East with the Connecticut Sun. After being traded to the Lynx, she has been selected as a reserve in the West four times.
- Like her former teammate, Candice Dupree has been an All-Star for three teams. She started her time in the East while with the Chicago Sky, an All-Star three times. During her time in Phoenix she was an All-Star in 2014 and 2015. In 2017, while with the Fever, she was once again selected as an All-Star for the East.
- Lastly, Sylvia Fowles was an All-Star in the East three times while with Chicago. After the move to the Lynx, she was voted an All-Star starter in 2017.
- MVPx2: Three times the winner of the ASG MVP has gone on to win league MVP: 2001 (Lisa Leslie), 2005 (Sheryl Swoopes), and 2013 (Candace Parker). The eventual league MVP has always been an All-Star that year and all but five times has been voted a starter (1999, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2009).
Selections by Team
I’ve compiled selections by team in a similar manner. The same notation is used with conference indicators omitted. Instead the teams are separated by conference (West, then East). (You may need to tap/click on the image to enlarge it.)
So, what can we take away from this?
- Star-laden: The Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx are tied with 29 All-Star selections each over this time span. The Sparks have had one more player voted a starter than the Lynx to give them the slight edge. The New York Liberty are the next closest with 27 total selections, but they have the most players voted as All-Star starters (18). Houston (16) and Seattle (14) are next closest in that category.
- Consistency: The Minnesota Lynx led the league in All-Star selections for five straight ASGs (2011, 2013-2015, 2017) with three or four All-Star selections in each of those years.
- Taking over: The Connecticut Sun hold the record for most All-Star selections in a single year with five players selected in 2006. Three of the Sun players were named starters (Lindsay Whalen, Nykesha Sales, Margo Dydek), Katie Douglas was named a reserve, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin was named one of three injury replacements.
- All-Star contenders: In nine out of the 14 All-Star games, the eventual champions had (or tied for) the most All-Star selections that year. The Houston Comets would have tied and upped that number in 1999, but the Liberty got one additional selection with Vickie Johnson being named an injury replacement for teammate Rebecca Lobo. Otherwise, four seasons just don’t fit the trend (2001, 2005, 2006, 2009).
- First-timers: Three teams have had at least one All-Star selection in their first year in the league (Minnesota, Orlando, Chicago), and the Miracle made a splash their first year with three All-Star reserves. Because there was no All-Star game in Atlanta’s first season in the league (2008), you could also count them in this category getting two All-Star selections in 2009.
- Spreading the wealth: Eight of 14 years in this span every team had at least one All-Star. Three of the remaining six years just one team was left out. The standouts in the other direction are 2000 when the four expansion teams (Portland, Seattle, Miami, Indiana) had no All-Stars and 2001-2002 when both Phoenix and Detroit failed to get any selections.
As mentioned toward the beginning of the post, the new All-Star format will likely shake up a lot of these trends since a balance in conferences is not required. I look forward to breaking down data from the new format several years from now when we have played through it at least a few times…