September 12, 2020 

The Next WNBA ‘spicy assorted’ roundtable: Poetry in motion

All the hottest takes we’ve been keeping from you, and so much more

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Alyssa Thomas #25 of the Connecticut Sun drives to the basket against the New York Liberty on August 22, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)

“It’s a cruel and random world, but the chaos is all so beautiful.”

Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)

Do you remember the McSalad Shakers? Those McDonald’s salads that came in a tall, clear plastic cup, you’d dump your dressing in, and … shake them? It was revolutionary. It was cutting-edge. It was fun! It was the turn of the century’s version of the Shake Weight.

The McSalad Shaker was also discontinued after three years, because it didn’t make any sense. Sure, it was a fresh and exciting salad dressing delivery system. But it also didn’t sell well, I guess. I don’t know. I didn’t work there at the time. I’ve never worked at McDonald’s. I’m sorry if I misled you.

The point is, here at The Next, our hottest, most (in)defensible takes — you might even call them “spicy assorted,” like nuts, or packaged ramen, or the flavor range McSalad Shakers needed to stay on the market — are not unlike McSalad Shakers. They provide a great workout (for your brain), they’re fun (for your brain) and you’ll probably want nothing to do with them in three years.

Enjoy the ride — while it lasts.

Let the takes fly (in an orderly fashion)

Various staffers at The Next jumped at the chance to offer their most absurd, random takes on the WNBA season. Some of them jumped a little too far, like a guy doing parkour for the first time between two buildings that are quite close together, but he doesn’t want to fall to his death, so he overshoots on the landing and ends up hitting his head on a rooftop HVAC unit.

Therefore, it seemed only fair to rank them myself.

7. “The Outlier Award goes to any weird statistical stuff that happened this season. The Aces taking six fewer 3s than the next-lowest-volume team? Expected, but still fun. Amanda Zahui B. having a game with 21 rebounds and not grabbing a SINGLE offensive board? Now we’re talking.” (Nick Niendorf, Chicago Sky beat writer)

Being last doesn’t mean it’s the worst take (well, just the worst of these seven), but honestly, it’s a little bland. It’s like in the late ‘90s and early 2000s when free throw percentage was a WNBA Peak Performer category. They got rid of that for a reason, Nick!

6. “The real MVP of this season for a media member is Otter, especially with more media availability than ever and games so close together, but the true winner of the season is any media member who can manage to not go over their free 600 minutes.” (Natalie Heavren, Connecticut Sun beat writer)

As someone who recently upgraded to the $9.99/month, 6,000-minute Otter Premium plan (not a sponsor) just so I wouldn’t have to keep making new accounts for audio uploads, I felt this in my bones. I did not win this season at all.

5. “We need to end all the ‘What does Most Valuable Player really mean?’ debates once and for all. I propose the ‘Broadest Shoulders,’ ‘Strongest Back’ or whatever other term you want to use for the player who carried their team the most all season. No longer do the Vandersloot stans have to whisper from the shadows, ‘Yeah Stewie’s great but the Storm would still be a good playoff team without her.’ Now we can properly recognize the greats on bad or injured teams without arguing about the semantics of the MVP award. Also, Slooty deserves something for this season.” (Niendorf)

We get it, Nick, you write about the Sky. No, I’m kidding, this one sounds legit as hell. The politics and ~unwritten guidelines~ surrounding the voting rationale for season awards are a plague on this great sport. In this essay I will

4. “Has player tracking come far enough where we can track how many seconds a player spends looking perplexed at officials’ calls over the course of a season? CP3 might be the runaway winner here but would love to hear the case for other candidates.” (Niendorf)

New York’s hottest club is [AIRHORN NOISES]. This take has everything: advanced stats, new tech, name recognition. The one thing it doesn’t have? A critical analysis of the questionable sojourn into facial recognition software and its potential (mis)use in sports.

3. “Ezi [Magbegor] should get some kind of award for all that she’s balancing, as a rookie no less — three courses, plus playing however many minutes per game on the team with the best record in the league.” (Jenn Hatfield, Washington Mystics beat writer)

We stan an educated woman.

2. “Emma [Meesseman] and Julie [Allemand] are locked in a tight race for Belgian of the Year.” (Hatfield)

On and off the court, this take is just true. But it slides in at No. 2 because, well, there are two Belgian players, and they are both great. (FYI: “Two” in French is “deux,” and it’s “twee” in Dutch.)

1. Seimone Augustus for Coach of the Year (Jackie Powell, New York Liberty beat writer)

I’ll just let Powell take it from here:

“[I]f you aren’t going to give [Coach of the Year] to Cheryl Reeve and her staff of superwomen, fine — give it to the Sparks, a team with so much already established chemistry and veteran leadership. Sure, fine. But if your vote goes to the Sparks, don’t write in Derek Fisher’s name. …

“I can sense less of a pettiness on the Sparks this year. I give that credit to [Seimone Augustus]. Welp, that’s a bit awkward then — I’m positioning Augustus against her former coach, Cheryl Reeve. Reeve’s coaching tree expands: James Wade, Walt Hopkins, her all-female staff and now Seimone.”

NOTE: The Next editor-in-chief Howard Megdal gave us the term “spicy assorted,” but when reached for comment, he was either unable or unwilling to offer any takes of his own. “That does sound like something I’d say,” the infamous lover of salad pizza said.

Death, taxes and Alyssa Thomas playing with two torn labra

“There isn’t an Ironwoman Award for the WNBA, but there should be,” Heavren authoritatively told me. “It should go to Alyssa Thomas this year, probably every year until she has shoulder surgery, and the award should be renamed to the Alyssa Thomas Ironwoman Award.”

Graphic by the author

“Thomas downplayed her injury saying she was ‘pushing through some pain’ and said, ‘I try not to think about it when I’m out there and just continue to play my game,’” Heavren wrote of the Sun standout on Sept. 6. “However, she later added, ‘Every time I catch the ball it just feels like my bones are hitting together so it’s pretty painful but it is what it is.’”

“Personally,” Heavren told me, “if it felt like my bones were hitting together every time I caught a ball, I would not be catching a basketball. But again, AT is an Ironwoman. Yes, everyone’s banged up, but I can’t think of another player who plays with an existing injury, as well as an incredibly painful hand injury (and is so nonchalant about both).”

Elsewhere on the court, the Liberty are making a statement with their potential Most Improved Defense, said Powell. (For the record, Thomas and the Sun averaged 76 points in their two games against New York, below their 80.6 per-game average.)

“We are getting there, folks. Defense in New York will be restored someday,” Powell said. “But how did the Liberty get there? Was it Kiah Stokes being back on this roster providing her defensive prowess? Nope. Quite the contrary. It was the collective stylings of players — or rookies, rather — who value the defensive side more than offense.

“[Leaonna] Odom wants to be a DPOY one day. I can’t wait to see her get there. Jocelyn Willoughby can guard almost all positions and has arms like Myisha Hines-Allen. Kylee Shook will be a magician altering shots.”

(The award for Lineup of the Year is a lock for the Liberty, by the way, in recognition of the 29 minutes so far this season where they’ve put five rookies on the floor.)

Anyway, speaking of magic, did you know that it’s not real? But in video games, sometimes it is! And that’s where our next brand-new award comes in, as Big 12 writer Lauren Rosenberg sang the praises of Mystics guard-forward Aerial Powers.

“AP isn’t just a baller on the hardwood, but a baller and a sniper in the cyber world as well,” Rosenberg said. “While in the wubble, she always made time for her fans and streamed as much as she could on Twitch with her [NBA] 2K20 legend account, nicknamed Legend AP, and was in a Call of Duty tournament with Paul George. Her dedication to gaming and connecting with fans have also allowed her to use her platform to normalize women gamers. She’s also been encouraging people to register to vote by partnering with Gamers.Vote.

“To top off her case, she got partnered and verified on Twitch shortly after she passed 1,000 career points in the W. Whether she is Baller AP, Legend AP, or Sniper AP, gaming on COD, Valorant, Apex or 2K, AP deserves Wubble Gamer of the Year with the trophy being a can of green beans.”

Look, just as I stan an educated woman (Magbegor, above, so long ago), I stan a woman who can play video games. And not just because she’s a woman who can play video games — she’s a cool woman in her own right, but also, most importantly, she can play video games. My 2K experience was limited to hoping the controls were similar to FIFA’s, recognizing they sort of were, and being bad at it anyway. I would never willingly show the world my skills. AP is a legend.

Another legend? The children of the wubble, as Heavren explained.

“One awards category that doesn’t exist but SHOULD is Best Wubble Kid Content,” she said. “The kids have been some of the biggest social media hits of the wubble, and none more so than Baby D, the adorable two-year-old daughter of Connecticut Sun guard Bria Holmes. The sassy toddler has been everywhere from the practice court to the pool to the sideline with a snack and a fashionable moment.

“Some of my favorite moments have been Baby D bonding with her mom’s teammates and her historically cool birthday party, which I wrote about earlier this season,” Heavren said. “The world is a bit of a mess right now, but Baby D has been putting a smile on Sun fans and the media alike all season long.”

A bit of a mess”? I’d like to nominate that for Understatement of the Year, myself.

The Gang Talks About Real WNBA Awards For a Sec

We’ve talked MVP. We’ve talked Rookie of the Year. Now, it’s time for … the rest.

Myisha Hines-Allen is my pick for Most Improved Player this year, and credit goes to 1) the wubble hairdresser, 2) a Theragun massage and 3) winning a game of beans in shootaround,” Hatfield said.

“No, really — those are all things she has attributed her biggest performances to in postgame press conferences, most recently after scoring 19 points against Minnesota on Tuesday [Sept. 8] … in the first half alone.

“On a more serious note, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think this table says it all.”

Graphic by Jenn Hatfield, stats through Sept. 6

One picture may be worth a thousand words, but do you know what two pictures is worth? A great meme.

Graphic by the author and inspired by a conversation with Hatfield (Photos: ESPN Press Room, Jenn Hatfield)

A variety of The Next contributors also weighed in on a variety of awards given out by the WNBA and the Associated Press.

The Minnesota Lynx’s Cheryl Reeve was well-represented for Coach of the Year, the selections of the Mystics’ Hines-Allen and the Atlanta Dream’s Betnijah Laney represent the tough two-woman battle for Most Improved Player, the Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart was named in both Defensive Player and Comeback Player categories, the Storm’s Alysha Clark also got a nod for Defensive Player of the Year, the Mystics’ Jacki Gemelos was floated as Comeback Player of the Year and the Phoenix Mercury’s Bria Hartley was suggested as the Sixth Woman of the Year.

I want to take a second to focus on one of these awards in particular. Looking back at last season — the Injury Season, as we all called it then, but probably less of us call it now, as it’s been swiftly overshadowed by the Pandemic Season that has also featured many, many injuries — the number of 2020 Comeback Player nominees seemed infinitely vast.

But was there any doubt that Stewart’s name would eventually rise to the top? How many of us thought otherwise? You don’t have to raise your hands. (Y)our shame is (y)our own.

That is, unless you’re Hatfield, and you want to go in a totally different direction:

Screenshot from the author’s Slack DMs, the most happening place on the internet

Anyway, if our hot takes are the McSalad Shaker, perhaps this section has been the version of KFC’s Double Down that used actual bread. Still great, but a little less risky.

The lights dim

Welcome to the 2020 The Next poetry slam! [raucous applause, as if multiple people are in a room together all clapping at once, a sadly foreign yet decidedly unsafe experience in these times] Yes! It’s so wonderful to be here! You all know the rules, so let’s jump in with our one and only participant, Jackie Powell and her ode to Reshanda Gray:

When Reshanda was waived by the Liberty, I was filled with gloom. 
Before, Sabrina remarked how welcoming Reshanda was on Zoom. 
Disappointment racked my brain, but I wasn’t all that surprised, her contract had no clout. 
But it was the Sparks who took a chance on Reshanda after Chiney had opted out.
Ari Chambers remarked that the Sparks got themselves someone who could be even better, 
And I agreed, waiting and yearning for Reshanda to battle it out in her home purple and gold. 
But alas there wasn’t training camp that could prove she was a fierce defender.
D-Fish prefers Anigwe who’s dealt with her own rejection, but Reshanda continues to wait until she’s called … she waits in her black sweats accompanying her gold and purple jersey. 
The Sparks are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league … why not Reshanda? She’ll give Fish and Mone (I’m still counting her as a coach) everything she has and more. 

Reshanda will be along for the ride
And she’ll wear her warmup sweats with pride. 
But I do wish she could prove to Fisher that she’s not just a benchwarmer 
but a unique unicorn with purple hair, with a heart more golden than the former.   

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