With just a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season, the WNBA playoff picture is clearer than ever, with half of the possible seedings secured in both conferences. This week we’re less about the future and more about the present, however, as several veteran players made league headlines. Let’s look at a trio of terrific careers in this week’s WNBA Weekly Rundown.
Catchings Reaches Steals Milestone
Few will disagree that Tamika Catchings is the greatest defensive player in WNBA history. The Indiana Fever forward further cemented her status as a defensive legend by recording her 1,000th steal on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Sparks.
For Catchings, though, the 1000-steal mark is little more than a good-looking number. She’s been in the WNBA record books as its steals leader for quite some time now. It’s pretty staggering: she’s far and away the league’s most prolific thief, logging well over 200 more steals in her career than runner-up Ticha Penichiero (764 steals), and almost 350 more than Sheryl Swoopes (657).
Granted, Catchings has also played in nearly 100 more games than Swoopes (who missed much of the 1997 and 2007 seasons, and all of 2001). This isn’t just a case of a player who sticks around forever and sets a record just because he/she has played for a really long time, however. Year-by-year, Catchings is routinely at the top of the steals leaderboard, leading the WNBA in total steals five times and in steals per game a ridiculous seven times. For her career, Catchings is second all-time in STL%, which is percentage of opponent possessions ending on a steal while she’s on the floor.
You can slice the numbers any way you want – or even stick with the ol’ eye test, if you prefer – but it’s undeniable. Catchings is very, very good at what she does, and has been for a very, very long time. At this point, one can only wonder what the WNBA record books will look like when she finally retires at the end of the 2016 season. It doesn’t take a soothsayer to predict that she’ll be at the top in multiple areas, nor that it’ll take some awfully special talent to surpass her.
Iron Woman DMJ
In a feat that’s perhaps even more impressive, Atlanta Dream forward DeLisha Milton-Jones set the all-time WNBA record for games played on Friday when she stepped on the court against the Indiana Fever. Affectionately known to fans as “Sunshine,” Milton-Jones has now played in 498 WNBA games, and she doesn’t look to be caught anytime soon; the next closest active player is Swin Cash (442 games played).
A two-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist with Team USA, Milton-Jones is best known for her time with the Los Angeles Sparks, with whom she won a pair of WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002. A highly physical player, she became a favorite of many Sparks fans for her energetic play and willingness to do the dirty work on the boards and on defense.
Though Milton-Jones will soon be 41 years old, she still has no plans of retiring, so she’ll likely continue adding to her own record. Regardless of whether or not she changes her mind, the Dream still have five games remaining in their regular season, meaning that Milton-Jones will likely break the 500-game mark before it’s all said and done.
Young-Malcolm Calls It a Career
Meanwhile, another veteran WNBA forward put to rest any speculation regarding the future of her playing career. Sophia Young-Malcolm, the longtime San Antonio Star, announced that she’ll be retiring after the 2015 season.
“I’m retiring on my own terms,” Young-Malcolm said on Wednesday, none of which include on-court performance. At just 31 years old, Young-Malcolm still has plenty of gas left in the tank. She’s leading the Stars in rebounding and shooting percentage (this is nothing new), and her legs are seemingly spry again, two years removed from an ACL injury that left her searching for her game for most of 2014.
A three-time WNBA All-Star, Young-Malcolm is the classic example of a somewhat undersized power forward who uses her skill and athleticism to get the upper hand against bigger players. An explosive player who excels at the elbow jumper, she’s boasted one of the best face-up games in the league for some time now. Aside from the ACL tear, Young-Malcolm has also been one of the most durable players in the league during her 10-year career, appearing in at least 33 (out of a possible 34) games in every full season to date.
Her durability and consistency on the court have made Young-Malcolm one of the best players in Stars history. She’s the owner of quite a few Stars records: points, rebounds, games, free throws, steals…you name it and Young-Malcolm has probably done it. She’s also been quite efficient, posting four seasons of a PER exceeding 20, with a career mark of 19.8. Finally, she’s had the honor of being selected among the best of her peers several times, landing on the All-WNBA First Team in 2008 and the Second Team in 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Young-Malcolm is going out on top physically, but her team isn’t in such good condition. The Stars entered the weekend with the worst record in the WNBA (7-22) and have quite the rebuilding project ahead of them. Thus, it’s probably in the best interest of both Young-Malcolm and the Stars that she hangs up the sneakers; she has nothing left to prove to the San Antonio faithful, who will surely remember her prime with fondness.
Chelsea Gray hasn’t seen as much playing time as she did early in the season, but she got 26 minutes on Tuesday and rewarded Anne Donovan’s faith with 12 points, six rebounds, and four assists. At 5’11” and 170 pounds, the Sun point guard boasts a rare combination of size and skill for her position, making effortless no-look passes and keeping defenses honest with a capable three-point shot. Gray is a big part of the Sun’s plans moving forward, and though her play has been expectedly up-and-down this season, she’s shown enough bright flashes to get Connecticut fans excited about the future of their backcourt.
Gray’s counterpart in New York, meanwhile, continues to impress: Brittany Boyd is rarely not the most explosive player on the floor, and she proved it again on Sunday against the Fever. Boyd tallied 14 points, six rebounds, and six assists in one of her most complete games of the season. She also shot 11 free throws, bringing her free throw rate on the season to a sparkling .665. It’s rare to see a rookie point as skilled, athletic and confident as Boyd, who knows her strengths and exploits them just about every time down the floor.
The New York Liberty became the first team in the Eastern Conference to clinch the playoffs after their victory against the Minnesota Lynx on Friday. The Chicago Sky followed suit on Saturday, clinching a playoff berth of their own with a thrilling win in Atlanta. Meanwhile, the Lynx and Phoenix Mercury have both clinched playoff berths in the Western Conference. This leaves two remaining playoff spots in each conference.
Tulsa Shock forward Plenette Pierson returned to action Friday, scoring nine points and grabbing seven rebounds in a Shock win against Los Angeles. Pierson went down with a knee injury two weeks prior against the Liberty, and though it didn’t look good at first, she’s apparently healthy enough to play again. The Shock are notoriously stingy about injury information, however, so the extent of her injury (and whatever pain she may be playing through) aren’t really known.
The Dream continued their desperate push for a playoff appearance, beating Connecticut twice in the past week. The Sun, now playing without two more starters in Alex Bentley (ankle) and Alyssa Thomas (shoulder), and No. 4 overall pick Elizabeth Williams (knee), gave the Dream a good game in Connecticut, as the two teams combined to score 194 points. The Sun dropped that game, however, and came crashing down to Earth in Tuesday’s rematch, running out of firepower in a 71-57 loss. Connecticut and Atlanta are now tied in the standings, and both teams are five games behind the Washington Mystics for the East’s No. 4 seed.
Candace Parker: 20 points (8-18 FG), 12 rebounds, 9 assists vs San Antonio Stars
Jantel Lavender: 22 points (9-11 FG), 4 rebounds, 5 blocks vs San Antonio Stars
Angel McCoughtry: 33 points (13-20 FG, 3-4 3P), 8 rebounds vs Connecticut Sun
Camille Little: 22 points (10-13 FG), 4 rebounds vs Atlanta Dream
Jennifer Lacy: 25 points (7-9 FG, 3-4 3P, 8-10 FT), 7 rebounds vs Atlanta Dream
Brittney Griner: 10 points (4-8 FG), 11 rebounds, 6 blocks vs Minnesota Lynx
Sancho Lyttle: 17 points (6-11 FG), 7 rebounds, +23 vs Connecticut Sun
Shoni Schimmel: 15 points (4-6 3P) vs Connecticut Sun
Candace Parker: 15 points (4-10 FG, 6-10 FT), 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals vs Indiana Fever
Tamika Catchings: 10 points (4-11 FG), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals vs Los Angeles Sparks
Shenise Johnson: 16 points (7-11 FG), 4 rebounds, 2 assists vs Los Angeles Sparks
DeWanna Bonner: 26 points (7-12 FG, 2-2 3P, 10-12 FT), 6 rebounds, 3 assists vs Connecticut Sun
Brittney Griner: 14 points (5-8 FG), 13 rebounds, 3 blocks vs Connecticut Sun
Camille Little: 16 points (7-12 FG, 2-4 3P), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals vs Phoenix Mercury
Jasmine Thomas: 21 points (7-12 FG, 2-3 3P), 4 rebounds, 4 assists vs Phoenix Mercury
Ivory Latta: 24 points (6-11 FG, 3-5 3P, 9-9 FT), 5 assists, 3 steals vs Phoenix Mercury
Tiffany Hayes: 28 points (6-13 FG, 14-15 FT) vs Indiana Fever
Tamika Catchings: 24 points (6-10 FG, 11-11 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals vs Atlanta Dream
Epiphanny Prince: 22 points (10-16 FG) vs Minnesota Lynx
Maya Moore: 25 points (8-20 FG), 9 rebounds, 3 assists vs New York Liberty
Candace Parker: 24 points (9-17 FG, 6-7 FT), 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals vs Tulsa Shock
Crystal Langhorne: 22 points (8-12 FG), 10 rebounds vs San Antonio Stars
Tina Charles: 15 points (7-9 FG), 4 rebounds, 5 assists vs Connecticut Sun
Epiphanny Prince: 18 points (7-13 FG), 4 assists, 4 steals vs Connecticut Sun
Kelsey Bone: 22 points (10-18 FG), 7 rebounds, 3 assists vs New York Liberty
Angel McCoughtry: 33 points (12-24 FG, 8-12 FT), 11 rebounds (6 OReb), 3 steals vs Chicago Sky