By Dana Orr
With the season more than a quarter way over, it is never too early to see what races are shaping up in the standings for both conferences.
The race for the top of the Western Conference looks to be exciting with Salt Lake City, Gabon, Cancun, Capetown, and Oregon being only separated by 1.5 games or fewer.
Salt Lake City might have the best starting lineup, with All-Star caliber players at every position. There is a major drop-off between their starters and bench though, and that may be tested in games where the starters are in foul trouble or in the case of injuries. There have been rumors of steroid use in Salt Lake, but unless Boom-Boom Casey, whose career somehow declined in his mid-20s when he should have been in his prime, and is now a journeyman backup, in his first season in Salt Lake City, starts scoring 30 points and 12 rebounds per game again in spot starts, there is nothing to prove such allegations.
The Gabon Giants having the top record in the West at 18-5 is helped by their big free agent acquisition, Charlie Meyers, who gives them an emerging star at point guard to go along with the rest of their team led by John Devine. Remarkably, John Devine, as a big man, may be the best outside shooter in the league, shooting at a league leading 52.9% from deep while taking over seven attempts per game. He is a matchup nightmare and is averaging a career high 24.9 points per game.
Cancun’s Big 3 of Parker Mason, Ahmed Dougherty, Kent Mercer, and a suffocated defense allowing a league low 84.6 points per game have them in a race for first place in the World Division along with the Capetown Zulus, being led by Adbiel Gordon & Obafemi Mabruke, and last year’s Eastern Conference champion, Oregon Bears, led by superstar guard Bishop Stein.
These are the five teams that appear to be fighting all season long for the top of the East.
Are the Toronto Dinos the best team in the WBA? At 19-3, the Dinos have the league’s best record. Walt Jackson may be the frontrunner for MVP, averaging 27.0 points (4th in WNBA) and 10.0 rebounds per game (8th). Jackson is great for young superstar point guard, Jervon Timmons, who is arguably the best passer in the league and is a great defender, but still is a non-scoring threat.
The Dinos have done well against teams below .500, going 12-0 against them so far. They haven’t played too many games against the other top teams in the league, but they are beating teams the best teams are supposed to beat.
The Brooklyn Rage have the second best record in the East and are tied with the second fewest losses in the league with their 16-5 record. This may be a surprise as you’d think from the Brooklyn media the sky was falling and they were going to battle the Alaska Snow Bears & Budapest Tigers for worst team in the league because they went on a four game losing streak (despite three of those losses coming on the road) but since they have won seven straight. The Rage might have to start playing better on the road, but with arguably the best backcourt in the league in Mario Bailey & Omar Jefferson, the Rage should compete for the top spot in the East. Unfortunately for impatient fans, the Rage do not play their first game against the Toronto Dinos until after the All-Star break.
The Miami Xtreme have been a surprise this year at 18-6, which in part may have to do with the masterful job of their general manager, Brent Bangerter and his staff. Dave Troychak is still one of the top scoring guards in the league, averaging 23.7 points per game, despite not being a threat from beyond to arc so much to the point he has eliminated shooting from downtown altogether. Veteran star Jaxon McCall has been a great pickup for the Xtreme this season so far, becoming the team’s second leading scorer after being acquired in a preseason trade. These player are fed by the leading assister in the WBA, Isaac Edmondson, who is averaging a career high 11.9 assists per game.
Also in the East, there is a logjam for the last playoff spots forming, with 7th through 10th place all at or a game above .500: Long Island, Rochester, Andorra, and Albacete. Long Island has the highest scoring duo in the league with Wayne Taylor (31.3 points per game) and Danny Hainge (25.3), so it’s hard to believe that they are only 12-11, but not having a reliable third scorer at all seems to be what is holding them back. Rochester is led again by Dave Williams, who is leading the league in scoring at 32.8 points per game. Since suffering a shoulder injury that is expected to sideline him for a couple more weeks, they are still playing .500 (3-3), but that is what they were playing with him (9-9). Due to their star power, these two teams should be in the playoffs.
Albacete is a perennial playoff team led again by the all-time great Harry Jarvis, and they expect to get back on the winning track now that point guard Tyler Kane is back from his leg injury suffered in the preseason. Andorra is looking to return to the playoffs due to breakout seasons from Nikos Atirides, Ellis Law, and Isaac Rice to go along with Devonta Corrigan’s double-double average. However, despite leading the league in scoring at 113.2 points per game, the Highlanders give up the most points at 112.9 point per game, which is troublesome.
There will be a race in the West for final playoff spots too, but not of teams with .500 records or better, or teams with the star power or historic prestige of Long Island, Rochester, and Albacete. It is still early, but there appears to be no runaway leaders for the top teams in both conferences, which should lead to an exciting rest of the season!