In this WNBA edition, Sabreena Merchant and Ben Pickman consider the candidates for their All-Star ballots.

Ben Pickman: It’s that time of the year again when we think about who should make the WNBA All-Star Game. The annual exhibition is scheduled for July 20, with fan voting set to end Saturday. Sabreena, we both have official media ballots, which are due Friday. So let’s inevitably upset some people about where our heads are at for who should be in Phoenix. How’s that sound?

Sabreena Merchant: I’m more of a Commissioner’s Cup gal myself, but during Olympic years, the All-Star Game does take on a different level of intrigue because Team USA plays a roster of the *other* All-Stars in the WNBA. When I was putting together my initial ballot of who should make Team WNBA, I found myself drawn to which players create the best storylines competing against the national team.

Pickman: Already we have a difference of opinion as that didn’t cross my mind at all, though I guess maybe it should have considering this is an exhibition for the fans. When I was putting together my ballot, I tended not to think about Team USA at all, frankly. The exercise we’re tasked with — picking four backcourt players and six frontcourt players — is difficult enough to begin with, and 12 of the slots are already allocated so I didn’t sweat them, either.

Merchant: It does make the process a little easier, though significantly more confusing since we (along with fans and players) still have the option to pick All-Stars from Team USA. With that in mind, let’s be clear: A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Napheesa Collier, Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu and Kahleah Copper are worthy All-Stars, but we won’t be talking about them in this discussion.

Pickman: And let’s throw in one more caveat: We still reserve the right to change our picks prior to the deadline.


Merchant: Let’s start with the frontcourt, which was the easier group for me to choose.

Pickman: I’ll stop you there. It was the harder group for me to choose.

Merchant: Interesting! Were there any locks for you in the frontcourt?

Pickman: New York Liberty center Jonquel Jones was perhaps the lock of all locks in this whole process. She was where I began. Just one stat line: Over her last seven games, Jones is averaging 20.6 points and 8.7 rebounds on an eye-popping 65.6 percent from the field. The other lock for me was Los Angeles Sparks forward (and recently named U.S. 3×3 Olympian) Dearica Hamby, who is having a career year and leading the league in double-doubles.

Merchant: Happy to see we have no disagreements thus far. Jones has become a regular feature in my power rankings because every week she does something increasingly impressive, and Hamby — despite the Sparks’ poor record — has been awesome. In addition to those two, Alanna Smith was also a no-brainer for me. She’s the center of the best defense in the league and has enabled Minnesota’s five-out offense by shooting 45.5 percent from 3-point range.

Pickman: Now we begin the process of splitting hairs, and it’s especially tough for me to do with Smith because she was my vote for Most Improved Player last year. Consider the fact she was waived midseason by the 5-31 Fever in 2022 before becoming a starter for the Chicago Sky last year and being a key pickup for Minnesota this offseason.

Smith was on my short list of frontcourt players but wasn’t a lock. I weighed her against the following players: Brionna Jones, DeWanna Bonner, Ezi Magbegor, Nneka Ogwumike and two players who have vaulted themselves into the conversation of late, Aliyah Boston and Angel Reese. For me, it was seven players for those four spots.

Merchant: Boston and Bonner didn’t really factor in for me. Boston’s last two weeks have been impressive, but the body of work before that — 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds through 12 games — knocks her off my list. With Bonner, I couldn’t get past the efficiency; she’s making 28.8 percent of her 3-pointers while taking five per game.

Pickman: And yet, if you look at Bonner’s first 12 games, she was averaging 18.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and had the sixth-best net rating of anyone in the league (of players who averaged 25-plus minutes per contest) on a Sun team that was dominant. So even with the shooting struggles, she was still impactful and still has been. But I hear you. What’s tough is that she has struggled lately.

Merchant: Connecticut’s success is more a product of Thomas and Jones (and honestly, coach Stephanie White), which is why Jones — even with her limited minutes and lower rebounding numbers — was higher on the list. Her defense has been outstanding, without even accounting for the fact she is a year removed from an Achilles tear, and her on-off numbers (plus-23.6 when she’s on the court) indicate her importance to the Sun. If she were averaging 30 minutes per game, she’d be a lock. As it is, I’m not leaving her off.

Pickman: To be clear, I’m not leaving Brionna Jones off, either.

Merchant: The next toughest decision was what to do with the Seattle bigs. Theoretically, both could make the team, but that would leave Reese out, and, frankly, she’s been outstanding of late.

Pickman: Reese has certainly been great, recording a WNBA rookie record eight consecutive double-doubles, but Ogwumike is quietly putting together a 17-point, 7-rebound average on far more efficient shooting (55.7 percent compared to Reese’s 40.6). Of non-U.S. Olympians, Ogwumike is No. 5 in Basketball Reference’s win shares metric, and the Storm have been one of the WNBA’s best teams. Magbegor is No. 4 (of non-U.S. Olympians) in win shares, has played 92 more minutes than Ogwumike and 62 more than Reese, averages a near double-double, leads the WNBA in blocks and is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year for the Storm, who allow 94.2 points per 100 possessions — which would have been the best mark a season ago. That’s a mouthful!

Merchant: What would make this simpler is if Team Australia simply called Magbegor for Olympic duty before the All-Star Game. I ultimately landed on Ogwumike and Reese. Reese is doing more with less in Chicago and has showcased some improved defensive versatility. Perhaps this is recency bias after her performance against Indiana — or I’m leaning too hard on the entertainment principle (Nneka versus Team USA!) I expressed earlier — but she’s been a good scorer and a dominant rebounder, enough to get her into my final spot.

Pickman: And you thought the frontcourt situation was easier to sort out! LOL.

Merchant: I stand by it! Moving along to the backcourt, once again I have a Liberty and Lynx player as locks: Betnijah Laney-Hamilton and Kayla McBride.

Pickman: Agreed on McBride. Laney-Hamilton wasn’t a lock in my process but did end up making my ballot. Of players who have appeared in more than five games this season, Laney-Hamilton has the highest net rating in the league.

Merchant: Who was Laney-Hamilton in the running with?

Pickman: I weighed her against Arike Ogunbowale, Caitlin Clark, Rhyne Howard, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Marina Mabrey, Chennedy Carter and Natasha Cloud.

Merchant: I had Ariel Atkins and Kelsey Mitchell on my list as well, though Atkins was more on the periphery since she was terrible to start the year.

Neither of us had her as a lock, but Ogunbowale is pretty close based on that scoring average of 23.9 points. Admittedly, she gets to take 22 shots per game, but no one other than Carter (who has mostly come off the bench and plays fewer minutes) is killing her in efficiency.

Pickman: And this didn’t factor into my rationale with her, but it can’t be overlooked — Ogunbowale was the All-Star Game MVP in 2021, leading Team WNBA over Team USA in that exhibition.

Merchant: That leaves one spot and a whole lot of options. Cloud has the most assists and is the best defender, Mitchell has the best shooting numbers, and Clark does the most to actually run an offense. Mabrey is more of an all-around player, but I’m not even sure she’s the best guard on her own team, especially now that Carter is starting.

Pickman: Diggins-Smith and Seattle got off to a slow start, but she was playing at a very high level during a six-game winning streak and has continued to do so. Howard’s recent ankle injury made this decision even tougher for me, and she is averaging fewer points per 36 minutes than her two prior All-Star seasons and shooting a slightly lower field goal percentage and lesser 3-point percentage. It’s just tough to leave her off!

Circling back to Clark, I do think it’s worth acknowledging that she’s at the top of opposing scouting reports, averaging 16.3 points, 6.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. Her usage rate is undoubtedly high and her 100 turnovers lead the WNBA, but she still has a strong case. That also doesn’t factor in any of the potential added excitement people might have of seeing Clark face off against Team USA.



Wilson, Clark headline first-round fan voting for WNBA All-Star Game

Merchant: For now, I’m going with Clark. Her playmaking has been tremendous and she puts on a good show, which matters in an exhibition! What made the backcourt more challenging for me is that the frontcourt had better overall players and there were more faults to find in each of the guards. In that vein, seeing as you had Bonner in the frontcourt group, would you consider classifying her as a guard to bring in Smith/Reese over Clark, et al.?

Pickman: I’ll be honest with you, Sabreena (and readers), that is what I am wrestling with. Bonner is part of the most-used five-person lineup in the WNBA, where she slides next to Thomas and Jones. She is 6-foot-4 and often defends frontcourt players. Even the Sun media guide has a gray area about her position classification — depending on the page, she’s listed as a guard or a forward-guard. You can make the same case about Laney-Hamilton, but with Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot missing nine games, Laney-Hamilton has played more in the backcourt. Is it acceptable to plead the fifth on your question?

Merchant: We still have some time for you to figure that out! Ideally, Thursday’s games will help to clarify these final decisions