WNBAlien 2011 Previews: Tulsa Shock

PG: Ivory Latta/Andrea Riley

SG: Amber Holt, it looks like/Marion Jones

SF: Kayla Pedersen/Sheryl Swoopes/Chastity Reed

PF: Tiffany Jackson/Jen Lacy

C: Elizabeth Cambage/Miranda Ayim

—–

Head Coach: Nolan Richardson

Significant additions: Cambage, Pedersen, Swoopes (at the box office, they hope)

Significant losses: Hard for much to be too significant given how bad they were last year, but they gave away Scholanda Robinson for nothing, Chante Black and Shanna Crossley are both out hurt, and Nicole Ohlde walked (and retired, possibly in disgust).

—–

Aw come on, it’s the last one, can’t I just say “they’re horrible” and leave it at that? You want more? Really? Fine. They’re really, really horrible. Despite two high draft picks and a year to mess with the roster at will, Nolan Richardson’s opening day squad in 2011 is probably worse than it was 12 months earlier. And this team won six games last year. 19 year-old Aussie giant Liz Cambage has arrived as the centerpiece to build around, but I hope she can cope well with losing. Because this team’s going to be doing a whole hell of a lot of it.

In Cambage, Tulsa have at least finally found themselves a top-end young talent who can be a foundation for the future, assuming they don’t scare her off (or trade her for a bucket of balls halfway through the season). She’s 6-8, she’s got decent touch around the rim and solid range out towards at least 15 feet, and she’s been playing with pros in Australia for several years now (albeit in a fairly mediocre league). And she’s nineteen. That makes her ten months younger than Brittney Griner, the American college giant who won’t see the WNBA until 2013. It’ll be a tough acclimatisation process for Cambage given her youth, moving halfway around the world, and the horrid lack of help she’ll have on the Shock. Nevertheless, it’s going to be fun seeing her grow at this level. It’s just a shame for the Shock and the WNBA that she’ll be skipping at least half of next season to prepare for the 2012 Olympics. Let’s hope that this year in Tulsa doesn’t put her off ever coming back.

Elsewhere in the post for Tulsa, it’s projects, guesswork and hope. Tiffany Jackson was re-signed (not that the Shock and their website ever bothered to tell the public about it) and will start at the 4, at least until Richardson has an arbitrary change of mind. She came into the league with the sort of athleticism that made you think she might grow into another Rebekkah Brunson, but after four years in the WNBA it’s not really happened. Her offensive game is still unrefined and her rebounding instincts aren’t great, leaving New York perfectly happy to part with her in a trade for Plenette Pierson last year. She should get plenty of minutes to try to prove herself this season, however, considering the alternatives. The backups are Jen Lacy, a journeyman big with some veteran smarts but little else, and Miranda Ayim, an undrafted rookie who just finished a mediocre season with a team that went 2-20 in Turkey. At least she’ll be used to losing.

The Shock have got maybe three players you could legitimately call guards on the roster. One of them shot 30% last year as a rookie and just had a baby; one of them is a 35-year old playing her second year of basketball since college; and the last one’s their starting point guard, who the Shock themselves cut last year before the season started (only to re-sign her two months later). Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 Tulsa Shock! Ivory Latta, who’ll start at the point, has had a bumpy WNBA career. Drafted later than expected and then bounced around the league, she’s still quick and can shoot but needs to take better care of the ball and is still working her ability run a team. In fairness to her, that’s not easy when the Shock barely seem to have a system to run. Acquired presumably as Latta’s backup, or maybe even with the hope that she’ll eventually compete for the spot, Andrea Riley was awful last season in LA and having a child has rarely been known to help a woman’s basketball career. She’s tiny and quick, but likes to shoot terrible, terrible shots, often from about 30 feet out. If she can somehow learn to curb her shooting-guard instincts and pass the ball then who knows, but it’ll probably be midseason before she’s back in true basketball shape anyway, due to the pregnancy. Her college career at Oklahoma State and the hope that she might sell a few tickets was likely the main reason they traded for her, if we want to be honest. The third guard is former sprinter and drug cheat Marion Jones, who’s still sticking around. Obviously, Jones is fast. By the end of last season she was even looking like she could make a layup and maybe be a serviceable end-of-the-bench role player for the Shock. But she’s 35, and there’s no way in hell she’d be on this roster if her name wasn’t Marion Jones.

The rest of this mess of a roster are wings, of one description or another. Amber Holt was the starter at off-guard on opening night, which wouldn’t last long if they had any feasible alternatives. A power forward in college, Holt’s had a rocky transition even to the 3 as a pro, and her control of the ball isn’t really good enough to deal will ballhandling responsibilities. She’s mildly useful in the right circumstances though. Rookie Kayla Pedersen started at the 3, and could be another building block alongside Cambage for the future. She’s big for a wing (and may well see time sliding to the 4), and showed shooting range and defensive ability in college that will hopefully translate. We can only hope she won’t get lost in the Tulsa miasma. Last but not least, we have rookie Chastity Reed and women’s basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes. Reed was taken this year in the third round (which is to say that I know absolutely nothing about her and she’ll probably be lucky to survive half the season on this roster). Swoopes finally found a team willing to pay her asking rate and rejoins the league for the first time since 2008 in Seattle. I know a lot of fans are delighted to see her have the chance for a farewell tour, but I just can’t see her being of much use to the Shock on the floor. Her body struggled to cope three years ago with the Storm, and she hasn’t even been playing at a high level in Europe while out of the WNBA. A veteran guiding hand isn’t a great deal of use when the talent isn’t on the roster to teach anyway, and the teaching is also less effective when the player can’t prove it on the floor any more. I hope she doesn’t regret coming back.

Can’t let a Shock preview pass without a few words about their coach and general manager, Nolan Richardson. The Shock brought in Teresa Edwards as Director of Player Personnel and assistant coach during the offseason, but Richardson is still the GM and appears to still be in charge. His ’40 Minutes of Hell’ system didn’t work last year, and he didn’t do much to change or adapt it to the WNBA. Although they frequently did just quit on it and go back to playing terrible halfcourt defense instead. When he was moving all those players in and out last year, the theory was that when he got the players he wanted and taught them how to play his high-pressure game, things would get better. But this team was awful in practically any statistical category you wish to name last year, and nothing got any better as the season went on. Now they’ve got even less raw talent, very few players on the roster who can handle the ball, and a stubborn coach who doesn’t seem to know how to coach anything else when his favoured system breaks down. I know the owners wanted him because he’s a local legend thanks to his success many moons ago in college, but I don’t see how he’s helping this franchise. You know what gets people through the doors more than fading legends and vaguely recognisable names? Winning. Is Nolan really going to be in charge of this team all the way through another season?

Last year I said the Shock would be lucky to get to double-digit wins in my season preview, and ultimately the six they got might’ve flattered them. Cambage and Pedersen gives them a young base to work from, but ultimately this is a very poor roster even if they had the best coach in the world trying to pull them into shape. There’s maybe five players here who’d be picked up by anyone else if you dissolved the team tomorrow. I hope they start to turn things around, and I hope it happens soon, because the franchise can’t keep going like this and it’s a little sad to watch, even from afar. Good luck Lizzie.

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3 comments on “WNBAlien 2011 Previews: Tulsa Shock

  1. Roger says:

    Nicole Ohlde said she was happy and looking to return to Tulsa. Her family would drive down from Kansas to watch her games. My suspicion is that she might have not liked being told she would have to come back to a training camp contract or maybe she wasn’t invited back at all. The fact that she started for Tulsa in 2010 doesn’t carry the normal amount of weight when you factor in that he cut McCants and gave away Robinson, both players who also started at the end of last year.

    In the first two games of 2011 Richardson has almost completely abandoned the idea of doing his “40 Minutes of Hell” pressing defensive style. But it sounds like he still has them run like crazy in practice. Which isn’t a good way to attract or keep talented veterans.

    Marion Jones can’t score unless it’s a breakaway layup or a putback, but she is a talented defender and a great rebounder for a guard. The Shock actually do better when she is in.

    If Kayla Pedersen is going to have a successful WNBA career I think she is going to have be a four. I don’t see her as having the quickness to hang with WNBA threes.

    • Yes, I was obviously being a little tongue-in-cheek when I suggested that Ohlde ‘retired in disgust’. I would think several teams would’ve given her at least the vet minimum though, so for whatever reason she decided she’d had enough of the WNBA. Maybe four or five more months of playing are worth it for $100,000 but not for $53,000.

      I haven’t seen Jones as a particularly exceptional defender since she entered the WNBA last year – quick, obviously, but she’s missing 10+ years of developing instincts about where to be and how to get there. The problem is that it’s hard to tell which individuals are decent defenders when the team concept is such a complete mess. Plus she just doesn’t play that much. The statistics support you about them playing better when she’s in though – best adjusted +/- in the league last season, weirdly enough.

      I’m still not sure what to think about Pedersen, and I’m not convinced we’ll really know until she’s traded or Richardson gets fired. Can she maybe be Erin Buescher, one of my favourite WNBA role players of recent times? Buescher was a 3 who could slide to the 4, who never had exceptional quickness either, but developed into one of the better defenders in the league. I guess we’ll find out.

      More on Tulsa in the column later today, seeing as they played in the only game last night.

  2. Roger says:

    I think we will know Pedersen’s fate in the WNBA sooner with Richardson than if she is traded. He’s starting her. I don’t think she’d be starting for another team. And another coach might have Amber Holt starting at the three. Or bring back McCants and start her.

    That would be nice if Pedersen can achieve the success Buescher/Perperoglou had. She seems a little bigger but not as agile or offensively skilled.

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