PG: Danielle Robinson/Tully Bevilaqua
SG: Becky Hammon/Jia Perkins
SF: Shameka Christon/Shenise Johnson
PF: Sophia Young/Danielle Adams/Tangela Smith
C: Jayne Appel/Ziomara Morrison
Significant additions: Christon (free agency after being out of the league), Johnson (college draft), Smith (trade with Indiana), Morrison (free agency from outside the league)
Significant losses: Ruth Riley (free agency to Chicago), Scholanda Robinson (free agency to Tulsa), Roneeka Hodges (trade with Indiana), Porsha Phillips (cut)
Last season was fun for the Silver Stars and their fans. Expectations were modest after a poor year under Sandy Brondello in 2010, and everyone was happy to have Dan Hughes back in charge. Then Danielle Robinson and Danielle Adams both excited everyone as rookies, Jia Perkins proved a worthy addition on the perimeter, and they even took a game off the eventual champion Minnesota Lynx in the first-round of the playoffs. Things were looking up, and a team that had started to age and look a little stale had a fresh outlook. Now they have to build on that momentum and keep the push going, as they try to make the step from plucky outsider to true contender.
The new pieces that Hughes has added to this group create an extra level of interest heading into the season. Shameka Christon is in a similar position to Alana Beard in LA – practically two full years out of the league with myriad injuries, and now everyone is wondering whether she can be as good as she once was (and stay on the floor). Unlike Beard, Christon hasn’t even played overseas, so it may well take some time for her to be back to anything like her best, but if she can get there she’ll help this team with her length and perimeter scoring ability. She was a fringe All-Star back in her New York days, and San Antonio could use the extra scoring option and wing defender. Shenise Johnson fell in Hughes’s lap at #5 in the draft, despite many people seeing her as the second-most talented player in the pool. A strong wing with decent size, despite being a rookie she may well be ready to legitimately help sooner than Christon.
The other additions are in the post, where San Antonio clearly needed the most help. This has been an awful rebounding team for a long time, partly because star power forward Sophia Young, for all her other talents, is an undersized 4. They let starting center Ruth Riley walk in free agency – understandable, considering she hadn’t helped alleviate the problems in her years in San Antonio – and brought in Tangela Smith via trade with Indiana and Chilean big Ziomara Morrison as a free agent. Smith had an ugly year in 2011 with the Fever, and rebounding has never been her strong suit, but she’s a smart veteran who’ll follow Hughes’s instructions and fit in with this squad. Morrison is the wild card. Decent numbers in Spain’s top division, and the usual YouTube highlight reels, suggest a player with legitimate size and some scoring ability. She’s also only 23, so still has time to develop further. Given their needs on the glass, they’ll be hoping she can adapt and produce on the WNBA level sooner rather than later. The alternative from the returning group is Jayne Appel, who’s been utterly underwhelming since being drafted 5th overall in 2010. She’s big, and she may be able to replace what they got from Riley, but they’ll need help from the others if they’re going to improve in the paint.
The core of this team carried over from last year has plenty of talent, even without those new additions. Becky Hammon and Sophia Young have been the mainstays the team was built around for years now, and that isn’t going to change. Hammon’s a natural scorer, firing away from deep and sliding into the lane for her trademark array of spinning finishes. Now 35, her skills haven’t seemed to diminish much yet, and she was always more crafty than quick, so she should have a few years left yet. Young is a talented scorer, difficult to defend because of her ability both to finish inside and regularly knock down the mid-range jumper. I still tend to feel that she’s a small forward masquerading at the 4, which limits the team’s rebounding and interior defense, but wherever you play her she’s simply a very skilled basketball player.
At the point, there’s a choice between young and electric, or slow and steady. Danielle Robinson is the fresh new thing, and she burst onto the scene as a rookie. Lightning fast, she can penetrate at will and get to the rim, and she’s learning how to run a team. Having Hammon alongside her taking on many of the traditional point guard responsibilities makes things easier. If Robinson can work on her jumper to hit consistently from mid-range – or ideally, in time, out beyond the three-point line – she’ll be a nightmare to guard. Right now, teams will drop off her and give her the shot, so she needs to make them pay. Tully Bevilaqua is the old hand, a WNBA veteran who knows all the tricks and will fill whatever role the team needs from her. She won’t create much, but she’ll make the smart, safe play, and occasionally knock down a big shot or two from outside. Her energy and work ethic is also contagious and something every coach wants on their squad.
Finally, the scorers. Jia Perkins fit in nicely on this team last year after being acquired via trade from Chicago. She gives them an extra perimeter scorer beyond Hammon who’ll happily create and take every shot that’s on offer. Then there’s Danielle Adams. Passed over by so many teams in the draft after a stellar college career, San Antonio took her at #20 and it proved a steal. She’s obviously well above the optimum weight for a basketball player her height, but her scoring and shooting range lit up several games last year. Until she got hurt, there were those who even had her ahead of Maya Moore in the Rookie of the Year race. The problem is how much they can use her. Hughes has already admitted that it’s something in the range of 18 minutes per game if they want her to stay effective, and she’s also had a series of ankle injuries since turning pro. Carrying that extra weight simply makes it hard for her to stay on the floor, either due to injury or fatigue. However, when she’s out there, she can be very entertaining.
Summary and Outlook
Once again, this is going to be a fun team to watch, and the additions make them look even deeper than last year. They have a lot of players who can score in a variety of ways, speed and mobility on the perimeter, and a nice combination of veteran leadership and hungry youth. The only issue is that they don’t really look like they’ve dealt with their central failings from last year. Johnson falling to them in the draft was nice, but it meant that the expected post they would’ve taken at that spot never materialised. Unless Morrison pans out in a very impressive way, or Christon gets healthy quick and teams with Johnson to hugely improve their team rebounding from the small forward spot, they’re going to get killed on the glass again. Repeatedly. Just like last year, there’ll be a bunch of games where they score well enough to overcome that issue, and they’ll be entertaining while they do it, but a core problem like that typically comes back to haunt you. They may well be a playoff team again, but they’ll probably need some luck to make much noise once they get there.