2012 In-Depth WNBA Season Preview: Tulsa Shock

PG: Temeka Johnson/Ivory Latta

SG: Riquna Williams/Jene Morris

SF: Scholanda Dorrell/Karima Christmas

PF: Kayla Pedersen/Glory Johnson/Jennifer Lacy

C: Chante Black/Lynetta Kizer/(Elizabeth Cambage)

Significant additions: Gary Kloppenburg (new head coach, former Indiana assistant), Johnson (trade with Phoenix), Robinson (free agency from San Antonio), Johnson (college draft), Williams (college draft), Morris (free agency after being out of the league), Black (missed last season through injury), Kizer (college draft).

Significant losses: Tiffany Jackson (pregnant, will miss entire season), Elizabeth Cambage (training with Australian National Team and will miss first half of season), Sheryl Swoopes (free agent, unsigned), Amber Holt (cut), Andrea Riley (trade with Phoenix)

—–

At least now we can give the Shock fans some hope. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel. A hint of spring peeking its head up from the end of a long, cold winter. Because Nolan Richardson is no longer in charge, and the Shock hierarchy finally went out and found someone with a history in the WNBA who just might know what he’s doing. A long-time WNBA assistant coach, most recently for several years in Indiana, Gary Kloppenburg takes the reins and can begin the long road back to contention for this franchise. No one’s saying this team are going to be good, not yet. In fact, player for player this roster might even be worse than last year. But you have to start somewhere, and you have to start heading in the right direction. The Shock look like they might finally be doing that.

Coach Klopp’s first move after taking over was smart, trading wild gunner Andrea Riley to Phoenix for veteran point guard Temeka Johnson. I feel like I’ve said this a thousand times now – when you’re this bad, you have to take any opportunity to upgrade your talent level. Preferably adding young talent, so that the player will still be around when this team might finally be good, but also just talent in general. So while Ivory Latta was one of the Shock’s better players last year, and already appeared to fill that point guard spot, bringing in a veteran like Johnson who knows how to win in this league made a lot of sense. Especially when the cost was a player who should’ve been on the chopping block anyway. Johnson has bounced around the league a little since being drafted by Washington in 2005, but she’s quick, she can hit an open shot, and she’s a veteran who can help lead this very young team. In a lot of ways, Latta’s a shooting guard in a point guard’s body anyway, although she’s better at running a team than she used to be. She’ll see minutes at both guard spots, although it’ll be a tiny pairing when she’s out there at the 2.

It’s a patchwork job for Klopp in the post, where he’ll spend the opening weeks looking to see who’s going to step up and earn minutes. Tiffany Jackson, probably the Shock’s best player last year, is pregnant and will miss the season. Last year’s #2 overall pick, giant center Elizabeth Cambage, is skipping the first half of the season to train for the Olympics in Australia. So there are lots of minutes to go around down low. Tennessee’s Glory Johnson was Klopp’s first draft pick at #4 overall, and she’ll be thrust into the action right away. A dependable, safe player in college, she’d be a role player or backup anywhere else, but in Tulsa she has the chance to play heavy minutes. Chante Black, returning from injury, and rookie third-round pick Lynetta Kizer will also be scrapping for playing time in the paint, while veteran role player Jennifer Lacy will be the reliably mediocre option when the kids aren’t working out.

Kayla Pedersen will also be an alternative at either forward spot, returning after an inconsistent rookie year. She started the 2011 season nicely, and her versatile game at both ends of the floor makes her an excellent fill-in wherever a coach needs her to perform. But she either hit the rookie wall hard, or suffered from all the changes in lineups, systems and coaching in Tulsa last year, because she was a non-factor by the end of the season. She also went on to have a very poor year in Europe. A player whose hustle, energy and smarts really impressed in her opening month or two as a pro, it’d be nice to see her bounce back to that level.

Out on the wing, it’s another collection of kids and second-chancers, with the hope that some of them can produce. Scholanda Dorrell (formerly Scholanda Robinson) was the one free agent who chose to join the Shock, returning to Tulsa after having the best WNBA season of her career there back in 2010. Anywhere else, she’s a complementary role player, but she seemed to enjoy the extra shots and responsibility that fell to her in Tulsa two years ago. She could be a nice pick-up if she finds that level again. Riquna Williams fell all the way to the Shock at #17 in this year’s draft, after she was suspended towards the end of her NCAA career with Miami and missed the NCAA tournament. Obviously, that raises questions about her attitude and temperament, but she was considered a solid first-round talent before those issues arose. If she can get her head together and play to that level – and she’s in the right place to prove herself, considering the minutes that are available – she could prove to be the steal of the draft.

Jene Morris was a backup guard in Indiana when Klopp was coaching there, so he obviously has a relationship with her and saw something he remembered liking. A quick, attacking guard, she could never break past all the other options on the Fever, but the chances will be there with the Shock for her to carve a role. Finally, Karima Christmas, a pick-up from the waiver wire when Washington released her last season, is another option on the wing. She’s a strong, solid small forward who’ll work hard and do the dirty-work. But even in Tulsa, she’s a role player and backup unless there’s been some serious development from last year.

 

Summary and Outlook

It’s still not going to be pretty. Sorry, Shock fans. The talent level just isn’t there yet. This squad is a collection of players who might be solid bench players or fill a role on good teams, but there aren’t many legitimate starters. There will be a lot of fresh young faces to watch perform and develop though, and the likes of Glory Johnson can provide hope for the future (although if Shenise Johnson excites in San Antonio, Klopp might regret taking her namesake instead). It’s a sad thing to say heading into a season, but the real hope for Tulsa lies in the talent that’s coming out of college next April. This is a building year, with some small buds of recovery, that will unfortunately involve a lot more losing. Heading into the 2013 season, there might be some real excitement to look out for around this franchise.

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