Memorial Day was a big holiday for the WNBA this year. While the season may have begun for the diehards on Friday night, Monday was the launchpad for the vaunted ‘Three to See’ on national television. ESPN2 rolled out the red carpet for Skylar Diggins in Tulsa’s home opener, followed by the professional debuts for Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne. It didn’t all go quite according to the anticipated script, but there was some entertaining basketball along the way. Oh, and a couple of dunks. We mustn’t forget the dunks.
First up, Diggins’s Shock hosted the Washington Mystics, making their first appearance of the 2013 season. That meant the 4th overall pick from this year’s draft was involved as well as the top three, with Tayler Hill immediately slotting into the starting lineup for Mike Thibault’s Mystics. Matee Ajavon was late arriving to training camp due to overseas commitments, which may have played into the decision to start Hill, but it also allows them to use Ajavon in a similar sixth woman role to the one Renee Montgomery performed for Thibault in Connecticut. Offseason acquisition Kia Vaughn got the start at center ahead of veteran Michelle Snow.
The Shock were down another player, after already starting the season shorthanded. Nicole Powell and Tiffany Jackson-Jones were already out with injuries since the preseason, and Candice Wiggins joined them in street clothes after tweaking her ankle in Saturday’s loss to Atlanta. Point guard Angel Goodrich slid into an all-rookie starting backcourt alongside Diggins. On the bright side, giant center Liz Cambage was ruled healthy enough to start the game, replacing Kayla Pedersen in the lineup.
The first play of the game was a heartening sight for Shock fans, with a high-low hook up between Glory Johnson and Cambage. If all goes to plan, that could be Tulsa’s starting frontcourt for the next decade. The quicker they can start building chemistry and learning to read each other, the better.
There was clearly a focus on getting the ball in to Cambage down low from the Shock early on – which makes a lot of sense when you’ve just added a 6-8 behemoth with decent touch to your post attack. It worked pretty well when they found her in good position, and she simply gives them something very different to attack defenses with. It’s no longer just small guards trying to break people down and make something happen. It’s still a work in progress though. Cambage isn’t fully fit, and the offense sometimes gets bogged down while they’re desperately looking for her and not even considering anything else. She also sometimes seems to drift out of games if she isn’t actively involved in the play going on. So much of defense, especially for centers, is being in the right place to help, so concentration is key and something she’ll need to improve. The officials are still working out how referee her as well. She’s gangly and a bit awkward, and when she turns into defenders her elbows tend to be at head height of her opponent. Her fault and an offensive foul, or simply tough luck on the defender? It’ll probably vary from night to night.