WNBA Today, 05/28/2013: Griner dunks but Mercury demolished, while Mystics squeak past Shock

 

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.

 

Continue reading

Advertisements

WNBA Today (belated), 05/27/2013: Storm blown away by red-hot Sparks

 

Apologies for the delayed coverage of the holiday weekend’s games. Watching Great Britain’s women’s team swallowed up a lot of my time (please come home soon, Ms Leedham). Rest assured most game analysis will be more prompt over the course of the season. Coverage of Washington-Tulsa, Chicago-Phoenix, Delle Donne, Griner et al will be coming later tonight. First, Sunday’s bloodbath.

 

—–

Sunday night saw the opening game of 2013 for two teams with very different outlooks on the season. The Los Angeles Sparks have brought back every meaningful piece from a strong 2012 campaign, and added Lindsey Harding to run the point. Their expectations for 2013 are a lot of wins and a deep playoff run, preferably with a parade at the end. Conversely, the Seattle Storm are without star duo Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, have only four rotation players returning from last year, and are hoping to scrap their way through 2013 as best they can. Given all that, maybe the way this game played out shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

 

The Sparks opened the game with the lineup everyone had projected since the Harding signing. Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard slid over to shooting guard and small forward respectively, opening space for Harding to take over the primary ballhandling responsibilities. The fears that Beard’s fitness might not allow her to begin the season on time were apparently unfounded. Seattle had Temeka Johnson replacing Bird, with Camille Little and Tina Thompson paired in the post. The only slight surprise was free agent signing Noelle Quinn starting at small forward, leaving second-year wing Shekinna Stricklen to continue coming off the bench.

 

The opening play of the game was a lovely example of LA starting as they meant to go on. Toliver popped up off a screen, took a feed from Harding, and swished an 18-foot jumper. A pure scorer getting to play off the ball, and being allowed to focus on what she does best.

 

Seattle were right in this game for most of the first half. They were playing with a little more speed in their step than we’re used to seeing – Johnson likes to push the ball, so that could be a season-long trend – and they were pretty effective offensively. Little in particular was going to work. A backdoor cut that mystified Candace Parker, a couple of nice turnaround jumpers and a pick-and-pop three all dropped for a player who’s become an increasingly versatile scoring weapon. Offensively, Storm coach Brian Agler will have been happy with that first half.

 

Continue reading

WNBA Today, 05/26/2013: Sun and Dream open up with victories

 

Four more teams got their WNBA seasons started last night, and just because I feel like it, we’re going to go Bullet Point Breakdown on both of them. Away we go.

 

New York Liberty 69 @ Connecticut Sun 81

  • Day two of the season, and I’m already tired of writing about injuries. The Sun were obviously without Asjha Jones, skipping the entire season to rest various ailments. New York were without both Plenette Pierson and Cheryl Ford due to knee pain (which is especially worrisome with Ford, considering her history with knee issues and the ever-present concerns about her surviving a WNBA season). The Liberty are hoping both will be ready for their home opener against Tulsa on Friday.

 

  • Third-year forward Kelsey Griffin slid into Jones’s starting spot for the Sun, while the rest of their lineup was the same one Mike Thibault used for most of last season. Ann Donovan, sensibly, isn’t going to try to change too much about a team that went 25-9 last year. New York opened with rookie forward Toni Young next to Kara Braxton in the post, and Leilani Mitchell at point guard alongside Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson on the perimeter. For now, the Pondexter-as-‘lead guard’ concept is on hold.

 

  • For the record, backup Sun post Mistie Mims is now Mistie Bass again. NBA writers and broadcasters have it really easy on the name-changes compared to those of us on the women’s side.

 

  • Toni Young spent most of this game indicating that she has a long way to go as a pro player. There was one offensive board and putback in the second half where she skied for the ball and illustrated her pure athleticism. Otherwise she looked pretty lost.

 

  • Kelsey Bone, on the other hand, had a heck of a debut. The #5 overall pick in this year’s draft was matched up with 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles during most of her minutes and gave Charles everything she could handle at both ends of the floor. Bone stood up to her defensively, made a couple of nice buckets, and generally just looked ready for this level. There was one particularly pretty step-through move past Charles late in the first half – especially impressive for a player who hasn’t even played in Europe yet (or under John Whisenant, who loved to teach that).

Continue reading

WNBA Today, 25/05/2013: Fever float past sorry Silver Stars

 

So WNBA basketball is back, albeit with an opening game that didn’t exactly set anyone’s heart aflutter. Even before the tip in San Antonio, there were warning signs about this one. With star forward Sophia Young out “until at least August” (according to the broadcasters prior to the game – chances are her ACL tear will remove her for the entire season), the Silver Stars’ other leading light Becky Hammon will be missing for “at least a month” with her broken finger. It was a scary-looking cast she had immobilising that right hand, as well.

 

Meanwhile on the opposite bench, Indiana had their own problems. Guard Erin Phillips, center Jessica Davenport and wing Jeanette Pohlen are all injured, and it’s going to be several weeks at least until we see any of them. Rookie guard Layshia Clarendon also missed this game to attend her graduation ceremony, but at least she’ll be back for their next contest. So the Fever had more players out, but fortunately for Indiana they’re all role players, rather than vital leaders.

 

It didn’t take long for our first little piece of history. Referee Sue Blauch took just 29 seconds to call the first ever defensive three-seconds violation in the WNBA, with Tamika Catchings playing her typical free safety defense and getting caught in the lane too long without ‘actively guarding’ anyone. It seemed like a slightly quick whistle to me, but just about reasonable on review.

 

Much of the first half was sloppy, as both teams tried to remember how to play WNBA basketball. There were defensive miscommunications where teams ended up with unintentional double-teams (and someone else obviously wide open), and plenty of bricks clanking off the rims. San Antonio scored the first 10 points of the game, and held a reasonable lead for the first 15 minutes of the contest, largely because they actually hit some shots. Shameka Christon was hot early from outside, then Danielle Adams came off the bench and joined in – only to remove herself from the action with three quick fouls. The second call was harsh, with Erlana Larkins crumpling under minimal contact, but the third was a dumb reach on an entry pass to Tamika Catchings. Adams doesn’t look in any better shape than the last two seasons, but she’s shown she can be effective for significant stretches even in this condition. She has to play smarter than that.

Continue reading

Priming for Opening Night in the WNBA: New Rules, a New Line, and Prediction Time

 

Yes, the long offseason is finally over, and tonight the real WNBA games begin with the Indiana Fever visiting the San Antonio Silver Stars. If you haven’t checked them out already, WNBAlien’s team-by-team previews are all available to give you an in-depth look at how the 12 squads are shaping up:

Atlanta Dream

Chicago Sky

Connecticut Sun

Indiana Fever

New York Liberty

Washington Mystics

Los Angeles Sparks

Minnesota Lynx

Phoenix Mercury

San Antonio Silver Stars

Seattle Storm

Tulsa Shock

 

So What’s New?

Well if you’ve ended up here, you’re probably well aware of the ultra-hyped new rookie class that’s entering the league. They’re obviously new. We’ve also had coaching changes in New York, Connecticut and Washington since the end of last season. But you can read all about that and the various roster changes in the individual previews. What has the WNBA altered for 2013 on a more basic level?

 

Every year the league tinkers with something minor like the replay rules, or the timeout logistics. This year the Competition Committee and the Board of Governors went a little further. The first change is evident even before the ball goes up – you’re going to have to take a step back to make three-pointers this season. A couple of years ago FIBA pushed their three-point line back – a move which was desperately necessary for the men’s game where the FIBA three-pointer had become a mid-range jumpshot. The women’s game didn’t particularly need a longer line, but FIBA likes their rules to be virtually universal, so the ladies had to get used to it as well. This left the WNBA with the shortest three-point line in the world game, which seemed a little silly for the strongest women’s league around (even if the WNBA distance was closer to where it ‘should’ be for optimum women’s basketball). So the WNBA have decided to fall into line, so to speak.

 

Continue reading

2013 WNBA Season Previews: Tulsa Shock

 

PG: Skylar Diggins/Angel Goodrich

SG: Candice Wiggins/Riquna Williams

SF: Nicole Powell/Roneeka Hodges/Jennifer Lacy

PF: Glory Johnson/Tiffany Jackson-Jones/Kayla Pedersen

C: Elizabeth Cambage

 

Significant gains: Skylar Diggins, Elizabeth Cambage, Candice Wiggins, Tiffany Jackson-Jones, Nicole Powell.

Significant losses: Ivory Latta, Temeka Johnson (plus Amber Holt got cut).

 

Last year was a season of small but vital steps for the Tulsa Shock. They may have finished just 9-25, but that equalled their win total from the previous two years combined, and they pulled themselves off the bottom of the Western Conference (albeit assisted in that step by Phoenix’s capitulation). Nolan Richardson was long gone, and with Gary Kloppenburg taking over the team finally had some structure and a sense that they knew what they were doing. There were still bumps in the road, and the talent on the roster didn’t quite match up to most of the other teams, but they were finally headed in the right direction. After an offseason that’s produced a collection of new options, including a headlining rookie, their first meaningful free agent addition and a player they thought had quit on them yet again, they’re primed for another step. The question is how far are they ready to jump?

 

The Shock’s two leading scorers from last season – also their top two in assists – are both gone. And yet despite losing Ivory Latta and Temeka Johnson for nothing, Tulsa are probably happier about their backcourt situation than they’ve ever been before. Finishing third in the lottery meant disappointment at missing out on Brittney Griner, but it resulted in Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, who may be just what they needed. She’s a high-profile young woman, revels in the spotlight, and she’ll do everything she can to make people take notice of this franchise. She’s also a pretty darn good point guard, who can score herself and run a team. She may need a little time – it’s rare for anyone to be handed the keys to a pro team as a rookie and be an immediate success – but she should get there. At the very least, she’ll make sure more people know the Shock exist. Alongside her will be Candice Wiggins, technically acquired in a trade from Minnesota (it was essentially a free agent addition, consummated via trade). It’s going to be interesting to see what Wiggins is still capable of. In her first two years as a pro she was a fearless driver, getting to the rim and the free throw line with regularity. Then she suffered a torn meniscus in her knee and a ruptured achilles in quick succession. When she returned she was a completely different player, barely driving at all, and firing the vast majority of her shots from behind the three-point arc. It’s hard to know for sure whether that was purely because Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve asked her to become an outside threat, or if Wiggins simply doesn’t have that driving capacity any more. If she can rediscover that aspect of her game and vary it up more, she becomes a major weapon; if she’s just the backup guard we saw the last two years in Minnesota, she’s far less dangerous.

 

Continue reading

2013 WNBA Season Previews: Seattle Storm

 

PG: Temeka Johnson

SG: Tanisha Wright/Noelle Quinn

SF: Shekinna Stricklen/Alysha Clark

PF: Tina Thompson/Tianna Hawkins/Cierra Bravard

C: Camille Little/Nakia Sanford

 

Significant gains: Temeka Johnson, Noelle Quinn, Tianna Hawkins.

Significant losses: Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Katie Smith, Ann Wauters (plus Ewelina Kobryn and Svetlana Abrosimova aren’t coming back either). Yeah, ouch.

 

Well if you thought those teams with just one All-Star missing were in trouble, welcome to Seattle. Star post and three-time league MVP Lauren Jackson is taking the season off to rest and finally try to fix all the pieces of her body that needed putting back together. That news was followed up with the announcement that point guard Sue Bird would be having surgery to remove a cyst from her knee, and would also miss the entire season. So the two rocks that this franchise has been founded on for over a decade are both out for the year. They’ve survived without Jackson before for long stretches, and even without Bird for a few games here or there, but a Storm team without either of them just isn’t going to be the same. Winning basketball games is going to be a lot more difficult, too.

 

Give some credit to Brian Agler and the Storm franchise though – this is far from a tank job from opening day. If that was the plan, they wouldn’t have gone out and signed two veteran perimeter options in Temeka Johnson and Noelle Quinn, who’ll join Tanisha Wright in the backcourt rotation. Johnson has the unenviable task of trying to replace Bird, but after a solid season last year in Tulsa she should do a reasonable job. She can run a team, she can hit from long range, and while her defense won’t excite anyone that’s no different from Bird. Quinn will take over the Katie Smith role from last season, playing anywhere required around the perimeter. She’s big for a wing, which Agler will like for defensive purposes, and she’ll make a few shots from outside. She’ll also probably be happy to have escaped Washington, so who knows, maybe that’ll give her a new lease of life. Wright will probably be asked to take on more responsibility with Bird and Jackson gone, and if she were healthy she would probably be capable of that. It feels like quite some time since we’ve seen Wright truly at 100%, featuring combo-guard skills that allowed Bird to play off the ball, and shutdown defense on the opposition’s best guard. If Wright’s in one piece, she’ll be one of the leaders of this team – but at some stage it may make sense to shut her down and let her rest next to Sue on the sidelines.

 

Continue reading