PG: Danielle Robinson
SG: Becky Hammon/Jia Perkins/Shenise Johnson/Davellyn White
SF: Shameka Christon
PF: DeLisha Milton-Jones/Danielle Adams
C: Jayne Appel/Kayla Alexander
Significant gains: DeLisha Milton-Jones, maybe Alexander
Significant losses: Sophia Young (plus Tangela Smith and Tully Bevilaqua are gone as well, for what that’s worth).
It’s a familiar story here if you read yesterday’s preview for Connecticut. A successful team from last season returns nearly everybody – except for the star power forward. While playing in China, Sophia Young tore the ACL in her right knee, and is out for the season. The combination of Young and Becky Hammon has been the heart of this Silver Stars team for years now, and while they’ve added some useful pieces around their star pair, it leaves a big hole. Coping with Young’s absence is going to be a difficult proposition.
For years, this has been a poor rebounding team with limited post presence. Their rebounding actually improved last year – it went from truly abysmal to merely bad – but most of that jump came from Young’s own rededication to crashing the glass. Now they’re going to have to re-work their post rotation without their best player. DeLisha Milton-Jones was signed as a free agent and will help fill the hole. She’s a hard-nosed fighter who can still make the occasional play, and may enjoy seeing a few more touches of the ball than were available in LA, but she’s on the downside of her career. Danielle Adams will once again set some games alight with her soft touch from outside, but she still has the unfortunate combination of being undersized – height-wise – and oversized – width-wise. At center there’s Jayne Appel, who actually had a reasonable year last season when her role was clearly defined as rebounder, defender, and finisher if she was absolutely wide open under the rim with no one anywhere in the vicinity. If they’re going to score any points inside this season, Appel may have to at least try to look at the basket a little more. Finally there’s rookie Kayla Alexander from Syracuse, who’ll be given a chance to make a quick impact. That’s a desperately thin group of options in the paint. They might survive defensively, but it’s going to be a struggle to score any points near the rim.
But then, the Silver Stars have never exactly focussed on scoring inside, even when Young was available. They’re built around speed, motion and perimeter shooting, led by apparently ageless guard Becky Hammon. With her combination of seemingly impossible spinning finishes at the rim and long-range bombs, Hammon’s a threat the fill it up on any given night, and she’ll be one of the league leaders in assists as well. Her defense has always been something of an issue, but at this point that’s just part of the Becky package. The worry for San Antonio is that Hammon broke a finger on her shooting hand in training camp, and is now out for an unspecified period. Losing her on top of Young for any length of time would be a tough pill to swallow.
Alongside Hammon in the backcourt they’ll hope to reform as quickly as possible, Danielle Robinson continues to develop as a point guard and scoring threat. Possibly the single quickest player in the league, Robinson can fly from one end of the floor to the other, is a pest defensively, and showed off a far more reliable mid-range jumper last year. She’s a lot of fun to watch. The final likely starter is Shameka Christon, who made her return to the WNBA with San Antonio in 2012 after missing virtually two entire years with injuries. She had her moments for the Silver Stars last season, but too often became nothing but a three-point bomber. She needs to bring a little more variety back into her game to become anything like as effective as she was in her New York days.
There are still more perimeter threats available when Dan Hughes goes to his bench. Jia Perkins is a dangerous scorer who can perform the traditional sixth-woman role of producing quick-fire offense when she enters a game. Shenise Johnson will play all the perimeter positions at one stage or another, and with Hammon and Young ailing they’ll need her to take a step up in her second WNBA season. She has a solid all-around game, but did a little of everything pretty quietly last year. Now she needs to make some more noise. The final roster member, as something of a surprise, is rookie Davellyn White. Maybe the Hammon injury led to keeping an extra guard, but she must’ve shown something in camp for Hughes to enter the season with only 4 post options.
If he can keep this team anywhere near the level of last season, it’ll be Hughes’s best coaching job yet. They’ve got plenty of shooters, but even last season they eventually illustrated how hard it is to continue winning games by constantly firing away from outside. And it becomes even easier to guard them when a threat like Young is taken off the floor. Hammon isn’t getting any younger, so you hate to waste another year of her closing window, but this could well end up as a rebuilding year for San Antonio. They’ll play fast, they’ll be fun to watch when the shots are falling, and Hughes will have the defense structured as it needs to be – but wins may be hard to come by.