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.
Then there are the other new additions. Nicole Powell arrived in a trade from New York, and offers a veteran option who ‘knows how to win’. She’s also well-versed in how to lose, and has a tendency to disappear from games, but she’ll knock down a few shots from outside. Tiffany Jackson-Jones returns after missing last season due to pregnancy, and at the very least should deepen the post rotation. She had something of a breakout year back in 2011 (albeit on a terrible team), but it’s always questionable how players will bounce back from giving birth.
And then there’s Big Liz. Elizabeth Cambage is a 6-8 center who played her rookie year in Tulsa in 2011, then jerked the franchise around in 2012 before ultimately missing the entire season. This offseason she announced that she would once again be skipping the WNBA, only to u-turn a few weeks later and agree to show up. This time she made it to the US, arriving just a couple of days ago. It’s been a ridiculous saga, but now that she’s arrived she could be a very important piece for the Shock. Giant centers who can move and finish don’t grow on trees, even if they still have some way to go before becoming the finished article. With Kloppenburg in charge she should have a much smoother ride in Tulsa this time around, playing within a sensible structure. One of the main things the Shock were missing last year was a true interior presence at the 5, at both ends of the floor. Even if Cambage isn’t ready to play a full game, she should be able to help immediately, and continue her development. Hopefully she decides that the WNBA’s a bit more fun this time, and keeps coming back.
Cambage’s presence ought to make life a little easier for Glory Johnson, who was a big success for the Shock as a rookie last season. She’s a physical, tough interior player who plays with a little bit of an edge. Not dirty, but definitely gritty. She can finish inside, and she’ll fight for every rebound, but she had to do most of the work in the paint on her own last season – now she’ll have Cambage and Jackson-Jones to help her out.
Filling out the roster the Shock have several returning pieces from last year’s squad and another rookie point guard. Jennifer Lacy and Kayla Pedersen are both combo-forwards who can play a part, with Lacy the veteran voice and Pedersen the younger option people are still hoping to see develop. Pedersen looked like a valuable role player who could do a little of everything when she first arrived in the league, but dropped off horribly and had a dismal season last year. Maybe with more options ahead of her and a more limited role she can become more productive. On the perimeter they’ve still got gunner Roneeka Hodges, who may threaten Powell’s spot at small forward at some point, and Riquna Williams – for whom the term ‘gunner’ just doesn’t go far enough. Williams has never met a shot she didn’t adore, and while she had bursts of production that lit up games on occasion last year, her shooting percentage was ugly. Upping her efficiency will be key to staying in this league, because volume scoring can only go so far. The final spot was taken by diminutive point guard Angel Goodrich. She showed off impressive pure point skills in college, with good vision and the ability to run a team, but her shooting percentages were distinctly sub-par. She’s also tiny, which creates problems defensively. It’ll be interesting to see whether Kloppenburg actually intends to give her real minutes as Diggins’s backup, or if Wiggins will slide over when Skylar rests – making Goodrich purely an insurance policy.
So the level of hope and anticipation around the Shock has understandably kicked up another notch for this season. They’ve got more players in the fold who look like legitimate rotation pieces at WNBA level, there’s some significant extra help in the paint, and Skylar’s leading the charge with her legion of fans. Plus, with the injury issues that have left Seattle and San Antonio shorthanded before the season even begins, it seems like a hole’s opened up in the Western Conference. The Shock are still a work in progress – there’s certainly no need to start clearing room on the mantelpiece for trophies just yet – but 2013 could well be another step in the right direction. And when he closes his eyes at night, Gary Kloppenburg could be forgiven for hearing the word ‘playoffs’ in the distant reaches of his mind.