2013 WNBA Season Previews: San Antonio Silver Stars

 

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.

 

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2013 WNBA Season Previews: Phoenix Mercury

 

PG: Samantha Prahalis

SG: Diana Taurasi/Alexis Hornbuckle/Briana Gilbreath

SF: DeWanna Bonner/Penny Taylor/Charde Houston

PF: Candice Dupree/Lynetta Kizer

C: Brittney Griner/Krystal Thomas

 

Significant gains: Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, a healthier Candace Dupree, generally giving a crap about basketball games.

Significant losses: Probably threw away their list of injury excuses.

 

Does this bunch even need to be previewed? Since the minute Phoenix won the lottery, everyone’s been talking about the superteam that the Mercury could put out on the floor when they came together. This is what happens when an already talented team has a terrible year (due to injury, ‘tanking’, or a combination thereof) and ends up adding another superstar into the mix. It’s even better when the young phenom fits perfectly into a hole on your roster. The hype for this team has been enormous, but that’s hardly a surprise considering the players they have returning, and they might just manage to live up to it.

 

When healthy, the three pieces the Mercury are essentially ‘adding’ to last year’s squad are all superstars of the women’s game. Diana Taurasi is an elite perimeter scorer, who’s also a willing passer and creator for her teammates. She got plenty of rest last season, and even played a slightly more reserved role for her Russian team while they won everything in sight during the offseason. She should be back to full speed. Whatever the story with Taurasi, Penny Taylor was definitely injured last year. She’s still in the final stages of recovering from her ACL tear, and hasn’t actually played a game yet, either overseas or in the WNBA preseason. At 100%, she’s a tough, versatile small forward, capable of scoring from a variety of angles and making smart passes for her teammates. Hopefully she’ll be back to full speed at some point, but it’s a case of wait-and-see as to exactly what she’ll be able to offer.

 

And then there’s Brittney. An athletic specimen the likes of which the women’s game has never seen before, a 6-8 center who can still move smoothly, rebound, finish and block shots. She’s known for her dunking ability, and it probably won’t be long before she exhibits it in the WNBA, but there’s more to what she can do. On the Mercury, while they’ll benefit from her offensive skills in the halfcourt, her most important role will be at the center of their defense. Head coach Corey Gaines basically can’t coach D – we’ve got years of evidence of that. This team’s been terrible defensively for eons. But when you put a behemoth like Griner in the post it cures a lot of defensive ills. Even when she isn’t blocking shots, she’ll alter a lot of them, and simply make players less keen to drive into the paint. She’ll have to work on pick-and-roll defense (which is a far bigger part of the game in the pros than it is in college), and Gaines will need to establish defensive structures that never take her far from the rim, but that shouldn’t be hard. It’s a marvellous fit for the Mercury.

 

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2013 WNBA Season Previews: Minnesota Lynx

 

PG: Lindsay Whalen/Lindsey Moore

SG: Seimone Augustus/Monica Wright/Sugar Rodgers

SF: Maya Moore/Rachel Jarry

PF: Rebekkah Brunson/Amber Harris

C: Janel McCarville/Devereaux Peters

 

Significant gains: Janel McCarville, plus whoever works out from L. Moore, Jarry and Rodgers.

Significant losses: Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Candice Wiggins (and Erin Thorn’s gone too).

 

The 2012 WNBA Finals were a little bit of a rude awakening for the Minnesota Lynx. After a title the year before, and another dominant regular season (albeit with an occasional hiccup), the Indiana Fever crashed the party and outplayed the Lynx to take the title. But this is still a very talented team and losing the trophy they expected to retain should only leave them hungrier in 2013. They may just have to make a few minor tweaks to the juggernaut that rolled through the last two regular seasons.

 

The most obvious change this year is the departure of Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Mama Taj had to call it a day sometime, and she finally hung up her sneakers to join Bill Laimbeer on the sidelines in New York. Despite her advancing years, Taj was the anchor to the impressive Minnesota defense, always in the right place at the right time, and they’ll miss her. To plug the hole, Janel McCarville’s rights were acquired from the Liberty, and she returns to the WNBA for the first time since 2010. She’s a popular player in the area after forming a successful partnership with Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen back in her college days in Minnesota, and she’ll slide straight into McWilliams-Franklin’s starting spot in the post. McCarville isn’t the same calibre of defender that Taj was, but she has a more varied offensive game with good vision and passing skills. The Lynx will be hoping that those talents offset the drop-off at the other end. McCarville’s also not had the best of times overseas in the last couple of years, but she’s only 30 so there should be some solid basketball left in her yet.

 

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2013 WNBA Season Previews: Los Angeles Sparks

On to the Western Conference, once again in alphabetical order. No favouritism shown at WNBAlien.

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PG: Lindsey Harding

SG: Kristi Toliver/A’dia Mathies

SF: Alana Beard/Jenna O’Hea/Marissa Coleman/Farhiya Abdi

PF: Nneka Ogwumike/Ebony Hoffman

C: Candace Parker/Jantel Lavender

 

Significant gains: Lindsey Harding, maybe Mathies and/or Abdi.

Significant losses: DeLisha Milton-Jones (and they cut Nicky Anosike by choice).

 

For a team that went 24-10, had its superstar finally last a full season, featured the runaway Rookie of the Year and had both a breakout star and an impressive comeback story in the backcourt – there was a hell of a lot of whining about the Los Angeles Sparks last year. Much of it prior to them being swept by Minnesota in the Western Conference Finals. After Sharnee Zoll tore her ACL prior to the season, they had to make do with Kristi Toliver and Alana Beard sharing the point guard duties – something neither is entirely comfortable with. The defense was a constant work in progress, flipping through multiple systems and often having to compensate for breakdowns from Toliver and Candace Parker. The bench was inconsistent at best, often dropping to the realms of awful. So fans found plenty to complain about. Yet they were in the battle for the Western Conference lead all year, and won a playoff series for the first time since the Lisa Leslie era. Imagine what they might do in Carol Ross’s second year at the helm, after adding yet another important piece to the puzzle?

 

The major addition is point guard Lindsey Harding, signed as a free agent from Atlanta. Despite joining her fourth franchise in seven WNBA seasons – good players don’t tend to move that much – Harding is a smart point who can run a team, solidly part of the second tier of point guards in the women’s game behind Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen. She gives Ross a steady hand to steer the ship, another player who can penetrate and score a few points, and a useful perimeter defender. Her presence also takes Toliver and Beard off the ball, which is where both ideally want to be. On-ball pressure caused LA a lot of problems in the playoffs last year – especially for Toliver – which shouldn’t be as much of an issue this season. Now Toliver can concentrate on scoring, which is something she can be exceptionally good at, while Beard becomes a primary defender and secondary ballhandler. It’s a better fit.

 

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2013 WNBA Season Previews: Washington Mystics

 

PG: Ivory Latta

SG: Matee Ajavon/Tayler Hill

SF: Monique Currie

PF: Crystal Langhorne/Emma Meesseman

C: Kia Vaughn/Michelle Snow/Jessica Moore/(Quanitra Hollingsworth to arrive later)

(plus two of Gs Shay Peddy, Nadirah McKenith and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, pending a final cut)

 

Significant gains: Ivory Latta, Kia Vaughn, Tayler Hill, Emma Meesseman (maybe), and Mike Thibault on the sidelines.

Significant losses: Trudi Lacey (well they ‘lost’ her and it was significant, right?), and over half the terrible roster from last year.

 

It was good news/bad news for the Mystics after last season’s excruciating crawl to 5-29 was finally over. The horrible news came quickly, when the lottery dropped them from the highest chance of landing Brittney Griner to #4 in what most saw as a three-player draft. But then Connecticut decided they’d had enough of solid seasons and consistently being pretty good under Mike Thibault, and gave him his walking papers. After two years of Trudi Lacey, resulting in a combined record of 11-57, Washington fans would’ve given their right arms for ‘solid’ or ‘pretty good’. So Thibault got the job, and a mild sense of optimism returned to the Mystics. The situation is similar to Tulsa’s last year – no one’s expecting miracles, and not even necessarily a playoff challenge. But they finally feel like someone competent’s in charge of the operation, and they’re moving in the right direction. It’s a positive step.

 

It’s hard to turn over an entire roster in one offseason – and not necessarily advisable, even when the team’s awful – but Thibault’s done what he could. He found an upgrade at point guard, signing Ivory Latta as a free agent to replace Jasmine Thomas (who was traded away). Latta will give them an extra scoring threat in the backcourt, and simply speed up the offense with her attacking mentality. The jump in the draft from the Thomas trade led to a subsequent trade with New York for Kia Vaughn, who deepens the post options. Then there was Tayler Hill, a guard taken with that 4th pick they ended up with in the lottery, who offers another backcourt scoring option and the potential to become a key piece. Finally, under the radar, 20 year-old Belgian post Emma Meesseman went as the 19th pick in the draft and could be a steal if she adapts to the WNBA and develops. She could have trouble with the physicality of the WNBA to begin with, but she’s skilled and long, with some range on her shot. And the Mystics have time to wait for her to grow.

 

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2013 WNBA Season Previews: New York Liberty

 

PG: Cappie Pondexter/Leilani Mitchell

SG: Essence Carson/Kamiko Williams

SF: Katie Smith/Alex Montgomery

PF: Plenette Pierson/Toni Young

C: Cheryl Ford/Kelsey Bone/Kara Braxton

 

Significant gains: Cheryl Ford, Katie Smith, Kelsey Bone, Toni Young, and Bill Laimbeer on the sidelines.

Significant losses: Nicole Powell, Kia Vaughn.

 

New York weren’t a bad team for the last two years under John Whisenant. Well okay, they were pretty poor for much of last season, but they were decent in 2011. However, they had become pretty painful to watch, with the ‘white line’ defense that the players never seemed to enjoy, and a bedraggled offense that relied on Cappie Pondexter to do virtually everything. Combined with the exile to New Jersey caused by renovations to Madison Square Garden, it led to a distinct lack of interest and excitement among what remained of the Liberty fanbase. So the franchise made a change. Out went Whiz, and Bill Laimbeer was tempted back into the WNBA fold as the potential saviour. Then Evil Bill quickly started reshaping his roster.

 

The initial moves led to a lot of jokes about ‘getting the band back together’, as Laimbeer acquired various pieces he was familiar with from his days in Detroit. Plenette Pierson (a key sixth woman on those Shock teams, and New York’s best post player for the last couple of seasons) and Kara Braxton (a talented yet wildly inconsistent center for her entire career) were both already on the roster. Laimbeer added Katie Smith as a free agent from Seattle, and tempted Cheryl Ford back into the WNBA for the first time since 2009. He also acquired the rights to Deanna Nolan from Tulsa, but she won’t be playing in the US until at least 2014. Smith isn’t the player she used to be, but she’s still smart, physical and knows all the tricks. She’ll help show her younger teammates exactly what Laimbeer expects from his players. Ford has been playing in Europe, and been very productive doing what she’s always done – fill the paint, and grab every rebound in sight. She won’t be quite the interior beast that she was in her younger days, but she can still be a significant contributor. The fear with Ford will always be whether her body can hold up under the rigors of the WNBA grind, playing an average of three games a week against top competition. Laimbeer will have to look after her and manage her minutes. Continue reading

2013 WNBA Season Previews: Indiana Fever

 

PG: Briann January/Erin Phillips

SG: Shavonte Zellous/Jeanette Pohlen/Layshia Clarendon

SF: Katie Douglas

PF: Tamika Catchings

C: Erlana Larkins/Jessica Davenport

(plus two of SF Karima Christmas, PF Jessica Breland and C Sasha Goodlett, pending a final cut. All three may start the season in Indiana if a hardship exception is granted due to injuries)

 

Significant gains: Confidence and rings from winning a championship

Significant losses: The monkey off their back from finally winning that championship. Oh, and Tammy Sutton-Brown’s gone.

 

Fever head coach Lin Dunn and general manager Kelly Krauskopf approached this offseason with a pretty straightforward mindset – when you’ve found something that works, don’t screw it up. After a solid regular season, Indiana kicked it up a notch in the playoffs and rode the wave to their first WNBA championship. So they re-signed every significant piece that was out of contract – Tamika Catchings, Briann January, Shavonte Zellous, Erlana Larkins – and kept their nucleus intact. Smallball won them a title in 2012, and they’ll be riding it again in 2013.

 

Catchings remains the heart and soul of this franchise, and one of the best players on the planet. The move to play her full-time at power forward last season looked risky initially, but she took it in stride and the benefits ultimately outweighed the drawbacks. She had more space to attack, created immediate mismatches against virtually every opponent, and her own strength and activity allowed her to stand up to whoever she had to guard defensively. They were a poor rebounding team all season as a result, but they overcame that in other areas. The Fever jumped to another level in the playoffs when Erlana Larkins moved into the starting lineup at center, creating an even more undersized group than they’d been working with all season. It leaves them short of inches, but the energy, mobility and effort made up for it, and the collective team defense worked like a charm. The question is whether what worked for a playoff series or two can succeed through the course of an arduous regular season. If they need to go big with a more traditional post, Jessica Davenport is still around, and Sasha Goodlett may have more to offer in her second year (if she makes the roster). With Catchings at the core of it all, they’ll probably work it out.

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