Danielle Robinson/Davellyn Whyte
Becky Hammon/Jia Perkins/Heather Butler
Kayla McBride/Shenise Johnson/Shameka Christon
Jayne Appel/Danielle Adams/Kayla Alexander
Significant additions: Hammon and Young-Malcolm back from injury, McBride
Signficant losses: ‘Silver’
San Antonio’s season last year was an uphill struggle from the beginning. Sophia Young (now Young-Malcolm after her marriage) tore her ACL before the season even began, and Becky Hammon played a grand total of 12 minutes before suffering the same fate. Any team, shorn of their two veteran leaders and best players, would’ve struggled from that point on. So given that both are now back in the fold, the youngsters have an extra year of experience, and there’s another high draft-pick to add to the mix, they should bounce right back to being the 21-13 team from 2012, right? Well, maybe.
There’s definitely a fair bit of talent here. People seem to forget just how good Young-Malcolm was, after just one year away. There’s always the question of how successfully players will return from serious injuries, but ACL recovery tends to be a much smoother process these days than it used to be. Young has always been on the small side for a power forward – if the Stars had won the lottery and added Chiney Ogwumike, Young-Malcolm might easily have made the full-time switch to small forward – but that can help her offensively. She’s too quick and mobile for many opposing 4s to handle, and she finds a variety of ways to score. She also improved her rebounding noticeably in the year before her injury, something this team dearly needed.
Hammon’s 37 now, so concerns about her recovery from injury might be more significant (or about other injuries cropping up while she compensates – she’s going to miss a couple of games to start the season with an ankle sprain). Hopefully there’s still a little left in the tank before she moves to the sidelines to begin a coaching career. Her game’s never been built on elite speed or athleticism, so a knee injury might not knock her back as much as some. She’s a crafty scorer and creator, capable of contriving finishes that don’t seem possible on drives through traffic. Or just bombing away from deep and killing you from beyond the arc. It should be fun seeing San Antonio’s stars back on the floor again.
While they were gone, Dan Hughes still managed to draw some decent performances out of the players he had left. Danielle Robinson continues to develop as a floor leader, with a mid-range jump shot that’s become pretty solid, and ridiculous speed that few in the WNBA can compete with. Danielle Adams remains one of the more unique talents in the league, a big, big girl who’s surprisingly light on her feet and has started to add more of an interior game to her long-range shooting. Jayne Appel was a little more appreciated for her work last year, providing solid interior defense and rebounding – although she still seems reluctant to actually take shots however close to the rim she might be. Jia Perkins is still a scorer who can hurt you if you give her an inch of space, and will return to her bench-injection role after being forced into a starting spot last season.
Beyond that, there’s still more youth that they’re looking to develop. Hughes took Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride with the #3 overall pick this year, despite Alyssa Thomas being the more obvious fit for the needs of his roster, so clearly he believes in McBride’s talent. She’s a versatile scorer with range and a strong handle who’ll fit right in on this roster, although there’s definitely some duplication of what they already have. It was probably a pick more for when Hammon and Perkins move on in the future than to win right now. They also still have Shenise Johnson, their first-round pick from 2012, who needs to push herself forwards to help this team. She’s a versatile wing talent as well, athletic and strong, but she never entirely grasped the opportunity that was on offer last year when teammates went down with injury. If she wants to be more than a backup role player in this league, it’s time to take a leap. Last year’s first-round pick, center Kayla Alexander, still needs to prove that she belongs in this league at all. It wasn’t an impressive rookie season.
If the kids are faltering on the perimeter, veteran Shameka Christon is still around as an option as well (although she literally does practically nothing besides jack threes these days). Young guards Davellyn Whyte and Heather Butler also made the roster (leaving them remarkably perimeter-heavy).
Just as has happened in the past, this team will likely get crushed on the boards on a regular basis. The return of Young-Malcolm to assist Appel and Adams will help, but they were an awful rebounding team even back when Young-Malcolm was around before her injury. It also looks like they’re going to be playing a lot of three-guard lineups, so they’re going to be pretty small on the perimeter even before you get to Young-Malcolm and Adams in the post (neither of whom is much over 6 feet). They’re going to have lots of shooting on the floor to stretch defenses out and attack from every side, and they’re going to be annoyingly quick – but they’re also going to be undersized, with very limited interior presence, and struggle to clean the glass. On nights when the jump shots aren’t falling, things could get ugly.
A healthier San Antonio Stars should be a lot of fun to watch. Hughes will have them playing at a fast pace offensively, firing away whenever they get a clean look, and they’ll be active on defense to try to compensate for their lack of height. They’ve dropped the ‘Silver’ from their name (no idea why, except to screw up all my tags from the last few years) but they’ve gained (or regained) a few very good players. It’s hard to see them on the level of the Western power teams, but on a night-to-night basis they’ll be dangerous against anyone.