Skylar Diggins/Angel Goodrich
Odyssey Sims/Riquna Williams
Roneeka Hodges/Jordan Hooper
Glory Johnson/Tiffany Jackson-Jones/Jennifer Lacy/Theresa Plaisance
Courtney Paris/Vicki Baugh
Significant additions: Sims, Jackson-Jones is further removed from her pregnancy and hopefully won’t be quite so useless, new head coach Fred Williams
Significant losses: Elizabeth Cambage yet again, Candice Wiggins, Nicole Powell’s theoretical veteran presence
The rebuilding – or just ‘building’, if you don’t count the Detroit variant of the franchise – continues for yet another year in Tulsa. They’ll tell you they’re aiming for the playoffs, but it’s going to be hard work achieving that barring some serious collapses elsewhere in the West. Especially after yet another difficult offseason for the Shock. There’s a new head coach, lots of youth and hope for interior development, but there’s also the usual plethora of roster holes and limited talent. If Fred Williams drags this squad up to the realms of .500 and serious playoff contention, he’ll be at the head of the Coach of the Year race.
First the bad news – Elizabeth Cambage is gone again. The on-off Big Liz saga at least ended with something resembling a straight answer this year, but unfortunately that answer was ‘no’ to returning to the WNBA in 2014. They wouldn’t keep going through this if she wasn’t such an impressive potential talent. Size like that with the ability to finish – even if it comes with an immature personality – just doesn’t grow on trees.
Cambage’s absence leaves the Shock with a lot of questions in the paint. Glory Johnson is the one reliable option, a strong interior presence with a streak of nasty in her that only makes her more effective. She’s still developing as a player, adding some range and variety to her offense, but it’s a shame we won’t get to see her partnership with Cambage continue to evolve this season. She also sprained an ankle late in her Russian season and hasn’t played again since, but reportedly should be ready to start the season. Beyond her Tulsa have no idea what they might get from their posts. Tiffany Jackson-Jones had a pretty miserable half-season after returning from pregnancy last year, and is expected to miss at least the first six weeks of this season anyway after surgery on her shin. Courtney Paris is back again and will likely produce her usual combination of breakout games where she dominates the glass and finishes inside, before five games where she’s never heard from again. Her defense against WNBA-level competition is still a major issue. Jennifer Lacy’s a decent backup who’ll hit a few shots from time to time, but no more. And then they’re down to completely unproven options like Vicki Baugh and rookie Theresa Plaisance. It’s patchwork at best for the Shock down low – Swiss cheese might end up a more appropriate term.
The guards are where there’s at least some hope on offer. Social media maven Skylar Diggins spent the offseason making appearances on every red carpet available and in several magazines, but hopefully also working on her game. She had a difficult rookie season, struggling to finish in the paint or hit consistently from outside. Some nice stat-lines in preseason have some people excited, but everyone should know by now that preseason means exactly nothing. Skylar needs to take a big step forward this season to start paying off on her promise and earning some of her reputation. Candice Wiggins is gone, but Diggins has a new running mate in the backcourt in #2 overall pick Odyssey Sims from Baylor. A quick, dynamic guard who can score in bunches, the possibility of Sims being a true star on the pro level is perhaps Tulsa’s best chance for speedy development into a decent team. Even if she’s not a superstar, or at least not yet, Sims and Diggins should be able to help each other out in the backcourt, sharing the point guard duties and releasing some of the pressure from each other.
They also have Riquna Williams, an electric scoring guard who’s never seen a shot she didn’t like, who can come into games and provide an injection of scoring. She’s a classic sixth woman, and while it was her 51-point game against San Antonio that stole the headlines, her improving efficiency in 2013 was the more impressive and valuable development. Her field goal percentage went from 34% in her rookie year to 40% last season, and that 40% is decent when it’s combined with plenty of threes and regular trips to the foul line. Angel Goodrich is also around to provide point guard backup to Diggins and Sims. As a rookie, she was arguably better than Diggins (the team certainly seemed to win more when she was starting), but she’ll still be the backup barring injuries or complete disaster elsewhere. She’s small, and sometimes reluctant to look for her own shot, but she showed last year that she might well be good enough to survive in the WNBA thanks to her heady play and ability to run a team.
The remainder of the perimeter players are Roneeka Hodges, a gunner who’ll fire up threes at will if you give her the chance (and hit a fair few of them); and rookie Jordan Hooper, who might have the best name for a basketball player in history. One of those 3/4 tweeners that sometimes struggle to find a position in the pros, Hooper likes to jack threes as well. This team is going to shoot a lot from outside. It’s going to be a bit of a switch for Fred Williams, coming over from Atlanta where his team barely shot any threes, because they had so few players who could hit any of them.
Presumably, Fred Williams will try to play up-tempo with this group. It was always the policy in Atlanta, and he’s got the athletes to keep pushing the pace and running as much as possible in Tulsa. The problem is that he doesn’t yet have the raw talent that he had with the Dream, especially on the interior. They’re going to need to be far more cohesive than we’ve seen in previous years to compensate for their lack of reliable posts beyond Glory Johnson, and the guards are going to have to finish better than they have in the past and ideally shoot the lights out. The other positive angle is that they lost an awful lot of close games under Gary Kloppenburg in the last couple of years – so if they can learn how to close out games under Williams and go at least .500 in similar situations, that should provide immediate improvement. But unless Sims and/or Diggins start looking like a young Cappie Pondexter, or Williams is some kind of magician, it’s looking likely to be another long year for the Shock.