The Daily W, 05/19/14

 

Connecticut Sun 87 @ Minnesota Lynx 90 (OT)

 

Lineups: Same again for Minnesota, with Damiris Dantas continuing to fill in for Rebekkah Brunson. Connecticut promoted rookie forward Alyssa Thomas into the starting lineup in place of point guard Alex Bentley. Part of that may have been to have an extra perimeter defender with some size on the floor to handle Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, but it’s also a move that wouldn’t exactly be miles outside the box against anyone. Allison Hightower has been handling many of the point guard duties for Connecticut for years now, and can comfortably slide over, while Thomas’s development is a big part of the Sun’s future.

 

Story of the Game: As this was Minnesota’s home opener, the pre-game festivities involved raising the 2013 championship banner and handing out the rings. The Lynx then proceeded to play the first half like they’d drunk too much wine at the party. They were uncharacteristically sloppy, giving up too many cheap turnovers, and leaving too much space to exploit in their defense. The Sun shot unsustainably well, but Minnesota helped them find that rhythm. Chiney Ogwumike also had far too much room to work in the paint. While in some ways it was just a bad half, and those happen to every team, we’re going to see more defensive breakdowns from the Lynx early in the season than we’re used to, simply because they’ve got a lot of new pieces in the mix once you get past the four returning starters. It’s difficult to play on-a-string defense when not everyone knows which way (and how far) that string is meant to stretch.

It took a while for the expected comeback to kick in during the second half – Connecticut’s lead rose as high as 16 – but it arrived eventually. Maya Moore was the unsurprising catalyst, drilling several shots late in the third quarter, while the team defense also started to force turnovers and create transition chances.

It briefly looked like the young Sun squad were going to be overwhelmed by the charging Lynx, but they pulled themselves together and stuck around in the fourth quarter. After Janel McCarville turned an ankle while trying to bring the ball up the floor, it took a ridiculous second-chance basket by Moore, a Lindsay Whalen baseline jumper, a dreadful Katie Douglas turnover, and a tough leaning jumper over defenders from Seimone Augustus to tie the game and send it to overtime. Whalen dribbled the ball straight out of bounds on an inbounds play in the middle of all that, too.

It was all Ogwumike early in OT, scoring the first five points of the extra period, but from there Whalen took charge. She’d generally had an awful night of missed layups and turnovers, but isn’t the kind of character to sit down and hide on the end of the bench. Her driving finishes and earned free throws turned the game in Minnesota’s favour, before she hit a deep jumper to give the Lynx a three-point lead with 12 seconds left. Douglas found Alyssa Thomas wide open for a three to potentially tie it, but shooting from deep is not exactly the rookie’s forte. She airballed it, and the Lynx had pulled off the comeback win.

 

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The Daily W, 05/18/2014

 

Atlanta Dream 90 @ Indiana Fever 88 (2OT)

 

Lineups: Angel McCoughtry came off the bench due to a minor hip problem picked up the night before (I’ve never understood why not starting helps in any way with a niggling injury, but that’s what happened). Matee Ajavon started in her place. Indiana were still without Tamika Catchings and Layshia Clarendon, so opened with the same five as the previous night.

 

Story of the Game: The Fever got off to a hot start, just like the night before, led by Briann January. She seemed to be avoiding her problems with finishing at the rim by just sticking to jumpshots, and they were all dropping. Indiana led by double digits early in the second quarter.

However, Atlanta never looked in that much trouble, and the game always seemed like it would come back to them. The Fever had some problems containing the Dream in transition, with Erika de Souza picking up points simply by running hard from basket-to-basket. Shoni Schimmel, for the second night in a row, was exciting everyone with her shockingly successful entry onto the pro level. The assists were flowing again, and she was drilling those shots from deep that she always loved firing in college.

It was tight for most of the second half. Fever head coach Lin Dunn went small on the perimeter after losing any confidence in Marissa Coleman or Shavonte Zellous, preferring the double-point guard look with January and Sydney Carter, often with diminutive off-guard Maggie Lucas as well. That left someone thoroughly undersized having to cover McCoughtry – usually January.

A pretty messy half of basketball was finished off by several shambolic broken plays to close regulation. A steal eventually gave Karima Christmas the chance to break away and win the game for Indiana, but she blew the layup and sent us to overtime.

Rookie forward Natasha Howard, who’d already had a strong night, was the star for the Fever in OT. She attacked and finished through contact several times to produce points for Indiana. Then Schimmel, who’d had less impact on the gameĀ  since halftime, converted a ridiculous finish on a drive to tie it up late in the first extra period. Both teams contrived awful shots in the final minute, before the Fever failed to even get one off on the final possession. On to double overtime.

Howard was still the main offensive threat for Indiana, and she gave them a one-point lead with 30 seconds left, but missed the and-one free throw. McCoughtry curled off a high screen at the other end, took the pass, and drilled a three for the lead. In general, opposing teams want Angel shooting threes – but she’s never scared to take or make the big shot, from anywhere on the floor. Lucas ended up with the final shot for the Fever, but she airballed it and the Dream held on.

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The Daily W, 05/17/2014

 

A new regular feature here at WNBAlien – quick recaps of the previous night’s games, mentions of who played and who stood out, notes on anything interesting that might’ve cropped up, and anything else that seems worth talking about. Just without the ridiculous length of previous seasons. Most days, it should go up much earlier than today’s initial example.

We’ll still look in depth at certain games and teams when it’s warranted, especially when there aren’t four or five games on a single evening.

There’s also an injury report at the bottom, collating the news on who missed out last night and who got banged up while playing.

—–

 

Minnesota Lynx 89 @ Washington Mystics 77

 

Lineups: Brazilian rookie Damiris Dantas got the start at power forward for Minnesota in place of the injured Rebekkah Brunson. Belgian youngster Emma Meesseman got the nod to start at the same spot for Washington in the place vacated by Crystal Langhorne. Otherwise starters as you’d expect, including Kara Lawson making her debut in the Mystics backcourt.

 

Story of the Game: Maya Moore came out firing, carrying the Lynx into an early lead. Washington’s bench unit helped them get into the game, led by Stefanie Dolson drilling a trio of deep jumpers when the Lynx left her alone. Minnesota maintained a single-digit lead for most of the night behind Moore and Seimone Augustus, but Ivory Latta bombing from outside kept Washington in it. Then Tierra Ruffin-Pratt joined in and the Mystics actually took a very brief lead with 8 minutes left.

But Minnesota’s starters responded, tightened up defensively and hit a series of jumpers to pull away again. Ballgame over.

 

Key Players: Latta and Ruffin-Pratt were the only players who really showed up offensively for Washington, with the occasional flash from Meesseman and Dolson. Some weak rotations defensively – with Augustus and Moore the main culprits, surprisingly – left Latta too open from outside in the second half.

But it was those same two Lynx stars who carried much of Minnesota’s offense over the course of the game. Dantas also had a nice debut, and fit in smoothly as part of the starting core. Asia Taylor, the other rookie post the Lynx retained from camp, looks awfully small and thin for a frontcourt player. You can afford to be one or the other, but when you’re both it’s hard to survive in this league without moving more to the perimeter.

 

Notes of Interest: This is going to become a theme as we go through the other games from last night – solid, impressive rookie performances, but with sequences where they’re still working out what they can get away with at this level. Dolson made some shots, and had a lovely touch pass for a Tianna Hawkins bucket, but was called for at least a couple of illegal screens. Even though many of the refs are the same, that’s the kind of thing that can be called differently in the pros from the college game. Dantas made the necessary hustle plays, and generally kept things simple, although there were a few miscommunications. It looks like she’s already realised that there’s so much freaking talent on her team she doesn’t need to do anything too outlandish. Just fill your role, rook.

 

—–

 

New York Liberty 75 @ Connecticut Sun 54

 

Lineups: Spanish ‘rookie’ (it’s her first year in the WNBA, but she’s 27) Anna Cruz got the start at the point for New York (so much for Cappie Pondexter at ‘lead guard’). DeLisha Milton-Jones was at power forward despite Plenette Pierson being in uniform and seeing a few minutes of action. Pierson doesn’t look physically ready to play starter minutes yet.

The perimeter of Alex Bentley, Allison Hightower and Katie Douglas was about what we expected from Connecticut, but Kelsey Griffin started in the frontcourt next to Chiney Ogwumike. Kelsey Bone and Ogwumike will surely be the best frontcourt pairing this franchise can offer over the course of the season.

 

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WNBA 2014 Last Minute Awards and Season Predictions

 

MVP

It seems like a relatively short list of candidates this year, compared to usual. Someone like Tina Charles or Tamika Catchings might be in the fold again if their teams do surprisingly well, but otherwise I see five likely possibilities: Elena Delle Donne in Chicago; Angel McCoughtry in Atlanta; Maya Moore in Minnesota; Candace Parker (again) in LA; and Diana Taurasi in Phoenix.

 

Parker and maybe Taurasi are likely to see their raw stats fall a little due to extra help around them, which would diminish their chances. By contrast, Moore and Delle Donne are starting the season on teams with injury problems, which could lead to more shots and improved raw production. McCoughtry’s efficiency might improve slightly if Michael Cooper can restrain her wilder tendencies.

 

I’ll take Maya Moore. So close to the award last year, still improving as a player, and with Brunson hurt to start the year she could be taking even more shots this season. McCoughtry second choice because her team should probably win more games than Delle Donne’s if Fowles is out for a while.

 
Defensive Player of the Year

Fowles missing the start of the season and Catchings getting older means we might end up with a brand new winner in this category. Brittney Griner’s a possibility if Brondello harnesses her, and because she’ll pile up blocks and voters like stats. But my guess is that they’ll decide it’s Angel McCoughtry‘s turn, and she’ll have the steal numbers to entice the voters. Note: this is who I think will win, not who I’d vote for – the number of plays McCoughtry takes off, and the fact that the Dream have always kept her away from the tougher assignments, would keep me away from voting for her unless there’s a new attitude this year.

 

All-Defensive First Team

Armintie Herrington
Tanisha Wright
Angel McCoughtry
Tamika Catchings
Brittney Griner

 

All-Defensive Second Team

Allison Hightower
Briann January
Candace Parker (again, who I expect, not who I’d vote for)
Jayne Appel
Tina Charles

 

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WNBA 2014 In-Depth Previews: Tulsa Shock

 

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.

 

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WNBA 2014 In-Depth Previews: Seattle Storm

 

Sue Bird/Temeka Johnson
Tanisha Wright/Jenna O’Hea
Noelle Quinn/Shekinna Stricklen/Alysha Clark
Crystal Langhorne/Nicole Powell
Camille Little/Angel Robinson

That’s it for now. When your roster is old, it tends to be expensive – hence why they can only fit 11 players under the salary cap.

 

Significant additions: Bird back from injury, Langhorne, O’Hea, Robinson if they’re really lucky, Powell if this is at least five years ago
Significant losses: Another shred of hope that Lauren Jackson will ever play in the WNBA again, Tina Thompson, Tianna Hawkins

—–

 

I may have been the only person on Earth who predicted the Storm would make the playoffs last season (I kept pointing it out when analysts claimed no one had, because it’s nice to be right once in a blue moon). They made it by clawing their way to frequently ugly wins, slowing games down and grinding out enough points to sneak over the line. This year’s squad is probably more talented overall, but Brian Agler is going to have to pull off a similar trick to keep them around .500 and chasing the playoffs again. It might not be pretty, but the Storm never go away without a fight.

 

There are two major additions to last year’s team, one through a return to health and one via trade. Point guard Sue Bird has been a leader on this team for a decade, but missed the whole of last season due to a knee injury. Temeka Johnson was a useful replacement, but Agler and Storm fans will be delighted to have one of their favourite daughters back on the floor. Bird’s a smart, heady player, Agler’s ‘coach on the floor’, who’s also known for her tendency to step up and make big time shots when they’re required. Even if she’s not as quick as she once was, or as fearless driving into traffic, she knows how to affect a game (and unlike many players returning from injury for the 2014 WNBA season, she’s been playing in Europe so there’s greater certainty that she’s physically ready).

 

Crystal Langhorne is the entirely new addition, acquired in return for Tianna Hawkins and the #7 pick in the draft (which was Bria Hartley for Washington’s purposes, but reportedly would’ve been the injured Natalia Achonwa if Seattle had kept it). Seattleites are going to enjoy Langhorne. She’s a hard-working, physical post who likes to score in the paint but can hit jumpers out to the elbow as well. With Lauren Jackson missing once again due to a combination of the need for rest and national team commitments, Langhorne gives them a post they can run their offense through. She’s a very different player from the retired Tina Thompson – Lang won’t be setting up for any 28-foot threes – but she’s over a decade younger and can be just as effective. Given how little Agler tends to trust youngsters, and the opportunity to acquire an all-star calibre post, it was a trade they had to make.

 

Bird can be a useful option off the ball as well as running the offense, so we’ll likely see her playing alongside Johnson at times, or just sliding over like the old days while Tanisha Wright runs the point. Wright is still one of the better perimeter defenders in the league, and a capable scorer when the mood strikes her. She and Bird have developed good chemistry over the years, and it’ll be nice to see them reunited. The other definitive starter will be Camille Little, a reliable and versatile post who can defend virtually anyone and provide her share of production in the paint. It might take a little while to develop the Langhorne/Little pairing so that they’re complementary rather than getting in each other’s way, but they’re both smart enough to work it out.

 

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WNBA 2014 In-Depth Previews: San Antonio Stars

 

Danielle Robinson/Davellyn Whyte
Becky Hammon/Jia Perkins/Heather Butler
Kayla McBride/Shenise Johnson/Shameka Christon
Sophia Young-Malcolm
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.

 

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WNBA 2014 In-Depth Previews: Phoenix Mercury

 

Erin Phillips/Tiffany Bias
Diana Taurasi/Anete Jekabsone-Zogota/Shay Murphy
DeWanna Bonner/Penny Taylor
Candice Dupree/Mistie Bass
Brittney Griner/Ewelina Kobryn

 

Significant additions: Phillips, Bass, Jekabsone-Zogota, Murphy, maybe more from Taylor, new head coach Sandy Brondello
Significant losses: Briana Gilbreath, Krystal Thomas, Charde Houston, Alexis Hornbuckle and Lynetta Kizer are all gone – but like the changes in LA, no one’s exactly weeping for what’s been lost

—–

 

After being the darlings of many experts and fans in preseason a year ago, the Mercury have been lost in the shuffle a little bit this time around. The Lynx have the proven track record, LA have the new owners and refreshed depth, even New York and Atlanta have engendered more discussion with their changes since last year. But like the Sparks, Phoenix have retained their core while rebuilding the pieces around them and attempting to upgrade the supporting players. They’ve got a new head coach in place from the start this time – rather than finally realising they needed to make that change in midseason – and Brittney Griner’s got a year under her belt as a pro. Maybe coming at this season as a little bit of an underdog is just what they need.

 

The first and most important addition – the only one who’ll start, barring injuries – was Aussie point guard Erin Phillips. After spending last season with Diana Taurasi constantly on the ball running the offense – because there was no one else around who was a viable option – the key need in the offseason was someone else who could handle the point guard spot, and hopefully hit some open shots. Phillips should be a good fit. She’s not a pure point by any means, but she’s feisty, she’s quick, she can get the ball up the floor, and she’s a 38% three-point shooter over her WNBA career (including 45% over her last three seasons). That’s just about exactly what Phoenix needed, especially considering they’re in win-now mode, and there wouldn’t have been anyone available at the 9th pick in the draft (the pick they traded for Phillips) who could’ve filled the spot to the same standard.

 

Health is going to play a major role in determining how good Phoenix can be this season. That’s always true for every team in this league, of course, but it’s more of a concern for the Mercury than most of the others. Phillips battled knee problems last season, being troubled by recurring pain even once she returned from a torn meniscus. Griner kept picking up minor issues that limited her play and prevented her from settling in as a pro. And of course, Penny Taylor is a constant question mark at this stage in her career. Apparently Taylor’s been a participant in much of their preseason work and is looking good, but won’t start the season in uniform. We’ve heard the ‘looking good’ and ‘returning soon’ messages with Penny so many times now that it’s hard to take them seriously until we actually see her on the floor, and even then there’ll be constant fears that she’ll break down. She was a wonderful player in her prime, capable of doing pretty much everything from either forward spot, but sadly that player is probably gone. Still, if she can get healthy enough to provide solid backup minutes late in the season and into the playoffs, she could be a significant contributor to the Mercury’s success again. But it’s reached the point where no one’s counting on it.

 

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WNBA 2014 In-Depth Previews: Minnesota Lynx

 

Lindsay Whalen/Lindsey Moore
Seimone Augustus/Monica Wright/Tan White
Maya Moore/Tricia Liston
Rebekkah Brunson/Devereaux Peters/Asia Taylor
Janel McCarville/Damiris Dantas

 

Significant additions: White, Dantas, Liston, more jewelry
Significant losses: Injury luck (Brunson, Wright and Peters all out to start the season due to knee surgeries)

—–

 

At some point, there’s not much more to say about the Minnesota Lynx. If you’re reading this, you probably watched them play last year, and the year before, and the year before that – you’ve seen how overwhelming they can be. Their top seven players from last year’s charge to another championship all return, and they’ll be looking to do it all over again. They were easily the best offensive team in the league last year, and their usual cohesive selves on the defensive end. Despite the slip-up in the 2012 Finals, this has been the dominant squad in the WNBA for the last three years, and the team everyone else is striving to challenge. Of course, the one thing that can derail any team is faltering health, and you can only stay so lucky for so long. Heading into this season the Lynx already have some injury issues, and Cheryl Reeve and her team are going to have to show they can handle those. That said, it’s a lot better to be working through injuries in May than in September.

 

The physical problems are with Rebekkah Brunson, Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters, all of whom returned from overseas requiring knee surgeries of various descriptions. Brunson could miss at least half the season; the others should be back sooner, but won’t be rushed. The absence of Wright shouldn’t be felt too severely. They still have an all-world trio on the perimeter ahead of her, and they added veteran guard Tan White in free agency who can offer a lot of the same things that Wright provided off the bench – ballhandling, some scoring, an extra dose of attacking off the dribble. The more significant questions arise in the paint, where Peters would’ve been the natural replacement for Brunson – so losing both at the same time complicates matters.

 

One thing Reeve has never been great at is developing her depth and her bench. She plays such a tight rotation that the reserves, beyond a couple, rarely feature in games. Without those opportunities to play in meaningful moments, development can be slow or nonexistent. So the Lynx tend to cycle through backups fairly frequently, searching for the newer, better option behind their stars. Amber Harris is gone this year (to the surprise of no one, and with no one mourning the absence). In her place are rookies Damiris Dantas and Asia Taylor, both of whom will probably get a chance to prove themselves while Brunson and Peters recuperate. Dantas was drafted back in 2012, a Brazilian youngster that the Lynx were willing to wait on. She hasn’t had the greatest couple of season overseas in the time since, but the raw talent they saw in her in the first place is still there – and she’s still only 21. Taylor was the 36th (and final) pick in the most recent draft and doesn’t have the size of Dantas, but could be a more mobile option. We’re also likely to see Maya Moore playing more power forward than usual while Brunson and Peters are out, with White sliding in as an extra guard on the perimeter.

 

The Lynx have never run much of their offense through their post players – or at least when they have it’s usually at least 15 feet from the basket – so the rhythm of their offense shouldn’t be disrupted too much. But they’ll miss Brunson’s activity and rebounding, the chemistry won’t be quite as good with important pieces missing, and the defensive cohesion is likely to take a hit. Reeve and her assistants will have some work to do early in the season to keep the machine running as smoothly as it typically has in the past.

 

Which isn’t to say that this team is exactly in need of anyone’s prayers. They still have probably the best perimeter trio in the history of the WNBA in Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, which is a pretty nice foundation to work with whoever the hell is playing in the post. Whalen is a strong, smart point guard, running the offense exactly as Reeve wants it, and willing to drive into the teeth of the defense for her own points when her team needs it. Augustus has one of the purest jump shots you’re ever likely to see, and scores with remarkable efficiency for someone who takes most of her shots from at least 15 feet out. Moore has slowly taken over from Augustus as the brightest light among this star-studded team. Like Augustus she’s an outstanding jumpshooter, and actually has a little more range, which makes her even more productive. Moore also fills the stat sheet in other areas to a greater extent than Augustus, piling up rebounds, assists, steals and even a few blocks to go with the scoring. She easily could’ve taken the league MVP award ahead of Candace Parker last season.

 

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WNBA 2014 In-Depth Previews: Los Angeles Sparks

 

Lindsey Harding/Candice Wiggins
Kristi Toliver/Armintie Herrington
Alana Beard/Farhiya Abdi
Nneka Ogwumike/Sandrine Gruda
Candace Parker/Jantel Lavender/Nikki Greene

That’s it. This vet-laden team couldn’t even dream of fitting a 12th player in under the salary cap.

 

Significant additions: Gruda, Herrington, Wiggins
Significant losses: Marissa Coleman, Jenna O’Hea, Ebony Hoffman and A’dia Mathies are all gone. No one’s too upset.

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The Sparks were a very good team last year. They had their flaws, and some ugly nights, but based on points per possession over the course of the regular season they were the second-best offensive team in the league, and the second-best defensive team. Of course, with the way American sports works, their season was defined by the disappointing first-round playoff exit at the hands of Phoenix, rather than any success they’d had before that point. Even worse than an upset playoff defeat, the franchise looked like it might be dropping out of existence – or at least moving to a different city – during the offseason. Then a new ownership group led by Magic Johnson swooped in to save them and keep them in LA, and the planning for the 2014 season began. Being the Sparks, of course, they weren’t content to bring everybody back and try again with what they had. They were going to go out and pursue as many veteran upgrades as they could possibly acquire, to make the squad as imposing as possible. And it worked. They’re deeper and scarier than ever with a significantly improved bench, and they’ll be taking another run at the Western Conference. Anything less than a championship will be a disappointment – again – for this group.

 

The core of last year’s strong squad remains intact – the five starters and first post off the bench all return – but first let’s look at what they’ve added. On the perimeter Candice Wiggins and Armintie Herrington came over from Tulsa and Atlanta respectively to deepen their options. Wiggins hasn’t developed into quite the player she once looked like she might become, and she didn’t have a great season with the Shock last year. But she’s still an energetic defender, can do a serviceable job at either guard spot, and she can still knock down open threes at a pretty good rate – and this roster needed someone besides Kristi Toliver who could do that, especially after letting Marissa Coleman and Jenna O’Hea leave. Wiggins is also a player who might not have looked great as a starter that was expected to help lead Tulsa out of the basement, but will look like a luxury bonus coming off the bench in LA. Herrington can’t shoot, but she can run like the wind and she’s an elite perimeter defender. She has a history with Sparks head coach Carol Ross, so it wasn’t a big surprise to see them reunited, except that fewer minutes might be on offer for her in LA than were available with the Dream. In fact, one of the few problems Ross might have with this roster is keeping everyone happy with enough playing time. They’ll be hoping that winning will keep everyone content regardless of how the minutes are distributed.

 

They added a nice piece in the paint as well, with French post Sandrine Gruda making her return to the WNBA after three years away. Gruda’s a long, talented player at either spot down low, with some range on her shot and useful mobility. She’s also played alongside Sparks superstar Candace Parker with UMMC Ekaterinburg for several years now in Europe, so the chemistry should already be there. Considering the pairing of Parker and Nneka Ogwumike was already one of the strongest in the WNBA, with center Jantel Lavender a very useful third option, adding Gruda makes LA’s post rotation start to look a little ridiculous. Ross should be able to rotate them enough to keep everyone fresh and constantly on the attack, and they should be able to exploit opposing benches. The starters have to rest at some point for their opponents, and during those sequences LA should have significantly more interior talent on the floor than practically any team in the league.

 

That’s why adding these new pieces makes the Sparks look so imposing – they were already so good, and the meaningful pieces are all back (and all healthy, as far as we know). Parker won the MVP award again last year, carrying the offense at times with her all-around game and remarkable agility for her size. She has her flaws defensively, but when she’s in full flow there aren’t many offensive talents in the women’s game on her level. Ogwumike continues to quietly develop into an all-star calibre talent alongside her, leaping out of the gym to grab rebounds and scoring efficiently in the paint whenever she gets the chance. Lavender has been somewhat inconsistent as a pro, unguardable one night and invisible the next, but part of that comes down to the talent in front of her keeping her off the floor. She’s a big body with range to 15 feet who gives a slightly different look from the others, and she can affect games when given the chance.

 

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