2015 WNBA Season Previews: Washington Mystics

 

PG: Ivory Latta/Bria Hartley

SG: Kara Lawson/Tayler Hill/Natasha Cloud

SF: Armintie Herrington/Tierra Ruffin-Pratt

PF: Emma Meesseman/Ally Malott/Kayla Thornton

C: Kia Vaughn/Stefanie Dolson

 

Significant additions: Herrington, maybe Cloud, Hill or Malott if they’re lucky.

Significant losses: Monique Currie, Tianna Hawkins.

 

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Last but decidedly not least in the East, the little team that could. Since Mike Thibault arrived in Washington before the 2013 season, the Mystics have been finding ways to win games without any real stars. They play as a collective unit, they find the right matchups on any given night, and they claw out enough wins to hang around in the playoff picture. The roster still looks short of the elite talent that’s typically necessary to challenge for a championship, but there’s no reason to expect them to lose that competitive edge that we’ve consistently seen for the last couple of years.

 

They re-signed Ivory Latta, who provides a lot of their energy from the point guard spot and can explode for points in a hurry. Bria Hartley had a promising rookie season either alongside Latta or backing her up. Kara Lawson is a veteran presence and can still light it up from outside if she can stay healthy. They’ll also be hoping that Tayler Hill, who was a disappointment as a rookie after being taken #4 overall in 2013, can bounce back after missing most of last season due to pregnancy. Considering how ineffective she was even before the baby it might be a vain hope, but anything she can offer would be a bonus. Thibault has also had plenty of positive things to say about rookie wing Natasha Cloud.

 

The small forward spot is where we’ll see the most transition for the Mystics, after Monique Currie left in free agency. Armintie Herrington was signed to help fill the gap, and her defensive energy will fit right in (although her complete lack of a jump shot will be as much of an issue as it’s always been). Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is also still around, after learning from Currie for a couple of seasons. They might miss the one or two games a month where Currie would break out and remind everyone what she was capable of, but otherwise the changeover should be fairly smooth.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: New York Liberty

 

PG: Tanisha Wright/Brittany Boyd

SG: Epiphanny Prince/Candice Wiggins/Sugar Rodgers

SF: Essence Carson/Rebecca Allen

PF: Tina Charles/Swin Cash

C: Kiah Stokes/Carolyn Swords/Avery Warley-Talbert

 

Significant additions: If everything goes to plan, Prince, Wright, Boyd, Stokes, Allen, Wiggins and Swords. There’s been a lot of turnover in New York.

Significant losses: Cappie Pondexter, Plenette Pierson, Anna Cruz, Alex Montgomery, and any fans who can’t stomach giving money to an organisation run by Isiah Thomas.

 

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It’s been a bizarre, tumultuous offseason in New York – and that’s before you even consider that they eventually turned over more than half the roster. First Bill Laimbeer was let go, then he was brought back again when they couldn’t come up with a preferable alternative. Then the roster moves started to happen, turning an aging, fraying roster into one that at least has a little youth and energy to take heart from. Then the Isiah Thomas story exploded, and became all anyone wanted to talk about in relation to the Liberty. The League are still assessing whether they’re going to allow Thomas to become part-owner of the franchise, but hopefully the team have been able to put all those distractions aside and prepare to actually play some basketball. For the rest of this piece at least, we’ll focus on their prospects on the court.

 

The first move they made was perhaps the most significant, shipping the face of the franchise Cappie Pondexter to Chicago in a straight-up trade for Epiphanny Prince. They’re somewhat similar players, perimeter scorers who like to have the ball in their hands, although Prince has never reached the heights that Cappie ascended to at her peak. But the primary effect of the trade is the clear statement that this is now Tina Charles’s team. Realistically that was already the case, but with Cappie gone Charles has to know that the buck now stops with her. She’s capable of carrying that load, and seemed to settle in as her first season in New York progressed last year. But she does still have a tendency to slip too far away from the basket and rely on her mid-range shot, which needs to be the secondary option after punishing teams inside, not the first choice.

 

Beyond Charles, there’s talent on this roster, but questions abound. Can the collection of backups, youngsters and retreads do a good enough job filling the post spot next to Charles? Is Essence Carson ever going to bounce back to anything like the player she once was? Between the swath of veteran combo-guards and rookie point guard Brittany Boyd, can they combine to run a cohesive offense? Are there enough players on the roster who can hit a shot to keep defenses away from swamping Charles in traffic? It’s a long list, and even Laimbeer probably isn’t too sure about the answers just yet.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: Indiana Fever

 

PG: Briann January/Layshia Clarendon

SG: Shavonte Zellous/Shenise Johnson/Maggie Lucas

SF: Marissa Coleman/Briana Butler/Jeanette Pohlen

PF: Tamika Catchings/Natasha Howard/Lynetta Kizer

C: Erlana Larkins/Natalie Achonwa

 

Significant additions: Johnson, Achonwa.

Significant losses: Lin Dunn and Lin Dunn’s accent, Karima Christmas, Zellous for a month while she represents Croatia at EuroBasket Women 2015.

 

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A little like Atlanta, Indiana are one of the traditionally strong Eastern teams and are largely relying on their established core to carry them again in 2015. They’ve made some tweaks around the edges, signing Marissa Coleman and drafting Natasha Howard last year, adding Shenise Johnson and Natalie Achonwa for this season, but the heart remains the same. Head coach Lin Dunn may have stepped down, but the expectation from the Fever hasn’t changed. We’ll see a hard-nosed, gritty team that builds from their aggressive defense, and Tamika Catchings will still be front and center leading the way.

 

Catchings has set an end date for her glittering career, signing a two-year contract in the offseason and stating that she’ll retire when it’s completed. She’s also suffered with injuries in recent years, and skipped Indiana’s preseason games. It’s like she knows there are only so many minutes left in her body, so she’s trying to portion them out efficiently. And despite her aging limbs, the success of the Fever still depends heavily on how much Catchings herself can offer. If she can stay healthy all season, and more importantly be 100% to lead them in the playoffs, Indiana are always a dangerous opponent.

 

She does have some help, but as we saw last season it’s not always that reliable. Shavonte Zellous has become a useful scorer from the shooting guard spot, although they’ll have to cope without her for the first few weeks of the season while she represents Croatia in EuroBasket Women. Briann January can hit an open shot from outside (fortunately, because her finishing at the rim often leaves plenty to be desired) and is a versatile and physical perimeter defender. Erlana Larkins has also become a strong complement for Catchings in the post, battling bigger opponents in the paint and often outfighting them for rebounds (although like Catchings she missed Indiana’s preseason games, which is a little worrying). The pairing often leaves the Fever undersized inside, but they make up for it with their mobility and defensive cohesion.

 

Beyond that core, it’s hard to know what they’ll get from the remainder of the roster. Multiple injuries in previous years have given their bench players the opportunities to step forward, but few have really flourished in those situations. They asked more of Coleman than she was capable of last season, which backfired and often led to her forcing too many shots. Hopefully the addition of Shenise Johnson as an alternative on the perimeter, and ideally some growth from the likes of Maggie Lucas and Layshia Clarendon, will take the pressure off. Although January better stay healthy, because Clarendon has been a disaster as a point guard in her first two WNBA seasons and they’ve left themselves without any other real alternative as January’s backup.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: Connecticut Sun

 

PG: Chelsea Gray/Jasmine Thomas

SG: Alex Bentley/Kelly Faris/Inga Orekhova

SF: Alyssa Thomas/Shekinna Stricklen

PF: Camille Little/Kayla Pedersen/(Chiney Ogwumike)

C: Kelsey Bone/Elizabeth Williams

 

Significant additions: Little, Stricklen, Gray, J.Thomas, Williams.

Significant losses: Chiney Ogwumike, Katie Douglas, Allison Hightower, Kelsey Griffin, Renee Montgomery.

 

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Ugh. That’s a lot of turnover, and a lot of losses, for a team that was pretty terrible already for the majority of last season. Chiney Ogwumike, last season’s Rookie of the Year and the leading sign of hope for this franchise, hurt her knee overseas and required microfracture surgery in January. They have some hope that she’ll play this season, but they absolutely should not rush her back. Veteran wing Katie Douglas decided that her back just wasn’t ready to stand up to another WNBA season, and called it quits on a successful career. Allison Hightower, who’s been blighted by injuries for a few years now, will miss the entire season due to knee surgery, while backup post Kelsey Griffin was released after a hip injury that also required surgery. The Sun have added a few pieces via trades and the draft, but Anne Donovan has shown few signs in recent years of being able to coax her teams into becoming more than the sum of their parts. If she fails in that endeavour again, this team is destined for their third trip to the lottery in her three years in Connecticut.

 

There are still some pieces on this team that could make them interesting and dangerous on any given night. There’s a youthful perimeter, where they’ll be hoping that Alyssa Thomas will make a leap after an inconsistent rookie season. She’s clearly got skills, with unusual size and strength for a perimeter player who can handle the ball, but her lack of a jump shot was a big issue in her first season. Hopefully she’s been working on that. Scoring guard Alex Bentley won’t have to play as much at the point this year, with mediocre-but-reliable Jasmine Thomas picked up in a trade, and Chelsea Gray making her debut after missing the 2014 season due to injury. They also have Shekinna Stricklen, acquired in a trade with Seattle, to offer some size and shooting from the perimeter. None of them are stars – although the Sun hope that Alyssa Thomas and Gray might approach that status some day – but there’s some talent there. It’s just a case of how much they can produce on a nightly basis, and whether Donovan can find the right mesh between them.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: Chicago Sky

 

PG: Courtney Vandersloot/Jamierra Faulkner

SG: Cappie Pondexter/Allie Quigley/Jackie Gemelos

SF: Tamera Young/Betnijah Laney

PF: Elena Delle Donne/Jessica Breland/Clarissa dos Santos

C: Cheyenne Parker/Sasha Goodlett/Victoria Macaulay

 

Significant additions: Pondexter, and hopefully Parker.

Significant losses: Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince

 

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After the quiet of Atlanta, now we move on to the storm of Chicago. They’d already made one of the biggest transactions of the offseason, swapping shooting guards with New York to bring in Cappie Pondexter for Epiphanny Prince. Then around the draft news finally broke that star center Sylvia Fowles had asked for a trade, and wouldn’t be playing in the league at all unless her request was fulfilled. It later emerged that Minnesota appeared to be her desired destination. Sky head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman decided that she didn’t like any of the offers on the table for Fowles, and would rather let her sit on her couch and rot than trade her for whatever she could get. That leaves Chicago with a talented roster that still looks threatening, but a big hole in the middle and only question marks to fill it with.

 

First let’s start with the good news. That begins with Elena Delle Donne, who spent the entire offseason in the US rather than overseas like most of the rest of the league, and appears to have recovered from the various injuries she was fighting through by the end of last season. Her well-documented battles with Lyme disease always make her something of a health risk, but when she’s on the court she’s an unguardable offensive force who can score from anywhere and rack up points in a hurry. They’ll need her to take on a heavier load with Fowles out, but the offense may open up a little without a star post constantly demanding the ball down low. If she plays 34 games, Delle Donne in an MVP candidate.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: Atlanta Dream

 

We’re back again for another year, and with the 2015 WNBA season tipping off on Friday night it’s time for the usual slate of WNBAlien team-by-team previews. As tradition dictates, we go in alphabetical order, with the Eastern Conference up first. Please enjoy, and feel free to comment, argue, praise or criticise. You can use the comment section below, or tweet at @RichardCohen1.
 
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PG: Shoni Schimmel/Samantha Logic

SG: Tiffany Hayes/Matee Ajavon/Erica Wheeler

SF: Angel McCoughtry/Roneeka Hodges

PF: Sancho Lyttle/DeLisha Milton-Jones

C: Erika de Souza/Aneika Henry/Nadia Colhado

 

Significant additions: Logic, they hope, and a little shooting from Hodges.

Significant losses: Jasmine Thomas, Celine Dumerc (at least for a while) and maybe Lyttle for a few weeks.

 
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Amid a surprisingly eventful and newsworthy WNBA offseason elsewhere, our previews begin with a team that have done very, very little. The Dream have created some question marks around who’s going to be running the offense and how well it will be done, but otherwise they’ve essentially brought back the group that finished 19-15 last season atop the Eastern Conference, before being upset in the first round of the playoffs by Chicago. In some ways it’s understandable, because the Dream have been one of the most dangerous teams in the East ever since Angel McCoughtry arrived in town. But it’s a little disappointing that they didn’t do more to strengthen their squad and excite their fans for the 2015 season.

 

The core of the team that’s still in place means Atlanta should remain one of the best teams in the East, assuming they stay healthy. McCoughtry’s the driving force, an athletic rim-attacker who still forces too many shots under pressure from outside, but can often carry the offense herself. Tiffany Hayes has developed into a strong running mate for McCoughtry on the other wing, while the post pairing of Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza remains one of the strongest in the league (albeit starting to look a tiny bit long in the tooth). Last season under Michael Cooper they pushed the ball even more than in previous years, leading the league by a mile in pace, and there’s no reason to expect them to change. They’ll be aggressive defensively, flying around for steals and trying to break out, and they’ll run the other way at every opportunity.

 
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The Daily W, 08/08/2014

 

Technical difficulties – i.e. my internet service broke down – mean that I havent finished watching the Phoenix-San Antonio matchup from last night. Coverage of that game will be included in tomorrow’s column.

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Chicago Sky 64 @ Minnesota Lynx 74

 

Lineups: Same groups as in recent games for both teams, with Elena Delle Donne continuing to come off the bench for Chicago. Backup point guard Nadirah McKenith got to join in with the Lynx this time because the contest was in Minnesota, so they didn’t have to shell out for a plane ticket to get her to the game.

 

Story of the Game: The first half was an ugly offensive display, largely because neither team could hit a shot. Chicago in particular rained down bricks aplenty, with often fairly decent looks just repeatedly clanging off the iron. Minnesota did a better job of penetrating and attacking the basket, but still struggled to convert their chances and maintain any kind of meaningful advantage. Holding Minnesota to 30 points in the first half would’ve been considered a significant success by Pokey Chatman – the fact that the Sky were six points behind at halftime anyway would’ve been less pleasing.

When Epiphanny Prince finally started hitting shots in the third quarter, Chicago’s offense started to pick up steam. In the first half, Allie Quigley and Jessica Breland had been the only players making anything for the Sky, with Delle Donne looking tired and Sylvia Fowles barely an option due to early foul trouble. Prince gave Chicago a driving force, and the Lynx started to look vulnerable. They still weren’t hitting shots, weren’t imposing themselves on the game in their typical manner, and ESPN2 were having to make heavy use of their five-second delay whenever they went to the mic on Cheryl Reeve.

But without Prince getting a lot of help, Chicago only gained a narrow lead in the third quarter, and Minnesota finally joined the party in the fourth. Lindsay Whalen started things off, pushing the ball hard and attacking the basket to give them an alternative to all the jumpers they’d been missing all night. But after that, it was shocking how many layups the Lynx managed to create down the stretch. Crisper, smarter ball movement shifted the ball away from rotating defenders into the open player to finish off plays. But with Quigley hitting shots and her teammates chipping in, the game still came down to the final moments.

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