2016 WNBA Team Previews: New York Liberty

 

PG: Brittany Boyd/Lindsey Harding/Shoni Schimmel

SG: Tanisha Wright/Sugar Rodgers/Ameryst Alston/(Epiphanny Prince)

SF: Shavonte Zellous

PF: Tina Charles/Adut Bulgak

C: Kiah Stokes/Amanda Zahui B./Carolyn Swords

Presumably, Prince will be temporarily suspended, allowing the Liberty to carry 12 players plus her. They have the cap space to manage that, thanks to the youth of much of the roster.


Significant additions
: Zellous as a free agent from Indiana, Harding as a vet option to help at the point, and both Schimmel and Zahui B in trades for minimal cost during training camp.

Significant losses: Prince tore her ACL overseas and is far and away the most meaningful loss. Essence Carson left for LA and Candice Wiggins retired, but neither will be hugely missed. Swin Cash was a late cut when the roster crowding forced a tough decision.


Overview

The Liberty were a surprise last season. After a couple of years in the lottery, then an offseason of turmoil where head coach Bill Laimbeer was fired and re-hired, and Isiah Thomas joined the front office, few were expecting such a dramatic turnaround. But Laimbeer finally got his squad playing as a unit, hit a shock home run in the draft with Kiah Stokes to help knit together a league-leading defense, and somehow they finished with the best record in the entire WNBA. It all ended in disappointment when Indiana upset them in the Eastern Conference Finals, but overall it was a dramatic step forward from where they’d been. Now the question is whether they can repeat the trick, and how much damage Prince’s injury will do to their prospects.

Tina Charles remains the fulcrum for everything New York does offensively, and while she still had her moments of drifting too far away from the basket and firing bad shots last season, it was better than in the previous couple. But the loss of Prince could hurt her, allowing defenses to pay even more attention to collapsing around her and forcing her teammates to make shots. Zellous was the best replacement they could’ve hoped for in free agency, with players of her calibre rarely available on the open market in this league, but they’ll need the Zellous of a couple of years ago to return. Last season she was limited by injuries and an aborted trip overseas, and never really got going.

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2016 WNBA Team Previews: Indiana Fever

 

PG: Briann January/Erica Wheeler/Brene Moseley

SG: Shenise Johnson/Tiffany Mitchell/Maggie Lucas

SF: Marissa Coleman

PF: Tamika Catchings/Devereaux Peters/Lynetta Kizer

C: Erlana Larkins/Natalie Achonwa

And that’s it. Thank you Indiana for being the rare team that makes their cuts early enough for me to preview the actual roster. Unless they cut one of the guards to save cash and preserve some extra flexibility.


Significant additions
: Mitchell adds to the guard corps, Peters to the posts. That’s it.

Significant losses: Shavonte Zellous left for nothing in free agency (and I’m still not really sure why they didn’t core her and extract some value in a trade); they gave up on Natasha Howard to acquire Peters; and Layshia Clarendon was traded to Atlanta after three years of trying to convert her into something resembling a point guard.


Overview

While she won’t really want it to be, this season will likely be all about Tamika Catchings for the Indiana Fever. When one of the greats announces their retirement with over a season to go, it inevitably becomes something of a farewell tour. But Catch has always been the ultimate competitor and she won’t be fading away with a whimper, or with a trainwreck season like Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (although based on last year, her shooting percentage might not be that much better than Kobe’s). While Catchings remained the leader of this squad last season, for the first time they looked capable of surviving and winning games without her always being at the controls. It looked like the pieces were starting to move into place for when she’s gone. So one last hurrah while she’s still part of the equation is certainly in play.

The Fever haven’t always been the prettiest team to watch in action. While they were one of the first WNBA teams to embrace ‘smallball’ when Catchings slid down to power forward full-time a few years ago, they’ve always been more about guts than glitz. The approach changed a little last year when Stephanie White took over from Lin Dunn, and demanded that her team speed things up a little. They won games with depth, and with contributions from a variety of different places on different nights. Shenise Johnson looked more comfortable and effective than she ever did in three years in San Antonio. Marissa Coleman had her best season in the WNBA in her seventh year. They pieced together a post rotation with the likes of Kizer, Achonwa and Howard helping out a limited Catchings and a beaten up Larkins. It felt like there was smoke and mirrors involved at times, but as the Fever have been doing for over a decade under Catchings’s leadership, they battled through and won games. Then tossed in a playoff run that came up just one game short of another title.

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2016 WNBA Team Previews: Chicago Sky

 

PG: Courtney Vandersloot/Jamierra Faulkner

SG: Cappie Pondexter/Allie Quigley

SF: Elena Delle Donne/Tamera Young/Betnijah Laney

PF: Jessica Breland/Cheyenne Parker

C: Erika de Souza/Imani Boyette/Clarissa Dos Santos

Guard Yvonne Turner is still in camp, but seems unlikely to beat out any of the 12 above.


Significant additions
: Boyette, they hope. That’s literally it.

Significant losses: Also virtually nothing. This is a rinse-and-repeat squad, hoping for internal growth and a little more luck than last year.


Overview

The Sky haven’t changed much from last year because they didn’t feel like they had to. And that’s understandable. Elena Delle Donne made that extra leap from star to MVP, stayed largely healthy over the course of the season, and if that repeats they’ve got every chance to be one of the best teams in the league once again. Courtney Vandersloot has developed into one of the better point guards in the WNBA, both as the manager of Chicago’s offense and as a shooter willing to fire away when the opportunity presents itself. Cappie Pondexter fit in nicely last year as Delle Donne’s second-banana, looking happy to have the weight taken off her shoulders rather than annoyed at no longer being her team’s star. And when they need more perimeter scoring, Allie Quigley’s still there coming off the bench.

The questions for Chicago come on the interior, and at the defensive end. Delle Donne will play plenty of power forward, so they don’t need 80 minutes from their collection of posts, but they do need some modicum of rim protection and an attention to detail that was lacking at times last year. They don’t have the distraction of Sylvia Fowles’s holdout hanging over their heads this year, but they also don’t have anything resembling the interior presence she used to provide. Erika de Souza is back, but looked a shadow of her former self even before being acquired by the Sky midway through last season. Jessica Breland offers some range with her elbow jumper and some hard-nosed play at the 4, but in some ways is an awkward fit with Delle Donne. The superstar’s most effective position, at both ends of the floor, is probably also power forward, so matching up the defensive assignments can be awkward with Delle Donne, Breland and a big all on the floor. Beyond that, you’re hoping for the young bucks to step forward and demand time. Cheyenne Parker showed occasional flashes as a rookie, but little that looked deserving of being the #5 overall pick. Boyette is long and athletic, but looked raw even in college. As in various previous years, Pokey Chatman is going into the season not knowing quite what she’ll get from several pieces, and hoping they add up to enough to get the job done.

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2016 WNBA Team Previews: Connecticut Sun

 

PG: Jasmine Thomas/Rachel Banham

SG: Alex Bentley

SF: Alyssa Thomas/Shekinna Stricklen

PF: Chiney Ogwumike/Camille Little/Morgan Tuck

C: Kelsey Bone/Jonquel Jones/Aneika Henry-Morello

Plus one of the Jamie Weisner, Kelly Faris and Jennifer O’Neill guard trio that are still hanging around in camp.


Significant additions
: The return of Ogwumike from microfracture knee surgery, assuming she’s actually healthy; yet more promising kids in top-six picks Banham, Tuck and Jones; and a new head coach in Curt Miller, replacing the somnolent and unsuccessful Anne Donovan.

Significant losses: They gave up on Chelsea Gray and Elizabeth Williams after only one season, trading them for draft picks. But that’s about it.


Overview

After a great start to last season, the wheels fell off for Connecticut and they regressed back to the messy team we’d been watching ever since the franchise dumped Mike Thibault and handed the reins over to Donovan. But there was positive growth. In the absence of Ogwumike, Kelsey Bone had room to flourish as the main low-post threat, while Alex Bentley had another strong year as the primary scorer on the perimeter. Now with Ogwumike back and yet more young talent piled on what they already had, there are reasons for legitimate optimism around this franchise for the first time in years.

Ogwumike was a star in the making before her knee injury, and if she’s back at anything like 100% she’ll be a big piece of the puzzle for the Sun in the paint. It’s worrying that she hasn’t appeared at all in the preseason, even if the Sun claim they’re just being careful, so it’s a case of waiting to see what she can do. There should be less of a load for her to carry than in her rookie year in 2014, with Bone a distinctly improved player, veteran options like Little and Henry-Morello, and fresh youngsters Tuck and Jones. This could be a deep, powerful rotation inside, health permitting.

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2016 WNBA Team Previews: Atlanta Dream

 

Yes, I’m back, hopefully with more content this year. We’re kicking off with the usual team-by-team previews, in the traditional Eastern Conference first, alphabetical order (even though the WNBA essentially destroyed conferences this offseason – more on that later). Enjoy, and as always feel free to comment underneath or contact me at @RichardCohen1

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PG: Matee Ajavon/Carla Cortijo

SG: Tiffany Hayes/Layshia Clarendon/Meighan Simmons

SF: Angel McCoughtry/Bria Holmes

PF: Sancho Lyttle/Reshanda Gray/Cierra Burdick

C: Elizabeth Williams/Rachel Hollivay


Significant additions
: Williams and Clarendon, to be generous. Cortijo is virtually new after playing two games last year. Holmes was their first-round pick. But nothing much to get excited about.

Significant losses: Shoni Schimmel’s gone, after head coach Michael Cooper finally grew tired of her issues with staying in shape. Damiris Dantas has been suspended for the season, presumably after choosing to stay with the Brazilian national team rather than show up in Atlanta. They also chose not to match the restricted free agent offer sheet Connecticut handed Aneika Henry-Morello.


Overview

The Dream were a mess last year, and there aren’t many signs that they’re likely to drag themselves out of it in 2016. McCoughtry’s a star, Hayes and Lyttle are two very good pieces, and there are some youngsters dotted around that might make progress, but you need to be a distinct optimist to be hopeful about their upcoming season. The revolving door at point guard remains a gaping question mark, with no one quite sure how Cooper’s going to try to fill it. In recent days they waived a couple of drafted options in Niya Johnson and Ariel Massengale, picked up another off waivers in Jordan Jones (before waiving her as well), and traded for a pseudo-point in Layshia Clarendon. All after dumping Schimmel for a second-round pick to New York. Ajavon isn’t a point guard, Cortijo’s a virtual unknown, and if they’ve signed a couple more options by the time you’re reading this it wouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a shambles.

In an Olympic year they’re also likely to lose Lyttle for several games midseason to help Spain qualify, assuming she shows up in the first place (having already lost fellow post Damiris Dantas to Brazil). They sent the 4th overall pick in the draft, who could’ve provided some hope and excitement for the fan-base, to Connecticut for Elizabeth Williams. After giving up on the deteriorating Erika de Souza last season, the Dream needed a new option at center, but Williams looked pretty ordinary in her rookie year with the Sun last season. She’ll probably fill the hole well enough, but dumping the #4 pick for her was a high price to pay.

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FIBA World Championship for Women preview podcast, featuring WNBAlien

 

Yes, another chance to hear my dulcet tones, this time previewing the women’s World Championships which begin tomorrow. David Siegel was kind enough to invite me back to his Dishin & Swishin podcast to talk about the teams, players, groups and everything else surrounding the upcoming tournament – including whether anyone can beat Team USA.

Follow the link below to head to the piece, and click any of the play options at the top of the article to listen.

http://www.hoopfeed.com/content/2014/09/25/dishin-swishin-092514-podcast-a-look-at-the-2014-fiba-world-championship-for-women/

 

2014 WNBA Finals Preview: Phoenix Mercury vs Chicago Sky – Part Three: Areas to Watch, Overview and Prediction

 

Storylines and Key Areas

 

It was covered in the previous section, but health is obviously vital. Delle Donne’s back problem is the major concern, but Chicago also have Breland likely rushing back from her shoulder injury faster than normal because they needed her, and Vandersloot has struggled to stay in front of anyone defensively since returning from her knee problem. Phoenix’s core group have been remarkably healthy all season long, which has played an important role in their dominance. Look back through the WNBA champions, and you tend to find teams whose key players were fit and available all season long. That said, while the Mercury have a few decent contributors off their bench, an injury to Griner or Taurasi would change everything in an instant for them. Chicago can at least claim to be prepared for how they’d play with virtually any injury or absence – because they’ve been through them all at some point this season.

 

Rebounding. Oddly enough, over the entire regular season, these were two of the three-worst rebounding teams in the WNBA (Seattle were rock bottom, Phoenix 11th and Chicago 10th). Most of the Mercury’s negative numbers came on the offensive glass – they eschewed chasing offensive boards in favour of making sure they got back in transition and set their defense. Chicago were pretty bad on both ends, for a variety of reasons. Fowles missed time hurt, Delle Donne got sick and then played nominal power forward while mostly out on the perimeter, their defensive help schemes often rotate people out of rebounding position, and their perimeter players offer very little rebounding help to their posts. So where’s the edge going to be? When two teams are playing, the rebounding percentages have to add up to 100% one way or another. Chicago won’t want to give up any cheap points, so they’ll be looking to get back quickly in transition as well, but they need to attack the glass. They lost the hustle and energy battle to Indiana at several points in the Eastern Finals, and it almost cost them the series. They’re already likely to lose out in too many areas to Phoenix, so they need to outwork the Mercury for things like offensive boards, loose balls and deflections.

 

That links into the topic of fast breaks and transition points. Despite both of these teams having some outstanding athletes, neither of them actually runs all that much. And both defenses are based more around containment and contesting shots than forcing steals and getting out on the break. So it’s another area where you could look to surprise. Phoenix will use their length to press ballhandlers like Vandersloot and Quigley at times, while players like Prince and Young will look to poke their hands into passing lanes for steals on occasion. Again, Chicago need cheap points. They have to look for every little edge they can get.

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