Grading the Trade: On a Wing and a Prayer

The Los Angeles Sparks trade Noelle Quinn to the Washington Mystics for Marissa Coleman.

The first move of the WNBA free agency signing period turned out to be a trade that would’ve been perfectly legal back before free agency started. LA and Washington decided that their underperforming backup wings might do better if they swapped them around, so Noelle Quinn and Marissa Coleman both face a change of scenery next season. Given how they played in 2011, it probably can’t hurt.

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WNBAlien Special – Grading the Trade: Mercury swap starting PG for 4th-worst player in WNBA

Okay, so the headline is a little bit reductive. But for those who believe in John Hollinger’s PER statistic, that’s precisely what happened yesterday when the Phoenix Mercury traded Temeka Johnson straight up for Andrea Riley of the Tulsa Shock. Of the 121 players who appeared for at least 150 minutes in the WNBA last season, Riley rated 118th. And for those who’ve read my columns over the last year or two, you’ll be aware that 118th might actually be slightly higher than I’d rank her. So what on Earth possessed the Mercury to make this move?

In fairness to Phoenix, Johnson hasn’t exactly been lighting it up herself for the last couple of years. After arriving as Kelly Miller’s replacement in 2009 and playing her part in the charge to a championship, TJ’s effectiveness has diminished in the last two seasons. While she retained her starting spot, she was often sat on the bench in crunch time when head coach Corey Gaines went to bigger lineups, and her scoring average dropped three full points to only six per game in 2011. And that’s before we even consider her matador brand of defense, which occasionally stood out even among the deplorable Mercury team defense as especially poor. However, her shooting averages have remained pretty decent, especially compared to the likes of Ketia Swanier and Alexis Gray-Lawson who were coming off the bench behind her. Plus Johnson was always a veteran option who knew what her coach wanted and how the team was supposed to be playing on the floor. Search back a couple of years and you’ll read a swathe of comments from the likes of Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter about how much they loved playing with a true point guard who knew how and when to get them the ball. Johnson’s game really hasn’t changed much since then – the roster’s simply weakened around her while their competition has improved.

Don’t expect many comments from Mercury players about Riley’s ‘true point guard’ skills in 2012. If she even makes the roster. Continue reading

WNBAlien Special – Grading the Trade: Storm Blows it Up

The Seattle Storm got 2012 off to a surprising start in the WNBA on Monday, sending Swin Cash, Le’coe Willingham and a late-second round pick in the 2012 draft (#23 overall) to Chicago for the #2 overall pick in that same upcoming draft. It’s been pretty apparent for a while that Seattle needed to freshen up their roster and get younger, but this was still a somewhat shocking way to open up the offseason transactions. Two key parts of your rotation for a pick in what’s generally seen as a weak draft class – for a coach/GM who’s shown no interest in using any young, inexperienced players in recent years – is a bold step. Time will tell whether it’s one step back to eventually move two forwards, or just a hop in the wrong direction.

Cash didn’t have a great season in 2011. She went through long stretches where she wouldn’t have hit water shooting off the side of a boat, and the 41% three-point shooting she discovered in the Storm’s 2011 championship season disappeared entirely. But she was still a strong defender, a physical presence who could defend the perimeter and fight down low on switches, and occasionally her scoring touch returned, leaving her overall 2011 numbers at nearly 40% from the floor and right around her career average of 13 points per game. At 32 years old, and with a chequered injury history, she’s probably starting the downslope of her career trajectory, but there’s a good few years left on those legs. Big, true small forwards aren’t easy to find in this league – just look how long Chicago have needed one, for example – and the Storm could have serious problems replacing her. Continue reading