2015 WNBA Season Previews: Seattle Storm

 

PG: Sue Bird/Renee Montgomery

SG: Jewell Loyd/Jazmine Davis

SF: Jenna O’Hea/Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis/Alysha Clark

PF: Crystal Langhorne/Ramu Tokashiki

C: Abby Bishop/Quanitra Hollingsworth/Vicky McIntyre

(Yes, I know Bishop’s not a center. Listing Langhorne there seemed equally ridiculous)

 

Significant additions: Loyd, Mosqueda-Lewis, Montgomery, Bishop, Tokashiki, maybe Hollingsworth.

Significant losses: Brian Agler, Tanisha Wright, Camille Little, Shekinna Stricklen, plus Noelle Quinn and Nicole Powell are gone too.

 

—–

 

If the 12-22 season and the dip into the lottery for the first time since 2003 didn’t clue you in, the Seattle Storm’s offseason should’ve gotten the message across – it’s rebuilding time. There was a largely mutual parting of the ways with head coach Brian Agler, with assistant Jenny Boucek sliding over to take the helm of a new era in Seattle. They were given a significant boost when Jewell Loyd declared early for the draft, providing a much better return with the #1 overall pick than it looked like they’d be getting for most of the summer. With that and other pickups, the Storm at least look like they’ll be interesting in 2015, and when you’re trying to rebuild on the fly that’s about all you can ask for.

 

Sue Bird is still in town as the only holdover from the Storm’s championship teams. The prospect of ever seeing her running mate Lauren Jackson in a Storm jersey again diminishes every year, but Bird herself appears to be in better shape than she was last season, and will help Boucek mould this young squad. They added a backup for Bird in Renee Montgomery, who’ll have her inevitable bursts of scoring surrounded by a lot of misses and occasionally driving her coach crazy. Loyd should slide right into the starting spot vacated by Tanisha Wright, and can learn on the job. She’s a superb athlete who can create her own shot in a similar style to Deanna Nolan, although it may take her a little time to adapt to facing pro athletes who can stick with her and make her life difficult. At the other wing spots the Storm have plenty of shooting in the form of Jenna O’Hea and rookie Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who should help stretch the floor. Mosqueda-Lewis is going to have some trouble surviving defensively in the pros, but she can certainly shoot.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: San Antonio Stars

 

PG: Danielle Robinson/Sydney Colson/Brittany Hrynko

SG: Kayla McBride/Jia Perkins

SF: Alex Montgomery

PF: Sophia Young-Malcolm/Dearica Hamby

C: Jayne Appel/Danielle Adams/Kayla Alexander

 

Significant additions: Hamby and Montgomery.

Significant losses: Becky Hammon, Shenise Johnson, what’s left of Shameka Christon (and Astou Ndour isn’t coming this year either).

 

—–

 

The rebuilding process continues in San Antonio, but without a lot of additions this season. Leader and face of the franchise Becky Hammon is now gone, spending her time coaching San Antonio’s men’s team rather than playing for the women’s. The Sophia Young-Malcolm that we saw last year was a shadow of her former self as she attempted to return from her serious knee injury. So it’s up to the youngsters to step up. Danielle Robinson and Kayla McBride are a dynamic young backcourt, Danielle Adams can still produce points inside and out, and there are high hopes for first-round draft pick Dearica Hamby. But with Hammon gone, Dan Hughes is going to have a job on his hands moulding this group into a challenger in the tough Western Conference.

 

Even without Hammon’s talents, the Stars are a fun and exciting team on the perimeter. Robinson is lightning quick and has developed into a reliable mid-range shooter, while McBride settled in as her rookie season progressed and can light it up from outside. Jia Perkins re-signed and will be her usual spark-plug self off the bench. They added Alex Montgomery to help fill the small forward spot in a trade with New York, and while she won’t excite anyone she can hit an open jumper and she has the length to fit in nicely on the defensive end. Robinson shouldn’t be forced to guard too many players at least six inches taller than her any more.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: Phoenix Mercury

 

PG: Leilani Mitchell/Tiffany Bias

SG: Monique Currie/Noelle Quinn/Tess Madgen/(Marta Xargay)

SF: DeWanna Bonner/Shameka Christon/Alex Harden

PF: Candice Dupree/Mistie Bass

C: Brittney Griner/Cayla Francis

 

Significant additions: Mitchell, Currie, Quinn and Christon if you want to be generous over ‘significant’. Maybe Xargay once she arrives.

Significant losses: Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, Erin Phillips, Griner for seven games, and the Shay Murphy/Anete Jekabsone-Zogota/Ewelina Kobryn group from the end of the bench are all gone too.

 

—–

 

Most teams, when they win a championship, try to bring back as much of that team as possible for another run the next year. Unfortunately for Phoenix, Diana Taurasi announcing that she was skipping the 2015 WNBA season in order to make significantly more money overseas put a big dent in that idea. Penny Taylor has also played a key role in every Mercury championship team, and will also be missing this season. So this squad was already going to look very different in 2015. Then came the arrests for Brittney Griner and her wife Glory Johnson, which led to a seven-game league suspension that she is presumably going to serve to start the season (although the possibility of an appeal still seems to be floating around). It’s not been the offseason the Mercury would’ve wanted after all their success in 2014, but there’s still enough pieces in Phoenix for them to be a dangerous team – just not as dangerous as last year.

 

At the center, quite literally, of their chances in 2015, is Griner. While Taurasi made their offense tick last season and they’ll miss the playmaking and shooting of both her and Taylor, the major improvement that Phoenix made in their championship year was on the defensive end. They went from a team that had been a defensive disaster for years under Corey Gaines to the best defense in the league under Sandy Brondello, with Griner’s size and threat in the middle the key element. While they’ll lose some of the chemistry that’s always important to building a team defense with Taurasi and Taylor out, neither of those two are exactly known for their defensive skills, so player-for-player there shouldn’t be much drop-off. They added veterans like Monique Currie, Noelle Quinn and even Shameka Christon in the offseason, all perimeter players will some size and length who can switch constantly just like they did for much of last season. While Griner is suspended they could look pretty awful, but once she’s back there’s every reason to believe that they can be one of the best defensive teams in the league once again.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: Minnesota Lynx

 

PG: Lindsay Whalen/(Anna Cruz)/Jennifer O’Neill

SG: Seimone Augustus/Monica Wright

SF: Maya Moore/Tricia Liston

PF: Rebekkah Brunson/Devereaux Peters/Reshanda Gray

C: Asjha Jones/Damiris Dantas

 

Significant additions: Hopefully Jones and Cruz, maybe eventually Gray.

Significant losses: Janel McCarville, Tan White.

 

—–

 

Until late in the offseason, Minnesota were quietly going about their business, becoming most people’s favourites for the 2015 championship by virtue of not losing any key pieces, unlike their usual rivals. Then they joined in with some of the league-wide melodrama. Janel McCarville informed them that she wouldn’t be playing in 2015, which left a hole in the post that was swiftly papered over with the acquisition of Asjha Jones from Connecticut (although exactly how much they’ll get from Jones remains to be seen). Meanwhile the Sylvia Fowles mess in Chicago tangentially touched on the Lynx when it emerged that Minnesota was her preferred destination, which could’ve led to a shake-up on the roster. But no Fowles trade materialised, so the core of this team remains the same, and as threatening as ever. They have a few things to work out down low, but with a perimeter like theirs they’ll still win plenty of games while figuring out the answers.

 

While some are starting to whisper about the age of the Lynx core, there’s no reason to expect their performance to fall off a cliff any time soon. And with 2014 MVP Maya Moore in her prime – or arguably still improving – the vets have a pretty useful youngster to help carry them along. The shooting and all-around scoring ability of Moore and Seimone Augustus, combined with the drive and leadership of Lindsay Whalen at the point, continues to be the heart of this Lynx team. They could never quite seem to get fully healthy last year, which eventually cost them against a squad as strong as Phoenix, but if they’re in one piece come playoff time they’ll score on anyone. Cheryl Reeve does a nice job organising her team and placing them in a position to succeed, but she’d be the first to admit that a lot of it comes down to pure talent. The Whalen/Augustus/Moore group is likely the best perimeter trio the WNBA has ever seen.

 

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2015 WNBA Season Previews: Los Angeles Sparks

 

PG: Erin Phillips/Temeka Johnson

SG: Kristi Toliver/Andrea Hoover/Ana Dabovic

SF: Alana Beard/Jennifer Lacy/Farhiya Abdi

PF: Nneka Ogwumike/(Candace Parker)

C: Jantel Lavender/Marianna Tolo/Jennifer Hamson

 

Significant additions: Phillips, Johnson, Tolo, maybe Hamson, Lacy, and/or Dabovic, and definitely new head coach Brian Agler.

Significant losses: Candace Parker for an unknown period of time, Toliver for a more known period of time, Armintie Herrington, Lindsey Harding, Sandrine Gruda, Candice Wiggins, and the elite coaching skills of Penny Toler.

 

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Our first Western Conference team leads us right back into what sadly became one of the main themes of the WNBA offseason – players missing time. Diana Taurasi drew most of the initial attention by announcing she was skipping the 2015 season entirely, before LA’s Candace Parker semi-followed suit. Parker is sitting out to start the season, and hasn’t set any particular date to return. The Sparks say they’re expecting her to join them at some point, but don’t know when that might be. So for now, new head coach Brian Agler has to work with what he’s got – and that’s still a pretty talented group. In fact in some ways, while he’d obviously like to add a superstar like Parker into the mix, it might be easier for Agler to put his imprint on this team without her around. They’ll be smart and organised, and getting everyone to collectively buy in to his defensive schemes could be smoother without a star who can often be sleepy on that end of the floor. What this team is going to look like this year is one of the more interesting WNBA sub-plots heading into the season.

 

Between the players that were already there and those that Agler and general manager Penny Toler have added, this is a veteran squad with a big front line. They’ve had problems in the past working out how to mesh Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender, either platooning them or being forced to figure out how to play with one of them at small forward. Parker sitting out seemed to simplify that, except that a lot of their depth is still on the interior. Marianna Tolo is technically a WNBA rookie, but the Aussie post has plenty of international experience and should be ready to contribute right away. Jennifer Hamson missed the 2014 season to stay in school and play volleyball, but could also be a defensive presence in the paint even as a rookie. Even veteran forward Jennifer Lacy may be a more natural fit at the 4 rather than the 3. So in preseason we’ve seen Ogwumike playing plenty of small forward in big lineups. She has some range and the mobility to defend players at that spot, but it could take away from her impact as an interior scorer and rebounder. The opening weeks of the season will see Agler playing with lineups while he tries to figure out what works.

 

Part of the reason that Agler’s been shifting Ogwumike around is that this team isn’t remotely deep any more. Outside of Parker, they didn’t lose anyone you’d call a star in the offseason, but they lost enough pieces that the roster looks distinctly thinner – especially while Kristi Toliver’s in Europe representing Slovakia at EuroBasket Women 2015 for the opening month of the season. Alana Beard is back, and will once again be forced to play plenty of small forward unless Farhiya Abdi has finally become the player the Sparks have been waiting on for a couple of years (and she hasn’t shown many signs of that progress in the past). They’ll also be hoping that when Toliver returns she’s closer to the mercurial but explosive scorer from previous years, rather than the miserable and passive player that came back from Europe last season.

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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.

 

—–

 

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.

 

—–

 

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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