Wednesday, May 22, 2013
WNBA Preview Capsules
Team-by-team look at the WNBA, which opens its 17th season Friday:
2012: 19-15, 3rd place; lost to Indiana 2-1 in conference semifinals.
COACH: Fred Williams, 2nd season with team, 43-40 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: G Alex Bentley (draft, No. 13, Penn State); F Ann Marie Armstrong (draft, No. 31, Georgia); F Le'Coe Willingham (free agent, Chicago); G Jasmine Thomas (trade, Washington).
KEY LOSSES: G Lindsey Harding (free agent, Los Angeles); G Laurie Koehn (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Offense, chemistry. Despite losing Harding, the Dream return the core that has played together since 1999, led by Angel McCoughtry (21.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.9 apg in 24 games), who won her first league scoring title. Atlanta will have Erika DeSouza (11.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg in 15 games) for a full season after she missed time to train with the Brazilian national team for the London Olympics last year, as well as Sancho Lyttle (14.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.5 apg) and Armintie Price (8.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg). Atlanta is entering its first full season under Williams, the former assistant who took over after Marynell Meadors stepped down late last year. The Dream led the league with 333 steals, and were third in assists (18.0), fourth in rebounding (34.8) and field-goal shooting (43.4 percent) and fifth in scoring (78.6).
WEAKNESSES: Perimeter shooting, depth. Atlanta struggled on 3-point shooting again, finishing second-to-last at 29.7 percent -- a year after having the second-lowest percentage in league history at 26.1. Tiffany Hayes (21 for 77) and Cathrine Kraayeveld (35 for 87) were mainly responsible for helping double the team's 3s made from the previous season. Losing Harding will affect the backcourt and likely thrust Hayes (8.6 ppg, 3.1 apg) into a full-time starting role after she made 17 starts during a solid rookie season. Bentley and Thomas also will be counted on to contribute offensively.
2012: 14-20, 5th.
COACH: Pokey Chatman, 3rd season, 28-40.
KEY ADDITIONS: F Elena Delle Donne (draft, No. 2, Delaware).
KEY LOSSES: F Le'Coe Willingham (free agent, Atlanta); G Ticha Penicheiro (retirement).
STRENGTHS: Frontcourt, veteran balance. All-Star center Sylvia Fowles (16.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg) is coming off a season in which she set career highs in rebounding and field-goal shooting (63.4 percent). Epiphanny Prince (18.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.1 apg) was fourth in the league in scoring, but the team struggled while both she and Fowles missed time due to injuries. Swin Cash (10.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) was solid in her first season in Chicago and Courtney Vandersloot (8.9 ppg, 4.6 apg) improved in her second year in the league. Chicago was fourth in rebounding (34.9), led by Fowles who was second behind only Connecticut's Tina Charles (10.5). The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne brings versatility as she can play all five positions. The Sky have a good mix of experience with two veterans with 10-plus years in the league (Cash, Ruth Riley), three with at least five years (Fowles, Shay Murphy, Tamera Young), and three with two to three years (Prince, Vandersloot, Carolyn Swords).
WEAKNESSES: Consistency, perimeter shooting. The Sky opened 7-1 last season and then struggled when Prince missed the next eight games with an injured foot, and even after her return. Fowles (strained calf) missed the last seven games as Chicago went 3-4 in her absence and missed a postseason spot by one game. Prince is expected to miss about six games in June while playing for Russia in the EuroBasket tournament. Delle Donne shot 45 percent on 3s as a senior and should help a Chicago team that was ninth from beyond the arc at 34 percent. With three former No. 2 picks (Cash in 2002, Fowles in `08, Delle Donne), and a former No. 3 (Vandersloot in `11) and a No. 4 (Prince in `10), the Sky likely have the most talented team in the franchise's eight-year history as it chases its first playoff berth in the competitive Eastern Conference.
2012: 25-9, 1st; beat New York 2-0 in conference semifinals; lost to Indiana 2-1 in conference finals.
COACH: Anne Donovan, first season with team, 167-150 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: G Kelly Faris (draft, No. 11, Connecticut).
KEY LOSSES: F Asjha Jones (sitting out).
STRENGTHS: Chemistry. The Sun overhauled their roster three years ago with a youth movement that made Tina Charles the focus, and the young players gained valuable experience playing together. Connecticut, fourth in scoring (81.6 ppg) was a markedly better road team, finishing a league-best 13-4 away from home -- a seven-win improvement from the previous season. The Sun will need to continue that progression amid a coaching change that had Donovan replace Mike Thibault, who had led the team since the franchise's first season in Connecticut in 2003. Charles led the team in scoring (18.0 ppg) and was tops in the league in rebounding (10.5) last season while earning the league's MVP honor. She's joined by a returning lineup that also included Kara Lawson (15.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.0 apg), Allison Hightower (6.8 ppg, 2.5 apg) and Kalana Greene (4.2 ppg). Charles, Greene, Renee Montgomery (11.6 ppg) and Faris all played under coach Geno Auriemma at UConn.
WEAKNESSES: Rebounding, experience. Even with Charles dominating in the middle and Jones adding 7.1 boards a game, the Sun finished sixth in rebounding and were outworked by nearly one rebound a game. With Jones sitting out to recover from injuries, that disparity could increase this season. Faris could blend in nicely after averaging 10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 41.5-percent shooting as a senior. Although the young Sun have jelled playing together, they still have only three players -- Lawson, Tan White and Mistie Bass- with more than four years' experience in the league. Connecticut was sixth (10th) in field-goal shooting (43 percent) and in 3-point shooting (43 percent) after ranking 10th and seventh, respectively, the previous year.
2012: 22-12, 2nd; beat Atlanta 2-1 in conference semifinals; beat Connecticut 2-1 in conference finals; beat Minnesota 3-1 in WNBA Finals.
COACH: Lin Dunn, fifth season with team, 136-130 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: G Layshia Clarendon (draft, No. 9, California); F Jessica Breland (free agent).
KEY LOSSES: C Tammy Sutton-Brown (free agent); F Bernice Mosby (waived).
STRENGTHS: Experience, leadership. The Fever have been the model of consistency in the regular season, reaching at least 21 wins seven times in the last eight seasons, and overcame an injury to Katie Douglas in the postseason to win their first championship. Tamika Catchings (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.0 spg) and Douglas (16.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.2 apg) are again the keys to the offense, and Briann January (10.3 ppg, 3.9 apg) gives the Fever a third double-digit scorer. Shavonte Zellous (7.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg) is coming off a solid first season as a starter. Catchings -- a three-time Olympian, 2011 league MVP and 2012 WNBA Finals MVP -- enters her second year at power forward. The Fever were tied for first with Minnesota in 3-point shooting (40 percent), second in free throws (81 percent) and third in steals (9.5). Indiana also allowed the second-fewest points (72.32).
WEAKNESSES: Rebounding, depth. Indiana found ways to win despite finishing ninth in rebounding (32.2) and the league's second-worst differential (minus-2.17). Since ranking third in rebounding in 2004, Indiana has finished no higher than seventh. That could be a bigger issue this year as the Fever will be without Sutton-Brown, a 12-year veteran who did not re-sign after finishing with career-low averages of 3.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 16.4 minutes. They will also be missing seventh-year center Jessica Davenport for six to eight weeks with a stress fracture in her left leg. Also, Jeanette Pohlen is still recovering from her torn ACL injury sustained in the Finals and point guard Erin Phillips (torn meniscus in right knee) will be out at least four to six weeks. That could leave Indiana with eight players for the first month of the season, barring an injury exception.
NEW YORK LIBERTY
2012: 15-19, 4th; lost to Connecticut 2-0 in conference semifinals.
COACH: Bill Laimbeer, 1st season with team, 137-93 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: F Cheryl Ford (free agent); F Katie Smith (free agent, Seattle); F Kelsey Bone (draft, No. 5, Texas A&M); F Toni Young (draft, No. 7, Oklahoma State); G Kamiko Williams (draft, No. 15, Tennessee); G Shenneika Smith (draft, No. 25, St. John's).
KEY LOSSES: C Kia Vaughn (trade, Washington); F Nicole Powell (trade, Tulsa).
STRENGTHS: Defense, veteran leadership. Cappie Pondexter (20.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg) continues to be the catalyst on offense, after finishing third in the league in scoring and topping 20 points per game for the second time in three seasons in New York. Rebounding has been one of the Liberty's biggest weak points in recent years as they were seventh at 33.4 last season, but Ford -- healthy and back in the league after a three-year absence -- and Bone should shore that up. Carson had career-best averages of 11.6 points and 3.4 boards, and Laimbeer hopes to improve her rebounding. Pierson (12.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) might come off the bench behind Ford. The Liberty have five players with at least seven years of experience, led by Katie Smith (14), Pierson (10), Kara Braxton (8), and Ford and Pondexter. The four rookies could be the only players with less than five.
WEAKNESSES: Chemistry. New York has six new players and their fourth coach in five seasons. Laimbeer brings a winning pedigree with two NBA titles as a player with the Detroit Pistons and three coaching the Shock between 2003-08. Although the roster has four players he coached in Detroit -- including two newcomers this year -- they're all at later stages in their careers and must jell with the others in the system. The Liberty are entering their third and final season of playing home games at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., while Madison Square Garden undergoes the last phase of its three summers of renovations.
2012: 5-29, 6th.
COACH: Mike Thibault, first season with team, 206-134 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: G Tayler Hill (draft, No. 4, Ohio State); G Ivory Latta (free agent, Tulsa); C Kia Vaughn (trade, New York); C Quanitra Hollingsworth (trade, New York); G Nadirah McKenith (draft, No. 17, St. John's); C Emma Meesseman (draft, No. 19, Belgium); C Jessica Moore (free agent).
KEY LOSSES: G Noelle Quinn (free agent, Seattle); G Jasmine Thomas (trade, Atlanta).
STRENGTHS: Interior defense. Crystal Langhorne (14.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Monique Currie (12.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) were the only bright spots for the league-worst Mystics last year. Michelle Snow (5.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg), playing for her fifth team in five seasons, averaged below 8.9 points for the fourth time in her 11-year career -- and the third in the last four seasons. The Mystics were 11th in rebounding (31.2), but third-best in holding opponents to 32.6 per game. They were also eighth in blocks (3.5). Those numbers should improve with the additions of Vaughn and Hollingsworth, who is with the Turkish national team for the European championships and will not join the Mystics until July.
WEAKNESSES: Coaching consistency. Thibault is the Mystics' 13th coach in its 16-year history, and the fifth since the start of Langhorne's rookie year in 2008. Washington finished first in the East after a 22-win season in 2010, but combined for just 11 wins the last two years. Thibault, who spent 10 years in Connecticut, needs five wins to tie Van Chancellor for the most wins in WNBA history and will likely provide the coaching consistency the Mystics desperately need. Washington should be an improved team this year, and its success in the competitive Eastern Conference will hinge on how quickly the players adapt to another new system.
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
2012: 24-10, 2nd; beat San Antonio 2-0 in conference semifinals; lost to Minnesota 2-0 in conference finals.
COACH: Carol Ross, 2nd season, 24-10 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: G Lindsey Harding (free agent, Atlanta); G A'dia Mathies (draft, No. 10, Kentucky); F Farhiya Abdi (free agent, Sweden).
KEY LOSSES: F DeLisha Milton-Jones (free agent, San Antonio).
STRENGTHS: Rebounding, perimeter play. Candace Parker (17.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.3 apg) and reigning Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike (14.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) are a formidable duo up front that helped the Sparks finish third in rebounding (36.9). Kristi Toliver (17.5 ppg, 4.9 apg) complements the frontcourt with her perimeter shooting (42 percent on 3-pointers), and the backcourt should be boosted with Harding (12.3 ppg, 4.5 apg with Atlanta). Alana Beard (11.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg) showed she's recovered after missing the previous two seasons due to injuries and Australian Jenna O'Hea (4.8 ppg in 10 games) played valuable minutes after joining the team following the London Olympics. The Sparks were second in scoring (84.0), field-goal shooting (45.8 percent) and fourth in assists (17.8).
WEAKNESSES: Depth, consistency. The Sparks will miss the experience and consistency provided by Milton-Jones (10.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg), and will need Jantel Lavender (5.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Marissa Coleman (3.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg) to make up for the veteran's production. Ebony Hoffman's numbers declined in her ninth season, and the other reserves will likely consist of players will less than three years in the league. Los Angeles endured stretches in which they lost five of their last eight games in June, won nine in a row, then lost four of five before finishing the season with four wins. The Sparks tied Minnesota for the league's best home mark at 16-1, but were 8-9 on the road.
2012: 27-7, 1st; beat Seattle 2-1 in conference semifinals; beat Los Angeles 2-0 in conference finals; lost to Indiana 3-1 in WNBA Finals.
COACH: Cheryl Reeve, 4th season, 67-35.
KEY ADDITIONS: C Janel McCarville (trade, New York); G Lindsey Moore (draft, No. 12, Nebraska); G Sugar Rodgers (draft, No. 14, Georgetown).
KEY LOSSES: F Candice Wiggins (trade, Tulsa); C Taj McWilliams-Franklin (retirement).
STRENGTHS: Familiarity, experience. After falling short in their bid to win consecutive championships, the Lynx once again return with their roster mostly intact. Minnesota boasts four double-digit scorers in Seimone Augustus (16.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Maya Moore (16.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.6 apg), Lindsay Whalen (11.5 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.2 rpg) and Rebekkah Brunson (11.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg). McCarville, the former University of Minnesota star who returns to the league after a two-year absence, was acquired to take over in the middle for McWilliams-Franklin. Monica Wright (8.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg) and Devereaux Peters (5.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) are solid reserves. The Lynx matched the team record for wins set during their championship season the previous year, tying Indiana for the league's best home mark (16-1) and putting up second-best road record (11-6). The Lynx were tops in scoring (85.9), scoring differential (plus-9.8), field-goal shooting (47.3 percent), rebounding (37.8) and assists (20.8), while tying Indiana for the best 3-point shooting (40 percent).
WEAKNESSES: Injuries. Losing key players for big chunks of the season was a big problem holding the Lynx back in the few years before the last two seasons. Avoiding injuries was a big factor in their dominating run to the title in 2011 and to the Finals a year ago, and they'll need to keep everyone healthy again to keep pace in the improved and physical Western Conference. Lindsey Moore averaged 15.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.8 steals as a senior and could fill the void left by Wiggins' departure.
2012: 7-27, 6th.
COACH: Corey Gaines, 5th season, 80-90.
KEY ADDITIONS: C Brittney Griner (draft, No. 1, Baylor); C Nikki Greene (draft, No. 26, Penn State); C Jessica Adair (free agent).
KEY LOSSES: F Nakia Sanford (free agent, Seattle).
STRENGTHS: Offense. A year after nearly everything that could go wrong went wrong in an injury-filled season, the Mercury look to resume their high-scoring ways. The silver lining in the season to forget was winning the draft lottery for the 6-foot-8 Griner and her prowess in the paint. Penny Taylor (torn ACL) is back after missing the entire 2012 season. Diana Taurasi is healthy after appearing in only eight games due to injuries, and Candice Dupree missed 21 games with a knee injury. DeWanna Bonner, the league's Sixth Woman of the Year her first three seasons, picked up her production and set career highs while leading the Mercury in scoring (20.6 ppg) and finishing second in rebounding (7.2), and was third in assists (2.2). With everyone back and the addition of Griner -- the two-time AP women's college basketball Player of the Year who was the No. 2 scorer in NCAA history with 3,283 points and set records with 748 blocks and 18 dunks, expectations are sky-high. Sammy Prahalis (11.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.5 apg) had a solid rookie year and Krystal Thomas led the team in rebounding (8.0).
WEAKNESSES: Defense, perimeter shooting. The unsurprising byproduct of the Mercury's fast-paced style has had them perennially last in scoring defense, and that was true again as the diminished lineup allowed 86.7 ppg. Phoenix was second in rebounding (37.1) and gave up the second-most boards (36.1), and was sixth in blocks (3.8) -- all numbers that Griner is expected to help improve. Without their stars, the Mercury were last in field-goal shooting (38.4 percent), 3-point shooting (29.5 percent) and assists (13.7), and ninth in scoring (74.5). Taurasi, Taylor and Bonner are the only remaining players from the franchise's 2009 championship team -- which won the title for the second time in three seasons.
SAN ANTONIO SILVER STARS
2012: 21-13, 3rd; lost to Los Angeles 2-0 in conference semifinals.
COACH: Dan Hughes, 8th season with team, 194-194 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: F DeLisha Milton-Jones (free agent, Los Angeles); C Kayla Alexander (draft, No. 8, Syracuse); G Davellyn Whyte (draft, No. 16, Arizona).
KEY LOSSES: F Tangela Smith (waived).
STRENGTHS: Perimeter play, chemistry. Becky Hammon (14.7 ppg, 5.3 apg) is back to lead the offense in her 15th season. She's joined in the backcourt by Danielle Robinson (9.9 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.5 rpg), who had a solid second season. Jia Perkins (10.6 ppg) is a valuable veteran reserve and Shenise Johnson (5.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg) had a decent rookie campaign. Led by Hammon (43.5 percent), Perkins (38.6) and Johnson (41.2), the Silver Stars were fourth in 3-point shooting (37.5). San Antonio was second in assists (18.9) and third in scoring (76.9) and field-goal shooting (44.5 percent). The Silver Stars' core of Hammon, Danielle Adams, Jayne Appel, Perkins and Robinson has played together the last two years. Shameka Christon, entering her second year with the team, played with Hammon previously in New York and overseas.
WEAKNESSES: Frontcourt, depth. Sophia Young (16.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg) teamed with Hammon to give the Silver Stars a strong inside-outside combo, but the seven-year veteran will be out indefinitely due to a torn ACL suffered while playing overseas in the offseason. Young is expected to be evaluated in August and could miss the entire season. Smith, limited to 15 games after recovering from offseason left knee surgery, is gone. Milton-Jones (10.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg with Los Angeles) is a tenacious defender who should help fill the void in Young's absence. Hughes is counting on Danielle Adams (11.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Jayne Appel (3.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Robinson and Johnson to step up their play. The Silver Stars eight in rebounding (33.2), up from 11th the previous year.
2012: 16-18, 4th; lost to Minnesota 2-1 in conference semifinals.
COACH: Brian Agler, 6th season with team, 155-130 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: F Tianna Hawkins (draft, No. 6, Maryland); G Temeka Johnson (free agent, Tulsa); G Noelle Quinn (free agent, Washington); F Nakia Sanford (free agent, Phoenix); F Chelsea Poppens (draft, No. 18, Iowa State).
KEY LOSSES: F Lauren Jackson (injury); G Sue Bird (left knee injury); F Katie Smith (free agent, New York); Ann Wauters (free agent).
STRENGTHS: Youth, veteran leadership. Even without Bird and three-time MVP Jackson, the faces of the franchise the last dozen years, the Storm still have some good veteran leadership. Tina Thompson (8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg), the only player to appear in every WNBA season since its debut in 1997, is back for her second year in Seattle. Also, Tanisha Wright (7.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.4 apg) is in her ninth year -- all with the Storm -- and Camille Little (11.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg) is entering her seventh season in the league. Johnson (12.2 ppg, 4.7 apg with Tulsa), entering her ninth year, was brought on to run the offense. They'll be counted on to lead a roster that could have five players with fewer than two years' experience in the league. Shekinna Stricklen (8.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg) will need to step up her production in her second season.
WEAKNESSES: Depth, offense. The Storm finished 11th in scoring (71.2), and that will become a tougher task without Bird (12.2 ppg), Wauters (9.6) and Jackson (10.2 in nine games). With Jackson (5.6 rpg) missing the first 25 games a year ago to train with Australia for the London Olympics, the Storm were 10th in rebounding (31.9). That included Wauters' 5.8 average in 25 games. Despite the scoring woes, Seattle's defense-first system limited opponents to a league-low 71.6 points per game. Agler will need to get a similar effort from his young team this year.
2012: 9-25, 5th.
COACH: Gary Kloppenburg, 2nd season, 9-25 overall.
KEY ADDITIONS: F Candice Wiggins (trade, Minnesota); G Skylar Diggins (draft, No. 3, Notre Dame); F Nicole Powell (trade, New York); G Angel Goodrich (draft, No. 29, Kansas).
KEY LOSSES: G Temeka Johnson (free agent, Seattle); G Ivory Latta (free agent, Washington); C Chante Black (waived); F Amber Holt (waived); G Scholanda Dorrell (waived).
STRENGTHS: Upside. Coming off a season in which they matched their wins total from their disastrous first two seasons after moving from Detroit, the Shock have garnered a lot of attention this year with big roster changes. First, Wiggins and Powell came over in a three-team trade, and then Tulsa added Diggins in the draft. Diggins and Wiggins will be paired in a speedy backcourt that can shoot the 3-pointer -- a boost for a team that went from 11th from beyond the arc in 2011 to third last year. The Shock also have two of their best players from the 2011 back in Tiffany Jones (12.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg), who sat out last season due a pregnancy, and Liz Cambage (11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg), who skipped the season to train with the Australian national team for the London Olympics. Cambage had initially said she wouldn't return this season, but changed her mind last week.
WEAKNESSES: Depth, chemistry. Though the Shock may still need some time to develop into serious playoff contenders, they will undoubtedly be a better team. Their success will hinge on how quickly the rookies develop and how fast the players jell in Kloppenburg's system. As part of the roster overhaul, Black, Holt and Dorrell -- cut in training camp this week -- combined for 54 starts a year ago, and Latta and Johnson combined for 46. Tulsa improved to seventh in scoring (78.3), 10th in scoring differential (minus-6.97) and 11th in field-goal shooting (40.5 percent) after finishing last in each category the previous year.