The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, February 19, 2020
Who is winning the early days of WNBA free agency? — Geno Auriemma on the decline and fall of UConn — Must-click women's basketball links
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It’s not too early to look at the offseason standings
Look, there are still almost two months until the WNBA Draft. The season doesn’t begin for another three months.
And yet, as we digest what has been a remarkable week-plus in WNBA history, a free agency that offered previously unparalleled movement and thus, excitement and moves galore (with attendant media attention in some circles), we do have a sense of what many teams will look like next season.
So no, I am not ready to write anyone off, especially those who haven’t made their moves yet. Principally, I’m looking at you, Minnesota, and you, New York, the former still with ways to get better, the latter with a potential Tina Charles to trade. (Oh and Dallas obviously has some maneuverability, given all those draft picks.)
But for the teams who have spent, have traded, and sit perilously close to the cap? We know some things. So let’s break them down a bit.
Las Vegas didn’t fix their spacing problem
In theory, an offense built around A’ja Wilson at the four and Liz Cambage at the five should be simple to build. You get a top-flight point guard to distribute, you make sure your 1-2-3 can all shoot it extremely well from beyond the arc to maximize space, and you force defenses to choose whether to slow down the endless threes or put Cambage or Wilson into single coverage against an overmatched defender.
Las Vegas chose a different box, a year after finishing at the bottom of the WNBA in percentage of points scored from three-point range.
They added Angel McCoughtry, a gifted offensive player, but a career 28.6 percent three-point shooter, and a high-usage player throughout her career. She also should be, at best, the third option in that offense, and whether she’s okay with that remains an open question.
They added Danielle Robinson, who the Minnesota Lynx tried for two years to make into a perimeter shooting threat. It didn’t take. Robinson shot 12-for-60 from three over those two years, even as her assist percentage slipped into the low 20s. Presumably, minutes she has on the court will come at the expense of either Kelsey Plum or Kayla McBride, both of whom are better deep shooters.
I don’t get it, and neither do a number of WNBA talent evaluators I spoke to about the Aces. I pointed out to one that Bill Laimbeer has won many more WNBA titles than I have.
“Yeah, but not since 2008,” the source responded.
Atlanta got better than you think
When you envision what makes the last few WNBA champions so tough, a few commonalities present themselves. Size. Defensive versatility. Shooting, and the associated result, spacing.
Consider what the Atlanta Dream have done so far. Who was the best big big changing hands this offseason so far? Has to be Kalani Brown, who they added to solidify the center position, and provide a counterweight to players like Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner, Teaira McCowan and Liz Cambage.
Who was the best perimeter shooter to change hands this offseason? That would be Shekinna Stricklen, a critical part of Connecticut’s ability to spread the floor, now adding a new dimension to Atlanta’s woebegone offense from last year.
Who is a more versatile defensive player than Glory Johnson, who can guard 3-4-5 and rebounds above her 6’1 height?
And the Dream are still well under the salary cap, leaving them well-positioned to do more, while maintaining that lottery pick, giving them a shot at another immediate impact player.
Don’t sleep on the Dream, friends.
Superteams? We sure about that?
Connecticut is going to be elite this year. But it isn’t because they added so much talent. DeWanna Bonner is a fantastic addition to that lineup. At the same time, they lost Stricklen, and have yet to retain Courtney Williams, from their 2019 team.
The Sun were a win away from a WNBA title and add Bonner to that Jonquel Jones, Thomases core. But are they dramatically better than they were at the end of Game 5 last October? I’m not convinced.
Same with Phoenix, for similar reasons. Skylar Diggins-Smith is the perfect age to pair with Brittney Griner for the next five years. Diana Taurasi coming back will dictate the Mercury’s ceiling. But the latter was always true, and the former comes after Bonner headed out of town.
Bonner did a lot for this Mercury team, and they’ll rely on a combination of second-year players like Sophie Cunningham and Alanna Smith to pick up those skills. I happen to be high on both, but is that the makings of a dramatically better team than the 2018 squad that pushed Seattle to a Game 5? It all comes down to Taurasi. And that’s not anything different.
(I reserve the right to revise this if they add Tina Charles for little in the way of current talent, by the way.)
This week in women’s basketball
Matt Ellentuck gives out early grades for the WNBA offseason.
Asjha Jones opens up about learning to be a WNBA assistant coach.
Kevin Pelton does some early WNBA offseason evaluations.
Strong work from Ben Dull on Arizona’s emergence.
Speaking of Arizona, here’s PJ Brown on Semaj Smith.
Thuc Nhi Nguyen profiles Alissa Pili of USC.
Diana Taurasi’s kicker quote here kills me.
Katie Lou Samuelson sounds surprised, but not disappointed.
Michelle Smith catches up with UCLA’s Charisma Osborne.
Alexa Philippou is documenting the collapsing UConn program, now all the way down to sixth in the country, a true embarrassment. Here’s a look at Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aubrey Griffin, somehow managing to improve amid the chaos of three, yes three losses.
Alanna Smith is ready for a big year two in the WNBA.
Colleen McQuillen is the real deal. I saw her live.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Geno Auriemma on the decline and fall of UConn
(Submitted with the appropriate level of sarcasm)
You watch how easily they accomplished somethings. It’s a reflection of a really well coached team, with really experienced players, and they know who’s supposed to get the ball, and they know when and where they’re supposed to get it. And they’re smart defensively. They’re all the things that a team at that stage of their program. They’re everything that they should be. They came in here and did something that very few people have been able to do, during that first quarter. It was evident that physically we couldn’t match up with them tonight.
On Megan Walker:
I’m mean, what can you say? When two really good teams are playing, there’s a couple players on their team that have to play really, really well and have to make shots. And there’s a couple players on your team that have to play well and make shots. And there’s did tonight and ours didn’t. Why is that? That, it’s probably not an easy answer, but… Yeah. If Meg wants to be what I think she can be then yeah, she needs to make those shots in these games for sure.
On Oregon’s future:
There’s a lot of good programs out there today and they’ve certainly made the most progress quicker probably than anybody else. And I don’t think, as you said, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. You get a generational type player, like Sabrina, that kind of changes the… accelerates the process. So that’s… But remains to be seen what happens after that and not that another person, a player like that’s not easy to replace. And yet at the same time, we know what Kelly’s doing up there and the way they’re building is not going to be dependent on one player. But one player can make you, as I know, trust me… So they got a lot of things going for them and they take out really good, really fast, and they’re not going away. They’re not going anywhere.
On how he shields his players from bad press:
Actually I tell them they should look at that. Like I’m not one of these people that thinks if you avoid looking at something, it makes it go away, that’s not my job to make them feel better right now. My job is to be realistic with them and say, “Pick up the paper tomorrow, go on social media, read about what happened, see what happened here tonight, and then deal with it.” Plain and simple. You were part of it, can’t pretend it didn’t happen, and you can’t pretend you weren’t a part of it. You were a part of it, because if we would’ve won that game, you couldn’t wait to read about how great you were.
On wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey:
Was hoping to live vicariously through him. That he would come back, his spirit and come back and enter into all my players and infuse them with the work ethic and the tenacity, competitiveness that he had. But it didn’t play out that way. Someone sent it to me that was at that Lakers game the other night when they put all those out and so because they sent it to me because they thought enough of it, I decided I should wear it.