2011 WNBA Pre-Pre-season Thoughts

With the NCAA tournament still in progress, it might be a bit early to be discussing the upcoming WNBA season. Regardless, I have a few notions at the moment that I’d like to put out there.

The Draft

The first act of a new season is when teams fill out their rosters heading into training camp. The splashiest manifestation of that is Draft day, which this year is on April 11. This year’s group is solid but not exactly as obviously star-filled as in some years.

The first two picks are almost a foregone conclusion at this point: Maya Moore from UConn likely going to Minnesota, and Liz Cambage from Australia likely going to Tulsa. What I’d like to see is Minnesota trade its pick to Tulsa so that Maya gets picked first and heads out to the Shock while Cambage goes to the Lynx. I feel that Minnesota is a championship caliber team already. Barring injuries and poor coaching, they have the personnel to make a run for several years. Adding Cambage fills in their main weakness of having a pure center. While Moore can never be a bad choice, I don’t think she makes them as formidable as Cambage does.

Sending Moore to Tulsa gives that franchise the player they need to build their team around just as Phoenix did with Taurasi. There will be some losing seasons still to come, but in the end I think it helps Moore, Tulsa, and the WNBA. (I’d also like Tulsa to get a different coach, but that might not make a difference at this point.) Do I think this will happen? No. I think it’s going to play out just as people have been discussing since the lottery. While doing so isn’t exactly foolish, I just don’t think it’s optimum.

From the third pick on down, I think teams need to pick the best player to help them. The third pick goes to Chicago. They have a new coaching staff which should help shake off some of the rust. I think they need to get a good point guard while one is available. That means either Danielle Robinson or Courtney Vandersloot. I’d lean toward Vandersloot because there only seems to be an upside with her. She’s the type of floor general a team wanting to rise up from mediocrity needs.

After this pick, I think just about anything can happen depending on what sort of philosophy a team wants. You draft by need instead of best available player because there are a number of players that can fall into the “best available” category depending on the team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Danielle Adams slip down to the 2nd round, however. This is purely a conditioning issue. With the small WNBA roster, taking on a “project” is less attractive. The fact is that bulky posts aren’t as sought after since the league went to the 24-second clock. The ones that have managed to prolong their careers are the ones that work on their conditioning in the non-WNBA part of the year.

The Champs

Can the Storm repeat? They certainly have the talent. A lot rests on the health of Lauren Jackson. They won last year because she didn’t get badly hurt. She enters this season with a still-healing ligament near her achilles. Fortunately for Seattle, it was caught before something major happened, and she’s had time to rehab. The question is: will it be enough?

The Almost-Champs

Atlanta could be the team to beat this year. They were scary-good at the end of the 2010 season and could have won it all had they been experienced. Well, they have that experience now…so watch out.

The Previous Champs

What about Phoenix? I’m not dissin’ the team I’ve rooted for since the league started. They can make a championship run if only because they have Taurasi and the rest of the league doesn’t. (The rest of the league, however, has it’s own collection of world-class players, so this distinction isn’t quite as great as when Dee was in college.) The Mercury did loose Tangela Smith, which hurts. Not only is it difficult to find a post who can run like she does, but any replacement will take at least half a season to start getting comfortable in this nuanced system. The addition of Sanford helps, but there isn’t a good backup for her (it’s not Braxton unless she really worked on conditioning during the off-season).

Phoenix also has a critical need for a guard to complement Taurasi…someone who can not only feed the ball to Dee, Penny, and CD but is a scoring threat in her own right–if only from deep.

Finding the Magic?

The Mystics enter the season down Monique Currie (ACL). It seems they start every year down at least one of their star players. This year they are also testing out a new head coach. This has almost never worked out for any Mystics team–worse, there was no sane reason for the change. I’d love it if Washington can rise up from the ashes, but they are going to have to blue-collar it, I think. What will help a lot is getting a true center who matches well with Langhorne.

Finding the Spark

Toward the end of the 2010 season, Candace Parker-less Los Angeles started finding a rhythm. You’d think with CP back and healthier than she’s been for most of her big-time career, that they’d be set for a championship run. I’m not seeing it. Maybe the playoffs, but there are too many question marks. First, there’s the factor of age: their four oldest players have 14, 13, 12, and 11 years in the league. I don’t think this will be a major hindrance unless they play a lot of close games, but it is a factor.

I think the key for success is movement. The weakness of the Sparks last season was they they stood around. A LOT. Even before CP got hurt. The offense was old-school non-motion half-court. You can’t do that in the modern WNBA and expect to win. If that doesn’t change in 2011, it’s going to be a very long season.

The Dark Horse

I realize that calling Indiana a dark horse will sound odd, but if anyone ruins Atlanta’s run to another WNBA finals, it will likely be the Fever. This is a strong, experienced team. As long as they don’t beat themselves, there might not be a team in the East that matches up well against them. Also, I’ve got to think there is no one in the league hungrier for a title than Catchings. That alone might fuel the Fever to greatness.

The Professor and Mary Ann

As for the rest of the league…nothing’s really leaping out one way or another. Any given team can find all the pieces falling into place–these are among the best players in the world, after all.

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