It wasn’t too long ago that the mention of ‘Shock,’ as in Detroit Shock, stood for excellence in professional women’s basketball. In the last two years, the franchise has sunk into an abyss with six wins in 2010 and then three in 2011. Now under first year Head Coach Gary Kloppenburg, the franchise is attempting to make a fresh start. The coach rightly described the Shock as “a work in progress.”
How the Shock got here…
Former Shock Coach Nolan Richardson has to take responsibility for the current predicament but it isn’t totally his fault. Detroit Shock players did not want to play in Tulsa. Some refused to come to Tulsa and the rest were not happy under Richardson’s system. By the conclusion of the 2010 season not one player from Detroit remained on the roster. To paraphrase the former NCAA Championship Men’s Coach, “we (the Shock) are like an expansion team only we didn’t get to pick our roster.”
Another opportunity to move forward may have been missed by not trading the second pick in last year’s WNBA Draft. The Shock likely could have upgraded the roster with several players for what became the rights to Elizabeth Cambage. She made noises about wanting to play elsewhere before the draft and will now stay home in Australia preparing for the Olympics. Shock management believes she will return to the club after the London event concludes.
With Tulsa mired in last place, Nolan Richardson was released in early July 2011 after posting a 1-10 record. He was replaced by Assistant Coach Teresa Edwards, a four-time Olympian out of the University of Georgia but inexperienced by WNBA head coaching standards. Edwards continued on a similar path going 2-21 the rest of the way. Enter Gary Kloppenburg. Most recently he spent four years as an assistant coach to Lin Dunn with the Indiana Fever. Before Indiana, he had WNBA stops with Seattle (three years with Dunn there) and one year with the Phoenix Mercury. He also spent a few years on staff with the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats and has coaching credentials going back to the 80’s. With the Fever he was known as their defensive guru. So don’t be surprised if he carries a few players not particularly known for scoring but who can make stops at the WNBA level.
So what’s better this year?
Lead guard play should be more stable with the addition of Temeka Johnson (traded for Andrea Riley) from Phoenix. Johnson at 5-3 maybe a couple of inches smaller than Ivory Latta (second option at the point) but she is much more likely to think pass first. Hopefully this will allow for more in-the-paint touches particularly after Liz Cambage returns.
The team will have a little more variety in the type of players that can be put on the floor. Shanna Zolman is a respectable long range shooter (42.2% 3’s in 2010) though, coming back from a knee injury. On the other end of the spectrum you have Scholanda Dorrell (formerly Robinson) who returns after a year in San Antonio. She is known primarily as a perimeter defender. For instant offense, you have Riquana Williams taken at #17 who Kloppenburg (and Full Court) evaluated as a first round pick. She fits the mold of a Tan White of Connecticut. If last Saturday’s Atlanta exhibition game is any indication, second year wing Karima Christmas, a fine athlete, may have extended her range.
Much is expected from the Shock’s first round pick (at #4) Glory Johnson, who was a conference leader and an All-American during her years at the Univeristy of Tennessee. She looked highly athletic in the paint during last Saturday’s exhibition battle in Atlanta (lost 91-89) and her range seemed slightly improved from the college season. However at a listed 6-3, she looked small in stature compared to several of the Dream’s post players. How quickly she adapts to the pro game will determine if she can be and impact player and be in the mix for rookie of the year.
Another ingredient that should be a significant plus is coaching stability. After year one, Nolan Richardson started 2011 on the hot seat. This team knows Kloppenburg is in charge and will be for some time to come.
One thing every other WNBA club has is a degree of star power. As the 2012 season starts, that is one commodity not present on the Shock. What success this team will have will likely be through collective efforts. That sounds like a coaching cliché but having that special player to take a last shot does help.
Other than Ivory Latta, the other three leading scorers from last year’s squad will be missing to start the season. Power forward Tiffany Jackson is on maternity leave. Center Elizabeth Cambage decided to stay in Australia to prepare for the Olympics. Veteran WNBA and former superstar Sheryl Swoopes was not brought back into camp this spring. Yes, new vitality has been brought into the club but for now only replaces rather than augments the majority of last year’s leading scorers.
The center position is extremely thin and inexperienced until Cambage returns. Chante Black, who missed last season due to back ailments, is the only low post presence on the team with WNBA experience (of just two seasons). With Vicki Baugh (6-4 C, #25 pick in the draft) recently cut, the Shock will be monitoring the waiver wire very closely. As of last Thursday, Baugh was listed as ‘day to day’ according to Shock media relations, having sustained a knee injury after returning from the exhibition in Atlanta where Baugh played well (running hard and finishing at the rim.) Most likely this knee injury (Baugh had a long history of knee ailments at Tennessee) is serious as it appeared she could, if healthy, help Tulsa this season. With Cambage out, Shock management probably felt it couldn’t hold another roster spot for a long-term injured player. Lynetta Kizer (6-4 C/F, picked #29) who did not play well in Atlanta may get to hang around longer due to Baugh’s absence. In any case, look for the Shock to go with ‘small’ ball more than Kloppenburg would ideally want.
With the roster still in flux, the team could have five rookies or first year players making the squad. The more experienced players, other than point guard Temeka Johnson, would qualify more as journeymen. You can include Jennifer Lacy (6-0 3F) and Amber Holt (6-0 G/F) in this group with the previously mentioned Dorrell and Zolman. Potential role/bench player Jene Morris (5-9 2G), who was with the Fever during Kloppenburg’s tenure, remains in camp with perhaps a long shot to stick.
Do the stats lie?
The Shock ranked last during the 2011 season in points scored, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, three-point field goal percentage defense and assist per game differential. On average the team turned the ball over on 2.8 possessions more than the opposition. A ‘bright’ note would be the team was ‘just’ in the bottom quarter in differentials of rebounding, blocks and steals per game. Thus there are plenty of areas that could stand improvement.
Two questions to answer…
Assuming Liz Cambage (the #2 pick in 2011) returns after the Olympic break, will the offense make more of an ongoing effort to run through her? The big had a very up and down rookie campaign. On a few occasions she appeared dominant but it was more stretches of a game rather than whole contests. It may be hard to believe that your teammates can’t find your 6-8 frame but at times it was if Cambage was playing one game while her teammates (particularly the guards) were playing another. When the Australian did get the ball in the right spots she showed she could be an effective scorer (51.1% from the field) even able to put the ball on the floor for a dribble or two. As a rebounder, she was disappointing (4.7 rpg) for someone her size. Can she be the Shock superstar sometime in the future? It's unclear as of now!
Will Kayla Pedersen step up during her sophomore campaign? As the seventh pick in last year’s draft, the Shock made a significant roster investment in her. For a rookie, her stats (6.8 ppg on 40.2% from the field and 3.6 rpg) were passable but she needs to step up or see some of her 23.8 minutes per game of playing time reduced. She appears caught between the small and power forward slots, too slow for the three and not powerful enough for the four spot.
It’s hard to say on casual inspection, but here's my attempt: Temeka Johnson, Glory Johnson, Chante Black, a shooter (could be Zolman or Holt) and a defender (could be Dorrell). The roster still needs to be trimmed by a few more spots with the Shock opening at home versus San Antonio on Saturday, May 19.
Expectations . . .
Look for an improvement above last season’s meager three-win total. Anything above last in the Western Conference and double digit wins should earn Gary Kloppenburg the Coach of the Year honor. For Tulsa fans, patience remains a necessary virtue.