Notre Dame and Twitter star Skylar Diggins was the No. 3 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft to the Tulsa Shock.

Upgraded Shock are thinking playoffs

May 8, 2013 - 9:09am

Despite being stood up by Liz Cambage for the second year in a row, the Tulsa Shock are optimistic about 2013. Thanks to adding significant talent through the draft and offseason trades, the Tulsa season is shaping up to be the team's best since it arrived in Oklahoma.

"We feel like we have more firepower, bigger guards, better shooting and we have a chance to be a better defensive team,” says coach Gary Kloppenburg. “We basically have a new team.”

Point guard Skylar Diggins, the third overall pick in the draft, is the biggest name added to the roster, though former Stanford stars and proven WNB A veterans Candice Wiggins and Nicole Powell were acquired in trades. In addition, Tiffany Jackson-Jones is back from maternity leave while second-year players Glory Johnson and Riquina William both return after averaging double-digits during their rookie campaigns.

“We feel pretty good," says Kloppenburg. "We feel like we upgraded our roster with the moves we made and I think getting Tiff back will help us on the front line. The rookies that we got last year did pretty good and usually that second year those young players blossom even more, so we’re real excited.”

Coach Klopp, as the players call him, is well aware that the Western Conference won’t be a walk in the park this year, but he plans to combat size and veteran rosters with speed and youth. “The thing I like about our roster is we have tough competitive kids who are going to take on that challenge.  With a young team like ours, you can count on them playing with high energy and playing extremely hard every game.

"The way we want to play is pushing the ball, spreading the floor out and keeping the court spread," he says, "and it’s conducive to penetration, conducive to guards being able to create shots.”

Point guard: Skylar Diggins, Angel Goodrich, Doneeka Hodges-Lewis

Skylar Diggins, the highly successful four-time all-American from Notre Dame, is exactly what the Shock needed to help attract fans and to compete leaguewide at the point.  Diggins is a natural leader and the overall success of the team will be determined by how quickly she can adjust both offensively and defensively from the college to pro level. If she struggles, veteran Candice Wiggins has the ability to move from the two-guard to the point.

“We are really excited to get a player of her caliber,” says Kloppenburg of Diggins. “She has a chance to be a really good one, though she’ll have a learning curve coming into the pro game -- but she has a high IQ, she’s a tough kid, she’s a gym rat, she plays defense, and she’s just got a lot of qualities that will translate to a successful pro career.”

Angel Goodrich and Doneeka Hodges-Lewis will compete for the backup point guard spot, but one of them will be cut. Goodrich, who Kloppenburg was pleasantly surprised was still available in the third round (29th pick), has the upper hand.  Goodrich finished her career at Kansas with 1,262 points and 771 assists, the third highest in Big 12 history. She returns to her home state of Oklahoma and not only has the potential to attract fans but is the highest Native American pick (Cherokee) ever in the WNBA draft. Free agent Doneeka Hodges-Lewis, the twin sister of Roneeka, is attempting to return to the WNBA, and the LSU grad played in the W from 2004-2008 and is coming off of a strong campaign overseas in Turkey.

Shooting guard: Candice Wiggins, Riquina Williams, Scholanda Dorrell, Italee Lucas

Wiggins, who was under-utilized by the talent-laden Minnesota Lynx, is a major upgrade at the shooting guard position. Prior to rupturing her Achilles in 2010, Wiggins was averaging 14.4 points and 2.8 assists per game.  When she returned to health, she found herself coming off the bench thanks to the Lynx drafting Maya Moore.  On any other team, Wiggins ismost likely a starter, which will undoubtedly be the case in Tulsa.  

“Wiggins is combo guard," says Kloppenburg, "but I like her in scoring position, so we’ll look to keep her off the ball so we can get her some open shots.”

Second-year player Riquina Williams will challenge Wiggins for that starting position  Williams came off the bench last year and averaged 10.5 points in 20 minutes of play with a +8 efficiency rating. “She’s tough to handle and is as quick and fast as anyone in the league and we are going to try and maximize her abilities this year.”

Scholanda Dorell signed a multi-year deal with the Shock in 2012 and will continue to be a solid role player, though she won’t be in camp due to getting her knee scoped. In 2010, she averaged 11.9 points per game as a starter. The Shock hope she can get back to that level of productivity, but  last year she averaged 4.2 points off the bench. Lucas, a second-round pick by Tulsa in the 2012 draft, will get another look in this year’s training camp after a strong showing overseas in Spain.

Small forward: Roneeka Hodges, Nicole Powell, Brittney Spears

Nicole Powell, who can play both the three and the four, was a solid acquisition from New York and will provide outside shooting and rebounding for the Shock. As a nine-year vet, her best days are behind her, but much like Taj McWilliams-Franklin, she is an intelligent player who has found a way to be a solid contributor in a very competitive league.  

“She’s versatile, she’s a good rebounder, has good size and she’s a player that has a lot left in the tank,” says Kloppenburg. “We are going to try and utilize her strengths, which are shooting the ball and just being able to score.”

Resigned by Tulsa is eight-year veteran Hodges, a 2012 midseason acquisition from Indiana who will provide depth and veteran leadership.  Also in camp is Brittney Spears of Colorado, who was the Buffs' all-time leading scorer when she graduated in 2011. Her overseas experience will make her a contender in camp.

Power forward: Glory Johnson, Jennifer Lacy, Kayla Pedersen, Amber Holt

Last year as a rookie, Glory Johnson anchored the inside game for the Shock, averaging 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and had a +14 efficiency rating.  She was also one of the primary defenders in the paint for the Shock, and is the obvious choice for a starting spot at the four, although she can also play the five if needed.

“We know what tremendous potential she has,” says Kloppenburg about the former Tennessee all-American. “We are going to keep working with her to improve her offensive game and improve her outside shooting. She fits in well with what we do -- she’s tough, she’s high energy, she defends, she rebounds, and we’re excited to get her back.”

Johnson will get relief from Jennifer Lacy, Kayla Pedersen or Amber Holt, who were all solid role players who averaging about 20 minutes of playing time last season. One and maybe two of these players will get cut due to 11-woman roster.

Center: Tiffany Jackson-Jones, Chante Black, Vicki Baugh, Courtney Paris

The Shock are very very happy to have Jackson-Jones back on the court, who took last season off to have a baby.  Two years ago, the Texas grad averaged 12.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game and at 6-3, she is physical but also nimble enough to get up and down the floor.  This will be her first season under Kloppenburg, who is raring to get her into his fast-paced, spread-the-floor system. 

“An area we really needed to improve was inside scoring, and getting Tiff back helps a lot,” says Kloppenburg. “She can score around the rim, she’s one that will get 15 rebounds a game -- it’s just in her DNA to rebound. “

Black, Baugh and Paris will all battle for a backup spot. At 6-5, Black is most likely to stick due to the Brittney Griner factor. Vicki Baugh, who was cut after being drafted in the third round last year by Tulsa, is getting a second look and has a good chance of making the roster now that she’s returned to full health after several knee injuries in college. Her rebounding and defensive skills are likely better than Courtney Paris, who will have a tough time with the fast pace of the Shock offense. She struggled keeping up in Atlanta and needs to trim down if she hopes to extend her career in the WNBA.

All in all, things are looking up in Tulsa and Coach Klopp is thinking playoffs.

“We want to be right in that playoff mix this year," he says, "and we are going to do everything in our power as coaches to prepare our team for that.”