The Shock rise; the Sun sink

July 22, 2013 - 5:45pm
Glory Johnson (No. 25) hit the weights and extended her range during the off-season. Paired with Liz Cambage, she gives Tulsa a formidable young frontcourt. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

Glory Johnson (No. 25) hit the weights and extended her range during the off-season. Paired with Liz Cambage, she gives Tulsa a formidable young frontcourt. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

Make it three in a row for the Tulsa Shock, and just to show that a blind sow does find an acorn now and again, I did point out that this young team would do much better once it started playing more home games.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Liz Cambage is now healthy, as she’s averaging 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds a game after a very shaky start. Sure, she has a lot of work to do, but she and the marvelously athletic Glory Johnson make a young frontcourt tandem that even Nolan Richardson would have realized he wanted to keep around.

The young talent, though, is without much support in its home town, due in great part to the blindness of the Shock ownership, which hired the clueless Richardson to run the franchise when it first started. He did run it, into the ground, and when Gary Kloppenburg took over, the cupboard was bare and the city’s goodwill was all but gone.

Still, even after getting stuck with the third pick in the 2013 draft – missing out on Elena Delle Donne, now with Chicago – the Shock are clearly on the rise, as even that third pick might turn into something valuable down the road. Right now, though, Skylar Diggins, despite that high selection and the high Twitter readings, isn’t much of a WNBA player. In fact, she got beat out by the diminutive Angel Goodrich for the starting spot of late because 30.7 shooting just isn’t going to get it done.

Of course, the Shock might have been able to carry Diggins’ lack of marksmanship had Candice Wiggins worked out as hoped at the two – but Wiggins is a below-average starter after a hot start to her WNBA career, and sister Stanford alum Nicole Powell is barely average, if that, at the three. The good news, though, is that wings are the easiest pieces to add to a playoff puzzle, and if Diggins finds herself (or Goodrich ups her game), Tulsa could move quickly past some aging competition in the West.

Then again, the Shock might do that this season, as they are just 1.5 games out of fourth place – and they are in the midst of a Tulsa turnaround.

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At the other end of the spectrum are the WNBA worst Connecticut Sun – and before I begin a familiar rant, I want to repeat that I have nothing personal against Anne Donovan, who has always treated me well in our brief interactions, and seems like a quality person.

Sadly, she is just not a very good coach, and since the Sun ownership inexplicably fired Mike Thibault at the end of last season to replace him with Donovan – who was in the midst of failing miserably at Seton Hall – Connecticut has plummeted straight to the bottom of the standings.

Granted, there are good reasons to have expected a dropoff from last year’s 25-9 record, but still … 4-11? First to worst?

Okay. Asjha Jones decided not to return, but she missed 14 games last season so it wasn’t like Connecticut couldn’t win without her. Renee Montgomery and Kara Lawson, who didn’t miss a game in 2012 and combined for 55.4 minutes, 26.7 points and 6.6 assists a game, have missed 17 games between them and Montgomery especially has been ineffective when she has played.

But it’s not like other teams haven’t been crushed by injuries. Seattle is without both Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson; San Antonio is missing Becky Hammon and Sophia Young; New York lost Cheryl Ford and Essence Carson; and even Atlanta is trying to make do without Sancho Lyttle.

Most damning of all, though, has been the performance of Tina Charles, last year’s MVP, who was supposed to thrive under the tutelage of the 6-7 Donovan, who was one of the great posts in the game’s history. But Charles is shooting just 39.9 percent this year, bad for a guard and truly dismal for a post, after making 49.9 percent last year, and has fewer assists and fewer blocks.

Meanwhile, Thibault has revitalized the previously moribund Mystics, who were 5-29 last year and now are in third place in the East with an 8-9 record.

Donovan has had some great moments, most notably with Jackson and Bird in Seattle (two players who would make any coach look smart), but her time in charge of the national team produced a surprising loss in the 2006 World Championship, and her Seton Hall sojourn was much, much worse.

Yes, talent is the most important ingredient in team success, but coaching matters too – just ask the Sun fans, who went from 25-9 to looking up at Washington in the standings.

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On another note, this week is the second of the two NCAA viewing periods when college coaches can legally evaluate high school players. That means there are major tournaments all over the country that will draw hordes of coaches to sit in the stands and work on their already advanced texting skills.

After all, it only takes a couple minutes to realize that Brianna Turner can really help your team, and that 5-4 guard with the gaudy stats has the ugliest jumper in creation and will be playing at a JC near you in 2014. So the coaches make sure their intended victims, er, recruits, can see them at their games, and then try to stay awake as an AAU powerhouse with six BCS-level players rolls over some local group of girls who have a decent chance to be all-league in the suburbs.

Of course, Nike Nationals is different, as the top Nike-sponsored teams will be in Georgia, and on top of the very high spiff factor when it comes to uniforms, the talent level will be pretty good too. The only catch is that only Nike-sponsored teams can go, so that eliminates some very talented players, but the Nike Nationals are the closest thing to a summer championship – so if you’re in the area, check it out.

Or if you’re somewhere else, watch WNBA Live Access on your Kindle and see if you can spot what’s wrong with Tina Charles.