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Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday Cardinal Couple -- WNBA analysis and comments from "G dub"


( We are fortunate today to have (and present)... WNBA coverage from our talented West Coast associate and writer Gary Witherspoon. Since we are prone to hand out nicknames around here at CARDINAL COUPLE...we have tagged him with the "G DUB" nickname. A seriously good aritcle awaits you below. Enjoy!    -- paulie)  

The 2014 WNBA Draft and Rookie Debuts

Of all the 2014 WNBA draftees, only two had really significant impacts for their teams in their first game. They were Natasha Howard and Shoni Schimmel. Natasha Howard (FSU) played 33 minutes, had 16 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocked shots for Indiana against the Chicago Sky. Shoni played 31 minutes, just three minutes less than the Dream's big stars Erika D. and Angel M. And Shoni was not just on the floor learning; she was running the offense, directing traffic, leading the fast break and making key decisions and plays in crunch time. She scored 7 points in the fourth quarter in a game won by the Dream 79-75. Shoni also had three rebounds and two steals. In her first WNBA game, Shoni tied a franchise record with 11 assists.

Chiney Ogwumike. played 32 minutes for the Connecticut Sun, had 13 points with 5 rebounds for a team that needs a lot of help. Kayla McBride played 22 minutes, had 6 points on 1-6 from the field, and had one rebound and one assist. Alyssa Thomas scored 7 points for the Sun in 22 minutes. Stefanie Dolson scored 6 points and had 4 rebounds in 18 minutes for the Mystics. Bria Hartley scored only 4 points in 18 minutes, and was 1-5 from the field. All these players were drafted ahead of Shoni, and all but Dolson and Hartley were drafted ahead of Natasha Howard.

Asia Taylor played well in 12 minutes as a role player for the champion Lynx, going 1-3 from the field and 2-2 from the line. Tricia Liston of Duke did not score in 2 minutes for the Lynx. Liston was drafted in the first round, and Asia Taylor was the last player taken in the third round. It is interesting to see in retrospect just how smart all the media and team draft analysts were.

While one night does not make a season, the nights Natasha Howard and Shoni had cannot be attributed to an accident or to a one night of hot shooting. They showed that they are impact players with talent and savvy in multiple phases of the game. They will be challenged down the line as teams design defenses to stop or restrict them, but they showed that they are certainly not over their heads in the WNBA. Some of the 2014 draftees who did not do so well may develop into impact players, but it is always interesting at the outset to see how the games of various players translate to the next level.

It was also interesting to see how Kara Lawson performed after critiquing all these college players and teams for ESPN the last several years. She had two points on 1-6 shooting in 26 minutes for the Mystics. Despite not playing well, I do like Kara as an analyst. She is so much better than most of the people at ESPN on the women's side.

Update One:

The second night of WNBA play re-enforced my observation (and that of others as well) that Natasha Howard and Shoni Schimmel are the two players in the 2014 draft who are going to have the greatest immediate impact on their teams and the WNBA. Following up on their remarkable first night performances, both players came up with even more impressive second night performances.

Against Shoni and the Dream, Howard played 41 minutes (most on her team), went 10-13 from the field, 1-4 from the line, had 21 points with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Though still not starting, Shoni played 44 of the 50 minute double overtime game, getting her first WNBA double-double by scoring 17 points (7-14 with 3 of 7 three pointers) and dishing out 10 assists, with none more important than the assist to Angel McCoughtry for the game winner in double overtime.

Angel McCoughtry’s performance in this game was nothing short of overwhelming. After flying in from Turkey on a long mid-week flight, Angel played 34 minutes Friday night, scoring 21 points with 6 rebounds and five assists. She plays with such intensity and abandon that her body took a beating in that game. Then she comes back the next night after traveling to Indiana and does not start because she is tired and her body is hurting. However, her team starts slow and falls behind quickly. The coach then immediately puts the Louisville duo in the game, and Angel comes up with a game for the ages when it was easy to see she was extremely tired and in a lot of pain.

Angel played 39 minutes with as much guts, grit and talent as one will ever see, scoring 27 points on 9-15 from the field, 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, and 7 of 8 from the line. She also had 5 assists and 6 steals, and hit the game winner from three in the last 10 seconds of a game where both teams were extremely tired and combined for 48 turnovers. Nevertheless, both teams also combined for 43 assists and 50% shooting in a remarkable display of heart, toughness, endurance and talent.


Update Two:

The second night of WNBA play also saw the debut of the much heralded Odyssey Sims who played 22 minutes for the Tulsa Shock, scoring 6 points on 1-11 from the field. She also had 3 rebounds and one assist. With the second night in the books, all WNBA rookies have now made their debut (with the exception of two injured players, Gray and Achonwa), and still only Natasha Howard and Shoni Schimmel have had outstanding debuts that show their performances are going to immediately and significantly impact their teams and the WNBA.

I suspect Chiney Ogwumike will have some strong performances for her team soon. I would also not be surprised if Kayla McBride and Stefanie Dolson have strong rookie seasons, but I do expect O. Sims’ me-first kind of game to not translate well to the WNBA while playing along side of Skylar Diggins. However, Sims is very talented and I predict she will eventually be one of the top guards in the WNBA.

Of the 12 players taken in the third round of the WNBA draft, only three, Asia Taylor, Theresa Plaisance and Jamiera Faulkner, are still with their teams. Taylor and Faulkner have played significant minutes for their teams, but Plaisance has not yet seen the court.

Taylor played six minutes Sunday in the Lynx overtime win over Phoenix and grabbed four rebounds in the 90-87 Minnesota win. The Lynx played only eight players in the game. Three Minnesota players are out with knee injuries.
The most puzzling draft performance was done by the Seattle Storm. They passed on a chance to take local NW favorite Shoni Schimmel, and instead took Bria Hartley who was immediately traded to the Mystics for veteran Crystal Langhorne who is starting for them but is averaging only 7 points per game. They then cut both their second and third round draft choices. A team with a lot of needs got little out of this draft, despite the fact that many observers consider the 2014 draft to be one of the most talent-laden drafts in WNBA history. Minnesota had the last picks in each round and got two players who are contributing for them, Tricia Liston of Duke and Asia Taylor of Louisville. That is part of the reason the Minnesota Lynx are defending champions and the Seattle Storm have not been competitive in two games thus far.

Last year there were the three big stars to hit the WNBA draft, but only the least heralded of the three actually lived up to the media hype and that was Elena Delle Donne. She is the most graceful basketball player I have seen since Oscar Robertson, if some of you go back that far. This year, however, it does look like Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins have learned from last year’s struggles and will have strong sophomore seasons.
--Gary Witherspoon--

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  1. Great Analysis. Seattle certainly did screw up. It's too bad for everyone involved.

  2. I will defer to the hoops guru Sonja who told me six years ago that Asia Taylor would be playing someday in the WNBA. Throughout all her struggles, injuries and rehab...Sonja remained true to her beliefs in Asia and look where she is.

    Good call, Sonja! ( how you been, dear?)

    the real Joe Hill

    1. Doing fine, Joe! How's your lovely bride? A-Tayy and I had a great relationship while she was here and I know she'll be a success at whatever she does in life. I am so pleased to see her realizing her dream.


  3. Needed a magnifying glass to read the WNBA stuff.

  4. Seattle is dedicated to Bird and L. Jackson, but their clocks are ticking... Storm is looking to the past to bring them more when in reality the new young players is where its at, a new era is upon them, but they chose to stay in the past. Big mistake on not selecting Shoni, HUGE NW/West Native fan base! and we're all waiting for Aug 7th when the Dream come to town! --Umatilla23


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