The 2013 WNBA season opened last weekend in Dickensian fashion — great expectations. “I think this is the most anticipated season for me,” proclaims ESPN analyst and former WNBA coach/general manager Carolyn Peck.
[New coach Mike Thibault] “will make a huge difference” in Washington, but unresolved ball-handling issues may prove too much. Atlanta still is Angel McCoughtry’s team, but point guard might be a problem.
This year’s second overall pick, Elena Delle Donne, will help Chicago, but can the Sky overcome the early absence of star guard Epiphanny Prince, who contractually must play in Russia in June? The team didn’t last season when Prince was injured. Indiana starts the season shorthanded with three players injured, but the Fever’s biggest question is their interior rotation.
New York “[is] the team to watch in the East,” but “a lot of question marks” still linger. Connecticut has “got a lot of talent, but how they’ll replace [injured] Asjha Jones and play around [center Tina] Charles” remains to be seen.
As for the West: “It will be a rough year for” Seattle, who lost both Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson for the year. Tulsa will be “vastly improved” with Candice Wiggins and Skylar Diggins as backcourt mates, and forward Glory Johnson, a potential all-star.
San Antonio can still be good without Sophia Young, who’s out with a season-ending injury, but rebounding and consistent perimeter shooting remain challenges. Top rookie Brittney Griner will be a shot-blocking presence in Phoenix, but does the Mercury have effective bench support? Acquiring point guard Lindsey Harding pushed Los Angeles up the conference food chain, but did the Sparks improve its rebounding, which proved a team downfall last season?
(More later on the local W club that opens its season Saturday in downtown Minneapolis.)
Not since Candace Parker’s arrival in 2008, and Maya Moore’s two years ago, has the WNBA received this much buzz as with Griner, Diggins and Delle Donne — the “3 to See” thus far. Will these three rookies collectively help the W finally land a permanent spot in the regular sports fan’s and male chauvinistic media’s consciousness?
“When you talk about the marketing of the WNBA, it was pretty much marketed as a sport to go watch that was fan friendly. The players were accessible and it was geared around the community involvement,” recalls Peck.
“Now you can market those other things plus you’re going to see a great game and great product on the floor. The WNBA is a faster game, and the players are stronger, more developed, and more mature.
“I think that Brittney has brought a lot of attention because of her accomplishments and the things that she did on the college level,” continues Peck on the 6’ 8” Griner. “Skylar brings [leadership to Tulsa] and ability to distribute the basketball,” and Delle Donne “can score the basketball, [and] I felt like [that] was the biggest need to help Chicago.”
When asked if there are other first-year players who also could be an impact for their respective clubs, Parham lists the following in no particular priority order: Minneapolis native Tayler Hill and Nadirah McKenith (Washington), Kelly Faris (Connecticut), Layshia Clarendon (Indiana), Angel Goodrich (Tulsa) and Alex Bentley (Atlanta).
Are there any “hot seat coaches” out there? Parham names Chicago’s Pokey Chatman, the league’s only Black female head coach. “If she doesn’t get them in the playoffs, they will have to make a change,” he predicts.
And now, the Minnesota Lynx — can they regain their shoulder-chip mojo of two seasons ago that earned this area its first pro-basketball championship since the Lakers of the 1950s? The Lynx this summer are defending nothing but hopefully their self-respect: Were they humbled enough by Indiana in last year’s finals?
“I’m sure that they have the sour taste in their mouth after last season,” says Peck.
I’m not so sure, especially since Minnesota made only cosmetic off-season changes, whereas other West clubs made significant changes to solidify their contending chances. The Lynx brain trust are Peaches and Herb hoping that reuniting former college teammates Janel McCarville and Lindsay Whalen will offset Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s retirement, and top pick Lindsay Moore will fill the long vacant backup point guard spot.
The team’s four returning starters — Whalen, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson — can match up with any other quartet in the league, but women’s pro ball is five-on-five. McCarville is the prohibitive fifth starter, mainly for marketing purposes. Will she play like she did in her 2009 most-improved year or revert back to her earlier, struggling Charlotte years?
“They are going to need players to step up,” says Parham, referring to Monica Wright as first player off the bench for Minnesota and consistent production from Devereaux Peters, who had her moments as a rookie last year.
Seeing all this play out is “what makes an exciting season,” concludes Peck.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]