Detroit Shock: 2006 Preview
The good news, Shock fans, is that there isn't a more talented team in the WNBA.
When a midseason trade brought Katie Smith to Detroit from Minnesota last July, the Shock had the unprecedented luxury of starting five players who had played in that year's All-Star Game.
All five are back, which gives Detroit a legitimate claim to the 2006 WNBA title.
Now for the bad news. That All-Star-studded lineup made 10 starts together
a year ago, and went 5-5 including a pair of playoff losses to Connecticut in
which they shot only 36 percent from the floor.
"(Last year), we didn't get a chance to really play together," Smith said. "This year, I believe Bill (Laimbeer) will implement a system that works for our team. Much of it will be about having court time together, but also partly finding an offense that brings out all of our strengths. We have the talent in the world to be as good as we want to."
One of the best guards in WNBA history, Smith may not even be the best guard on her team. Deanna Nolan emerged as one of the WNBA's top players, averaging 15.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists while garnering First Team All-WNBA honors.
Smith, hobbled by a knee injury a year ago, averaged only 11.9 points, well below her career WNBA scoring average of 17.1. She's now healthy and acclimated to her new teammates, so she should more closely resemble the scorer who is second only to Lisa Leslie on the WNBA's all-time scoring list.
For all the talents that Nolan and Smith possess, neither is a point guard, which could spell trouble, especially since Elaine Powell, the team's only true point guard, was selected by the Chicago Sky in the expansion draft.
Having traded away both the first- and second-round draft picks, the Shock signed free agent Kedra Holland-Corn, a reserve on the 2003 Championship team, to assist with ball-handling duties.
Up front, the towering trio of Ruth Riley (6-5), Cheryl Ford (6-5) and Swin Cash (6-3) can cause opponents fits. Last year, they helped the Shock maintain a +5.8 per game average on the glass and limited opponents to 40.3 percent shooting. Each, however, saw her scoring average drop.
The most drastic decline in production - and certainly the most understandable - came from Cash, who missed 13 games with the torn left ACL suffered late in the 2004 season. The injury limited her playing time (21.8 mpg) and effectiveness (5.7 ppg on 38.1 percent shooting) all season. A year removed from the injury, she should regain some of her explosiveness and approach her career averages of 14.1 points and 43.9 percent.
Cash's injury did accelerate the development of Kara Braxton (6.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Plenette Pierson (7.7 rpg, 2.7 rpg), both of who proved themselves dependable reserves. Braxton, a 6-6 forward, made the All-Rookie team and led the Shock in field goal percentage (.462).
The Shock deepened its interior corps with Jacqueline Batteast, a 6-2 forward acquired in a draft-day trade with Minnesota and 6-7 center Zane Teilane, a third round draft from Western Illinois.
There will be a lot of pressure on this team
to avoid underachieving for the third straight season. Schedule makers did them
no favors by sending them away from home for six of the first eight games, but
this group has talent and motivation, and should contend if Cash and Smith regain
their 2004 form.