Photo: D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
But this is a different Silver Stars team. They have undergone significant changes in the past two seasons that resulted in their making the postseason and now hosting a first-round series. In acquiring in a number of veterans to complement a surrounding cast of young and developing stars, San Antonio is built to win right now.
But it may have been the addition of guard Becky Hammon in a Draft Day trade that put this team over the top. Hammon is a legitimate MVP contender this season after finishing among the league leaders in both points and assists. Center Ruth Riley, who was also acquired in an offseason trade, has won two titles with the Detroit Shock and was the Finals MVP back in 2003.
But this team is as much about its younger stars as it is about its experienced ones. Second-year forward Sophia Young is already one of the best players of the next generation, providing the inside-outside combo that is so essential to winning in the postseason. She finished the regular season with 16.8 ppg and 5.9 rpg. Also developing ahead of schedule is reserve shooting guard Shanna Crossley, who is deadly from behind the arc despite coming off the bench. In just her second season, she drained the third-most 3-pointers this season behind Diana Taurasi and her own teammate, Becky Hammon. Not bad, considering she averages only 15.5 minutes per game.
Forward Erin Buescher, last year's Most Improved Player who also joined the Silver Stars in the offseason, was playing at an All-Star level before suffering a season-ending injury on July 11. But that has not slowed San Antonio down either. The late-season return of reserve center Chantelle Anderson, who was recovering from an offseason injury of her own, has added to the already strong depth of this team as veterans like Marie Ferdinand-Harris and Helen Darling and rookie Camille Little have been vital off the bench.
The Monarchs have many of the same faces in place from their Finals runs of the past two seasons, though one newcomer has been incredibly important to Sacramento's continued success. First-year head coach Jenny Boucek may have inherited a very good team with a wealth of experience, but she has been instrumental in the development of the younger stars who led the Monarchs all season long. She also made the transition easier by adhering to the high-energy, defensive-minded system implemented by her predecessor, John Whisenant. The Monarchs were the second best defensive team in the league, surrendering 72.5 points per game.
With an injury to DeMya Walker early in the season, forward Rebekkah Brunson filled the scoring and rebounding void and delivered the best season of her career. The 2007 All-Star posted career highs in scoring and rebounds, nearly averaging a double-double in the process. Now in her fourth season, Brunson played more minutes than all of her teammates but Nicole Powell, who also had her best season as a professional. Powell averaged career bests in points and rebounds per game (13.0 ppg and 5.8 rpg) and has helped make up for the loss of Walker on the offensive end. Powell is a dangerous 3-point threat, but has added post moves to an arsenal that already included the ability to create her own shot and score off the dribble.
At the point, Ticha Penicheiro is still dishing the ball as effectively as anyone. While not always called upon to score, she can hit a shot when needed and does not make the bad turnovers that cost teams games (she finished second in the WNBA in assist-to turnover ratio). She has teamed up with Yolanda Griffith for a decade now and neither appears ready for her time to end. Griffith may be one of the oldest players in the WNBA, but she was still effective and a valuable contributor on both ends of the court this past season. The 2005 Finals MVP suffered a hyperextended knee with five games to go in the regular season, but she should be back at full strength when the playoffs tip off.
Whether or not she is at full strength, a primary reason for this team's success over the past years has been its balanced depth. This year was no different as the Monarchs lineup regularly goes ten players deep. Guard Kara Lawson has been the spark off the bench all season long and is a legitimate Sixth Woman Award contender. She averaged 11.1 ppg in just over 22 minutes of action per game, good enough for second on the team.
Third year guard Chelsea Newton returned to the Monarchs after spending one season with the Chicago Sky and gives Sacramento an effective defensive player on the perimeter. She was an instrumental part of the 2005 title run. Kristin Haynie is another guard capable of coming off the bench to keep the starters fresh. Over the course of an extended postseason, the reserves could make the difference in this series.
2007 Regular Season: San Antonio Silver Stars 2 - Sacramento Monarchs 2
Some fast facts about the Silver Stars-Monarchs first-round matchup:
While Ticha Penicheiro may be the all-time assists leader in WNBA
history, Becky Hammon averaged the most assists per game in the WNBA this
season. Her 5.0 per contest is a career-best. Hammon also averaged 18.8
ppg, the best in her career.
After recording her 1,000th career assist on Aug. 11, Vickie Johnson became the first player in WNBA history to have at least 3,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.
Not afraid to look to their reserves for offensive firepower, the Monarchs and Silver Stars have among the most productive benches in the league. Kara Lawson was the second-leading scorer for the Monarchs with 11.2 ppg while Kristin Haynie, Scholanda Rrobinson and Adrian Williams all average more than 15 minutes per game. Shanna Crossley is the leading Silver Stars producer off a bench that also regularly goes 10 players deep.
Rebekkah Brunson finished third in the WNBA with 8.9 rebounds per game. But what is more impressive is that nearly 130 of them were offensive boards, far and away the most in the WNBA this season. Her teammate, Yolanda Griffith, holds the single-season record with 162 offensive rebounds, which she accomplished in 2000.
Nicole Powell was the WNBA's Most Improved Player in 2005, but she continues to improve and posted personal best averages of 13.0 ppg and 5.8 rpg. In 2005, she finished with 10.7 and 3.7.
Tuesday, June 5, ARCO Arena, Sacramento, CA: Monarchs
74, Silver Stars 57 | Box
Sacramento Leaders: Rebekkah Brunson (21 pts., 9 reb.), Ticha Penicheiro (7 ast.)
San Antonio Leaders: Vickie Johnson (12 pts.), Sophia Young (9 pts., 7 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play | Webcast archive
Friday, July 20, AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX: Silver
Stars 81, Monarchs 71 | Box
San Antonio Leaders: Becky Hammon (18 pts., 6 ast.), Sophia Young (15 pts., 7 reb.)
Sacramento Leaders: Kara Lawson (16 pts.), Rebekkah Brunson (8 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play
Thursday, August 9, AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX: Silver
Stars 72, Monarchs 61 | Box
San Antonio Leaders: Sophia Young (19 pts., 4 reb.), Becky Hammon (16 pts., 8 ast.)
Sacramento Leaders: Rebekkah Brunson (12 pts., 19 reb.), Yolanda Griffith (15 pts., 7 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play
Wednessday, August 15, ARCO Arena, Sacramento, CA: Monarchs
81, Silver Stars 74 | Box
Sacramento Leaders: Rebekkah Brunson (7 pts., 12 reb.), Kristin Haynie (14 pts., 3 ast.)
San Antonio Leaders: Becky Hammon (19 pts., 3 ast.), Sophia Young (19 pts., 4 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play | Webcast archive