Meet the Replacements

WNBA Analysis Archive
StormTracker - covering the Storm and the WNBA as a whole
Kevin Pelton, | May 29, 2007
Los Angeles Sparks guard Temeka Johnson is featured in the WNBA's ad campaign, with the tagline, "Have you seen her?" So far, the answer is no, as the 2005 Rookie of the Year has been sidelined by off-season knee surgery and remains out indefinitely. Under different circumstances, the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty have lost stars Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Becky Hammon to trades.

All three teams, however, have players who have successfully stepped into the shoes of the missing stars. Meet the Replacements.

Marta Fernandez has quickly taken to playing the point and the WNBA.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty
Marta Fernandez, Los Angeles
At some point, Johnson will return from the microfracture knee surgery that she underwent during the off-season. (The latest is Johnson is out "at least" the first two weeks of the season.) For now, however, the Sparks are not only without the league's second-leading assister in 2006 but also their only true point guard.

In Johnson's stead, Sparks Head Coach Michael Cooper has turned to Fernandez, a 26-year-old rookie from Spain who is a two guard by trade. Don't tell the Connecticut Sun that Fernandez is learning a new position as well as a new league. On Saturday, she torched the Sun for 19 points on 9-of-16 shooting, four assists, two steals and just one turnover in 34 minutes as the Sparks beat the Sun 88-68 in Connecticut.

Saturday was the first time Fernandez really got her own offense going after totaling eight points in L.A.'s first two games, but she's done a more than passable job running the Sparks offense. In the very early going, Fernandez ranks third in the WNBA in assists per game (5.7). Her 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio is also amongst the league's best.

During Saturday's game, ABC broadcasters Dave Pasch and Doris Burke passed along that Cooper compares Fernandez to San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (hopefully a comparison which does not extend to flopping and flailing en route to the basket). When and if Johnson returns to full health, the Sparks can use Fernandez at both guard positions, giving Cooper plenty of options to work with. That's a scary thought with a team that has started 2-1 on the road playing an enormous lineup with 6-1 Chamique Holdsclaw at guard.

Erika de Souza, Connecticut
Okay, technically it's forward Asjha Jones who is replacing McWilliams-Franklin in the starting lineup. However, Jones was already a sixth starter for the Sun, so the bigger change has been the addition of de Souza, acquired from Los Angeles as part of the McWilliams-Franklin trade.

De Souza returned to the WNBA after a four-year absence as something of an enigma. She barely contributed to L.A. in 2002, playing just 41 minutes in 11 games, but de Souza was a 20-year-old rookie back then. Now 25, she has developed into a starter for the Brazilian National Team and a powerful force in the paint.

The Sun has started slowly, losing its last two games, and has missed McWilliams-Franklin (Jones shot just 1-for-14 from the field in Saturday's much-anticipated return to Connecticut by McWilliams-Franklin), but de Souza can't be blamed.

Just three games into her Sun career, de Souza has, for the moment, supplanted Margo Dydek as Connecticut Coach Mike Thibault's preferred option in the middle. De Souza has played 54 minutes in her last two games and has been very effective, totaling 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting, 14 rebounds and three blocks (albeit with seven turnovers).

Erin Thorn is a big reason for New York's surprising 2-0 start.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty
De Souza didn't have to sell Thibault on her skills.

"I don't think there will be any single question about de Souza other than from the people that haven't seen her play," Thibault told The Day prior to the season. "She can be one of the elite players in our league at center."

Erin Thorn, New York
Thorn is an anomaly amongst this group. She's not new to the country, the WNBA or even the Liberty; in fact, she's the team's longest-tenured player, working on her fifth season in the Big Apple. For three-plus of those seasons, the consensus amongst Liberty fans was that Thorn couldn't play. Frankly, it was hard to begrudge them that opinion. While Thorn was a sharpshooter at BYU, where she once held the NCAA's all-time career three-point record, she shot just 29.0% from downtown in her first three WNBA seasons.

Thorn's big break came in Hammon's absence. When the Liberty's star sprained her ankle last July, Thorn got regular playing time and found her shot. Over the second half of the season, Thorn topped the 20-point mark twice and averaged 9.1 points per game, shooting 46.7% from three-point range.

That performance was enough to get Thorn the first crack at replacing Hammon in the starting lineup after the Liberty's blockbuster Draft-day trade. She has missed a couple shots in New York's first two games, both wins, but only a couple. Thorn was 7-of-10 from three-point range in the Liberty's opener against Chicago, scoring 28 points, then followed it up with 17 points and 4-for-6 three-point shooting against Washington. Thorn and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi (12) are the only two WNBA players to make at least 10 three-pointers this season.

What might be more remarkable is the versatility Thorn is showing early in the season. She's playing some point guard behind starter Loree Moore and handed out four assists in the opener. Against Washington, Thorn pulled down a career-high eight boards. If Thorn can get 10-plus shots a night and contribute like that, she'll quickly shed the label of three-point specialist.