What Teams Need Heading Into 2006
2006 WNBA Draft Lottery: Team-by-Team Analysis
Despite the struggles of the five 2006 WNBA Draft Lottery teams during the 2005 season, they do not necessarily have to wait years to return to prominence and the playoffs. Not only can they improve their team through the Draft and trades prior to opening day, but this offseason, free agency will go a long way in shaping teams and rosters before they ever get to Draft in April. That said, based on last season's rosters, WNBA.com breaks down the WNBA Draft Lottery teams (before the expansion draft, trades and free agency - which will both go a long way towards affecting the overall picture) with a focus on each team's needs for 2006.
The odds were in Charlotte's favor prior to the 2006 WNBA Draft Lottery, but the Lynx stole the show.
This team was very much in the competitive thick of things for the early part of the season. Buoyed by the All-Star play of Olympian Katie Smith, but as her offensive fire began to wane, the team traded her to Detroit for another young player, guard Chandi Jones, giving the Lynx three top ten picks from the great 2004 Draft class. But is Jones the outside scoring threat that will bring this team back to the playoffs? She showed flashes of brilliance after the trade, but was not a consistent enough performer to get any real sense of whether or not she is the two-guard of Coach Suzie McConnell Serio's future.
After a season overseas, last year's top rookie, forward Kristen Mann, could be relied upon for a greater contribution. Along with veteran forward/center Tamika Williams and several other key reserves, the Lynx are deep in the frontcourt, but seriously need to add at least one or two more guards. Without Smith, the team also needs to replace her contributions from beyond the arc.
The Mercury had four players score in double figures this season (though after those four, no one score more than 4 ppg), led by the versatile Taurasi's 16.0 ppg, and the team's 69.4 ppg was third best. However, it was the team's defense that often failed them. The team also gave up 69.2 ppg, third worst in the WNBA. This was a team that had trouble putting teams away down the stretch, often surrendering second half leads. Perhaps the experiment to play Taurasi at point guard should come to an end. New coach Paul Westhead is known for his fast-paced, high energy offense that likes to run, and Taurasi is not the guard to lead that. It just doesn't make sense to wear out the best player offensive player on the team by having her handle the ball as well as do more scoring than anyone else.
So where does that leave forwards Penny Taylor and Kamila Vodichkova, who averaged 13.2 and 10.9 ppg respectively? The World Championships might render one or both of them gone for some or all of the season. The same applies to 6-8 center Maria Stepanova, who returned to Phoenix this season and made an immediate impact. But in arriving late and leaving early to compete in the European championships in 2005, the Mercury were just not the same without her and was a key reason that Phoenix stumbled down the stretch and missed the playoffs.
The Mercury have some young, relatively untapped depth in the post. This is a team with a lot of pieces already in place. But are they the right pieces? Ashley Robinson, Shereka Wright, Angelina Williams and Sandora Irvin, the injured third overall pick in the Draft last season, fill out a deep roster, though it is unlikely all of them will be back in 2006.
No matter how the Sting go about improving their roster, they need to focus on offense. For the second straight season, the Sting were last in the WNBA in points per game. Their 61.6 points per game, which was last among the 13 teams. Much of this has to do with the fact that they play at the slowest pace in the league. In 2004, their offense was middle of the road when adjusted for pace, and their defense was one of the worst in the league. In 2005, they actually were the worst offense in the league, and they were the second worst defense after adjusting for pace. This was certainly not helped by the fact that Charlotte's top overall pick last season, Janel McCarville, was injured for most of the season and scored only 1.8 ppg in limited action.
The Sting only had two players average in double figures, forwards Tangela Smith (13.6 ppg) and Sheri Sam (11.4), so adding another scorer would be a good place to start. Guard Allison Feaster only played in 21 games last year and dropped to fourth on the team's scoring rankings. The Sting are relatively deep in the frontcourt but woefully short on guards. Perimeter scoring was a significant weakness last season. The team averaged only 3.2 3-pointers made per game last season, tenth in the league.
During the playoff stretch run, veteran All-Star point guard Dawn Staley, the face of the franchise for years, was traded to the Houston Comets to give her a chance to win a championship before she retired. Her absence leaves a glaring gap that can either be filled through free agency, or less likely, the Draft. A rookie starting point guard is certainly a difficult find. Charlotte was actually an above average offensive rebounding team (as per their offensive rebound percentage), but was the worst defensive rebounding team. A healthy McCarville should help that, but a full year under new coach Muggsy Bogues should also improve team chemistry and help build a new identity. At least they are getting younger.
In 2005, the Silver Stars had only one player, guard Marie Ferdinand, average double digits in scoring. As a team, San Antonio finished only ahead of the Sting in points scored per game. New acquisition Wendy Palmer-Daniel finished second on the team in scoring and led the team in rebounding, but that was another area the Silver Stars were woefully deficient, finishing 11th out of the 13 teams in average per game. On the bright side, it looks like they hit the jackpot with 2005 first round draft pick Katie Feenstra, a 6-8 named to the All-Rookie team.
The return of a healthy Wecker and LaToya Thomas, who was playing like an All-Star before getting hurt, could be the scoring lift that the team needs, but San Antonio is most in need of another perimeter scorer who can also get to the rack. Point guard Shannon Johnson, who is not getting any younger, led the team with only 28 3-pointers. Coach Dan Hughes proved he was a winner with Cleveland, so another year in his system should help the team improve, though if he needs to start 10 players again, something he was forced to do last season, it might not get any better.
Last season, the Mystics had continuity in from their starters, featuring the same starting lineup all season long. In last year's Draft, the Mystics got their franchise point guard in Temeka Johnson, the 2005 WNBA Rookie of the Year. The fifth overall pick scored 9.3 ppg and finished second in the WNBA with 5.2 assists per game. Her backcourt partner, Alana Beard, was an All-Star and an All-Defensive Team honoree in just her second season. She led the Mystics in scoring for the second straight season.
Center Chasity Melvin had another fine season for Washington, but was inconsistent despite scoring 11.7 ppg and leading the team with 5.9 rebounds per game. A pair of newcomers in the Mystics frontcourt also made significant contributions. DeLisha Milton-Jones bounced back from a knee injury in 2004 to average nearly 12 points per game and more than 5 rebounds while Charlotte Smith-Taylor led the team with 42 3-pointers during the season - not bad for a team that lived and died by the 3-pointer this season, hitting 5.3 per contest, second best in the league.
Of course, like all of this, everything will depend on who remains after the expansion draft and which free agents are signed. Much of this is conjecture, but the Mystics need more depth and scoring off the bench in both frontcourt and backcourt positions. When the starters came out in 2005, the offense often faltered. While this team may have enough decent players, they need more good players to contend in the East with the likes of Detroit and Connecticut.