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2008 Eastern Conference Preview

DREAM CAPSULE
Coach: Marynell Meadors (first year)
2007 Record: Expansion Team

Starting 5
PER
TS%
Reb%
Pass
G Latta
14.6
.516
4.9
.51
G Lennox
20.6
.547
10.3
.49
F Castro Marques
18.6
.558
6.0
.72
F Mann
12.6
.474
8.2
.19
C Feenstra
19.5
.573
21.0
.00
Key Reserves
PER
TS%
Reb%
Pass
G Haynie
6.5
.449
4.2
.85
F Little
10.3
.444
13.1
.03
C DeSouza
16.2
.534
14.1
.03
Atlanta Dream

If history is any indication, fans in Atlanta shouldn't get too attached to the players who make up the inaugural Atlanta Dream roster. The Dream joins the Chicago Sky as the WNBA's sole expansion teams since four squads were added in 2000. The Sky is now entering its third season of play, but just three players remain from the Chicago squad that went 5-29 in 2006.

For the most part, the Dream's roster is similar to what the Sky had two seasons ago. The modern WNBA expansion draft yields a number of role players and youngsters with the chance to blossom given the proper opportunity. The key to the inaugural season is sorting through a large group of somewhat-intriguing players to figure out which ones deserve to stick. Chicago came up with Jia Perkins, last year's Sixth Woman Award runner-up.


Feenstra
Which players could find a home in Atlanta? Former Detroit Shock teammates Katie Feenstra and Ivory Latta top the list. Feenstra has put up impressive per-minute numbers throughout her career but has never managed to stay on the floor for more than 20 minutes a night. Last season, she averaged 13.1 mpg in Detroit. That number will surely go up in Atlanta. Feenstra's 6-8 frame will always make it difficult for her to match up with mobile posts and play in an up-and-down style, but it also makes her a formidable rebounder and post player. The Dream will likely put the ball in Latta's hands and see if she can recreate the freewheeling style that made her so dangerous at North Carolina, where she was once considered a possible No. 1 overall pick.

At forward, keep an eye on Camille Little and Kristen Mann. Little was considered a steal for San Antonio in the second round last year, and she ended the season on the WNBA All-Rookie Team. Latta's former teammate at North Carolina, Little is a fine defender who must become more of a threat on offense. Mann was terrific during the first half of her sophomore season as a starter in Minnesota, but slumped thereafter. At her best, she's a multitalented player who can handle the ball and stretch the floor with her three-point shooting from either forward position.

STATS KEY
Expected Wins - Based on point differential; one extra point advantage per game equals about 1.1 extra wins
Offensive Rating - Points scored per 100 possessions (POS = .96*(FGA+(.44*FTA)-OR+TO)
Defensive Rating - Points allowed per 100 possessions
TS% - True Shooting Percentage, the best measure of scoring efficiency
Reb% - Rebound Percentage, percentage of available rebounds grabbed
Pass - A measure of passing ability, AST/MIN^2 * AST/TO * 100

For more on these stats, check out storm.wnba.com's Statistical Analysis Primer.

Where the Dream's roster diverges from what the Sky put on the floor in its inaugural season is in terms of the go-to player. Despite picking fifth, Chicago was able to land a franchise-type player with its first-round draft pick, taking Temple forward Candice Dupree. Dupree ended up an All-Star in her rookie year. Atlanta negotiated up to the fourth pick, but in what ultimately became seen as a three-player draft. As a result, the Dream traded down with the Storm to the eighth pick, landing veteran forward Iziane Castro Marques in the process. With the eighth pick, Atlanta surprised the rest of the league by taking James Madison wing Tamera Young. Young isn't likely to match Dupree's production, but she had 15 points in 17 minutes in the Dream's preseason opener.

The advantage Atlanta has over Chicago is in terms of a veteran go-to player, long-time Storm guard Betty Lennox. The Dream also negotiated the right to select and core an unrestricted free agent in the expansion draft and took Lennox, who should pile up the points in Atlanta and keep the Dream's offense respectable. In Lennox and Castro Marques, Atlanta has imported from Seattle a solid wing duo. Castro Marques, a three-year starter in Seattle who is still only 26, is an ideal fit for an expansion team. However, with the 5-6 Latta, 5-8 Lennox and skinny 6-0 Castro Marques on the perimeter, Atlanta will have trouble defending big, physical backcourts. Look for the Dream to struggle on the defensive end of the floor.

There's some talent in Atlanta, but probably not enough for the Dream to avoid the cellar in year number one. That's OK, as long as a year's worth of evaluation produces some young players who can be a part of the first great Atlanta team a couple of years down the line.


SKY CAPSULE
Coach: Steven Key (first year)
2007 Record: 14-20
Expected Wins: 14.2
Off. Rating: 96.6 (9th)
Def. Rating: 100.3 (9th)

Starting 5
PER
TS%
Reb%
Pass
G Canty
14.8
.444
4.7
2.71
G Perkins
23.9
.546
8.2
.71
F Price
16.8
.451
13.0
1.03
F Dupree
21.4
.502
13.4
.05
C Fowles
Rookie
Key Reserves
PER
TS%
Reb%
Pass
G Sharp
11.6
.501
4.1
1.10
F Wyckoff
12.8
.540
11.8
.71
F Melvin
15.9
.510
13.0
.04
Chicago Sky

While the Chicago Sky suffered through its inaugural season, year two was much more successful. Chicago was in the playoff hunt until late in the season, improved by eight games and continued to develop a strong young core. Four players were key to Chicago's improvement: Veteran newcomers Chasity Melvin and Dominique Canty, Rookie of the Year Armintie Price and much-improved guard Jia Perkins. The Sky opened 2007 with a gaping hole in the middle after Bernadette Ngoyisa decided to stay overseas, leaving the team with only Candice Dupree (better deployed at forward) and role players in the middle. That changed quickly when Chicago sent dispersal draftee Monique Currie to Washington for veteran Chasity Melvin. While the Sky may ultimately regret giving up the talented Currie, the move worked perfectly in the short term. Melvin solidified Chicago at center and offered consistent production.

The Sky made over its backcourt between its first and second seasons, signing Chicago native Canty and drafting Price in the first round. Like Melvin, Canty was a solid presence for the Sky, leading the team with 4.1 assists per game. She was a useful player despite not shooting the ball nearly as well as she had in her best years in Houston. While Price's ROY campaign benefited from the absence of a dominant rookie, she flashed an intriguing skill set, averaging 6.0 points, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Price instantly became the league's best rebounding guard and showed promise as a defender.


Perkins
Perkins only got one vote for Most Improved Player, overshadowed by the performance of her former Charlotte teammate Janel McCarville. Still, Perkins dramatically transformed her game in her third season, emerging as one of the league's top reserve scorers. She averaged just over 20 points per 40 minutes without sacrificing efficiency, shooting 46.4% from the field and 43.3% from downtown. Houston made a play for Perkins during the off-season, but the Sky wisely matched the offer to keep the restricted free agent in Chicago.

WINDS OF CHANGE:
STORM.WNBA.COM'S
2008 PREVIEW
Check back all week as storm.wnba.com gets you ready for the 2008 season, looking at the changes made by the Storm and throughout the WNBA.
Monday: Fresh Start: Cash Begins Anew in Seattle
Tuesday: Bird Returns to Revamped Storm
Wednesday: The Centerpiece: Storm Looks to Ease Pressure on Jackson
Thursday: The Veterans: Griffith and Swoopes Looking for Familiar Result with New Team
Western Conference Preview
Friday: Is This "The Perfect Storm?"
WNBA/Awards Predictions

2008 Preview Homepage

In the lottery, the Sky fell short of the ultimate prize (Chicago native Candace Parker), but got a pretty good consolation prize. Picking second overall, the Sky ended up with LSU center Sylvia Fowles, who has the potential to become one of the league's all-time great post players. Fowles isn't a perfect fit for the Sky's needs, but is more than good enough that Chicago will make room for her. Most likely, Fowles bumps Melvin to a sixth woman role. It's also possible that the Sky could go with a big lineup, moving Dupree to small foward alongside Fowles and Melvin.

Calling those shots from the sidelines will be first-year Head Coach Steven Key, Chicago's third coach in as many years of existence. When Bo Overton abruptly resigned his position in March after a successful rookie season in the WNBA, Key - an assistant under both Overton and his predecessor, Dave Cowens - inherited the post. With Key in place, the Sky will look to build more coaching stability.

In the long run, Chicago has an excellent young core to build around, headlined by Dupree and Fowles. Dupree made her second All-Star appearance in as many seasons in 2007, averaging 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Her versatility is demonstrated by the fact that Dupree started last season playing heavily at center, ended it largely at power forward and now could play on the wing. Dupree's ability to score from the high post will match well with Fowles' power game in the paint.

In the short term, the Sky has very legitimate playoff aspirations in the Eastern Conference. If anything trips Chicago up, it will be the team's lack of outside shooting. Combined, the four projected starters besides Perkins made five three-pointers last season. Price probably has less shooting range than any other guard in the league, and while Canty is effective from midrange, she is not a three-point threat. Last year, the Sky made up for that with starting small forward Stacey Dales, who made 68 threes to rank fourth in the league before retiring (a second time) to work for ESPN, and a number of shooting specialists off the bench. That's why it probably makes sense to move Perkins out of her comfortable reserve role.


SUN CAPSULE
Coach: Mike Thibault (sixth year)
2007 Record: 18-16
Expected Wins: 19.7
Off. Rating: 100.1 (4th)
Def. Rating: 97.2 (5th)

Starting 5
PER
TS%
Reb%
Pass
G Whalen
24.3
.564
8.8
2.98
G Maltsi
13.6
.506
7.8
.49
F Jones
18.2
.487
11.0
.26
F Whitmore
14.7
.492
11.3
.10
C Gruda
Rookie
Key Reserves
PER
TS%
Reb%
Pass
G Swanier
Rookie
F Turner
14.1
.511
9.8
.28
C Raymond
12.3
.624
15.9
.05
Connecticut Sun

That sound you heard in Connecticut last season was the window of opportunity slamming shut on the Sun team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals four straight seasons, twice played in the WNBA Finals and won a league-high 26 games in back-to-back seasons. For all that success, the Sun never ascended to the WNBA's summit, with untimely postseason injuries stopping the team's runs just short of immortality. Last year, Connecticut slipped to 18-16 and was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the franchise was in Orlando.

If there was any doubt left that the run was over, it's one after an off-season that saw the Sun take one loss after another:

  • Center Margo Dydek will miss the season after giving birth in April.
  • Star guard Katie Douglas requested a trade to her native Indiana, and Connecticut acquiesced.
  • Forward Nykesha Sales decided to become the first high-profile WNBA player to sit a season out due to fatigue from a year-round schedule, favoring more profitable overseas play.

    Since Taj McWilliams-Franklin had requested and received a trade to Los Angeles the previous off-season, the moves left the Sun with only point guard Lindsay Whalen left from the starting lineup of the elite Connecticut teams. Suddenly, a lineup that had as much continuity as any in the league has very little.

    Lest this sound too dire, Mike Thibault's cupboard is hardly bare. In Whalen, the Sun has one of the league's best point guards. Dealing McWilliams-Franklin cleared a spot in the lineup for younger Asjha Jones, clearly overqualified for her role as a sixth woman. The Douglas trade netted Tamika Whitmore, an All-Star as recently as two years ago. Those three form the Sun's core, but around them are a number of younger players, meaning Connecticut's future is brighter than its present.

    Thanks to the McWilliams-Franklin and Douglas trades, the Sun has had an extra first-round pick each of the last two years, though including Connecticut's own two picks none of the four has been in the top half of the round. Last year's first-round rookie, Temple forward Kamesha Hairston, already seems to have fallen out of favor with the Sun. However, Thibault looked ahead with his other pick, taking young French center Sandrine Gruda. Still just 20, Gruda has been a fine international player, averaging 13.8 points and 4.9 rebounds for power UMMC Ekaterinburg in Euroleague play this season. She'll join the Sun this season, though she'll be late to join the team after finishing up in Russia last week.


    Holt
    With this year's pair of picks, Thibault added to his frontcourt with Middle Tennessee State forward Amber Holt and to the backcourt with UConn guard Ketia Swanier. The two players had opposite preseasons, with Holt putting up 15 points in one impressive outing while Swanier shot 2-for-17 over three games, but both should get a shot. Swanier is one of four UConn alumnae on the Sun's roster; in addition to Jones, Connecticut traded for two former Huskies over the winter, one-time Storm forward Barbara Turner and veteran post Tamika Raymond. Thibault has called it a coincidence, but the UConn connection can't hurt the Sun in the eyes of fans.

    Given her young teammates, Whalen will probably be asked to score more and pass a little less than would be her preference. She should be equal to the task. Whalen was terrific over the second half of last season, getting back to the level she played it in 2005 before undergoing major ankle surgery. Whalen shot better than 55% from the field in the second half of the season, getting in the paint and finishing at the rim.

    The Sun should be solid in the frontcourt, especially if Gruda is able to make a quick adjustment to the WNBA and moves into a big starting frontcourt alongside Whitmore and Jones. Alternatively, the Sun can go small with Whitmore in the middle and someone like Turner at small forward. Shooting guard will be an area of concern from the Sun. Greek gunner Evanthia Maltsi had some big games and is dangerous from downtown, but her 33.3% accuracy on two-point shots dragged down her True Shooting Percentage (50.4%) to unacceptable levels. Depending on which young players step up, the Connecticut bench also looks like a weakness. The team will miss Aussie guard Erin Phillips, very effective as a rookie before missing 2007 with a torn ACL. Phillips will stay in Australia to train for the Olympics, though she could join the team late in the season. If the Sun manages to stay in the playoff hunt that long, Phillips' addition would be a big shot in the arm.


    SHOCK CAPSULE
    Coach: Bill Laimbeer (seventh year)
    2007 Record: 24-10
    Expected Wins: 22.2
    Off. Rating: 100.7 (3rd)
    Def. Rating: 94.6 (2nd)

    Starting 5
    PER
    TS%
    Reb%
    Pass
    G Smith
    17.2
    .531
    6.2
    1.19
    G Nolan
    20.8
    .537
    7.1
    1.01
    F Pierson
    20.0
    .536
    13.0
    .18
    F Ford
    22.5
    .543
    20.7
    .06
    C Braxton
    13.4
    .485
    17.3
    .01
    Key Reserves
    PER
    TS%
    Reb%
    Pass
    G Hornbuckle
    Rookie
    F Sam
    10.9
    .399
    9.6
    .27
    F Thomas
    16.4
    .535
    7.3
    .24
    Detroit Shock

    One shot. That's how close the Detroit Shock came to a second straight championship and the team's third in five years. Had Cappie Pondexter not scored with 18 seconds left to play in Phoenix's 77-76 Game 4 victory, or had Shannon Johnson scored at the buzzer, the Shock would have defeated the Mercury three games to one. Instead, Phoenix forced a deciding Game 5. With Cheryl Ford limited by a knee injury, home-court advantage wasn't enough to carry Detroit, and the Mercury won the game and the series.

    No matter the outcome of the series, the Shock was headed for some off-season changes. Forward Swin Cash's relationship with Head Coach Bill Laimbeer had deteriorated to the point where a change of scenery was certain. What was a surprise was Laimbeer using Cash's departure as an opportunity to get younger. The Shock cored Cash, an unrestricted free agent, and dealt her to the Storm in exchange for the No. 4 overall pick. With an eye toward eventually replacing aging guard Katie Smith, Detroit took versatile Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle. The Shock added another solid prospect in Georgia forward Tasha Humphrey after Humphrey slipped to the 11th pick.


    Sam
    Detroit's off-season moves weren't all about adding youth. The Shock maintained the experience on its bench by using some of the money saved from dealing Cash for a rookie to sign veteran Sheri Sam, a member of the 2004 champion Storm, as a free agent. Detroit also dealt 2007 first-round pick Latta to Atlanta, returning seventh-year post LaToya Thomas.

    For all the changes, the biggest issue for the Shock going into 2008 concerns one of the team's holdover starters - Ford. Her left knee bothered her all season, forcing her to miss 19 regular-season games. While Ford was able to play in the postseason before reinjuring the knee late in Game 4, she was in her own estimation about 40 percent of normal during the Finals. Shortly after the season, Ford underwent surgery on the knee including a modified microfracture procedure. While that term is always scary, Ford is nearly eight months removed from the surgery and was cleared to practice last week. The Shock expects to have her in the starting lineup for the opener.

    The Shock was well-covered behind Cash with Plenette Pierson, the WNBA's inaugural Sixth Woman Award winner, having averaged 11.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Whether Pierson takes Cash's spot in the starting lineup or remains in a reserve role, she'll be a major factor for the Shock and will be on the lineup to close games. Of course, Pierson did the same a year ago, often playing alongside Cash when Detroit went without a true center on the floor. That's a key area where the Shock will have to replace Cash, either with Sam or Thomas. Either player figures to be a step down from Cash.

    For a team that has played in each of the last two Finals and won two of the league's last five championships, the Shock has gotten surprisingly little preseason hype. Most of the WNBA's attention has been focused on the high-profile additions in the Western Conference, but with a healthy Ford Detroit remains as dangerous as ever. The Shock is the clear favorites to win the East for a third straight season and play for another championship.


    FEVER CAPSULE
    Coach: Lin Dunn (first year)
    2007 Record: 21-13
    Expected Wins: 20.6
    Off. Rating: 96.2 (10th)
    Def. Rating: 91.4 (1st)

    Starting 5
    PER
    TS%
    Reb%
    Pass
    G Bevilaqua
    11.9
    .564
    4.9
    .90
    G Douglas
    22.5
    .537
    7.9
    .80
    F Catchings
    31.4
    .548
    16.4
    1.65
    F Hoffman
    13.1
    .504
    13.8
    .06
    C Sutton-Brown
    20.7
    .545
    12.6
    .02
    Key Reserves
    PER
    TS%
    Reb%
    Pass
    G White
    13.3
    .485
    6.3
    .19
    F Feaster*
    4.5
    .336
    .3.8
    .35
    C Ngoyisa*
    20.1
    .551
    16.2
    .05
    * Statistics from 2006
    Indiana Fever

    There's an argument - a good one - to be made that, when at full strength, the Indiana Fever was the WNBA's best team in 2007. Indiana started the season 16-4 before MVP candidate Tamika Catchings partially tore her left plantar fascia, ending her regular season. The Fever lost its next six games and went 5-8 overall without Catchings. She returned for the postseason, and Indiana held off Connecticut in overtime of Game 3 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. There, the Fever was locked in a tight winner-take-all Game at Detroit when Catchings went down with a torn right Achilles. The Shock pulled away after halftime and took the series, leaving Indiana to ponder what might have been had Catchings stayed healthy.

    The Fever made bold moves in the off-season to try to get to the next level and win the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history. That started on the sideline. Despite winning 20-plus games three straight seasons, Brian Winters fell victim to the team's failure to make more noise in the postseason. Indiana replaced Winters with his lead assistant, former Storm Head Coach Lin Dunn. Since Dunn played a key role under Winters, the transition should be fairly easy. The Fever will continue to focus on defense with Dunn bringing in Gary Kloppenburg, her assistant in Seattle, to teach the pressure defense innovated by his father Bob, a former long-time Sonics assistant.

    Indiana also made a blockbuster trade, bringing Katie Douglas back to her native Indiana in exchange for Whitmore and a first-round pick. The deal bolsters the Fever's defense, already the league's best, giving Indiana another All-Defensive performer. Douglas has been named All-Defensive First Team each of the last three seasons, as has Catchings, the 2005 and 2006 Defensive Player of the Year. Douglas' new backcourt-mate Tully Bevilaqua was a First Team pick in 2005 and 2006 before making Second Team last year. That combination has the potential to put the Fever amongst the WNBA's all-time great defenses.


    Douglas
    While Indiana added star power over the winter, the team lost depth. Gone are two starters, Tamika Whitmore and incumbent shooting guard Anna DeForge, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent. While Douglas slides neatly into DeForge's spot in the lineup, replacing Whitmore will be more challenging. Dunn said last week she anticipates Ebony Hoffman starting at power forward, but left open the possibility of a trade or playing small with Catchings at the four.

    The Fever's bench figures to be a weakness. While Tan White offers instant scoring punch as a sixth woman, having averaged 17.5 points per 40 minutes last season, she is prone to bad shot selection. Last year's 48.5% True Shooting Percentage was easily the best of White's three-year career. Sheri Sam was also an inefficient scorer last season, but did help Indiana maintain and even improve upon its defensive performance with Catchings injured. Sam is now in Detroit and Indiana hopes to replace her with Allison Feaster. Feaster played well overseas and looks to be in good shape, but is 32 and shot 23.5% from the field in 2006 in Charlotte before sitting out last season. Up front, Bernadette Ngoyisa (aquired Wednesday from Chicago in exchange for backup point guard K.B. Sharp) will be the Fever's top post off the bench, a role filled last year by Hoffman.

    The bigger concern for the Fever is Catchings' health.

    "We know she's going to miss some games," Dunn said after last week's preseason loss in Seattle. "Is it going to be three? Is it going to be five? Is it going to be eight? We don't really know. All we know is that she's on schedule, she's doing a great job and we just don't want her to do anything too quick and have a setback."

    Even without Catchings, the Fever should be able to stay afloat. The issue last year without her was on offense. Without Catchings as a go-to player, the rest of the team was much less efficient. Indiana minus Catchings had the WNBA's worst Offensive Rating. The addition of Douglas gives the Fever a player of sopping up some of those extra possessions without much harm in terms of efficiency, though Indiana doesn't have an effective fill-in starter with Catchings out. There's also the question of how long it will take Catchings to get back to full strength once she returns to the court.

    All of those questions are enough to suggest the Fever will likely finish behind Detroit and could even miss out on home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. By the end of the season, however, Catchings should be healthy and Indiana will have a starting lineup as formidable as any in the Eastern Conference. This could easily be the year the Fever breaks through and wins the East.


    LIBERTY CAPSULE
    Coach: Pat Coyle (fifth year)
    2007 Record: 16-18
    Expected Wins: 14.1
    Off. Rating: 94.2 (13th)
    Def. Rating: 97.2 (6th)

    Starting 5
    PER
    TS%
    Reb%
    Pass
    G Moore
    15.6
    .520
    7.2
    1.62
    G Thorn
    14.2
    .540
    5.9
    .52
    F Christon
    13.0
    .485
    8.3
    .18
    F Kraayeveld
    15.6
    .557
    9.5
    .08
    C McCarville
    22.9
    .591
    13.3
    .06
    Key Reserves
    PER
    TS%
    Reb%
    Pass
    G Carson
    Rookie
    F Battle
    14.6
    .467
    9.9
    .32
    C Davenport
    17.2
    .530
    13.7
    .01
    New York Liberty

    It was hard not to root for the Libkids last season. After trading Becky Hammon, New York was dismissed by analysts. "The Liberty is at least a year away from contending for the postseason," it said in this space a year ago. Instead, New York started the season 5-0 (including wins over Indiana and Phoenix), snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season and took the Detroit Shock to three games and an overtime before eventually succumbing in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Eastern Conference champs.

    Now for the bad news. While the Liberty played a phenomenal series against Detroit, outscoring the Shock by 18 points despite losing, that was out of line with New York's regular-season performance. Not only was the Liberty below .500, the team's point differential (-2.6 points per game) was actually worst in the competitive Eastern Conference. After the early run, New York went 11-18 the rest of the way, which also would have put the Liberty in the cellar. While New York's defense was solid, the team's offense was worst in the WNBA on a per-possession basis.

    That said, there's a lot to like about the young core New York is building. The Liberty's emergence last season relied heavily on the development of young starters at point guard (Loree Moore) and center (Janel McCarville). When New York took Moore in the first round in 2005, it was called a reach, and she played sparingly as a rookie and inconsistently as a sophomore. With Hammon gone, last year the Liberty was Moore's team, and she responded. Moore gave New York versatile performance, hitting threes, dishing the ball and playing excellent defense. If she can cut down on her main weakness, turnovers, Moore figures to be even better this year.


    McCarville
    McCarville's breakout season started slowly. She was buried in New York's rotation early in the season, but her performance off the bench was impossible to ignore. McCarville was outstanding down the stretch and finished the season ninth in the WNBA in PER, winning Most Improved Player honors in the process. The talent that made McCarville the top overall pick was always there, but last year was the first time she put it together on a regular basis. She emerged as a dangerous player in the post, capable of using her soft touch and footwork to score when single-covered or use her passing skills to pick apart double-teams. A full season of that kind of play is the best reason to be optimistic about the Liberty in 2008.

    In addition to the youngsters, the Liberty got solid play from more experienced players getting an opportunity to start. Erin Thorn and Cathrine Kraayeveld held on to starting jobs at shooting guard and power forward, respectively, all season long. Thorn offered surprising versatility to go along with her long-range shooting, while Kraayeveld's ability to stretch the floor helped make up for her subpar rebounding. Neither Thorn nor Kraayeveld can be considered long-term solutions, but the Liberty can count on them for solid play.

    New York might have drafted the eventual replacements for both Thorn and Kraayeveld in this year's first round, using the extra pick acquired from San Antonio in the Hammon trade. At No. 7, the Liberty stayed local to take athletic Rutgers wing Essence Carson. New York then had to be stunned when Erlana Larkins, a possible third pick during the draft process, was still available with the final pick of the first round. It's tough to say how much the rookies will help the Liberty this year; Carson largely duplicates what Ashley Battle already gave New York off the bench, while Larkins will battle last year's first-round picks Jessica Davenport and Tiffany Jackson for playing time off the bench up front. In the long term, Carson figures to eventually join Moore in the backcourt and give the Liberty a pair of elite defenders, while one of the three young posts should ultimately team with McCarville in the frontcourt.

    More time for McCarville should help New York on offense, but the team will still go through stretches where it struggles to score. That will likely leave the Liberty fighting for a spot in the postseason.


    MYSTICS CAPSULE
    Coach: Tree Rollins (second year)
    2007 Record: 16-18
    Expected Wins: 15.2
    Off. Rating: 97.0 (8th)
    Def. Rating: 99.4 (7th)

    Starting 5
    PER
    TS%
    Reb%
    Pass
    G Blue
    10.6
    .430
    8.8
    .85
    G Beard
    20.8
    .514
    7.0
    .38
    F Currie
    18.8
    .566
    9.3
    .28
    F McWilliams-Franklin
    19.7
    .546
    11.7
    .16
    C Sanford
    17.0
    .591
    14.2
    .01
    Key Reserves
    PER
    TS%
    Reb%
    Pass
    G Jacobs
    5.1
    .432
    3.6
    .73
    G Miller
    10.2
    .488
    6.3
    .13
    C Langhorne
    Rookie
    Washington Mystics

    When the Liberty won on the season's final day, it eliminated the Washington Mystics from the playoffs just hours after the Mystics had kept their hopes alive with a two-point nationally-televised win at Connecticut. That's a devastating way for a season to end, but to even stay in the hunt that long was nearly miraculous for a Washington team that started the season 0-8 and had already seen its coach quit in protest.

    With former assistant Tree Rollins taking over coaching duties, the Mystics stayed the course and went 16-10 the rest of the way. Washington actually got in position to control its own destiny in the playoff hunt, but a 73-72 loss at New York in the final week of the season ultimately cost the Mystics a playoff spot.

    All of that would give Washington momentum going into this season ... except this is a Washington team without a point guard. In 2006, Nikki Teasley was an All-Star, guiding the league's best offense, but she struggled and lost favor in 2007. Then Teasley got pregnant, and rather than hoping for her to return, the Mystics bought out the last year of her contract. Without starting-caliber point guards in this year's draft, and with a thin free-agent market, Washington had little opportunity to replace Teasley.

    The Mystics did sign Minnesota's Amber Jacobs as a restricted free agent, and Jacobs has competed with Teasley's backup, Nikki Blue, for the starting job in camp. Blue is the safe bet to win the position, but she comes up short when compared to other starting point guards around the league. Blue shot 32.4% from the field and 22.2% from downtown last season. While those numbers figure to come up with more regular time, Blue isn't much of a scorer at the WNBA level; nor is she an elite passer. As for Jacobs, Minnesota ultimately found her wanting as a point guard and used her as a shooting guard off the bench last season. Both Blue and particularly Jacobs are prone to turning the ball over.

    That point guard will be such an extreme weakness for the Mystics is too bad, because the rest of the team is pretty good. The other off-season change came when All-Star forward DeLisha Milton-Jones demanded a trade. Washington swapped her to Los Angeles for Taj McWilliams-Franklin and a future first-round pick. While Milton-Jones might have fetched more without the demand, her reputation is better than her performance. Last season, Milton-Jones posted a dismal 43.5% True Shooting Percentage. While McWilliams-Franklin's career is winding down, she'll improve the Mystics offense - though it might make sense to move her to a contending team for a younger player at midseason.

    The rest of the offense was already quite good, starting with shooting guard Alana Beard. A shoulder injury that ultimately required off-season surgery hampered Beard all season, but she still averaged 18.8 points per game. The injury showed up in Beard's shooting percentages, and her True Shooting Percentage dropped from a stellar 57.4% to an average 51.4%. A healthy Beard could be very tough to stop this season.


    Currie
    The underlying cause of Adubato's departure was his anger that the Mystics dealt veteran center Chasity Melvin to Chicago for second-year forward Monique Currie. Adubato hated giving up the dependable Melvin, but the move worked just as Washington GM Linda Hargove anticipated. Nakia Sanford stepped in to replace Melvin's production at center, while Currie (along with Janel McCarville) joined a long line of high Charlotte Sting draft picks that broke out after leaving the now-defunct Sting.

    Keep an eye on Currie, who forms a strong wing combination with Beard. While Currie's per-game averages were largely the same as during her rookie year in Charlotte, she improved her field-goal percentage from 33.2% to 44.0%, transforming her game. Currie's best attribute is getting to the free-throw line off the dribble, attempting nearly five foul shots a night last year. In Washington, she was able to go against teams' weaker wing defenders while defensive stoppers focused on Beard.

    The future is bright for the Mystics, who have two picks (their own and the one acquired from the Sparks) in the 2009 WNBA Draft to try to get a long-term answer at point guard. For now, however, that weakness is likely too much for Washington to overcome.