After the Tulsa Shock’s 88-79 loss in their home opener, Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said, “this is a much improved Tulsa team that we dealt with today.”
Given that they are 0-2 to start the season for the third year in a row, the compliment is at least partially a testament to the faith that fans, media, and opposing coaches alike have in new Shock coach Gary Kloppenburg. But what evidence might there be that the Tulsa Shock have put together a roster that can exceed last season’s performance or even the performance in their inaugural year?
Most significant departure
2011 Shock players that contributed more than 2% to the team’s overall production are labeled on the pie chart.
Miranda Ayim and Jacinta Monroe are not shown above.
When considering the question of whether the Shock even can improve this season, it’s impossible not to begin with what they lost from last year.
They were aware that 6’8″ center Liz Cambage would be out for at least half the season due to her commitment to Australia for the 2012 Olympics when they drafted her, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. When they actually found out about forward Tiffany Jackson’s intentions to sit out for the season due to pregnancy is unclear, but their offseason moves suggest that they might have known enough to fill those minutes in the post with new players.
While those two were their two most significant contributors, what might have gone unnoticed is that Sheryl Swoopes was actually a major contributor to the Shock in her comeback last season – Swoopes was the team’s third most significant contributor statistically.
The primary reason for that was that she got a lot of minutes once coach Teresa Edwards took over for Nolan Richardson above mid-season whereas both Cambage and Kayla Pedersen saw their minutes decline after Edwards took over – they were two of the most efficient rookies in the league in the first month of play and then just fell off. But the second reason why Swoopes rated so highly was that she was the second most efficient distributor on the team with a pure point rating of 0.64, which is noteworthy because it’s above league average on a team that wasn’t a very efficient ball handling team.
The most efficient distributor on the team last year, Amber Holt (1.10 PPR), was also released after training camp this season. Although she was only responsible for 7% of the team’s overall production, she missed 8 games – close to a quarter of the 34-game season – due to injury and was a major part of the team’s late-season performance.
Taking those four losses into account, the Shock lost almost two thirds of their production from last season. And not just any two thirds, but arguably their four best performers. That becomes even more significant when looking at the team’s overall performance last season.
2011 Season In Review
Four Factors differentials for the Shock and their opponents in 2011.
As you can see in the table above – or, of course, from observation alone – the Shock didn’t play particularly good basketball last season.
And that makes it hard to say what their most significant loss was. They lost their two most efficient ball handlers scorers (Cambage and Jackson), and top rebounders (Cambage and Jackson). So where could they even begin?
The reality is they couldn’t really get worse in shooting efficiency or turnover rate relative to their opponents – they were already at the bottom of the conference. But Tulsa was about average in their rebounding ability (49.6% total rebounding percentage is .4% less than league average) so the loss of Cambage and Jackson is significant in that they lost the one thing that they could leverage as a strength.
Obviously, the Shock needed to just add talent to their roster regardless of position. But with their draft selections, they clearly looked to fill that rebounding void.
Projected WNBA Style
Projected SPI Playing Style for Shock rookies based upon 2011-12 NCAA statistics
When the Shock drafted Vicki Baugh, Glory Johnson, and Lynetta Kizer, it was clear that they were concerned about the void left in the post by Cambage and Jackson.
We’ve already taken a look at what Johnson – as well as Riquna Williams – might offer a WNBA team here, but Kizer is a bit more of an uncertainty – she didn’t start for Maryland in her senior year and her numbers weren’t overwhelming, but she clearly had some athleticism that could potentially make her someone that could hold her own at the WNBA level. Her 12.2% offensive rebounding percentage in particular bodes well for helping to replace some of that rebounding energy at some point during the season.
If this season is about the future, Johnson and Kizer offer options for eventually creating a strong post rotation while at least being able to compete on the boards in the absence of Cambage and Jackson. How they negotiate that logjam once they return next season remains to be seen, but those two rookies do have time to prove themselves and earn a spot as part of the team’s vision for the future.
New Shock veterans