We continue our series by asking questions for each WNBA team in the Western Conference as they head into the 2015 season.
Let’s take a look at the Western Conference and examine a key question that each team faces this season. If you missed it, we examined the Eastern Conference teams’ key questions on Monday. Click here to read it.
Los Angeles Sparks: How well can they play without Candace Parker and without a three-post lineup?
The Los Angeles Sparks made a lot of news this offseason by hiring former Storm head coach Brian Agler to take the helm. In addition, they brought a number of proven shooters to the team like Erin Phillips and Temeka Johnson, which helped mitigate their lack of three-point shooting ability in 2014 when Kristi Toliver was not on the floor.
One area the Sparks did not address was breaking up the post trio of Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, and Jantel Lavender. Sure, L.A. was at their best when the three played together, but opposing teams took advantage of that with smaller lineups and forcing the Sparks to make longer range shots which they couldn’t make at a decent rate anyway. Parker announced that she will not play at least part of the 2015 WNBA season in order to rest, so that forces Agler to start a more traditional lineup.
I’m not implying that the Sparks will let Parker go anywhere — and I don’t see it happening — but if L.A.’s offense thrives without a three-post lineup on a regular basis, it certainly will raise the issue again after this season’s over.
Minnesota Lynx: Can they develop a strong second unit?
The Minnesota Lynx have won at least 25 games in each of the last four seasons, but they have become increasingly reliant on their starters to shoulder the load in recent years. Meanwhile, some of their recent draft picks have not panned out, like Lindsey Moore or Amber Harris.
This offseason, the Lynx acquired veterans like Anna Cruz and Asjha Jones via trades from the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun respectively, while Monica Wright, Dev Peters and Damiris Dantas also return. One player among Jones, Peters, and Dantas will likely start because Janel McCarville will not return this season. However, of the remaining players I mentioned, can they form a solid second unit in order to keep Minnesota’s aging starters fresh throughout the year? This will be critical in order for them to win their third WNBA championship in the last five years.
Phoenix Mercury: Can they weather the storm early and finish strong?
Diana Taurasi will sit out the entire season because UMMC Ekaterinburg is paying her money not to play in the summer. That is bad enough for the defending champions’ repeat efforts. However, their other franchise star, Brittney Griner was suspended for seven games due to a domestic violence incident which involved her now-wife, Tulsa Shock forward Glory Johnson.
Losing both of their franchise stars for most of June will be a challenge for the Merc, as they will rely heavily on DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree, and Monique Currie to hold the fort until Griner returns. If they can keep Phoenix at around .500 by the time Griner returns, I think the Mercury will be in good shape to earn at least a #2 seed in the Western Conference, provided that they don’t throw in the towel, which I don’t expect to see happen.
San Antonio Stars: Is Kayla McBride their next franchise star?
The sophomore guard made several game-winning shots for the team in 2014 and was fifth in the league for three-pointers made. As a result, she made the All-Rookie Team.
The Stars, not unlike the Mystics, are a team that perennially overachieves given the talent that they have. But unlike Washington, San Antonio at least has a young Top-3 Draft pick, that pick being McBride. With Becky Hammon now retired, this season provides her the opportunity to take her game to the next level. Now, let’s see how far McBride, and starting point guard Danielle Robinson can take this team together over the next couple seasons.
Seattle Storm: How effective of a mentor can Sue Bird be to younger players until she leaves or retires?
The Seattle Storm was the biggest winner of the WNBA offseason. thanks to a savvy trade with the Connecticut Sun where they acquired the third overall pick in the 2015 Draft, as well as the early entry of Jewell Loyd, who they selected first overall. Of all the teams in the league, the Storm is in a season where they are playing with house money. The Storm now has a young franchise star (or two) to build around long term now, so if they make the 2015 Playoffs, it should be a sign that Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis are truly the future of the franchise. If they miss the playoffs, Seattle has another roll of the dice to get Breanna Stewart.
Since the Storm now has some young talent, that also gives their veteran star Sue Bird a new responsibility. Throughout her career, she has primarily played on veteran-laden squads where she didn’t have to play a mentor role. However, with new Team President Alisha Valavanis running basketball operations, Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis are the Storm’s most important priorities moving forward. Therefore, Bird must take on a new role as a mentor to the young stars while making contributions when needed.
If Bird can accept this type of a role and responsibility, it would be huge toward accelerating Loyd’s, Mosqueda-Lewis’, and other future young Storm players’ development for years to come.
Tulsa Shock: How big will their “coming out party” be in 2015?
The Tulsa Shock has been in the lottery for each of the last five seasons. Sure, Liz Cambage was a no-show, but every first round pick since then: Glory Johnson, Skylar Diggins, Odyssey Sims, and Amanda Zahui B. should form a strong young core that has more than enough talent to make the postseason.
With Glory Johnson out for the first seven games of the season due to the aforementioned incident with Brittney Griner, that certainly is a blow. But it would be interesting to see how Jordan Hooper could do as a stretch four with Zahui B. or Courtney Paris at the center in the starting lineup for long stretches of time. I’m not convinced that Johnson, Zahui B., and Paris can all be together long term because they’re all great rebounders, but I’d like to see what Hooper can do with more minutes this season by spreading the defense.
Either way, Tulsa has the pieces to make a statement that they’re ready to compete now. Along with the Storm, I really look forward to seeing what they do this summer.