How Much Did The Tulsa Shock Improve During The Offseason?

New Tulsa Shock coach Gary Klopppenburg should be judged on his ability to develop the team's talent for the future rather than wins and losses in the present. Photo by Troy Littledeer.

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

Click here for an explanation of this framework and here for our statistics glossary.

Wnba_2011tulsa_pvcpie_html_3ed995ae_medium
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


eFg%

Fta/Fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Tulsa Shock

43.53%

28.55%

26.79%

19.46%

Opp

52.78%

31.45%

27.59%

16.48%






Weighted differentials

eFg%

fta/fga

Oreb%

Tov%

Tulsa

-0.93

-0.06

-0.03

-0.25

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.

Shock rookies

Rookies

S

P

I

Projected WNBA Style

Glory Johnson

13%

18%

96%

IP

Riquna Williams

88.10%

67.50%

12.90%

SP

Lynetta Kizer

64.10%

19.40%

62.50%

IP

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

New veterans

SPI Style

Min/G

VCR

TS%

Tov%

Oreb%

FTR

Usg%

Value Added

4-yr RAPM

Scholanda Dorrell

S

16.18

0.49 <

43.87 <

9.25 >

2.01 <

28.39 >

17.25

-1.89

-1.1

Temeka Johnson

DU

23.90

0.76 <

53.43 =

15.46 >

1.53 <

12.94 <

14.32

1.52

-0.2

Jene Morris *

SP

7.83

0.41 <

53.47 >

17.64 <

2.73 <

3.03 <

23.38

-1.25

-0.5

2011 statistics for Shock's new veterans.
* Morris did not play in the WNBA in 2011.

But the Shock didn't ignore their ball handling struggles and traded scoring guard Andrea Riley to the Phoenix Mercury for Temeka Johnson this offseason.

And that might be the most significant addition of any this season. Johnson is not only a veteran presence, but was also the third most efficient distributor in the WNBA last season (4.32 PPR). That alone is a huge change for the Shock who have not had an efficient point guard yet during their brief time in Tulsa - it should help improve their efficiency on offense.

But the other thing that Johnson - as well as Jene Morris - add to the roster is some scoring efficiency. Both are also efficient scorers relative to their style of play - and solid 3-point shooters, as is Scholanda Dorrell, who is returning to the Shock after a year with the San Antonio Silver Stars - which helps address their poor shooting efficiency differential.

2012 Outlook

Returners

SPI Style

Min/G

VCR

TS%

Tov%

Oreb%

FTR

Usg

Value Added

4-yr RAPM

Elizabeth Cambage **

IP

19.98

1.73 >

58.63 >

18.81 <

9.88 >

53.82 >

27.90

-1.69

0.3

Kayla Pedersen

M

23.76

1.14 >

50.50 >

13.01 >

3.85 <

27.14 <

15.41

0.50

-2.1

Ivory Latta

SP

28.52

1.02 >

51.10 >

15.95 <

1.76 <

17.67 <

23.72

-4.30

-3.2

Jennifer Lacy

M

19.22

0.82 <

49.03 =

16.88 <

5.36 <

14.71 <

18.73

-1.74

-3.1

Karima Christmas

M

9.96

0.68 <

47.23 <

18.00 <

7.82 >

48.86 >

19.50

-1.17

2

Chante Black *

IU

20.9

0.80 <

51.23 >

18.25 <

13.2 >

32.88 <

15.14

4.14

-1.9

2011 statistics for Shock returners.
* Black did not play in the WNBA in 2011.
** Will not play until after the Olympic break.
*** Tiffany Jackson will not play in 2012.

Strengths

  • Rebounding: Chante Black was not listed among the new veterans because she didn't play last year due to injury, but did play for the Shock in 2010. But when you combine Black with the other new post additions, the Shock should be able to remain competitive on the boards - Black was 5th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage (13.2%) and 8th in defensive rebounding percentage (23.6%) when she last played. If Pedersen can improve her rebounding with more consistent minutes and Johnson or Kizer can contribute on the boards, it's not impossible to imagine them matching last year's rebounding rate or improving.
  • Versatility: One thing that really stands out about this roster - not at all ignoring their poor performance last year - is that their new additions have made them a very versatile team, especially if Cambage returns after the Olympics. The player that really stands out in that regard is Pedersen, who has proven that she can be a well above average distributor for her position, which could help the team in their effort to cut down on turnovers. But they also have a mix of efficient scorers (Latta and Morris both had above average true shooting percentages relative to other scorers in their last seasons) and 3-point shooters, efficient distributors relative to style of play, potentially strong rebounders, and a few defenders. Multiple players would have to develop quickly to pick themselves up out of the cellar this season, but they're a step closer than they were before just in terms of style of play.

Questions:

  • How much can Johnson alone help the turnover situation? It's doubtful that the Shock go from where they were last season to an efficient ball handling team, but just having a player who can get the ball in the hands of scorers in the right spots should help immensely. If they want to run, Johnson is obviously a point guard who can lead an uptempo offense given her time with the Mercury.
  • How much can they improve defensively? Their one defensive strength last season was stopping second chance points and they lost a major presence on the interior in Cambage. The combination of players they've brought in might be sufficient to replace that, but it's hard to say for sure. On the perimeter, Dorrell and possibly Williams could be difference makers in terms of applying pressure. We also know that Kloppenburg has a defensive pedigree and that could go a long way to helping them. Again, the question here isn't about whether they'll be good, but whether they'll be better and the likely answer is yes.
  • How well does this roster complement Cambage and vice versa? As evidenced from her numbers above, Cambage demonstrated a lot of potential last season and the Olympics might be our first opportunity to really see how far she's come and whether she can truly be the centerpiece that carries a team in the future. What the Shock have assembled is a roster that gives them some flexibility moving forward in terms of complementing Cambage. Black's VCR suggests that she's probably best as a 20 minute-per-game player, so she can help back up a starting center. Johnson and Pedersen are two very different power forward options that can be played with Cambage depending on what her strengths and weaknesses are. A distributor on the wing would have helped this team immensely in terms of becoming a more fluid offense, but they've put together pieces that make sense thus far.

Breakout player

It might be weird to say Latta is a candidate to breakout, but she has not posted an above average PER (above 15) in her career and hit a career-low 12.8 last season. And the revamped rotation could help her a bit.

Ivory Latta might be the player that benefits most from the arrival of Temeka Johnson in that she won't be relied upon as the lead ball handler. Similar to the way the Connecticut Sun are using Renee Montgomery this season, Latta could be freed to focus more on scoring this season coming off the bench to give a scoring boost.

2012 projection: 2013 WNBA Lottery

There are some that will judge the Shock harshly if they don't win more games this season, but that's probably not the best way to judge a team that will struggle to challenge for a playoff spot even if they optimized their talent - there are still too many gaps in the roster to expect the playoffs. They're better off seeing this as a development year for the future rather than sacrificing opportunities to develop talent for the future in hopes of greater success in the present (as they pursued last season in adding and playing veterans.

The only way to measure success for the Shock this year is by way of improvement rather than wins and losses, which makes those Four Factors numbers above - process-based performance metrics rather than outcomes-based - more relevant to them than any other team. Any roster moves they made had to be with the future in mind and it appears they have made modest moves that have put them in a good decision to build a competitive team in the future. Right now, that future has to include at least Cambage and possibly Jackson, which gives them something they haven't really had since their first year: talented assets.

The 2013 WNBA Draft holds options for a team like the Shock: if they wish to add a distributor for the future, both Skylar Diggins and Angel Goodrich will be available. Elena Delle Donne might not be an immediately obvious fit for a team with Cambage, but that would give them a potent inside-outside combination that would be tough to defend. Brittney Griner would be the big prize and is not a fit with Cambage, but then the question is do you really pass on a defensive presence like Griner in favor of Cambage?

Those draft questions will be answered over the next year, but they've put pieces in place now that might have helped them fill some gaps that kept them from being competitive last season while also building for the future.

For more on what all of these statistics mean, visit our statistics glossary.

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