2013 WNBA preview: Did the Tulsa Shock improve enough to make the playoffs?

Photo by Troy Littledear.

A statistical preview of the Tulsa Shock based on the season preview framework described in our primer the other day. For those not interested in all these words, the tl;dr version is essentially the first section of 2012 review and the last section titled "key question". For a look at their major offsesaon moves, check out the storystream.

2012 review & offseason summary

The question for the Shock when we previewed their offseason eight months ago and again four months ago was whether they could take a step forward this season after showing flashes of potential last season.

For the first time in their existence, it seemed that they had a coherent system in place that matched the talent of their personnel: forcing turnovers and pushing the tempo.


eFg% Fta/Fga Oreb% Tov% TeamFacs MEV Adj Synergy
Tul 46.37% 29.41% 26.48% 16.16% 5.01 63.45 0.30
Opp 53.12% 30.41% 33.76% 0.20 5.69 80.59 0.36








Weighted eFg% fta/fga Oreb% Tov%


Tul -0.67 -0.02 -0.31 0.33


2012 Four Factors statistics for the Tulsa Shock.

Sure, it was imposing organized chaos on games for the most part, but with their athleticism at multiple positions and youth it made sense and put them in position to win far more games than they were in during their first two seasons in Oklahoma. And that was without 6-foot-8 Australian center Liz Cambage, forward Tiffany Jackson-Jones, or - of course Skylar Diggins.

While Diggins will get plenty of credit for whatever the Shock do this year, coach Gary Kloppenburg laid the foundation for success last season. This year's draft picks just complement what they've already done.

2013 WNBA Draft: Skylar Diggins and Angel Goodrich

With veterans Temeka Johnson and Ivory Latta having departed, Tulsa did as well as anyone in the 2013 WNBA Draft in selecting Skylar Diggins and Angel Goodrich.

We've already discussed both of them at length, so we won't go back through that here. But the interesting thing to note is how much these two rookies might be able to replace of what those veterans brought to the team last season, intangibles aside.

S

P

I

Style

Usg%

PPR

Pts/empty

Johnson

0.72

0.88

0.12

DS

22.35

1.32

1.71

Latta

0.57

0.2

0.11

SP

23.76

0.1

2.06

2012 SPI style ratings and point guard statistics for Temeka Johnson and Ivory Latta.

Both Johnson and Latta were scoring point guards, which was useful to Tulsa because one of their biggest problems was generating points efficiently and these two were the team's most efficient shot creators. But they were also slightly below average distributors, as evidenced by their pure point ratings: league average for a distributor last season was 1.41 and they're both just under that.

But what the Shock need from these two isn't really scoring, although Diggins' scoring ability will fit neatly into their uptempo scheme - what they needed to find were distributors who could get the ball in the open court and make things happen. Diggins' game is well-suited for that and it's an ideal situation for Goodrich, where defenses will find it more difficult to exploit her inconsistent jumper.

Honestly, I'd be surprised if Diggins can't match or exceed the numbers Johnson put up: a scoring distributor with moderate efficiency numbers. She put up very similar numbers in her senior year at Notre Dame at a much higher usage rate; if she follows the pattern of roster-worthy point guards becoming lower usage players and more efficient distributors in the pros, those numbers should be considered a baseline. We'd have to consider it a disappointing season if she fell below what Johnson did last year in terms of efficiency. Goodrich's inefficient scoring at Kansas is a major concern - and has been a deal breaker for rookie point guards in the past - but if she can be at least the positive distributor that Latta was last year they have other players who can pick up the slack.

Balance

To the point that the Shock have a few players capable of handing the ball, Candice Wiggins and Riquna Williams are both players capable of helping with ball handling responsibilities - albeit less efficiently than last year's point guards - and bring the type of energy on both ends of the floor that this type of team will really need to execute their style of play.

But outside of forcing turnovers and maintaining that positive turnover differential that they established early last season and maintained throughout, it's not at all clear what advantages they'll have over opponents right now. Yet that's not to say they shouldn't be expected to find some advantages.

Player

S%

P%

I%

S-P-I style

TS

Turnover%

Oreb%

FTP

Glory Johnson

0.18

0.39

0.73

IU

.54

0.15

0.11

0.48

Riquna Williams

0.93

0.75

0.13

SP

.454

0.10

0.04

0.22

Jennifer Lacy

0.88

0.24

0.37

S

.518

0.13

0.05

0.12

Roneeka Hodges

0.86

0.58

0.23

S

.555

0.13

0.02

0.10

Kayla Pedersen

0.19

0.54

0.71

IU

.345

0.14

0.06

0.16

Nicole Powell

0.3

0.57

0.63

U

.539

0.15

0.05

0.06

Candice Wiggins

0.66

0.79

0.24

P

.543

0.18

0.02

0.16

2012 statistics for Tulsa Shock returners and veterans.

Both Liz Cambage and Tiffany Jackson-Jones should help them eliminate the gap between them and their opponents in the free throw rate category and at least narrow the gap on the boards - both Chante Black and Courtney Paris had strengths in those two areas last season, but combined to only play about 22 minutes per game (and Paris only played 23 games for the Shock).

The real question is about how much they can narrow the shooting efficiency gap between themselves and their opponents. Again, Cambage and Jackson-Jones give them threats on the low block that they simply did not have last year, which means they should be less reliant on jump shots. They'll almost certainly redistribute their shots with all the changes this year - most notably, that their point guards won't be among their highest usage players - meaning that you'd hope that more efficient scorers (Cambage, Jackson-Jones, Glory Johnson) take more shots thus giving less to their lower efficiency players. But with so much of that depending on whether they can get the ball into the hands of their posts in scoring position, there's even more pressure on that point guard rotation to become efficient distributors and maybe even more efficient than last year's duo.

Complementarity

The high usage rates of both Johnson (career-high over a full season) and Latta (career-high) are probably more indicative of a truth about the Shock as a team last year than enduring qualities about the players: they played a lot of one-on-one ball.

Part of what made that "work" (in that they were close in a number of games last season) was that they had players who were relatively efficient with the ball in their hands. But they were also one of the lower synergy teams in the league.

It's hard to tell what their shot distribution will look like this year, but one key will be what happens with Riquna Williams: last season, she had the team's highest usage rate at 28.02%. Although she kept turnovers to a minimum which minimized how much she hurt the team, her true shooting percentage of 45.4% is very low for a high volume scoring wing.

This year, they won't need an inefficient volume shooter to take shots - they'll have options in the post and hopefully another option on the perimeter for that. The extent to which they can get the ball into the hands of those post players will dictate how well they're able to maximize this talent.

Versatility

If all those things pan out where the Shock have a combination of efficient distributors and at least one more efficient scorer on the interior, they'll have an extremely versatile roster that is capable of continuing to put pressure on opponents by pushing the tempo while not squandering half court possessions.

They could conceivably go small and quick to look for points in transition, put out a lineup full of three point shooters with a post inside to force defenses to rotate, or go with a more traditional double post, two wing and a point guard lineup and be efficient at all of those.

Defensively, they should be able to match up with almost anyone, especially if Cambage has improved on that end since we last saw her in a Shock uniform. Even if Cambage struggles to defend one-on-one, with her in the paint as a shot blocker, a number of perimeter players capable of forcing steals in Diggins, Johnson, and Williams, and Williams' overall versatility as a defender, they'll have a number of answers to almost any opponent they face.

Depth

Nevertheless, there are two areas where depth could end up being a problem for the Shock and so much of that depends on the performance of their younger players.

At point guard, a lot is riding on that rookie duo, which is always a difficult proposition regardless of hype. Without the level of efficiency they got from their point guard combination last season - Latta actually had a career year as a distributor and scorer - they'll find themselves struggling to compete at their pace of play.

On the interior, Cambage was foul prone when she was last in the WNBA - and in the Olympics, for that matter - and if she's not available they be short-handed in the post, especially when it comes to defending the league's bigger centers. Their other post option, Kayla Pedersen, is known as a high IQ player but was terribly inefficient across the board last season - it was mildly surprising they kept her over players like Chante Black or Courtney Paris who could at least bring post defense or offensive rebounding, respectively.

X-Factor: Getting more out of the Stanford alums

Candice Wiggins should probably be expected to improve this season after having a down season last year, but things are a bit unclear for the other two Stanford alums.

Kayla Pedersen: As it is the Shock will have some interesting decisions to make about allocating minutes and combinations in the post, but having made the decision to keep Pedersen instead of another post player makes it all the more important that she become a more efficient scorer or better rebounder to help the Shock fill out their post rotation. Barring major improvements from either Cambage or Jackson-Jones since they last played in the WNBA, the Shock don't have any dominant offensive rebounders but the likelihood of Pedersen making a quantum leap as an offensive rebounder is slim.

That makes her scoring efficiency the key improvement to make and even getting back to the 32.4% 3-point shooting she had in her rookie year would be a huge asset for the Shock: in losing Johnson (53.1%), Latta (39%), and waiving Amber Holt (34.7%), the Shock are without three of their top five 3-point shooters from last season. Just increasing her 3-point percentage would not only make her more efficient, but also help the Shock spread the floor when they take a small ball approach.

Nicole Powell: After an All-Star year in 2009, Powell has really struggled since the New York Liberty selected her first in the dispersal draft after the Sacramento Monarchs folded. We can speculate as to the reasons for that, but from the Shock's perspective even the post-All-Star Powell that showed up in New York in 2010 and shot 39.5% from the 3-point line, didn't turn the ball over too often, and had a reasonable offensive rebounding rate for her size. A versatile small forward who can pass and shoot efficiently as well as holding their own on the boards, would be extremely useful for the Shock as a team that figures to have a few relatively high usage options at guard and in the post.

Key question: How quickly can they come together?

With both the San Antonio Silver Stars and Seattle Storm suffering major injuries to their stars in the offseason, the Shock enter the season with an opportunity to make the 2013 WNBA Playoffs. But it won't be easy to make the leap from the worst team in the league over the past three seasons to playoff contender - there's a lot that has to go right for them to qualify for postseason play.

Can Diggins not only be the charismatic leader the team needs but also an efficient playmaker that makes others better? How much has Cambage improved as a WNBA player after her Olympic hiatus? How close to her 2011 form is Tiffany Jackson-Jones? How much improvement can Coach Kloppenburg get out of his trio of Stanford alums? How much can the team's second year players improve? How well will the small ball approach that Kloppenburg has talked about work over the course of a 34-game season?

But no matter how much the Shock improve this season, the one thing that is for sure is that it won't be solely due to Diggins: it will require a number of improvements from across the roster that help them establish advantages over their opponents that they didn't have last season.

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