2013 Tulsa Shock season review: What kind of talent did Fred Williams inherit?

Mike Brown of the Tulsa World says that Fred Williams "won the news conference" introducing him as the new head coach of the Tulsa Shock. But does he have a roster capable of winning games and accomplishing their goal of making the playoffs?

Fred Williams' experience helping the Atlanta Dream go from expansion team to three appearances in the WNBA Finals is an obvious fit for what the Tulsa Shock need, at least on paper.

On the court, Williams appears to be ready to bring the same style of play that has helped the Atlanta Dream run through the Eastern Conference in three of the last four years to Oklahoma.

And the Shock were about as similar to the Dream as any team in the league last season from a macro level.

According to the numbers published at National Sports Rankings, both teams played at among the fastest paces in the league, they both forced turnovers at an above average rate, and neither was a particularly efficient shooting team - the numbers suggest that adjusting to Williams' philosophy really shouldn't be much of a leap for the Shock given how they played last year (and have played for their entire existence in Oklahoma).

The question moving forward is whether Williams can bring this franchise the same type of success that he helped the Dream achieve. A look at the Shock's performance from 2013 suggests that they have at least some of the pieces in place to take a step forward.

eFg%

FTA/FGA

Oreb%

Tov%

Tul

45.58%

31.88%

28.61%

16.65%

Opp

48.75%

28.57%

30.58%

17.19%

Weighted Diff.

eFg%

FTA/FGA

Oreb%

Tov%

Tul

-0.32

0.07

-0.08

0.05

Four Factors statistics for the Tulsa Shock in the 2013 WNBA season.

Shock strengths: forcing turnovers, offensive efficiency, second chance points

One thing that was sort of odd - though not at all bad - about the Shock statistically compared to the Dream was that they forced a lot of turnovers without having any one player having a lot of steals. As you might suspect, part of the reason for that might have been a lot of dead ball turnovers: the Shock led the league in both offensive fouls drawn (79) and opponents' shot clock violations (33, tied with San Antonio), according to the numbers provided by the Minnesota Lynx. Those categories of turnovers accounted for almost a quarter of their opponents' total turnovers last season, not taking the other type of dead ball turnovers into account. The other thing about the Shock though was that everyone picked up steals somewhat evenly, reflecting the speed they have across the roster.

In any event, with all of the turnovers they forced they also got themselves quite a few transition scoring opportunities, which helped get them easy transition scoring opportunities. On the offensive end, they also managed to get the most second chance points in the Western Conference (12.15 per game) despite only an average offensive rebounding team. And that sort of reflects one of their biggest problems.

Shock weaknesses: Defensive rebounding/efficiency, shooting efficiency, point guard play

The Shock had an average shooting efficiency in 2013 in large part due to making the most threes per game in the league (6.7) and having the fourth-highest 3-point percentage (33.4%) in the first year of the extended line. The problem is that they also shot the most threes in the league, meaning they missed more threes per game than half the league's teams attempted and they were one of the worst teams in the league inside from every location inside the arc, according to data provided by the Lynx.

Perhaps part of that was the presence of a moderate-efficiency volume shooter like Riquna Williams taking on the role of primary option so often en route to a Sixth Woman of the Year selection. There's no question that the absence of Cambage - their highest efficiency scorer with a 64.25% true shooting percentage - for so much of the season changed their options on offense. But one part of that low shooting efficiency might have been their inconsistency at point guard.

But if you're going to miss a lot of shots, it helps to dominate the rebounding battle to help slow down the opponent's offense. Unfortunately last season, the Shock simply weren't a great rebounding team overall - despite their ability to convert what offensive rebounds into second chance points - which is one part of why they had the second-lowest defensive efficiency rating in the league despite forcing so many turnovers. So rebounding is the area where they clearly diverged from the Dream last season.

Defensively, the Shock gave up the most second chance points in the Western Conference (12.24 per game); the Dream allowed the least in the league (9.44 per game). Offensively, they were a decent rebounding team, which helped them get those second chance points (in addition to just missing so many shots). The problem is that they didn't have many consistent offensive rebounders.

Glory Johnson obviously did her part on the boards, grabbing 12.2% of the offensive rebounds available to her on her way to an All-Star selection. 6-foot-8 center Liz Cambage was a solid rebounder at 11.35%, but only played 20 games. Courtney Paris remained among the best offensive rebounders in recent league history with a 16.82% offensive rebounding percentage, but only played 12 minutes per game in 23 games. Tiffany Jackson-Jones was solid at 10.66%, but played only 19 games after working herself back into game shape after her pregnancy. So this probably is actually a decent rebounding team when 100% healthy - they were just rarely anything near 100% in 2012.

With that caveat about their rebounding numbers taken into account, the team's glaring positional weakness - as it has been for each of their years in Tulsa - was their inconsistent point guard play. Both lottery pick Skylar Diggins and third round pick Angel Goodrich showed flashes of excellence running the point at times, but both had weaknesses that were simply hard to ignore. Although Goodrich was a relatively efficient ball handler with a pure point rating of 1.27, both were very relatively turnover prone with turnover ratios above 17% (17.50% and 17.95%, respectively). Although Diggins' ability to get to the free throw line was promising, neither rookie was an efficient scorer by any measure.

And unfortunately, the inefficiency at point guard just exacerbated the team's struggle to knock down perimeter shots at all.

X-Factor: Perimeter shooting

The thing about the Shock's perimeter shooting that really stands out is that they don't lack for players who have reputations as shooters - they just had a number of capable shooters who shot under their career average from the WNBA's extended line.

Jennifer Lacy, Nicole Powell, and Candice Wiggins all shot under their career 3-point percentages to varying extents (as did the league from the longer distance) - that could easily be explained by the increased distance. But that hardly explains the team's general ineffectiveness inside the arc and a look at their perimeter rotation reveals a number of players who struggle to create or make shots at an average rate inside the arc.

With a player like Cambage in the middle, being a good 3-point shooting team that can stretch the defense but not live from beyond the arc has to be a top priority for this team (another similarity with the Dream). Unsurprisingly, Shock president Steve Swetoha has been very clear about needing to address shooting in the 2014 WNBA Draft.

However, while the 13th pick might seem like a place to specifically target a shooter, the track record of shooting specialists in the WNBA is so spotty since the league moved to 11-player rosters that it might not be worth spending a pick on someone who clearly fits that need specifically - they have enough needs that adding a talent who can at least legitimately compete for playing time is a higher priority. While Tulsa World reporter John Klein mentioned the team's inconsistent point guard play as reason to use the second pick on that position, it might make just as much sense to target a point guard at #13 - that skillset has made a far more reliable transition from college to pro in the last few years - and go with a wing who can create shots for herself at #2 (e.g. Alyssa Thomas).

MVP: Glory Johnson

The gem of this team right now in terms of production has quite clearly been Glory Johnson, who was an obvious All-Star selection despite a bit of a down year on the efficiency front. When Cambage was not in the starting lineup and Williams was coming off the bench, Johnson was the primary scoring option surrounded by struggling perimeter players. And unfortunately, that wasn't a recipe for success for her: her true shooting percentage dropped to a subpar 52.08%, buoyed considerably by her ability to get to the free throw line at a high rate.

Still, the fact is that on a team that struggled to knock down shots, her offensive rebounding and defensive versatility were of great value to the team and helped her account for nearly 18% of the team's overall production (17.97%).

Screen_shot_2014-01-24_at_4

Key question: How much better would this team have been with 34 games of Liz Cambage?

Despite Johnson being the obvious choice as MVP, it would be just as reasonable to argue that Cambage was the MVP as evidenced by her absence: after Cambage became a regular starter for Tulsa on July 13th, the Shock went 6-7 for the remainder of the season.

Her scoring and rebounding presence offensively as well as her shot blocking and rebounding presence defensively obviously changes what this team is able to do. A committed Cambage could dramatically change this team's fortunes by giving them an All-Star caliber center next to their All-Star power forward. Just having an average perimeter rotation around those two would make this young team extremely dangerous by truly making them a team modeled after the Dream that can rebound, run, and force turnovers.

Free agents: Candice Wiggins (UFA), Courtney Paris (RFA)

Bringing in Wiggins last season seemed like a great fit - she's friends with Diggins and she was a good 3-point shooter in Minnesota. But after a down season, a crowded guard rotation that includes volume scorer Riquna Williams, and a need for a small forward, it will be interesting to see whether they decide to keep Wiggins as an unrestricted free agent.

Paris' on-again, off-again relationship with the franchise will be interesting to watch: Williams has coached her before with the Dream when she played there in 2011. And for a team that does need rebounding, Paris might be someone they look to keep around if attracting free agents is seen as a problem.

Can Williams Rock With The Shock in the same way he used to Run With The Dream?

With the personnel the Shock have under contract – and could possibly acquire through the draft - it's clear that they could play a similar style to what the Dream have found success with over the years, though probably to a lesser extent: using quickness on the perimeter to force turnovers and run while overcoming poor shooting with offensive rebounding. Yet even with improvements through the draft (or trades), the Shock still face an uphill climb in cracking the postseason: the top tier of the conference – the Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury, and whatever incarnation of the Sparks the league has in place – feels set in stone, leaving just one spot "up for grabs". Both the San Antonio Stars and Seattle Storm will have injured All-Star veterans returning to action after competing for playoff spots last season. It's not impossible to imagine the Shock making the playoffs, but at the same time they have so many improvements to make that the odds seem against it.

Either way, the key is whether they can make a leap forward in terms of competing for a playoff spot and, if healthy, that does seem very likely. It might not end with the satisfaction of a playoff berth, but adding another lottery pick and year of experience to what this roster already has isn't a negative either.

For more on the Shock, check out our 2013-14 Tulsa Shock offseason storystream.

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