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Sylvia Fowles: The Next Generation of WNBA Post Play

If Candace Parker is supposed to take over Lisa Leslie’s role as leader of the L.A. Sparks and face of the WNBA, Sylvia Fowles is in line to take over Leslie’s role as the league’s premier post player.

In Fowles’ first home game against the Monarchs, Sky play-by-play announcer Eric Collins said, "She’s so strong she’s blowing bubbles with beef jerky." I have yet to see her accomplish that feat, but from what I’ve seen so far it’s hard not to be excited about her future.

Unfortunately, that future is on hold right now after Fowles suffered a major injury during the big matchup against the Sparks. But the play that led to the injury speaks volumes about her potential to become a superstar post player.

Delisha Milton-Jones had received a pass on the break and was out in front of everyone on her way to an easy lay-up. Fowles caught up to her and swatted Milton-Jones’ shot against the backboard, before landing awkwardly and hurting her knee. She ended up recording the W’s first ever goal tending call, which says a lot about her potential to impact the WNBA game with "above the rim" play.

Before I realized she was injured, I was in awe. Fowles has shown an exceptional combination of agility, speed, timing, hustle, and strength that any coach would love to have on their team, not to mention from a post player.

I have to admit, that I initially began following Chicago’s games because I was expecting to see a dunk. Although we haven’t yet seen a dunk during a game, I think we’ve seen enough to say that Fowles could be as important to increasing the WNBA’s ratings as CP3.

To be clear, Parker is clearly the better all-around player. But Fowles brings a post presence that could contribute to changing the way people think about the WNBA the same way Parker’s "five-dimensional" game will.

A brief analysis of her game reveals that she is not quite as refined as Parker, but she has already become a presence on both sides of the court.

Summary:

Watching Chicago games, two things become clear – Sylvia Fowles has a chance to be one of the top five players for years to come in the W and even her own teammates have not quite acclimated to her style of play.

"In college, it's a whole system that might revolve around her," Key said. "Here, you have people who … are all very good players, but they don't know how to play with you yet. You need to communicate to them how you like to play and how you like to receive the ball. That's going to make them better and you better and eventually us better."

It’s likely that the team will have to resume learning how to play with her once Fowles returns from injury and then the Olympic hiatus.

But a large part of the adjustment problem is that Chicago is clearly structured as an up-tempo, perimeter oriented team. There are times when it seems like her Sky teammates are consciously moving and passing around Fowles despite her being open in the post. So a post-threat like Fowles often seems like an after thought instead of a threat.

Once they integrate her into the offense as a post up threat and consistently establish her on offense, her presence will open up the perimeter game. All perimeter teams eventually go cold, and Fowles should be able to get the team some much needed high percentage shots when the offense stagnates. She also complements Dupree’s finesse game extremely well – between the two of them Chicago has everything one would want from a post player.

There was a play in the second quarter of the Monarchs game where Fowles blocked a shot, turned and ran the court, and scored on a nice drive to the basket. She’s a rare player that has an impact on every facet of the game.

Once her team adjusts to her, she could change the way we think about WNBA basketball.

An Analysis of Sylvia Fowles

Defense: Fowles biggest impact thus far has been on the defensive end. Her statistics reveal her production on the boards, blocking shots, and getting steals -- she ranks #2 in the league in blocks per game, #9 in rebounds per game, and #13 in efficiency rating, which is impressive for a rookie. But she brings many other intangibles as well.
  • She’s strong and able to hold her own even against wider and stronger vets, which is important for holding her position and getting rebounds.
  • When she gets rebounds she does a very good job of keeping the ball high, turning, and initiating the fast break, which is huge for a team that loves to run.
  • Her quickness and leaping ability make her a pretty good help side defender.
  • Her size and presence in the paint as a help side defender makes it difficult for opponents to get anything going inside when she’s in the game.
  • When she’s not actually blocking shots, she does an excellent job of changing shots, and forcing her opponent to miss shots.
  • Her on ball defense is still a work in progress as she has had a tendency to bite on pump fakes, especially earlier in the season. From what I have seen, she’s already made progress on that front. Once she comes back from injury, the bigger issue will be re-adjusting to the physicality of the WNBA.

  • Offense: Right now all of her offense is incidental – transition lay-ups, put backs, and cuts to the basket. But she also plays really strong in the post and has the ability to drive by slower players. She’s going to be very difficult to stop on the offensive end as she adjusts to the professional game.
    • The first thing I noticed about Fowles is that her speed running the floor is amazing. She will be a huge asset to Chicago’s early offense as she can consistently beat her defender down the floor.
    • She moves very well without the ball and looks to score quickly once she gets the ball in the paint. She definitely has a scorer’s mentality and knows how to get to spots where she can be effective. Her long arms make her shots difficult to block.
    • She showed a number of strong post moves again Minnesota, including a strong drop step. She finishes very strong through contact and should get a lot of three point play opportunities.
    • I was particularly surprised by her ability to drive by the basket. She doesn’t necessarily have advanced dribble moves, but has a quick enough first step that allows her to go by slower players.
    • She has decent form on her mid-range jumper but it hasn’t been falling thus far. If she can start making that, she would be almost impossible to guard.
    • Fowles has trouble with veteran players her size like Hayden Johnson (Minnesota) and Leslie, but she’ll probably adjust with experience.
    • Though her footwork is pretty good, she will probably get better at fighting for position when she can’t establish position on the first try.
    • Her ballhandling is not stellar, but is impressive for a young post player. She’s normally rather decisive with the ball so she doesn’t turn the ball over any more than expected for a rookie post player.
    • Another adjustment issue is that she sometimes struggles with double teams. When she can’t split the double team by using her athleticism, she occasionally gets forced into a bad decision. This also improved over the course of the season.
    Transition Points:
    • I wondered if Fowles had suffered a major knee injury before. In fact, she underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee just last December
    • Fowles is not exactly wasting her time while injured– she’s started a new Free Hugs movement:
    Relevant Links:
    Sylvia Fowles told to keep playing hard
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-22-sky-chicagomay22,0,7801092.story