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Ashley Walker Gets a "Chance to Shine" with the Tulsa Shock

Way back on Seattle Storm media day, center Ashley Robinson stated her respect for all the players coming into camp knowing that their chances of making the roster were slim.

"A lot of respect to people even coming here to camp in Seattle," said Robinson when asked about the atmosphere in camp. "When you know going into the season that there are already seven guaranteed contracts or seven people that you know are already going to be on the team and they're not even here yet. So just to come and work hard and have a positive attitude and to compete, kudos to them."

At the time, the assumption was that Robinson was among the players at risk of becoming a casualty of the roster cuts while clearly improved forward Ashley Walker - her friend and teammate sitting next to her at media day - would end up making the team and giving them some needed scoring punch off the bench.

Much to the surprise of media and players alike, Walker didn't make the cut. When asked about it a day after the cuts were made, Robinson expressed surprise that Walker was cut but remained hopeful.

"It's really sad - like yesterday was really hard, emotional for a lot of us," said Robinson. "Ashley was a great teammate, great person, and everybody saw how hard she worked - I mean, she deserved to be here. It's a business, it's not our decision, so we have to keep moving, but she's definitely going to be missed and I think that was the hardest that the team took any cut...Ashley's a real positive person. She knows she's going to be a good player in this league. She's waiting on her next opportunity and she's going to stay ready. And I couldn't imagine her sitting at home long with the way she came to camp."

On the day final rosters were announced, Walker's release might have been among the biggest surprises in the league. She had worked hard in the off-season to get in better shape, work on her perimeter game to transition from the 4 to the 3, and had extended her shooting range and ball handling skills in the process. If there was a reason to be concerned about the effect of roster cuts on developing young talent in the league, Walker - and possibly the Chicago Sky's release of Courtney Paris - seemed to be a primary example. Watching players who worked so hard to make it get released is always disappointing for a growing league, but watching young developing players get released is even harder. And of course, we were deprived of the much anticipated reality TV show, "The Ashleys".

However, just as Robinson said back on May 14th, Walker wasn't sitting at home long.

When a spot opened up on the Tulsa Shock roster after the Shavonte Zellous trade and Michelle Smith reporting that Walker was in Tulsa working out as she shared an agent with Marion Jones, it seemed like Walker's opportunity had opened up. On Wednesday, the Shock officially announced the signing of Walker to the team, good timing given that the team is short another player this weekend with guard Alexis Hornbuckle serving an extension.

When asked about the signing after yesterday's Seattle Storm practice, Robinson was obviously happy for Walker, calling it a blessing in disguise and not only because Walker has found new employment. Robinson's strongest point was that in a situation where it's a "new city, new team, and new system", Walker may have a "chance to shine".

"Obviously, I'm happy for her," said Robinson after practice yesterday. "She'll be able to just ball."

Robinson's optimism about Walker's new setting is not only because of the pace the Shock play, which Michelle Smith rightly reported is similar to that she played at Cal. The key in Robinson's estimation is that compared to Seattle that has established go-to scorers like Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, and Swin Cash, Richardson both plays a more open system and does not yet have a go-to player. That is borne out statistically by the fact that the Shock have arguably gotten the most balanced contributions from their roster of any in the league.

While both the Shock and the Minnesota Lynx stand as the only two teams without one dominant player in terms of statistical production (David Sparks' Credit metric), the difference with the Shock is that almost everybody who gets regular minutes sits in the 4.5% - 9.5% in terms of game credit for production.  However, the fact that Chante Black and Amber Holt are leading the team statistically - neither of which are players who consume a lot of possessions when on the floor - means that Walker is not only coming into an open system but a system where she'll be given opportunities to score because there aren't a lot of players on the team who look to create their own shots.

What Walker potentially adds to the Shock - or at least what she showed in pre-season games and practices with the Storm - is the ability to be an additional player who can create her own scoring opportunities, possibly from the 3 and 4 spots. If there has been a premium on versatility this season, that's an asset. Walker is the type of player who might develop the ability to work inside against smaller players and work outside against bigger players. As Robinson described from what she heard from friends around the league and the media, in Richardson's equal opportunity system everyone is given the freedom to score as the opportunity presents itself. It's not just that Walker can "just ball" but that she has the potential to earn herself more minutes.

Of course, Walker will have to learn the system - particularly their aggressive defensive system designed to create chaos - but being picked up by Tulsa could indeed be a "blessing in disguise" as Robinson described yesterday. For all the lamenting about how the roster cuts may be hurting the league - I've heard the concept of "self-strangulation" used more than once - Walker's second chance reinforces one point and perhaps illustrates another.

It reinforces a point that Clay Kallam of Slam Online has made previously: the league is generally more competitive after consecutive years of contraction and roster cuts - less spots means that the talent across the league is obviously more concentrated. It also illustrates that those final rosters on May 14th weren't a final judgment of a player's potential to succeed in the league - ultimately it's about players finding the right fit and it appears that Walker may have done so. Most of all Walker's optimistic disposition - one that so many of these women came into camp with -- will serve her well no matter where she goes in her career.

"She's never going to be too low - she's staying positive," said Robinson on the day after cuts. "She's had a hard, tough pro career so far but I think it takes things like this to show the light. And a team is going to pick her up and I think she's going to be so good and she's going to give us hell when she comes back."

Related Links:

Shock signs former Storm player; roster now at 11 (Lynn Jacobsen, Tulsa World)

 

Walker picked up by Tulsa – Updated (Michelle Smith, AOL Fanhouse)

Ten Questions with Ashley Walker (Michelle Smith, AOL Fanhouse)

It’s Raining Buckets: How contraction in the WNBA expands scoring—and excitement. (Clay Kallam, Slam Online)