Prior to the 2010 WNBA Finals, Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird described the adjusting to the switch from Atlanta Dream point guard Shalee Lehning to Coco Miller "a changeup".
With the Washington Mystics accommodating point guard Lindsey Harding's request to be traded to the Dream, that changeup might be even more dramatic.
The shift Bird was describing was that between a distributor's mindset and a nearly-pure scorer's mindset - Miller's scoring tendencies were in the 97th percentile last year (although that is partially due to the quirky matter that she did so little on the interior). And although Harding is a more balanced player, she was arguably the strongest direct opposite to Lehning as any point guard got last year while maintaining a positive impact on the floor.
While Harding's assist ratio was the second-lowest among point guards, Lehning's was the second-highest. Yet Harding's plus/minus of +9.4 was 6th among point guards and she scored an above average 1.74 points per empty possession compared to Lehning's 1.16, second-lowest among point guards.
In other words, this trade is not only an upgrade for the Atlanta Dream because they now have two of the league's top ten point guards from last season, but also because it allows them to do what worked for them in the playoffs - inserting Miller-as-changeup into the lineup - more efficiently.
Who they get: Lindsey Harding and a 2012 second round draft pick.
What they gain: Last season, Harding (51.36% true shooting percentage) was a much more efficient scorer than Coco Miller (46.62% TS%), which is what makes that changeup dynamic potentially more dangerous. And as someone who creates assists at a rate of nearly 22%, Harding is far more of a distributor than Miller. So in terms of offensive continuity, Harding gives the Dream a player who can bring scoring aggression to the floor while also running an offense. Her style of play might not work in every situation, but it fits with how the Dream played during their playoff run. And defensively, she is definitely among the best among starting point guards in the WNBA.
Who they lose: Ta’Shia Phillips (#8 pick in 2011 WNBA Draft), guard Kelly Miller and a 2012 first round draft pick.
What they lose: Ta'Shia Phillips would have been a great addition, but rebounding wasn't particularly a weakness for this team last year. A more subtle loss might be Kelly Miller, who was among the team's most consistent 3-point shooters, taking 2.5 per game and hitting 32.9%. Without her, they are back to where they were last off-season in searching for a 3-point shooter: Harding shot 28.8% from three last year and shot about 1.5 per game. In other words, they remain a team that will find it difficult to spread defenses.
What they gain: Ta’Shia Phillips (#8 pick in 2011 WNBA Draft), guard Kelly Miller and a 2012 first round draft pick.
On the one hand, this looks like a lot for the 7th-best point guard last season: Phillips should be a solid defensive post, both on the boards and simply back-to-the-basket. As a complement to Nicky Anosike, continued defensive improvement from Crystal Langhorne, and whatever shot blocking presence Jacinta Monroe adds, they could have a very strong interior defensive rotation.
However, Miller is an interesting addition for them as well. The Mystics' biggest statistical weakness was their turnover differential and they have definitely addressed that in this move - although Kelly Miller's turnover ratio was higher than Harding's, her assist ratio was third in the league last season making her among the league's most efficient ball handlers. When you look at the rest of this roster - defenders or potential defenders at nearly every position - Miller's job as a point guard defensively could be largely about playing within the team concept.
Who they lose: Lindsey Harding and a 2012 second round draft pick.
What they lose: Harding has put up All-Star caliber numbers in the past two seasons and where her quickness has been most valuable might actually be on the defensive end. It's not much of a stretch to call Harding the best all-around defensive point guard in the league right now. Playing next to a fully healthy Alana Beard - who is coming off surgery - they could easily have been the best and at least most experienced defensive backcourt in the league.
The question mark might be how they generate points - in 2009, Alana Beard was the primary player who created scoring opportunities for themselves while in 2010 it was Monique Currie, who is out for the season. Harding, though a distributor, complemented that with her quickness from the point that enabled her to set up others and create her own scoring. Miller is not a player that's going to break down defenses and creating scoring opportunities at the third-lowest rate of any point guard last season (15.03%), which seems to suggest that they could find themselves in a spot where their offense lags at times.
That's not to doubt the Mystics and who might step up: remember, most of us did that last year and were proven wrong. But losing Harding without getting someone who can create scoring opportunities in return - which sources say the Mystics attempted to do - and potentially losing Katie Smith, might make things difficult for the Mystics this season.
Swish Appeal's 2010 point guard rankings with stats for Harding, Lehning, and Miller.