On Monday afternoon the Atlanta Dream released Courtney Paris, their 6-foot-4, 250 pound center.
Three years ago Paris was a first-round draft pick, coming off a college career where she averaged 19.9 points per game and 14.8 rebounds per game. A lot can change in three years, and now Paris's WNBA future looks uncertain.
In 2009, I thought she was an obvious pick for the #1 spot. That spot belonged to the Atlanta Dream so you can guess that I was very interested in how it would work out. I wasn't the only person who thought she'd be a #1 pick - there were a handful of Paris backers but other fans and seasoned judges of talent were a lot smarter than I was. They questioned her conditioning from the very start and noted that she got a lot of rebounds that were basically putbacks.
I never realized how important the weight issue was. Paris could dominate players in the Big 12 but the WNBA is a league filled with all stars. Moving to the pro level, you encounter a group of players who are stronger and faster, players who were formally the elite of college basketball. There are no teams from the SWAC or the Summit League or the Southland where you can expect to rest easy.
She ended up with the Sacramento Monarchs, the #7 pick. She only started six games but played in 33 for the Monarchs, averaging 4.8 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game. Even so, given her 13.4 minutes per game, she had a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 18.91 - better than average.
When the Maloofs stuck a knife in the back of the Monarchs, this left Paris without a home. At 12-22 it had been the worst season in Sacramento since 1998, the Monarchs weren't leaving on a high note. In 2009-10 she played for Maccabi Ashdod in Israel and Botas Spor in Turkey. She was a good player overseas, but Israel and Turkey aren't really elite leagues. Still, Paris could put up points and rebounds.
In 2010, Paris was picked by the Chicago Sky in the dispersal draft. But the Sky let her go, and she wasn't picked up by any other team. That should have been a red flag right there given that the Sky were basket cases. She made the Spanish League - an elite league - in 2010-11, playing for Rivas Ecopolis.
The Sparks signed her in February 2011 but she was waived a second time. Finally in June 2011 she was signed by the Atlanta Dream, playing 28 games as a reserve. She averaged 9.6 minutes per game with 3.4 ppg/3.1 rpg. Her PER rating was still above average at 17.58
The Dream re-signed Paris in February of 2012. With one year of experience behind her and Erika de Souza away from the team to prepare for the Olympics, one would have thought that this would be the year where Paris would have a chance to break out.
Instead, she only played 7.3 minutes per game in the four games she played this season. Even 3-point specialist Laurie Koehn averaged more points that Paris, and furthermore Paris averaged over a foul a game. The weight was still an issue even after three years in the WNBA. She was slow on the court. She was a defensive liability and in the few games I saw she seemed to have lost that vaunted hand strength, that ability to put her hands on the ball and bring it down by force of will.
She looked awful in the second game against Indiana. I think that must have been the point where Dream coach Marynell Meadors realized that Paris was not going to contribute. During a 94-92 overtime loss to the Sky where Meadors threw posts at Sylvia Fowles like a general throwing soldiers at a hill controlled by the enemy, Paris was left watching the game from the bench. The writing was on the wall.
Paris could still be picked up. She is a post player, but in the literal sense of the term, as immobile as a concrete column. Meadors signed Jessica Moore: a second round draft pick now on her fifth team in eight years and who has never had a PER greater than 8.78, a player who hasn't started a WNBA game in three years - but whom Atlanta considered a better alternative than keeping Paris on the bench.
With the Courtney Paris experiment moving through four cities in four years, the only question left is who would now sign Paris? Tulsa and Washington are particularly challenged teams; anyone might help there. If Paris doesn't find a home this year I wonder if she'll ever find a home in the WNBA again.
Before you consider this the let's-all-dump-on-Courtney-Paris column, I will say that Paris was loved in Atlanta. After the starters, the player who got the most applause was Courtney Paris and I believe it was because of the weight issue. A lot of people struggle with weight and people liked seeing a big girl go out there and fight for the Dream. A lot of fans just say "well, she should work harder to lose weight" and claim that Paris is lazy. But I consider weight issues on an order with depression issues, and telling someone with weight management issues to just get thinner can be like telling a person with severe depression to just start smiling.
So what does Paris look like statistically after three years in the WNBA? At the end of the 2011 season here are the statistically most similar players to Paris, regardless of position:
(Comparison graphic at http://img266.imageshack.us/img266/1853/parislamb.jpg)
Lamb was a fourth-round draft pick for the Comets in 1998 who started playing at around 33 and whose career was really over due to age before it even started.
I rated Paris in the class of 23-year olds in 2011. Here are the other players through WNBA history most similar to Paris by age 23:
(comparison graphic at http://img163.imageshack.us/img163/1584/parisappel.jpg)
Appel is a player on the San Antonio Silver Stars, a #5 pick in 2010. Appel was a rookie All-Star who has been plagued by injury. Paris has more points, Appel has more rebounds. The comparison can be misleading, as Appel played two consecutive seasons and Paris missed a year.
So what about Paris's contributions to the Dream this year? Given that the Dream have played five games, here is how both Dream wins would be divvied up according to the Box Score values system:
Paris is clearly the bottom player on the team. Rookie Tiffany Hayes has contributed more in Box Score and has a greater upside.
Then again, it could just be a matter of location. Maybe Atlanta isn't the best fit for Paris. Lots of players have clashed with Marynell Meadors and moved on.
But I'm starting to wonder how many places Paris has left to move on to.