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Saturday, March 23, 2019

San Antonio Silver Stars 2011: Basketball Makeover 101

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Photo Caption: Could San Antonio’s Danielle Adams (above), the No. 20 overall pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft, be the surprise “Rookie of the Year”? The jury is still out, but the undersized forward-center has already made a major impact for the Silver Stars and beat out frontrunner Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx) for June’s Rookie of the Month honors.

Photo Credit: Courtesy NBA Entertainment/D. Clarke Evans




By Bob Corwin
Correspondent

As the attention of the league turns to San Antonio, as the Silver Stars play host to the WNBA All-Star Game, we pause to take a look at a team that has surprised and impressed many with their performance to the midpoint of the season.

Silver Star’s general manager Dan Hughes would be a lock for WNBA Executive of the Year (if such an award officially existed).  Having been asked to return to the bench after the dismissal of first-year head coach Sandy Brondello (now a Sparks assistant), he may turn out to be Coach of the Year as well, if his team continues to perform as it has to start the season. 

Hughes takes a cautious approach to where his team stands.  “There is a lot of evidence yet to be played out,” Hughes stated. Still, acknowledging that his team had a better start than many—the Silver Stars went 4-0 to start the regular season and stood atop the West with a 7-1 record at the end of June before dropping three in a row in early July—Hughes expressed his pleasure with his team’s unexpectedly strong performance this season:  “There is a good energy [and] a bench that has not always been part of the Silver Stars,” Hughes stated. 

As the league heads into the All-Star break, San Antonio now stands in third place in the West, exactly where they finished the regular season last year. But last season, the Silver Stars did not even pass the .500 mark, finishing the season with a 14-20 record. This year, in contrast, the Silver Stars have been solidly in the black all season and are just one game out of first place in the West with a 9-5 record at this point.

Just how did Hughes and his addition of six new players to the roster accomplish this impressive infusion of vitality? Let’s take a look—but first, a bit of Silver Stars’ trivia:

Full Court Press Trivia Question:  Two current WNBA players attended and played at the same high school as San Antonio’s Scholanda Robinson, though not all of them at the same time. Who are they, and which high school did the three attend? (Answer at end of article)

Center


Gone to Chicago via trade is Michelle Snow who had a solid season for San Antonio in 2010 averaging 10.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a starter playing just over 24 minutes per game.  With the loss of this former Lady Vol, the Silver Stars gave up some mid-key offense as well as post defense and rebounding.

Back from last year is Ruth Riley who played in just 20 contests in 2010.  Unlike last season, she has been healthy, starting all 14 of the team’s games to date.  Her offensive production has improved modestly to 5.7 points per game from last season’s mundane 3.8 points per game, Riley is still off her career average of seven points per game and it is safe to say that the Notre Dame product hardly constitutes a major threat in the key.
 
The real improvement in the position comes off the bench in the form of rookie forward/center Danielle Adams. At No. 20 overall, the former Aggie was the last prospect remaining in the studio as the 2011 WNBA Draft wound deep into its second round despite having proved herself at the collegiate level as the 2009 JUCO Player of the Year and as the Most Outstanding Player of the 2011 Final Four after leading Texas A&M to its first-ever national championship. Adams averaged a team-high 22.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in her senior campaign with the Aggies. So why did team after team pass her by? Adams looks out of shape, too heavy, and at 6-1 was considered a “tweener,” undersized for a pro-level post and lacking the range to succeed as a wing either, having shot just 30 percent from the arc as a collegian.

Hughes’s faith in his rookie has been rewarded. Given the lack of post offense from other players, the responsibility for maintaining offensive balance—and not putting too much burden on the wing players to do almost all the scoring—falls heavily on this former Texas A&M Aggie’s broad shoulders. With playing minutes about equal to her jersey number 23, Adams is currently coming off the bench for 15.7 points per game—second on the team only to Becky Hammon’s 16.2 points per game—to which Adams adds an average of five rebounds per game. The rookie is shooting 47 percent from the field, and has extended her range, shooting 37.9 percent from the arc.

Adams’s style is reminiscent of that of NBA great Charles Barkley in how she uses her body to create space and how well she carries her weight. Adams is clearly the steal of the draft and her play has made her the most serious threat to Minnesota’s Maya Moore for the Rookie of the Year award, by-passing the more widely heralded Moore, Liz Cambage (Tulsa Shock) and Courtney Vandersloot (Chicago Sky) for Rookie of the Month honors in the month of June.

Hughes describes his prize catch as “having a veteran feel for offensive basketball,” adding that “she moves her feet well on defense. She can hedge and take a charge.”  Hughes admits she should have been drafted a lot higher than number 20 but wouldn’t be specific as to how high.  How about Top Five?

Rounding out the roster at the center position is Stanford alum Jayne Appel, who suffered yet another setback coming into the season— this time in the form of a minor knee injury. After sitting out the Silver Stars’ first three games, Appel is back in action, but still struggles to score, averaging just 2.4 points per game. Appel has improved her rebounding to a modest 3.5 boards per game—still better than last season’s 2.8 rebounds per game. Playing just over 10 minutes per game, the 6-4 Appel’s main role is to set picks and give her team some size in the paint.  Her individual offense continues to be hurt by her lack of range and lengthy shot preparation (generally a hook shot).

Power Forward


Gone from the club is Crystal Kelly.  The Silver Stars acquired Kelly from the Tulsa Shock in exchange for Shanna Crossley, but the 6-2 forward languished on the bench averaging just three points in and 1.2 rebounds in 9.3 minutes per game. After San Antonio waived its negotiating rights with Kelly early this spring, she was picked up by the New York Liberty but failed to make the squad.

Sophia Young returns for her sixth year in the WNBA, all of them in San Antonio.  The three-time All-Star continues to put up solid numbers; she is currently averaging 15.6 points per game on 46.5 percent from the field, to which she adds a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game. If there are any knocks on this Baylor product, they are her lack of a three-point threat—she has averaged just under 25 percent from the arc over her career and has yet to hit her first long ball this season. And while Young is often brilliant on the offensive side of the ball, she is just an average defender.

Fortunately for the Silver Stars, Young is a work horse, who averages a team-high 31.3 minutes per game. Her back-up is rookie Porsha Phillips, the 30th pick in this year’s draft.  Hughes likes the energy Phillips ,brings off the bench, describing her as “a remarkable rebounder and athletically gifted. She has some touch and skill and can step out to 15 (feet).” 

Hughes indicated that the Silver Stars were looking to possibly take Phillips as high as No. 20, where they instead selected Adams. That statement suggests that a tacit admission that Hughes, too, has been pleasantly surprised by the very great impact Adams has had on his team to start the season.

Hughes correctly guessed Phillips would still be available at No. 30 (San Antonio’s next pick), and the Georgia product has proved that in the end, Hughes had his priorities straight. The Georgia product has contributed only modestly, averaging 2.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in 11-and-a-half minutes per game. No great, but then again, not bad for a third-round draft pick.

When the Stars want to go “big,” Adams can be slotted at the four—which in fact may be her most natural position—and Young moving out to small forward.

Small Forward


This is a position that can see as many as four different players take the court for the Silver Stars in the course of a single game.  One you won’t see is Chamique Holsclaw, who fell into San Antonio’s lap last year after refusing to play in Atlanta, and this year, as a free agent, has chosen to sit out the 2011 WNBA season.  Holdsclaw as a valuable “get” for the Silver Stars, averaging 13.6 points per game on 49.4 percent from the field, plus 5.3 rebounds per game in 2010.  However, she was not the greatest of defensive small forwards and sometimes played with limited energy. Thus, despite the loss of Holdsclaw’s scoring, the Silver Stars seem to picked up more zip without her in the line-up this year.
 
The starting role at the three has been split so far this season between Roneeka Hodges and Scholanda Robinson.  Hodges, who started 19 of 34 games last year, has had her minutes (12.4 per game) halved from last season’s 25 per game.  Almost all her shots (36 of 40) have been from behind the arc where she is shooting 41.7 percent.  Robinson, who came over from Tulsa for San Antonio’s second and third-round 2012 draft picks, is best known for her ability to defend.  One would certainly hope so, as on offense she is averaging only 2.3 points on 22 percent from the field in 13.6 minutes of court time per contest.

As noted above, Young can play the three if the Silver Stars go “big,” and Jia Perkins (who is really a shooting guard, as discussed below) can also move to small forward if Hughes decides to go “small.” While Perkins gives the Silver Stars more punch, her 5-8 height can give taller opposing small forwards an advantage over her at the other end.

Shooting Guard


Gone this season is Edwige Lawson-Wade who averaged 6.5 points per game last season, coming off the bench nearly as often as not.  This 5-6 French international tended to settle for a lot of outside shots and did relatively little to create for others.

San Antonio can thank Becky Hammon, who returns for her fifth season with the Silver Stars, for helping to keep them vibrant.  The 5-6 Colorado State product, who turned heads by playing for Russia as a naturalized citizen in the 2008 Olympics, is close to an internet cult figure with her following of “Hammonite” fans.  Has there ever been a more entertaining player in the women’s game?

Photo Caption: Becky Hammon is still going strong as she turns 34, leading the Silver Stars in both scoring (16.2 points per game) and assists (6.5 per game) despite reduced minutes.
Photo Credit: Courtesy NBA Entertainment/D. Clarke Evans



Hammon is now 34 and Hughes wants to take some of the scoring pressure off of her this season.  Still, though Hammon is playing about 3 minutes less than in 2010 at 30.8 minutes per game so far this season, she has increased her scoring output to 16.2 points per game (up from 15.1 points per game last year) while also leading the team in assists at 6.5 per game.

For relief, Hughes turns to Jia Perkins, obtained from Chicago in a trade for Michelle Snow. Hughes sees the Texas Tech grad as “another playmaker to play with and without Becky [Hammon].”  The acquisition has proved to be a beneficial one as Perkins has improved both her scoring and her shooting accuracy from the field, becoming the fourth double-digit scorer (13.3 points per game) in San Antonio’s offensive arsenal. She also affords versatility: Although only 5-8, Perkins at times plays the nominal “3” when San Antonio goes to a three-guard offense.

Photo Caption: Jia Perkins’s move to San Antonio from the Chicago Sky has proved good for both Perkins and her new team, as the former Texas Tech star has boosted her scoring over her 2010 numbers enough to become San Antonio’s fourth double-digit scorer.
Photo Credit: Courtesy NBA Entertainment/D. Clarke Evans




Point guard

Long-time back-up point guard Helen Darling, who spent four years in San Antonio, scoring little but serving as a steady reserve field general who played adequate defense, is gone from this year’s line-up.

In her stead, Hughes has constructed a three-headed lead guard scenario.  Free-agent signee Tully Bevilaqua (formerly of the Indiana Fever) has started all 14 games to date, but the Aussie veteran, who turns 39 this month, averages just 13.6 minutes per game. Hughes credits Bevilaqua for bringing amazing energy and a defensive mindset to the team and serving as a mentor for rookie Danielle Robinson. Scoring has never been Bevilaqua’s thing, however, and that continues to be the case, as Bevilaqua averages just 1.6 points and 1.4 assists per game. 

The majority of point guard minutes (21.6 per game) have gone to rookie Danielle Robinson, the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft.  According to Hughes, Robinson “has really good energy coming off the bench.  She has a mid-range game [that] a lot of players with that quickness don’t have.”  Robinson has been averaging 7.5 points per game on 42 percent from the field; she is also serving up 4.4 dishes per game this season. She is a scrappy and highly competitive player, and though that energy can often be helpful, at times this season, has fouled too much, forcing her to the bench. Another downside: Robinson’s lack of a serious three-point threat. The rookie has not even attempted a long ball thus far, and her inability to knock down the three cost the Silver Stars a chance to tie at the end of their recent loss to the Liberty in San Antonio.

Robinson boasts a solid 2.6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but still needs to work on developing a better feel for the game at the pro level—for example, knowing when to push the pace harder and when to back off.  In crunch time, the Oklahoma product often moves to the wing to serve as a decoy, allowing Hammon to handle the ball, while retaining the defensive advantage Robinson offers.  Alternatively, Robinson goes to the bench with Young moving to the small forward if Hughes decides to “go big.”

Photo Caption: Danielle Robinson has proved herself to be another great addition for the Silver Stars. Though she continues to develop a feel for the game and its pacing at the pro level, and could stand to develop a three-point shot as well, Robinson is already a steady ballhandler and a scoring threat from inside.
Photo Credit: Courtesy NBA Entertainment/D. Clarke Evans



Although in a pinch, Jia Perkins can play the point, the third lead guard option is often the first, particularly in crunch time, as Becky Hammon moves over to the point from the shooting guard slot. Hammon is by far San Antonio’s best creator off the bounce.  Unfortunately, as has been her history, Hammon can suffer periodic outbreaks of butterfingers. She has already had two games this year that saw her cough the ball up seven times each. Moreover, Hammonis at best an average defender.

Offense

Through their first 14 games, the Silver Stars, at 28.8 percent, are among the top in the league in three-pointers attempted as a percentage of overall shots.  What that tells us is this team lacks a consistent low-post presence.  The situation is personified in Danielle Adams, the team’s most offensively productive post player despite her 6-1 stature, who prefers to step out and shoot a three whenever possible (over 67-of-154, or 43.5 percent of her attempts from the field to date have come from beyond the arc).  Unfortunately for the Silver Stars, the team ranks in the bottom third of the league in three-point shooting percentage. In recent back-to-back losses to the Liberty, the team shot well below its seasonal average of 33.8 percent from behind the arc. Remember the saying, “Live by the three, die by the three!”
 
On a brighter note, The Silver Stars are No. 2 in the league in assists per game (18.85), reflecting that more than most, this team does a good job of sharing the ball. In the quarter-court, much of the offense stems from creations of Becky Hammon off high screens and penetrations. Jia Perkins, as Hughes intimated, can also create shots, but in her case they are mostly for herself. 
:

Defense

When asked about his greatest concern for his team, one word said it all from Coach Hughes: “Rebounding.”  Though the boards—an area of weakness last year as well as this season—are a continual point of emphasis, said Hughes, San Antonio still ranks in the bottom half of the league in rebounds per game (33.21) and are second to last (ahead of Tulsa) in rebounding margin (-5.07). 

Like many teams, the Silver Stars tend to try to help out in the paint on the weak side in their normal man-to-man defense (their primary defense).  When they don’t recover quickly enough, they fall victim to opponents’ three-point shooting.  Opponents shoot 39.3 percent from the arc against them, making the Silver Stars the third-worst three-point defense in the WNBA. In contrast, in overall defense, as measured by opponents’ field-goal percentage, the Silver Stars at 42.9 percent, are slightly above the middle of the pack.

Conclusion

The Western Conference has five talented teams this season, and one of them must miss the playoffs. Dan Hughes has to be given a lot of credit for the player personnel moves that have not only made the Silver Stars a more engaging team than they have been in recent season, but have also given his club a greater chance to compete for the conference and league titles. Given their strong start, it seems likely that San Antonio may surpass the consensus Full Court Press prediction of a fifth-place finish in the West. 

San Antonio is a club that can cause match-up problems by “going small.” At the same time the Silver Stars can suffer match-up problems of their own, especially on the defensive end, when confronted by teams that possess tall, talented small forwards and a dominant low-post presence.

So could San Antonio contend for the title this year? A lot of improvement would have to take place for the Silver Stars to win the league crown. Though this team looks far more dynamic offensively, particularly on the perimeter, than in years past, but they appear to still be lacking that final piece to the puzzle—a dominant presence in the paint—that they need if they are to achieve ultimate success in this competitive league.



Full Court Press Trivia Question:  Two current WNBA players attended and played at the same high school as San Antonio’s Scholanda Robinson, though not all of them at the same time. Who are they, and which high school did the three attend?

Answer: For several years, Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles played at Miami (Florida) Edison High School alongside Scholanda Robinson, then known as Scholanda Dorrell. Later they teamed up again at LSU as part of the “Edison pipeline.”  Prior to the prep years of Fowles and Robinson, Marie Ferdinand-Harris, now of the Phoenix Mercury, played at Edison before heading on to LSU herself.

 

Originally published Fri, July 22, 2011


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NCAA DIVISION I TOP 25 COACHES' POLL
WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Week: February 7, 2012
RANK SCHOOL RECORD LAST WEEK'S RANK PRESEASON RANK AP RANK POINTS
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
(61)
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
(70)
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
(38)
92
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
(18)
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
(13)
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
(23)
NR-RV
(19)
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
Ranking has risen since last week.
Ranking has dropped since last week.
Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.