Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Next Monday, a New Dreamer

Most WNBA fans are still in shock over the loss of the Comets. I've thought about the matter a bit now that the numbness is beginning to wear off.

I believe most of us knew from the beginning of the 2008 season that the Comets were in financial trouble. There were rumors of Hilton Koch not being able to pay the bills, which were eventually confirmed. There was the WNBA taking over the team in mid season. In short, if you had to put money on a team folding after 2008, most WNBA followers would have bet the Comets. If, say, we got news yesterday that the Liberty or the Sparks had just folded, we'd be having a very different discussion about the league's financial health.

The Comets weren't in a great arena. The team hadn't been managed very well. It had the advantages of a great foundation - you can't argue with four straight championships - but like a person spending through their inheritance, the maintenance wasn't done, the team got old and fell on hard times.

Some people are blaming the WNBA's management. My conclusion is that I don't know enough to make a conclusion. I'll probably never know enough, and we'll probably never know the truth until that great WNBA book comes out about twenty years from now.

It looks like 14 teams is a "hard limit" for the WNBA right now, particularly with the economy. If I saw further contraction, I wouldn't be surprised. Before people out there start bemoaning the death of the WNBA (or gloating over it), I really don't think that's going to happen. We're over halfway through the first "generation" of the WNBA - I mark "generations" as 20 year periods - where to the 11 and 12 year olds growing up in America the truth is that there has always been a WNBA. In a few years, you'll have girls' high school players who have followed the WNBA since kindergarten. Ten years later, you'll have the first "second generation" WNBA fans.


Some Comets fans are in the "denial" and "anger" stages of their loss. When you start talking about a Dispersal Draft of Comets players, they become very angry. I understand that. But for better or worse, the WNBA is a business and the former Comets players need to know what their futures are going to be so they can start planning.

The dispersal draft will take place Monday, December 8th. If this dispersal draft goes the way other dispersal drafts have gone, the Atlanta Dream will undoubtedly get first pick.

Some of the players on the Comets are "unrestricted free agents". They can't be drafted. That includes Latasha Byears, Mwadi Mabika, Hamchetou Maiga-Ba, Michelle Snow and Tina Thompson. For the most part, this isn't a loss as three of those players are positively ancient.

The following players are eligible:

Matee Ajavon
Renae Camino *
Tamecka Dixon
Roneeka Hodges **
Sequoia Holmes
Shannon Johnson
Sancho Lyttle
Erica White
Mistie Williams

(thanks to Richyyy for the list)

Camino is an Australian player to whom Houston holds rights. Roneeka Hodges is a restricted free agent, and she can be drafted.

So who do you take if you're the Dream?

My player grades:
Sancho Lyttle: A+
Shannon Johnson: A-
Mistie Williams: C+
Roneeka Hodges: C-
Erica White: D
Tameka Dixon: D
Sequoia Holmes: F
Matee Ajavon: F

The player grades are based on the Wins Score metric. The obvious choices are either Sancho Lyttle or Shannon Johnson.

Lyttle is a 25-year old three year pro. Furthermore, she's a 6-4 forward, and if there's any place where the Dream has a gaping weakness, it's the 2 and 3 positions. She hit 58 percent of field goals this year, but her 2006 and 2007 performances weren't that impressive. Her rebounding has gotten better year after year after year, and I think she'll only get better.

According to Basketball-Reference, Lyttle had the #1 Defensive Rating of any player in the WNBA in 2008. Even if you think that basketball statistics are less useful than say, baseball statistics that number should make you stand up and take notice. Lyttle would undoubtedly improve the Dream defensively.

Two concerns: a) when she started 25 games in 2007, her performance was worse than her 2008 performance when she started only nine. The lower usage for a player, the better the reflected performance. However, her minutes in 2008 weren't that far off from her 2007 minutes.

b) Her tendency to foul is pretty high. In 36 minutes, she averaged 4.7 personal fouls.

Now let's look at Shannon Johnson. She's 34 and will become 35 in the 2008 season. She's a short guard (5-7), and how many guards do we have already? She has played a lot of minutes - seventh in active career minutes, 14th in active career games. (And we're not even counting ABL minutes.) She's great at assists, but she tends to be great at turnovers too (2nd in career assists, 4th in career turnovers).

Her pluses are that at least with Shannon Johnson, you know what you're going to get. Furthermore, there are intangibles to consider.

"Leader" is a word often applied to Shannon Johnson, but not so often to Sancho Lyttle. One problem with the Dream last year, sad to say, was the clubhouse. I don't think there was a player that other players could look to and say "take the reins". Betty Lennox was too busy sorting out her own head to run a first year team. Johnson could step in and run the offense immediately.

So who do you take? Lyttle or Johnson? I think our needs are pressing enough at forward to take Lyttle over Johnson. All the experience in the world won't matter if we can't agressively rebound. And how do we know that Johnson wouldn't retire immediately if she were drafted by the Dream? Leuchenko, Anderson, Wauters - the Dream had enough problems with injuries, Milos and no-shows. If Shannon took a pass on the Dream, what would that say about Atlanta?

In short, take Sancho Lyttle. I think it would be a good fit. Guess we'll know next Monday.

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