Steady and sure, Silver Stars slide into new year
SAN ANTONIO (AP)
The San Antonio Silver Stars had a quiet offseason, which seems appropriate for a non-descript franchise that has quietly made six straight playoff appearances.
Like the San Antonio Spurs, their NBA brethren, the Silver Stars are led by a defensive-minded coach in Dan Hughes who has established a selfless and straightforward identity for his team.
The Silver Stars didn't draft high enough to pick up any of the WNBA's heralded rookie trio of Brittney Griner (Phoenix), Elena Delle Donne (Chicago) and Skylar Diggins (Tulsa). And they didn't trade for or sign a major star.
In fact, the biggest news of the offseason was losing all-star forward Sophia Young for the season to an ACL tear.
''San Antonio, you look at their roster and you can almost sleep on them, because there are not a lot of high-profile names on the roster,'' said DeLisha Milton-Jones, who played with the Los Angeles Sparks last season. ''But these women, they come to work. They play the game in the right way. They let the ball find the open players. There is great ball movement, great screening. What you do for your teammate matters more than what you do for yourself.
''Because of that, they've been successful consistently every season.''
San Antonio will need to rely even more heavily on its collective identity without Young.
The All-Star forward averaged a team-high 16.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 32 minutes last season. She was also the team's primary stopper, earning second-team honors on the WNBA's All-Defensive squad.
The Silver Stars are not expecting one player to make up for all that production.
''We are going to have to pick up and just try to do it collectively, because you don't replace Sophia,'' All-Star guard Becky Hammon said. ''You just try to pick up the slack in every little area. Everybody grab a few more rebounds, everybody get a couple more buckets. But really . it (stinks). I'm not going to lie, it (stinks).''
The Silver Stars received more bad news Saturday, as Hammon broke her right middle finger during practice. The team said it was too early to know how many games, if any, she will miss.
The one thing San Antonio can count on is familiarity.
The Silver Stars did not make many changes to a roster that finished third in the West last season before being swept in the conference semifinals by the Sparks.
''I definitely think that consistency is going to help us,'' Silver Stars point guard Danielle Robinson said. ''Bringing back the majority of our roster is exciting because we know how to play with each other. We know how to feed off each other's energy, so I'm definitely looking forward to having that core group back.''
San Antonio is expected to keep its top two draft picks, 6-foot-4 center Kayla Alexander from Syracuse and 5-foot-11 guard Davellyn Whyte from Arizona.
The Silver Stars also added Milton-Jones as a free agent. The 15-year veteran is a perfect addition to the Silver Stars, Hughes said. A strong low-post defender, she is also averaging 12.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists for her career.
While the 6-foot-1 forward will be taking Young's starting spot, Milton-Jones said she has no delusions of what it will take to replace her.
''Whenever I would play against San Antonio, you knew they were all about chemistry,'' she said. ''Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. They ran their sets and they ran them well. If it was for Becky, we all knew it was for Becky. But the way they ran it and at the tempo and speed they ran it at, they were still successful no matter what.
''I knew that, coming in, that if you buy into the system and do things as planned, then success is waiting for you.''
The team will also lean more heavily on its young core - Robinson, Danielle Adams, Jayne Appel and Shenise Johnson. All four have played in the league four years or less.
''I think they all have the ability to move their game along, I really do,'' Hughes said. ''(Robinson) and (Adams) are both going into their third year. Shenise will be interesting to me because a player like her from Year 1 to Year 2 is when I really see growth in people. I would expect nothing other than improvement.''
Also returning is veteran guard Jia Perkins, who averaged 10.6 points while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range as the team's top reserve, and starting forward Shameka Christon.
Even with Young's injury, the Silver Stars still return seven of their top eight scorers from last season's team, a unit that averaged 82.1 points while holding opponents to 76.9.
''It's going to help us tremendously,'' Perkins said. ''I think whenever you have a lot of talent, you can't just focus on one player or one strength.
''When you have multiple weapons, it makes it harder to cover.''