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2015 Season Review: Tulsa Shock

August 12, 2015: Connecticut Sun Forward Kayla Pedersen (7) and Tulsa Shock Guard Riquina Williams (2) battle for the ball as the Connecticut Sun's host the Tulsa Shock at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Sun defeat the Shock 80-74.
Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire

2015 Regular-Season Record: 18-16 (3rd in Western Conference)

Postseason: Lost 2-0 to Phoenix Mercury in Western Conference Semifinals

After years of languishing as one of the worst teams in the WNBA (I mean, come on), the Shock finally seemed poised to break out in 2015. Though they once again missed the playoffs in 2014, the signs were there: Many of their losses came after highly competitive games, and former Dream head coach Fred Williams had introduced a new culture in Tulsa, helping dynamic young guards Skylar Diggins, Odyssey Sims, and Riquna Williams to thrive in an up-tempo, aggressive offensive system.

Bluntly, 2015 was to be the season in which all the talent the Shock had accumulated from years in the lottery would finally start to gel. As it turned out, they surpassed even the most optimistic of expectations early on, starting the season 8-1 before MVP candidate Diggins suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Sims, too, had a particularly nasty knee injury early on (though it turned out to be less serious than Skylar’s, and she was able to return much earlier than expected), and we were, unfortunately, able to catch only a glimpse of this team’s massive offensive potential.

Still, the Shock finished the season at 18-16, good for the franchise’s first (and last, as they will become the Dallas Wings in 2016), playoff tripe. And, though, they weren’t healthy enough to best the defending champion Phoenix Mercury in the first round, it was an unquestionably successful season for a franchise that had struggled with both a lack of talent and a lack of luck for so long.

Perhaps the biggest positive to take from the Shock’s 2015 season was that a large part of their lottery-drafted core wasn’t present for its success. The massive Australian post presence of Elizabeth Cambage was missing (still recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in 2014’s FIBA World Championships), and the uber-athletic Glory Johnson’s pregnancy meant she too would sit out the entirety of the season.

Without their starting frontcourt, the Shock opted to reinvent themselves by balancing their team out with more veterans: forwards Karima Christmas and Plenette Pierson were key offseason acquisitions, and Johnson’s absence in particular meant that the Shock were able to play smaller and even faster. Christmas and Pierson’s ability to effectively switch screens proved to be invaluable for Tulsa’s defense; though they still finished the season with a less-than-ideal .482% opponent’s eFG%, the Shock were able to get just enough stops to let their high-powered offense go to work.

August 12, 2015: Connecticut Sun Guard Jasmine Thomas  (6) handles the ball as Tulsa Shock Guard Riquina Williams  (2) defends. The Connecticut Sun's host the Tulsa Shock at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Sun defeat the Shock 80-74.

August 12, 2015: Connecticut Sun Guard Jasmine Thomas (6) handles the ball as Tulsa Shock Guard Riquina Williams (2) defends. The Connecticut Sun’s host the Tulsa Shock at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Sun defeat the Shock 80-74.

While the loss of Diggins meant that the Shock had to do without their best perimeter player, they were very adept at finding other ways to score. They kept their turnovers low (even with rookie Brianna Kiesel getting significant minutes at PG) and got to the free throw line at will; their team free throw rate of .271 was first in the league.  What’s more, the Shock were near the top of the league in offensive rebounding, led by the underrated Courtney Paris at center (13.2% offensive rebounding percentage; second among all WNBA players).

What this meant was that the Shock, despite a poor eFG% of their own, still ranked second in the league in points per 100 possessions (103.9). The job Fred Williams and his coaching staff did making mid-season adjustments despite a lack of depth was remarkable, and the Shock’s perfect blend of youth and veteran leadership gave them easily their best season since relocating from Detroit.

Biggest Need Heading Into 2016: Continuity

What I mean by this is that even though the Shock enjoyed much success in 2015, a large part of it was in thanks to pieces that weren’t considered to be parts of their core before the season started. Pierson revived her career in Tulsa, but at age 34, will she be able to sustain that same level of play? And how will the return of Johnson and [possibly] Cambage impact the chemistry between Pierson and Paris?

Don’t get me wrong…this is a great problem to have. The Shock-err, Wings-easily have one of the better scenarios of any team heading into next season. The trio of Diggins, Sims, and Williams projects to be the WNBA’s most talented and explosive backcourt and if (that’s a big if) Cambage and Johnson both return, it will give them the option to play either big or small, a strategy few WNBA teams can pull off effectively.

The Wings will be new to Dallas in 2016, but they won’t be sneaking up on anyone in the WNBA this time around. That’s alright, though; provided everyone stays healthy, they’ll have the talent, coaching, and depth to compete with the league’s best. Expect big things from their inaugural season in Dallas.

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