The 2016 WNBA season was one to forget, as the Stars finished last in the league with a 7-27 record.
The season was filled with injuries and changes. Danielle Robinson was out the entire season with an achilles injury. Kayla McBride missed half the season after suffering a right-foot injury July 2. Dearica Hamby missed a handful of games due to pregnancy, and Jayne Appel-Marinelli retired at season’s end.
If that wasn’t enough, head coach and general manager Dan Hughes stepped down after 11 seasons in San Antonio. He was replaced by Ruth Riley in the front office, and long-time assistant coach Vickie Johnson moved over a seat to become the new head coach.
Through all the injuries, a bright spot last season was the play of Moriah Jefferson. Selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 WNBA draft, Jefferson’s seamless transition gave fans a glimmer of hope. At 5’6, she averaged 13.9 points, 4.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game, and was an All-Rookie Team selection. Still, her impressive play was not enough to keep the Stars out of the lottery for the third time in four years. Fortunately, the odds were in San Antonio’s favor after accumulating the worst two-year record in the WNBA. The lottery win was the first time the Stars won the No. 1 overall pick since moving from Salt Lake City in 2003. The franchise previously selected Margo Dydek first overall in the 1998 WNBA Draft as the Utah Starzz.
However, Riley did not wait until the draft to start making moves. One of her first transactions was signing veteran center Erika de Douza in free agency. Then, she dealt Robinson to the Phoenix Mercury in exchange for Isabelle Harrison and the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft. She also traded Astou Ndour to the Chicago Sky for Clarissa Dos Santos.
Once the draft rolled around, a huge decision loomed. Pick best available? Or pick based off biggest need? Kelsey Plum was slated as the No. 1 pick after a record-breaking season at the University of Washington; however, the Stars did not have an immediate need for another guard. After deliberation and reports of near trades, when the time came, Plum was indeed the top selection. Then, the team chose Northwestern forward Nia Coffey with the No. 5 pick.
Looking at the roster, it’s easy to wonder how the team will fare defensively on the perimeter. If Johnson decides to start Jefferson, Plum and McBride together, it gives San Antonio the smallest backcourt in the league. Jefferson has the quickness and instincts to be a terror on the defensive end, but Plum and McBride would be playing slightly out of position, especially McBride who is a natural SG. So, the question remains, how will the Stars defend opposing backcourts that possess a significant size advantage?
One solution could be to start veteran Monique Currie as a point-forward against bigger and stronger teams, a role she seems to excel in. Currie will also provide leadership and wisdom for a youthful team like the Stars. Another could be eventually shifting Coffey to the perimeter full-time to be the starting SF, since she possesses the athleticism, size and strength for the position.
On the other hand, a small lineup will cause problems for several opposing defenses as well. The plan offensively should be to get out and run, and with the speed of Jefferson it should not be a problem. With Plum and McBride as running mates, the offense will be more dynamic when compared to last year’s.
In the post, the absence of Appel-Marinelli symbolizes the loss of the team’s best rim protector and rebounder. In her final season, she averaged 5.4 rebounds and a block per game. Therefore, the post rotation will have to find a way to lessen the loss. Entering her third season, Hamby is one of the hardest working players on the roster. After improving in several major statistical categories, it’s easy to expect her to continue that upward trajectory. Kayla Alexander also had an improved season, and has the chance to build on her success from a year ago as well.
Despite all the questions, the Silver and Black will undoubtedly be a fun team to watch. Taking a step forward as a group should be the ultimate focus. However, with so many new and moving parts, some bumps in the road are inevitable. Either way, the rebuilding process is finally starting to take shape, and the Stars’ future is bright.