WNBA midseason check-in: San Antonio Stars

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JULY 7: Alex Montgomery
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JULY 7: Alex Montgomery /

We knew the San Antonio Stars would be a work in progress. The team that held the #1 pick in the 2017 WNBA draft is the current leader in the clubhouse to hold the first selection once again. Vickie Johnson is a first-year head coach faced with an interesting dilemma: Two of San Antonio’s most talented players play the same position.

The general consensus on that issue seems pretty clear. People don’t want to hear about it. There were rumblings on San Antonio’s intentions with that pick to begin with. Once the basketball started, it’s important to note that Johnson was working from behind. Both guards we injured. Kayla McBride had to finish her overseas season before jumping on a plane and diving right into the WNBA season.

Let’s instead start with McBride, then. She had one of the best cases of all the players not to make the All-Star game. McBride isn’t approaching 40% from three like she did in her first two seasons, but the current team’s struggles to score need to be accounted for to some degree. If McBride’s outside stroke isn’t on the top line of opposing scouting reports, it’s close.

One interesting development with McBride has come at the line. She is taking nearly five free throws per game and is on pace to blow right by her career high in free throw attempts. As a rookie, she attempted 91 in 34 games. Through 17 games, McBride has attempted 78.

McBride has as quick a trigger as anybody. She’s dangerous from deep and in the mid-range. And I’d disagree with someone arguing that we haven’t learned anything as far as the big picture goes in San Antonio. McBride recovered from her foot injury and is playing like someone a team can build around:

The idea of playing Plum and Jefferson together would push McBride to the three. Ideally, that group would get up and down in a hurry and run a bunch of spread pick and roll. The Stars have been in the lower half in pace to date.

The Stars have been pretty reliant on Horns stuff—not uncommon at any level. Just about every team has elements of it in its playbook. Indiana runs a bunch of it as well. Lots of sets will start with a ball screen. If that doesn’t result is something easy, somebody is probably running to set a screen for McBride.

The floor gets a little cramped for the Stars at times. Their bigs don’t shoot from the outside much, although Isabelle Harrison’s jumper has looked good from 15-18 feet.

Things predictably open up for the Stars when they spread the floor and set a high ball screen. Going back about a month, they began to turn to it selectively, especially late in games:

The Stars could use a little more shooting on the roster. But here’s another important point to those who are critical of how their season has gone: Y’all kind of skipped a step. Most would agree that at 3-18, the Stars would benefit most by allotting more minutes to its young players—Kelsey Plum, Nia Coffey, Dearica Hamby and Kayla Alexander.

If you are concerned with the direction of the Stars, isn’t that your chief concern? Who wouldn’t love to see Plum/Jefferson/McBride together? But the more general point is most important for a team that won’t be making the playoffs: Find out what you have in your young players.

Opening up the floor more often would help should they go that route. You saw Jefferson making some plays in the pick and roll already. Plum has shown glimpses of the pressure she can put on a defense. She can shoot from anywhere off the bounce and make good things happen in the lane:

The Stars are fourth in offensive rebound rate. Harrison is a big time leaper and is pulling down two offensive boards per game. Hamby, Alexander and Erika de Souza hit the boards, too.

The Stars take the fewest amount of threes in the league and don’t get to the line much at all, save for McBride. Their turnover rate is the highest at 21.7%. That fact bolsters the argument to open the floor more for the team’s talented guards to use more ball screens and play drive-and-kick.

Plum and Jefferson have been in the starting lineup two games in a row with McBride nursing a sprained ankle. Will that trend continue and will the Stars make significant progress toward turning things around in 2018?