Tulsa Shock 2015: Playoff contender?

Tulsa Today Sports Editor Rich Lohman talks with Skylar Diggins. Photo: Shock

Tulsa Today Sports Editor Rich Lohman talks with Skylar Diggins. Photo: Shock

The wait is almost over for the faithful fans of the WNBA’s version of the Bad News Bears.

The ladies in black and yellow are loaded and ready to hit the court for the 2015 WNBA season and, for the first time since the move from Detroit in 2010, serious positive buzz precedes opening tipoff, which will take place tomorrow night at the Target Center in Minneapolis against the Minnesota Lynx.

How serious? The word playoffs is being discussed and that hasn’t happened since the team’s last season in Michigan. As the Detroit Shock the team has three WNBA titles, in 2003, 2006 and 2008 and the first playoff berth since the relocation would be a huge landmark indeed.

Shock Coach Fred Williams

Shock Coach Fred Williams

Five years of rebuilding has culminated in arguably the best roster the Shock has presented and it all has to do with a balance of veterans and rookies that might add up to a winning combination. Second year head coach Fred Williams feels very good about the team he has assembled in the off season.

“I feel very confident in this group of young ladies,” Coach Williams stated, “They’ve worked hard in the off season and some went overseas to play. Others stayed here in the states and worked out with trainers and the coaching staff. It makes me feel comfortable to know that they reported early to work out with themselves and that tells me they want to do well this season.”

Williams has his stable of seasoned veterans, most of who saw a lot of action and set individual records in 2013 and 2014.

Skylar Diggins, Odyssey Sims and Courtney Paris…Tulsa’s “big three”, if you will…are all back in Shock yellow and black this year, and Riquna Williams…who set the WNBA single game points record against San Antonio in 2013 with 51…and Tiffany Jackson-Jones are fully healthy after sitting out most of 2014 with leg injuries. Jordan Hooper, Vicki Baugh and Theresa Plaisance are ready to get their sophomore seasons as professionals underway.

Odyssey Sims (Photo by Shane Bevel/NBAE via Getty Images)

Odyssey Sims (Photo by Shane Bevel/NBAE via Getty Images)

Diggins and Sims are arguably the Shock superstars. Diggins had a career season in 2014, as she eclipsed a franchise record set by Deanna Nolan in 2009, scoring 683 points (Nolan’s 2009 mark was 559 points). She was the Shock’s all-star representative to the 2014 All Star Game. Best of all, she contributed 20.1 points per game and averaged 5 assists per game, both of which were career highs.

Sims had an outstanding freshman season in the WNBA, playing in all 34 games last season starting in 31. She averaged 16.7 points per game and 4.2 assists per game. The points per game ranked her third in Shock franchise history.

Courtney Paris, Photo: Shock

Courtney Paris, Photo: Shock

Paris completed her sixth year in the WNBA in 2014, appearing as a starter for the Shock in all 34 games. She was the window cleaner for the Shock as she turned in 347 boards (136 offensive and 211 defensive), earning her an award for peak performance. Twice last season she brought in 16 rebounds, a career high, and all that had Paris leading the pack in rebound averages with 10.2 per contest. Her 347 rebounds last year puts her second in franchise history.

Also on board as rookies are Brianna Kiesel from the University of Pittsburgh and the Shock’s #1 draft pick out of the University of Minnesota Amanda Zahui B.

But wait, there’s more.

Plenette Pierson returns to Tulsa. Photo: Shock

Plenette Pierson returns to Tulsa. Photo: Shock

Over the off season, two former WNBA champions signed with Tulsa, Karima Christmas and Plenette Pierson. Pierson was a member of the last Detroit Shock team to win the WNBA title in 2008, and Christmas won the title with Indiana in 2012. She also made the move with the team to Tulsa and played in eight games for the team before being traded to New York for Tiffany Jackson-Jones.

Karima Christmas won the WNBA title in 2012 with Tameka Catchings and the Indiana Fever after spending time in 2011 and 2012 with Tulsa.

Realistically though, what chance do the Shock have of finally climbing out of the WNBA cellar and returning to the elite of the league? It would be foolish to believe that the Tulsa Shock are finals bound this early, but a playoff run is definitely possible with the firepower they have.

The only potential distraction that the Shock faced going into the 2015 campaign is the ongoing scandal involving the domestic incident between Shock forward Glory Johnson-Griner and her spouse Brittany Griner of the Phoenix Mercury. Both players were set to serve out a seven-game suspension at the start of the season.

That resolved itself right before the final roster was settled as Johnson-Griner announced that she was pregnant and that she would sit out the 2015 season in order to remain healthy for the sake of the child

Tiffany Jackson-Jones is healthy and ready to play. Photo Greg Duke, Tulsa Today

Tiffany Jackson-Jones is healthy and ready to play. Photo Greg Duke, Tulsa Today

The key is staying healthy. It was conceivable that the Shock could have had their breakout season in 2014 but injuries prevented that. All indications are that the 2015 Shock are all healthy and ready to go for the year.

Overall the atmosphere surrounding the Tulsa Shock is very positive. There aren’t many obstacles for the team to overcome in terms of chemistry and moreover, the team appears hungry to win. In 2014, the Shock won 12 games, which doesn’t seem that many but for a team that couldn’t win 10 games in the four years since the relocation, it’s big.

The Shock will play their home opener on Saturday, June 6 when they take on the Chicago Sky in the BOK Center.