The WNBA has 5 new coaches. We have questions for them

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It didn’t even take until the start of December for all five of the WNBA’s coaching vacancies to be filled. The Sparks began this year’s hiring spree by poaching Curt Miller from the Sun. The Fever hired Dream assistant Christie Sides to be their next coach, and the Wings hired Los Angeles assistant Latricia Trammel as their replacement for Vickie Johnson.

With Miller having gone west, Connecticut brought in former Indiana coach Stephanie White. In a less dramatic transition, Washington’s Mike Thibault announced his decision to retire from coaching, with the team promoting his son and long-time Mystics assistant coach, Eric Thibault, to the lead chair. Much about how the W will look next season will sort itself in free agency, but with the coaching carousel having stopped (for now), here are five burning questions about the five moves that have just been settled.

How will Connecticut’s offense look different?

Throughout the entirety of last season, Miller and his coaching staff tried to figure out how to get the most out of his team’s three star bigs. Before the All-Star break, Jonquel Jones, Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas played together in 20 games, averaging 10.6 minutes per appearance. After the break, they played together in just three regular season games, for six total minutes. That core group might not return intact when next season begins, with Brionna Jones set to hit unrestricted free agency. But whether she returns or not, White likely will explore some different tactics to try and get the most out of Connecticut’s talent.

Though the Sun were No. 2 in offensive rating last year, their lack of 3-point shooting — they attempted, and made, the second-fewest 3-pointers of any team in the WNBA — proved to be a major limitation in the postseason, and floor spacing often became an issue. Guards Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman are also free to join other teams, creating even more uncertainty about what the roster will look like. If White is looking to make her imprint felt, the biggest way to do so is on offense. Don’t be surprised to see an added emphasis on floor spacing and perimeter shooting as the Sun look to take home their elusive first title.

Will Dallas’ defense take a step forward?

Trammel established herself as one of the WNBA’s top defensive coaches in recent seasons. Four players made WNBA All-Defensive teams during her four years with the Sparks, and three times over that span, Los Angeles finished top-three in defensive rating. It’s safe to assume that Trammel will try to have the Wings improve from the 104.3 points per 100 possession mark they amassed in what turned out to be Vickie Johnson’s final campaign with the franchise. Trammel prides herself on being a coach who builds strong relationships with her players. If she’s able to connect with a core that likely will look similar to the one it trotted out last season, then Dallas should be able to improve on its No. 9 defensive rating last season and No. 8 rating in 2021.

How will the Fever get the most out of their talented frontcourt?

Built into this question is a significant assumption: that Indiana selects South Carolina star forward Aliyah Boston No. 1 in this spring’s WNBA Draft. But assuming that Boston does open next season in a Fever uniform, new coach Christie Sides will immediately encounter a rotational dilemma, albeit a positive one. After taking NaLyssa Smith, Emily Engstler and Queen Egbo within the first 10 picks of last year’s draft, Sides will have four forwards who are 23 years old or younger when next season tips off. The three who were rostered last year all produced in their debut campaigns, with Egbo and Smith making an all-rookie team and Engstler showing flashes off the bench. Boston seems poised to make an instant impact upon joining the WNBA.

Sides didn’t tip her hand about any lineup decisions in her introductory press conference but she did say developing the team’s youth was an appealing part of the job. “The sky’s the limit is kinda what keeps going through my head,” she said. Her hope is that young talent also draws in veterans who could help serve as mentors. Said general manager Lin Dunn: “It’s going to take an enormous amount of effort, energy and work to do what we need to do.” Maximizing their frontcourt talent will go a long way in determining how quickly the Fever can rebuild.

Can Miller bring stability to the Sparks?

For Los Angeles’ sake, the answer better be yes. Miller moves to the West Coast after seven years in Connecticut, where he said he had become the franchise’s longest-tenured employee at the time of his departure. Though his Sun teams never won a title, they were routinely among the league’s best, no matter which key players were active or inactive. In Los Angeles, Miller won’t be serving the dual coach-general manager role like he did with Connecticut. Still, he developed a reputation with the Sun as a builder, making the playoffs in each of his final six seasons, and he has said a “big appeal” of the Sparks job is the building process. Los Angeles has had five head coaches over the last decade, and it’s surely hoping to create more continuity with its splashy offseason coaching acquisition.

What, if anything, will look different with Eric Thibault at the helm?

Thibault, who has been with the Mystics for a decade, acknowledged at his first news conference that being the person who controls playing time will make things “a little bit different” between him and his veteran core. Nevertheless, he said he’s optimistic the relationships he’s built with players in recent years will help mitigate any issues. From an on-court perspective, Thibault said he wants Washington to play with more pace — they were last in the league, according to Basketball Reference — and improve in transition, but don’t expect drastic changes from a team that is knocking on the door of championship contention. Said Thibault: “At the center of everything we’ve done is our player development, and that’s going to continue to be the core of what we do.

“Everybody that walks in this door here should feel like they have a chance to get better, whether they’re a rookie in their first training camp or a vet, somebody that’s been with our team for 10 years.”

(Top photo of Curt Miller: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)





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