Over the past few years, teams in the Western Conference have loaded up with top draft picks. Two years ago, it was Maya Moore to Minnesota. Last year, Nneka Ogwumike to Los Angeles. And just a few weeks ago, Brittney Griner to Phoenix.
San Antonio, meanwhile, has continued to be a playoff-caliber team in this conference thanks to the inside-out combination of Becky Hammon and Sophia Young -- but without a franchise-changing rookie.
However, Young, San Antonio's leading scorer and rebounder last year, is out with a knee injury and Hammon is 36 -- and the Silver Stars are more of an afterthought than they likely want to be. Even more concerning? Hammon suffered a broken middle finger on her right (shooting) hand in practice Monday and is sidelined indefinitely.
When healthy, Hammon can still score, and Danielle Robinson is one of the best young point guards in the league. Danielle Adams, free-agent signee DeLisha Milton-Jones and Jayne Appel will share time inside the paint.
Top draft pick Kayla Alexander will provide the Silver Stars some badly needed depth inside.
Young, the Silver Stars' best frontcourt player, is out for the season after sustaining a knee injury last January while playing in China. Young averaged 16.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season and is regarded as one of the league's best defensive players -- a tough package to replace.
The Silver Stars are good enough, but on paper don't look like a great team. Which is tough when you are in a conference full of them.
With Phoenix and Los Angeles better than a year ago and Minnesota no less loaded, the Silver Stars look like no better than the fourth-best team in this conference, particularly without Young. But the Shock might have something to say about that. It's going to be a battle.