Editor's note: Before the 2006 season tips off, ESPN's Nancy Lieberman and ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays each tackle one question facing all 14 WNBA teams. Here, the experts take a closer look at the Sacramento Monarchs.
The Monarchs went 25-9 in the regular season en route to their first WNBA title. In the playoffs, they swept Los Angeles (first round) and Houston (West finals) before beating Connecticut in four games in the finals. Coach John Whisenant enters his third full season in Sacramento after taking over the team midway through the 2003 season.
DeMya Walker averaged a team-high 14.1 ppg, while Yolanda Griffith, who ranked second in scoring at 13.8 ppg, led the way on the boards with 6.6 rpg and in blocks (0.91). Ticha Penicheiro dished out 4.4 apg and made 1.4 spg.
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The most impressive thing might not be exactly who the Monarchs added, but rather how they did it. What I mean is, how many reigning champions actually get not one but two first-round draft picks (Nos. 13 and 14)?
Sacramento did a nice job with them, too, and got better with two unbelievable picks. Losing defensive specialist Chelsea Newton -- who started all 34 games as a rookie last season in the Monarchs' WNBA championship run -- is a significant loss. To make up for it, Sacramento added LSU's Scholanda Dorrell (Hoston) with the last pick of the first round. She's a great defender, and at 5-foot-10, almost the same size as the 5-11 Newton (4.4 ppg) and just as quick. Dorrell is also a better 3-point shooter (Newton shot 24 percent from downtown last season).
Drafting Utah forward Kim Smith with the 13th overall pick was another great addition, particularly as Sacramento awaits the return of DeMya Walker, who recently gave birth and has not set a return date. In the past, we used to talk about the Monarchs' depth at the 3-4, and now it pays off with players like the extremely versatile Smith, as well as Rebekkah Brunson, who just keeps getting better, on board to complement Yolanda Griffith in the frontcourt. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
Best-case: This one is self-explanatory. In winning the championship last season, the Monarchs offered a pretty good blueprint of what they're capable of when everything clicks. So assume all the key players avoid any kind of championship hangover, not to mention serious injuries. Yolanda Griffith, 36, continues playing at an All-Star level, as she has the last three seasons (compared to the MVP level she regularly achieved before that). Nicole Powell improves her midrange and slashing game slightly (she shot just 34 percent on 2-point field goals last season) and takes over a more central offensive role. Kristin Haynie continues easing Ticha Penicheiro into more manageable minutes and Kara Lawson plays a full healthy season in place of Chelsea Newton.
Worst-case: Everything that broke right last year breaks the other way. Griffith finally shows signs of slowing down, exposing a distinct lack of depth on a guard-dominated roster (especially with DeMya Walker on maternity leave for potentially the entire season). Lawson, plagued by an illness in the preseason, again misses significant time. Without Walker, Lawson and Newton (selected by the Chicago Sky), the Monarchs could open the season without three of their six leading scorers from last season, forcing new arrivals like Kim Smith and Dionnah Jackson into roles they can't yet handle. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
The Monarchs mean obvious ownership enthusiasm. The Maloof brothers were very excited about the women's championship last season, and they let it show. The Kings' disappointments and the difficulty in working out a deal to get a new arena built in the city are clearly huge concerns and the owners' primary focus. But the Monarchs are important to them. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
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