Within the Margins: Small Contracts With Potentially Big Payoffs

The 2022 free agency period was hyped to be one of the league’s biggest ever, and so far it has lived up to that distinction. We’ve already seen All-Stars switch teams and power dynamics across the WNBA shift (or in the case of Chicago, concentrate). However, lost in the fanfare of these high profile deals, teams have been making moves within the margins—getting highly productive players to fill the roles necessary to help their new teams meet their highest potential. We’re going to take a look at three such moves. 

 

A little clarification on what type of player I deem as a move within the “margins”:

  • A player who has not made an All-Star or All-WNBA team
  • A player signed for a team-friendly deal (below $100,000)
  • A player potentially acquired via trade or signing 

 

Let’s get into it:

Jordin Canada, Los Angeles Sparks – The LA native will suit up for her hometown team in 2022 after the Seattle Storm rescinded their qualifying offer on the fifth-year guard. Canada signed with the Sparks on a one-year contract worth $98,000 guaranteed, making her the seventh-highest paid player on the team. 

Canada is likely to start the season behind veteran Kristi Toliver as the Sparks’ starting point guard, so what makes her worthy of inclusion on this list? Last season, Toliver appeared in only 19 games, part of LA’s season-long battle with injuries and player availability. At age 35, Toliver seems likely to continue this trend, which makes the back-up point guard position especially valuable for a team with championship aspirations. 

The addition of Canada could prove to be the spark this team needs. Los Angeles brought in a lot of new talent (and personalities) in the offseason, adding Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter, and Katie Lou Samuelson to play alongside Nneka Ogwumike, Brittney Sykes, Amanda Zahui B, and others who just missed out on the playoffs last season. Canada played alongside a star-studded cast in Seattle, and during her tenure she developed a knack for getting them the ball. As an assist-first point guard with a low turnover rate (nearly 3/1 in the 2021 season), her biggest strength sees her keeping the stars on her team happy and well fed. 

 

Theresa Plaisance, Las Vegas Aces – The departure of Liz Cambage to the Sparks left a big roster hole for the Aces to fill, but also provided an opportunity to retool around the remaining player’s greatest strengths. In signing Plaisance to a training camp contract, Las Vegas brought in “a versatile post player who,” according to head coach Becky Hammond, “can extend a defense with her three-point shot…[and]is also one of the better defensive rebounders in the league.” 

Plaisance’s rebounding will help offset the loss of Cambage, who aided in the Aces’ league-leading 38.7 rebounds in 2021. Rebounding played a big part in the Las Vegas offensive attack, which relied on rebounds and outlets to push the pace and bag easy two-point buckets. With Washington last season, Plaisance demonstrated an effectiveness on the boards, ending the year in the top ten in defensive rebounding percentage in the WNBA.

If she wants to be a valuable member of the Aces lineup, though, Plaisance will need to improve her shooting from deep. While it’s true that the 6’5” veteran is comfortable with letting it fly beyond the three-point line, she struggled with sinking those shots in 2021. In fact, of the players who placed in the top 25 last season in three-point attempts, Plaisance had the second-lowest shooting percentage from that range, at 30.2 percent. If she can get back to her career average of 33.4 percent, she’ll both be a bright spot for a team that ended 2021 last in the WNBA in three-point field goals, and will free up the lane for A’ja Wilson to work her magic from the post. 

See Also

 

Teaira McCowan, Dallas Wings – Of the players on this list, Teaira appears the likeliest to start and have an immediate impact on her new team in 2022 (and, in all honesty, this writer was surprised to find that she has not yet made an All-Star team). In 2021, she averaged nearly a double-double (11.3 points and 9.6 rebounds) and was a top-ten player in a number of statistical categories, including blocks (third) and offensive rebounds (first). 

The 6’7” McCowan arrived in Dallas via trade from her former team in Indiana, and she joins a roster already well-stocked with tall players. Last year’s number one pick Charli Collier (6’5”) and number two pick Awak Kuier (6’4”) remain on the team, as do 2021 All-Star Satou Sabally (6’4”) and 2022 Athletes Unlimited star Isabelle Harrison (6’3”). That makes for a crowded lane and bench, and rotation options for head coach Vicki Johnson to manage if this roster stays intact through the 2022 season.

If Dallas believes the bigs they have now aren’t ready to take that team back to the playoffs—and they must not, since they made this trade—then McCowan is positioned to be a key piece of the offense,and an anchor for the defense going forward. Her size should give her great position to screen for guards like Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray, and her prowess for blocks and rebounds has the potential to provide a lot of transition opportunities. 

McCowan’s success on the court could present an additional challenge to the Wings, as she’s in the last year of her rookie-scale contract and, given her production, would be in line for more money on a guaranteed contract. However, her potential to get the Wings to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 2017-18 might be worth whatever risks the team is taking with their future salary cap and roster space. 

The real fun of the offseason as a fan of the WNBA is creating narratives and scenarios for each new player a team brings on, even if little fanfare is made of some of these deals. With the three outlined here, as well as many others who will be on a team roster in 2022, there’s potential greatness in the season ahead.

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