After a week’s worth of rumors, Houston has officially signed former Storm forward Barbara Turner. It will be interesting to see how she fits in with the Comets. Karleen Thompson has leaned pretty heavily on her veterans over the first three games.
Archive for May, 2007
This is interesting. We’ve got a 5-on-5 scrimmage without the practice squad, which is rare. The lineups are basically starters against the second unit, but with Tanisha Wright playing the point for the starters and Sue Bird paired with the reserves. This might be Anne Donovan’s way of getting Wright comfortable working with this group … or it might not mean anything. The latter is probably more likely.
Good aggressive move in transition by Shyra Ely for a pull-up score in the paint.
They cleared the score before I remembered to double-check it, but I believe 16-12 Black (the starters and Wright) emerged victorious, thanks to some typically superhuman play from Lauren Jackson and some solid play from Wright. She usually plays better when paired with the starting unit – of course, who wouldn’t?
The Storm is now working on a full-court press against the guys.
We’ve got an old-fashioned shootout in this scrimmage, with both teams clicking on offense. Janell Burse has knocked down consecutive 18-foot jumpers, showing off her range. The Storm has briefly gone to a lineup with Burse, Jackson and Wendy Palmer together in a supersized frontcourt.
Wow, Lauren is a gazelle out there today. She’s leading the fast break and flying in the black tights she’s wearing to keep her legs warm. She has completely dominated.
Still, the guys come back to win 25-24 on a breakaway dunk (usually not kosher) just before the buzzer. Storm scrimmages usually aren’t played under game conditions at the end, so the Storm wasn’t trying to run out the clock and gave up the late score.
After practice, Coach Donovan said she’s pleased with the last three days of practice, which amounted to a second training camp of sorts. My focus was on the bench for a feature later today, and Donovan is getting more comfortable with a rotation with Wright backing up Bird, Katie Gearlds getting minutes on the wings and Wendy Palmer and Ashley Robinson backing up the posts. Donovan said she’d like to get more minutes for Robinson, and one creative way that could happen is with Jackson playing small forward – as I mentioned, she was out there briefly during the scrimmage.
Donovan also said she’s tried to sprinkle reserves in with the starting five at times over the last three days to get them more comfortable in that role and help the starters learn the style of the reserves. While you usually have the first unit and the second unit in practice, the second team rarely plays as a group in games.
Interesting night in the WNBA. I flipped back and forth between Houston-San Antonio on ESPN2 and Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on TNT.
Before I left work, Houston had a big lead early, but I looked at the lopsided shooting and figured it wouldn’t last. I was right, but I didn’t figure things would change so dramatically. A la the Storm’s comeback on Opening Night, the Silver Stars outscored the Comets 24-7 in the second quarter. The Comets hung around, but San Antonio won 82-71.
I’ll admit being a little dubious of the Silver Stars’ off-season moves, but so far, so good. Becky Hammon (26 points and nine assists tonight) is controlling the game better than she ever did in New Y ork, Erin Buescher is giving San Antonio a great reserve (with help from Shanna Crossley) and the Silver Stars d has forced at least 19 turnovers in each of their games. That’s scary. San Antonio will be at KeyArena for a rematch on Saturday night that you won’t want to miss.
On the Houston side, the big question is what’s wrong with Sheryl Swoopes, who made only one field goal and scored six points. At least in the second half of the Storm game, it seemed Swoopes got lost. She showed she can still dominate in the first half of that game.
We have started to see the tough side of Ashley Shields’ transition to the WNBA. Shields scored 21 points last Friday at Phoenix, but it took her 23 shots and eight (8!) turnovers. Tonight, Shields was 1-for-4 with four turnovers in 15 minutes. Nobody can contain Shields one-on-one, but when the help defense comes, her decision-making has been shaky at best.
Surprising outcome in Phoenix, where the Mercury overcame a 17-point deficit without Diana Taurasi (ejected during the second quarter after starting the game 1-of-7 from the field) to beat Sacramento 76-75. Stunningly, Phoenix won this one with defense. The Monarchs shot 37.7% from the field and had 19 turnovers, allowing the Mercury to win while shooting 34.9% from the field. You aren’t going to see Phoenix beat Sacramento in an ugly game too often.
In Minnesota, a predictable outcome: The Fever remained unbeaten and the Lynx remained winless. The schedule hasn’t been kind to Minnesota, but you’re in trouble when your starting frontcourt totals 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting. Nicole Ohlde continues to struggle. Lindsey Harding had another solid game: 17 points, six assists and three turnovers in 27 minutes.
With a full week off between games against San Antonio, the Storm is getting a chance to go through a second training camp of sorts with four practices (Thursday will be off).
Today saw the team work on zones, both on offense and defense. During the part of practice the media saw, it looked like pretty standard 2-3 looks at both ends, but Coach Donovan did mention afterwards the team had worked on other zones.
Zoning defensively against the Storm should be more difficult this season with the improved long-range shooting of Iziane Castro Marques and Betty Lennox. So far, the Storm is hitting better than 40% from downtown. Combine that with two great offensive rebounders in Janell Burse and Lauren Jackson and a conventional zone stands the risk of getting picked apart.
Tye’sha Fluker suffered a right thigh contusion and was limited during practice.
Sue Bird drew some smiles when she dusted off the old between-the-legs bounce pass to try to save a ball headed out of bounds while the Storm was scrimmaging the practice squad.
Our first check of the Storm’s advanced statistics this season. Remember, after just three games, take everything with an enormous grain of salt. It’s tempting to jump to conclusions, but three games isn’t a big enough sample to be particularly meaningful.
Expected Wins: 22.6 (seventh in the WNBA, fourth in the West)
Offensive Rating: 106.6 (third in the WNBA)
Defensive Rating: 100.3 (eighth in the WNBA)
Rebound Percentage: 59.8% (second in the WNBA)
Click here for an explanation of these numbers.
The Storm has been incredibly good on the glass through three games, rebounding nearly 80% of opponents’ misses – easily the best mark in the league. The rest of the defense has not been as strong; opposing teams have shot a solid 43.5% against the Storm. On offense, the Storm has benefited from hitting 24 three-pointers (second in the league) at a sizzling 40.7% clip.
The league has yet to really settle down in terms of expected wins, with eight teams predicted to win 22 games or more. Only three teams won that many games in 2006.
More important at the league level is how strong offense has been in the early going. The league Offensive Rating is 99.4 points per 100 possessions, up from last year’s final number of 98.7. Historically, offenses have started very slowly in the WNBA because of the short exhibition season and the number of players who return late from overseas. Anecdotally, I haven’t noticed a lot of the ugly shooting numbers we’ve often seen in Mays gone by, and the numbers confirm that. It could be a big season for scoring in the W.
Update: As pointed out by a commenter, I forgot that there is no explanation of “Expected wins” in the explanation I posted. Expected wins is how many wins a team’s point differential should, on average, translate into over the course of a full season. The ranking is actually the ranking of the league on differential, but using Expected Wins translates that into a number that can be interpreted more easily. Unless, that is, it’s early in the season and Indiana is expected to win more than 34 games and Houston a negative number. I don’t think that will last.
Important scoop in tomorrow’s Seattle P-I (available online tonight, and possibly in other papers tomorrow): Storm center Janell Burse appears to be leaning toward having surgery to repair the partially torn labrum in her left shoulder after this season.
Burse had the opportunity to undergo surgery this past winter, but decided she needed to play overseas instead, completing her second campaign with USK Praha. Shoulder surgery and rehab would likely sideline Burse the entire WNBA off-season.
Strengthening the muscles around her shoulder has allowed Burse to return quickly from the pair of shoulder episodes she has had since rejoining the Storm early in the month, but Burse is apparently concerned about the frequency of these episodes, which are the reality of her situation until or unless she has the labrum tear repaired.
Monday Update: The P-I is alone with this story. Kudos to Darren Fessenden.
Big mid-season trades in the WNBA are rare, but we got one yesterday when the Chicago Sky swapped Monique Currie to Washington for veteran center Chasity Melvin.
You wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sky and Mystics swap a veteran player for a youngster, but it is a surprise that it’s Chicago getting older and Washington getting younger. The Sky was weak at center, but unless management really thinks it can make a run at the playoffs – which almost certainly would require passing the Mystics – but a 30-year-old player doesn’t do a great deal for Chicago’s future compared to the third pick of the 2005 Draft.
From Washington’s perspective, I’m not sure about this deal. The Mystics have been looking for a long-term answer at small forward, using consecutive first-round picks on Tamara James and Bernice Mosby. Now Currie, who grew up in the area and went to Duke with star guard Alana Beard, fills that position for the forseeable future.
Washington has a capable center in Nakia Sanford to step into the starting lineup, but depth will be an issue up front. Sanford and rookie third-round pick Gillian Goring are now the only Mystics over 6-1. Mosby may be asked to swing into the post position, but if either Sanford or DeLisha Milton-Jones goes down for an extended period, Washington is in trouble. The Mystics might take a step back in the short term, but this move makes them stronger going forward.
We were unable to check this at the arena last night, but Janell Burse’s 16 first-half rebounds are a WNBA record. Previously, no one had ever grabbed more than 14 boards in a half in a WNBA game. Congrats, JB!
In a game that saw the Storm score 100 points for the first time in franchise history, it’s somewhat inevitable defense will take a back seat in the discussion. However, everybody knows the Phoenix Mercury isn’t much defensively and the Storm can certainly put points on the board when going well. After all, the Storm had 97 against Phoenix a little less than a year ago.
What is a surprise is holding Diana Taurasi to 14 points, and a lot of credit has to go to Iziane Castro Marques, who kept Taurasi from getting many easy looks. The Storm defended the three-point line well, holding Phoenix at bay despite 30 attempts – the most ever by a Storm opponent.
On offense, the Storm was disciplined and worked its advantage in the paint most of the night instead of settling for quick shots and getting into a “score immediately” mentality. Other than Izi, who was quiet on offense, the rest of the team took turns carrying the load offensively.
After the game, I had a couple of people tell me the Mercury isn’t a contender, or won’t make the playoffs, or whatever. I’m not buying that. This time a year ago, the Storm was losing by 20 to Houston. Bad games like that are an inevitable part of the early WNBA season, especially for a Phoenix team that got so many key players back so recently.
Just four nights ago, this Mercury group played great defense and handled the Silver Stars (winners tonight over Connecticut) with relative ease in the Valley of the Sun. Writing them off would be extremely hasty. I am still concerned about who does the dirty work for Phoenix. That’s not Tangela Smith’s game, and Kelly Schumacher slows down the Mercury offense when she’s in the game – something Kamila Vodichkova and Kristen Rasmussen, ultimate role players, did not do last season.
There is definitely work for Paul Westhead and company to do, and the veteran coach knows it. He said before the game he’s still learning about his team – and tonight probably provided a wake-up call to the Mercury that they must be focused on defense. We’ll see where they go from here.
Letters, we get letters, we get sacks and sacks of letters. Letters!
Mitch from Seattle asks:
A few questions from a longtime Storm season ticket holder in the wake of Saturday’s comeback… I’m sure you’re already all over the one question: what’s the largest second-half deficit a team has come back from in WNBA history? But I also wonder if anyone has also kept track of the largest second-half turnaround in WNBA history. From greatest second-half deficit to final score, the Storm made up 35 points.
Oh, and is there any rational explanation for what just happened? I mean, not only did the Storm look just awful for a stretch before and after halftime, but that collapse was entirely reminiscent of the way Houston had humiliated the Storm the previous two seasons. I’d like to think I’m a discerning pro basketball fan, and I just did not see that run coming.
Mitch, I’d like to think I’m a pretty discerning fan too, and I didn’t see that one coming either. What happened? From a strategic perspective, I think the best explanation is the Storm figured out how to contain Ashley Shields by trapping her off of pick-and-rolls and forcing her to her weaker left hand. Sue Bird executed that gameplan brilliantly over the last 15 minutes and Shields struggled in that stretch.
The crowd also has to be given a huge amount of credit. KeyArena was huge during the run and never really got too quiet even when the Storm was down by 22 points. Iziane Castro Marques really gave credit to the “sixth man” when asked about the 44-9 run yesterday.
Beyond that, I think it’s one of those things that just came together. You can’t ever predict a run like that because all it takes is the Comets putting together a couple of buckets to derail the whole thing. That’s what makes a run like that so special and so fun.
In the comments of my last post, Sheila asked:
I heard LJ say in an interview recently that because the Korean league was not playing next year due to the Olympics, that her contract is null and void. Is this not true? I’d hate for her to lose out on an opportunity to make some cash in Russia.
This was my understanding as well, but Bird said the situation was a little more complicated in terms of contracts. In her blog, Jayda Evans reported LJ is close to signing a deal with Spartak, so apparently this is not an issue.
Jayda also reports the Korean WKBL will not be allowing foreign players next winter, while I reported the league is shutting down. It occurs to me I have seen both explanations, and I’m not sure which one is correct. The only evidence I can find online indicates the league will not play, though those stories come from Australia. I’ll try to get to the bottom of this one.