You’ve probably already heard the bad news. Storm forward Lauren Jackson will undergo arthroscopic surgery on her right ankle to alleviate pain and inflammation which has flared up since she injured the ankle in a warm-up series for the Beijing Olympics. A subsequent MRI revealed an impingement which must be treated with surgery.
Let’s consider the good news. First, the Storm has already gone through five games without Jackson when she left the team early before the Olympics to train with the Australian Defence Force Opals. The Storm more than survived that absence, going 3-2 despite four of the five games being played on the road.
Second, and closely related to the first point, the addition of Camille Little has given the Storm a productive backup behind Jackson the likes of which the team has never had before. In the five games before the Olympic break, Little averaged 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. Little wasn’t the only player to step up in Jackson’s absence, with the team’s improved depth coming to the forefront. In the wake of a terrific run in the Olympics for Brazil, center Kelly Santos figures to vie for more minutes, while Ashley Robinson has had the luxury of an extended rest to manage her Achilles tendinitis.
Third, the Storm’s 17-9 record heading into the break has given the team some cushion over a crowded Western Conference Playoff race. With eight games left in the season, the second-seeded Storm leads Los Angeles and Sacramento (tied for third) by 2.5 games apiece and three games in the loss column.
When Storm Head Coach Brian Agler was asked about Jackson when she was away from the team playing in Australia, his answer was consistent and clear: His focus was on the players with the Storm, not those that were missing. That mentality will be crucial for the Storm down the stretch, and when the focus shifts to that perspective it becomes clear how much talent the Storm still has, along with a stout defense that powered the team to victories even when the offense was missing Jackson at times.
This morning, U.S. Head Coach Anne Donovan spoke about Australian forward Penny Taylor potentially missing the remainder of the Olympics after spraining her ankle. Donovan noted that while Taylor was hugely valuable to the Opals, the team could succeed without her. I feel the same way about the Storm. Obviously, the team is at its best with a healthy Jackson in the lineup; that’s why she’s twice been voted the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player. However, the Storm has already proven it can win without Jackson.
Do that enough over the next 4-6 weeks and after rehab Jackson might be able to achieve her goal of joining the team during the midst of a successful postseason run.