If Lauren Jackson – knock on wood, or “touch wood,” in her Aussie parlance – is able to stay as healthy as she feels right now, it’s obvious that will make a huge difference for the Storm. Can we quantify just what that difference will be?
I think, with the use of plus-minus statistics, we can.
Including the playoffs, Jackson played 33 games last season. When she was on the floor, the Storm outscred its opponents 23 times, was even once and was outscored nine times. (Without her, it’s almost exactly the opposite: The Storm was 8-23-2 relative to its opponent with LJ on the bench.
Do the math. The Storm won 19 games last season (again, including the playoffs). One of those, a key June 28 win at L.A., came in Jackson’s absence. So the Storm won 18 times when Jackson played, but outscored opponents with her on the floor 23 times. There were five games that were lost when Jackson was on the bench. Of those five, two aren’t that meaningful. The Storm was +1 with Jackson on June 11 at Indiana and +1 on July 28 vs. Detroit, when Jackson was limited by injury.
That leaves three games worth taking a close look at:
June 4 vs. San Antonio:
This is the game we talked about yesterday, where Shyra Ely could have been key. Because of her minutes restriction, Jackson went to the bench with 5:35 left in the game and the Storm up four. She returned at the 2:06 mark and the game was tied. San Antonio went on to win by two. This year, Jackson is on the floor during that stretch and the Storm probably wins.
June 17 at Sacramento:
Maybe the most dramatic example last season. Jackson left the game because of minutes with 5:14 left and the Storm up 68-65. The Monarchs outscored the Storm 8-2 to take the lead before Jackson returned at the 2:18 mark down three. Sacramento won 76-74.
July 16 vs. Connecticut:
An example of where having Jackson on the bench disrupted the Storm’s momentum. Seattle was up 14 and cruising when Jackson left the game midway through the second quarter. Connecticut quickly went on a 13-5 run before Jackson returned. During the third quarter, the Sun outscored the Storm 6-0 after Jackson went to the bench. Jackson sat out 8:11 total and the Storm was -18 in that span. With her on the floor, the Storm outscored Connecticut by nine.
If the Storm wins all three of those games – no guarantee, but a better chance if Jackson’s minutes are unrestricted, the Storm finishes the season at 21-13. The Sacramento Monarchs won the Western Conference with the same record.
Not only should Jackson be able to play more minutes this season, but also the Storm’s bench should be deeper with a healthy Wendy Palmer and an improved Ashley Robinson filling in for Jackson. Her absence should not be so damaging for the Storm this season. That will go a long ways toward the Storm improving on 2006.