Posts Tagged Sue Bird
The Seattle Storm continue to be their own worst enemy. All their positive efforts are the very thing that comes back to bite their hand. In fact, I’m certain if you read any Storm recap, it’ll have the same beats: strong opening from Seattle courtesy of the big 3 dominance (Bird, Loyd, Stewart) but also their two longest recurring criticisms: Lack of bench production (offensively and defensively) and lack of rebounding. And last night’s battle with the Dallas Wings was no different.
Just a few days earlier, the Storm scraped by a slightly depleted Atlanta Dream (no Sancho Lyttle or Tiffany Hayes). As such, there was a little concern regarding how the Storm would fair against a full strength Dallas Wings. Surprisingly, Seattle did a great job of controlling the floor for the entire first half working off nice roll off screens. Alysha Clark and Jewell Loyd took the charge this period shooting at 50% from the field, mostly from within the paint. But Dallas stuck to their usual plan of attack, raining down shots from the perimeter. Skylar Diggins had a particular off night shooting only 1-8 (12.5%) and even more shocking had 5 turnover, mostly coming off the dribble. Although the Storm closed the first half leading by 5, that all changed at the start of the third.
Seattle entered the second half flat allowing the Wings to grab their first lead of the game late into the 3rd. The tide of the game shifted to the Wings’ favor. The Wings bench put up 45% of the total points for the Wings, with Aerial Powers (19 points, 70% FG and 6 rebounds) with Glory Johnson (short of a double double with 11 points & 9 rebounds) and Odyssey Sims in the rear. But a special kudos to Aerial Powers, I’m sure she’s fueled on nothing but hell-fire and sass. Powers’ sharpshooting ability was the largest factor in the Wings’ win, most notably her critical 3 pointer at late in the 4th (0:54) which placed Dallas in the lead. But it was the two ensuing fouls by the Storm that dashed any chance of a Storm win.
And this also highlights the flaws facing the Storm, namely their bench. 8 points, that’s the amount of points yielded. Furthermore, Seattle was yet again out-rebounded, 28-38 (only 4 from Seattle’s bench against 17 from the Wings’ bench). I realize the addition of Krystal Thomas and Noelle Quinn would miraculously fix all the Storm’s shortcomings; but the Storm can’t keep playing in this fashion. The starting five are burning themselves out game after game and it’s starting to take a toll. Case in point, the Storms FG % has the tendency to drop in the second half of their games. Shots are prone to not dropping or poor finishes in the lane. And I’m certain some of this due to how worn down the big 3 are. The Storm have the tools to be a good team, and quite frankly, they are given their flaws. But these late game breakdowns are not helping their chances for the playoffs.
This games closed off another home series for the Storm. Starting next Tuesday (July 5th), Seattle kicks off another stretch on the road with a rematch against the Atlanta Dream.
If I were a betting man, my money would’ve been on the Atlanta Dream to win handily over the Storm. As of late, the Storm have been fairly up and down regarding their offensive prowess. This is mostly due in part to the lack of production coming of then bench. And while that narrative didn’t change going against the Dream, the Storm did find a way to prevail and secure a win.
The Storm did a pretty impressive job of controlling the pace of the game coming out the gate. Surprising a majority of the Storm scoring came from the interior, taking advantage of Atlanta with quick high-low post play and drawing fouls after the shot. This was a big credit to the Crystal Langhourne’s big night who went for 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist. It is worth noting that Atlanta were without Tiffany Hayes and Sancho Lyttle (due to injury). And based on the past few weeks, the Dream struggle on the defensive side when Lyttle is not in the mix. On a smaller note, Markeisha Gatling (former center for the Seattle Storm) was also inactive. But based on her recent track record, I doubt she would’ve been as effective.
Going into the half, the Storm had a comfortable 10 point lead. But that slightly change at the start of the third quarter. The Storm were a bit flat, not displaying the same spark from earlier. And the Dream finally made defensive adjustments by closing out driving lanes. Furthermore, Angel McCougthry suddenly went into heat-check mode nailing 60% of her shots from the field at 9/15 (along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists). Elizabeth Williams (21/8/0) and Bria Holmes (15/3/2) were also key figures in the Dream’s effort to rally back. Williams, in particular, really displayed impressive finesse working in the paint taking advantage of the rookie Stewart. It was Williams who clinched the shot well into the fourth that gave Atlanta it’s first lead by 1, and eventually by 4 with less than a minute and a half left in the game. Enter the inscrutable Sue Bird. With the final 9 seconds on the clock, Bird hit the game winning dagger clinching the victory for the Storm, 84-81. Even in her 15th year, Sue Bird continue to demonstrate when she is one of the best to play the game.
Usually in these crunch time situation, the Storm typically lose composure and fall apart, but not tonight. Sue Bird aside, the real star of the night was Storm leading scorer and hands down rookie of the year, Breanna Stewart. This was a career night for Stewie putting up a season high of 38 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. that’s roughly 45% of all the Storm’s point! Not only that, Stewart also put in more work down low in the paint, which accounted for half of those point, which is a great improvement for Stewie. The Storm should thank their lucky stars to have such a generational talent. Other items of note: the newly acquire Noelle Quinn clocked in a handful of minutes but was largely ineffective. The same effect could also be said for the returning Krystal Thomas. I wouldn’t be too worried about this as both were acquired over the weekend. It’ll take time for them to find their footing in this Storm offense.
Quick side note: Monica Wright did not see any playing time. But honestly, bringing on Wright never sense in the beginning with her declining production. And she’s been pretty irrelevant to the Storm this seasons as well.
Both of these teams have become enigma of sorts. The Dream started out great but have eaten quite of few loses recently. And the Storm are starting to win games despite their glaring flaws. This was a fascinating game between two mid-tier teams. Going forward, I still believe have a better shot of securing a low seed in the playoffs. But the Storm could be right up there as well, especially if they can keep up this momentum and quality of play. Up next, the Storm take on a Dallas Wings team who are starting to find their groove with the newly improved Skylar Diggins and the 2-way terror that is Glory Johnson. But if last night’s game is any indication of where this Storm is head, the Wings are in for quite the clash.
The Lynx and Sparks continue to sit high in the clouds while the rest of the league tries to figure out who they are. The prevailing theme of the season so far seems to be chemistry. Many teams just can’t seem to balance the equation regardless of all their endless tinkering. Some teams like the Mercury and Sky have all the right parts but just fall short of the mark. And others teams such as the Sun and Stars would probably be better suited trying to figure out what they want to be first before meddling in the pot.
While watching the Sun vs Storm game, the commentators had a brief discussion regarding the struggles of rebuilding for the Sun. The Sun have yet to qualify for a playoff over the past three years. Yet Seattle another team who’s also been in playoff drought somehow walks away with back-to-back number one picks. It sparked my curiosity of how much tanking is figured in some of them team’s future outlook. This can present somewhat of a dilemma to the league from a product standpoint. The WNBA is already faced with a ill-gotten stigma of being ‘boring’, so why would a team want to add even more to that issue? Perception issues aside, tanking for the sake of tanking is not a full-proof strategy in itself. Just ask the Orlando Magic or the Philadelphia 76er’s. And if you want an example that’s closer to home, look at the Seattle Storm. Speaking of which…
In this week’s Seattle Storm update, the Storm are still struggling to find a solid game plan. And their flaws are starting to stick out more than what they actually do well. Calling back to my observations from last week, the Storm just have a difficult time utilize their player’s talents. and their interior / post game is non-existent outside of Stewart. Poor Stewie, she’s definitely seeing too much burn, racking up a crazy 36 minutes per game. Utterly ridiculous. Stat wise, she started out netting a double-double, but lately he numbers have dropped a bit.
On the positive side, I’m glad to see Alysha Clark step up. She’s been a key figure in carrying some of the load. Jewell Loyd maintains her rep as being a clutch player. She is truly a franchise player to build around post Sue Bird. And lastly, Sue Bird, wow! Year 14 and she’s probably having her best year yet shooting just shy of 50% from the field. Hopefully she’ll bounce back from that nasty ankle injury from the Sun’ game. That said, the Storm have been fairly up and down. The game versus the Fever was tight down to the wire. But the Sun game was a lock until last minute breakdowns in the fourth for all the reasons mentioned earlier. Strangely these last minute meltdowns aren’t unique to just the Storm.
Chemistry, symmetry, or just plain misery
I’m seeing way too many teams just self-destruct in the last few minutes of the 4th quarter. Aside from Seattle, other major offenders include Phoenix, Indiana, and Chicago. Take the Chicago Sky vs. Phoenix Mercury. Chicago controlled the pace of the entire game but once the 3 minute marked rollers around, the Sky ran amok with terrible turnovers in transition and bad shot selections. What accounts for this lack of discipline when you have a roster of vets?
Game of the Week: Washington Mystics (76) vs Minnesota Lynx (83)
This game would look like a throw away game under normal circumstances. But Lynx went into this game without Lindsay Whalen (scratched due to her brother’s wedding). But the Mystics actually held their own against the mighty Lynx, especially defensively. Even more impressive the Mystics went into the half with a soft lead. Maya Moore was held in check scoreless for the first half (0/9) before getting going in the second half. And my infatuation with Emma Meesseman just keeps growing with each game. The way she plays is so precise and mechanical, it basically factory made. But the weird thing is, I think she has another level to reach. I just want to see her one day embrace her inner Russel Westbrook and destroy a team. Let’s not also forget the recovered Ivory Latta and Tayler Hill for also providing some good backup as well. They actually could’ve won this game, but the Lynx are the top dogs for a reason. They know how to rally back thanks to an impeccable Augustus and Fowles.
- Irrational Confidence Player of the Week: Sonja Petrovic
The Mercury have been tinkering with their lineup the past couple of week. Bonner has conceded (more like ceremoinally benched) in favor for role player Sonja Petrovic. Not the most offensively dynamic player but she does know her role. And when the time calls for it, she’s not scared to make a shot or two, even though she has no business doing so. Good on you kid, keep it up!
- Notable Returns: Glory Johnson & Skylar Diggins
Skylar Diggins (coming off injury) and Glory Johnson (coming off suspension) are no doubt a welcome return to a struggling Dallas Wings. Going up against the domineering LA Sparks resulted in a relatively slow start for both. But the Wings should work themselves into becoming a competetive up-and-comer.
- Breakout Rookies:
The league will be losing some legends but the WNBA is in good hands with some of these feisty rookies who are really stepping to the plate.
- Imani Boyette: Boyette was a major factor in for the how badly the Sky trounced the Fever, getting an impressive double-double (10 /11)
- Meighan Simmons:The young Tennessee rookie also showed her grit by clinching the game for Atlanta late in the fourth against a surprisingly competitive second
- Tiffany Mitchell: The loss of Tamika Catchings will be huge for Indiana. But the way this kid spreads the court will definitely make up for it.
Week 4 WNBA Power Rankings
1. Minnesota Lynx: Do I really have to keep going over this?
2. LA Sparks: See above
3. Atlanta Dream: The absence of Sancho Lyttle (who returned to Spain for the Olympics) is huge. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team slip a bit while they find their identity again.
4. Chicago Sky: Elena Delle Donne has been somewhat inconsistent lately. If it weren’t for her strong supporting cast, I’d drop them a bit lower.
5. New York Liberty: I still love everything about this tempo team. I expect them to make the jump into the top 3-4 in the next few weeks.
6. Phoenix Mercury: The team dynamic is slowly coming into shape. But Griner has been shaky lately with her post game, missing many inside bank shots. What’s going on there?
7. Seattle Storm: See my earlier section above. I can see this the Storm taking a nose dive with the amount of burn Stewie is getting and their lack of a post game.
8. Washington Mystics: Mike Thibault is really nailing down this team to be good defensively. But they do have some shortcomings when it comes to scoring on transition.
9. Indiana Fever: The Fever would be higher but they’ve developed some car sized holes in their defense lately.
10. Dallas Wings: The return of Johnson and Johnson should move them somewhat closer to the middle of the pack quickly.
11. Connecticut Sun: At this point, maybe tanking wouldn’t be a bad option. I like Chiney Ogwiumike and Morgan Tuck; but the Sun just don’t have the tools to be relevant this year.
12. San Antonio Stars: See point 11
Week one of the WNBA 2016 is in the books and it’s been pretty amazing already. The slow start from opening day has turned into some pretty intense match-ups by week’s end. There s no denying that these women love this game and lay it out on the floor. I’m having an awesome time taking my WNBA engagement to a slightly deeper level. My familiarity with certain players and team dynamics is expanding rapidly. Here are the broad strokes from opening week.
Minnesota Lynx Are Rolling!
The 2015 WNBA champions don’t appear to have lost a step with three wins in the books against fairly strong teams. Then again, when a team has four Olympic players on the roster, there’s a forgone expectation of greatness. Of all the teams I’ve seen, the Lynx are the most cohesive unit with the best chemistry. There’s some great ball movement on the floor, so no one is particularly greedy. Moore is a great slasher and spot up shooter who drop daggers effortlessly. But watching Whalen run point is captivating. Fowles and Augustus work well off each other in the post. Even their bench has solid contributors. They’re easily the best team in the league at the moment. They’re starting 4 put up double digits in scoring….EACH! Part of me just wants to see how far they can take this run without the distraction of the Rio games.
And then we come to the Phoenix Mercury sitting at a surprising 0-3. This is a team that won the 2014 title and run to the conference finals (without Diana Taurasi) last year. But with Taurasi’s return, the team dynamic seems off kilter kicking off this season. The build up miscues in transition play is costing them, in particular, late in games. Tossing out the game against the Lynx; they should’ve won at least one, if not both, of their other games. This is especially true considering the Mercury held the lead for most of those games. Yet, through a series of mistakes, they lose in the end. The Seattle game was essentially their’s until the Storm rallied back leading up to Jewell Loyd’s buzzer-beater. This is a good a team but they have some bad juju working against them.
A Strom’s Brewin’…….At Some Point……Maybe
The Storm have had a pretty rough start to the season. As I expected, Breanna Stewart has been carrying this team on her back. Even with the loses, she’s been truly exceptional in how she’s fitting her way with the Storm. Looking at her splits, she’s clocking a solid 30 minutes a game, averaging close to a double-double (17 PPG / 8 RB’s) and shooting over 50% outside the paint. All this is great, but still amounts to her putting up nearly half of all the Storm’s positive stats. Not to be undone by Stewart’s dominance is the criminally under-rated Jewell Loyd. This 2014 rookie really seems to be off everyone’s radar given how well she stretches the floor. And Sue Bird continue to defy time continuing to put up 90% of career numbers, just flawless.
But after Sue Bird, there’s a significant talent drop. And I don’t mean that as a slight, but the proof is in the numbers. Seattle just doesn’t have the horses to be competitive right now. I’m pretty sure the expectation that the seasoned talents of Monica Wright and Alysha Clark would be a help. Unfortunately, they’ve been pretty non-existent for the most part (not counting Clark’s roaring outing against the Lynx). And the younger guns, Tokashiki, Lewis, Gatling and so on are not solid contributors and struggle in their respective roles. Case in point, the Storm gets killed on defensive rebounds which account for many of the points against them. Just fixing that aspect of their game would be huge. Bottom line, no one is stepping up to fill the void and it’s costing them.
Game of the Week: LA Sparks (93) vs. Chicago Sky (80)
Given the amount of star power on both these teams, it was definitely a one-sided affair with the Sparks running the floor the whole game up until the fourth quarter. The Candace Parker warpath blazes on dropping an impressive 26 points and 9 rebounds. On the flip side, the Sky’s Elena Delle Donne was strangely ineffective most of the game with Faulkner and Beland doing most of the heavy lifting. While this wasn’t the most exciting game on record, it was the game that demonstrated how well tuned the Sparks are. Their ball movement in transition is a work of perfection. The Sparks are on par with Minnesota for that one seed.
Player of the week: Maya Moore
My words can’t do justice to demonstrate how dominating she’s been this season, just an overall threat anywhere. She’s been a scoring leader (averaging 15 PPG), made short work of all her matchups, and a lockdown defender. I’m already eyeing the matchup between the Lynx and Sparks, Moore vs. Parker. Yes please!
- Quick Takes
The Mystics are a mess of a team. In spite of this, I like what I’m seeing out of Meesseman. Her numbers are improving year over year leading to her becoming not only a starter but also a 2015 All-Star. Keep her on your radar.
- Whistle Happy Refs:
One aspect of the game that’s caught my attention is the insane amount violations called by refs. They’ll blow a whistle for almost anything short of a sneeze. I’ve probably seen more traveling calls in one week of the WNBA than over 5 years of the NBA! Come on people, rein back on the ticky-tacky nonsense and let these players play ball.
- DraftKings Marketing:
The juggernaut that id daily fantasy sports (DFS) has spread its tentacles to the WNBA. Over the summer, Draft Kings has entered a marketing partnership with the New York Liberty as their marque partner with the DraftKings logo on Liberty uniforms and shirts. In many other sports, this relationship naturally goes hand-in-hand with one another. In this case however, this seems to be a one-sided affair that’ll benefit DraftKings more the the WNBA. In DraftKings’s favor, it gives them even more brand exposure and market reach. For the WNBA, it’s a generous influx of cash in the short term. But in terms of growing the league and reaching new audiences? Not so much. Adding further insult to this deal, DraftKings doesn’t even offer a WNBA platform for DFS or any game promotions. If there was one caveat to this partnership that could have made some inroads, it would have been the introduction of a trial run of 1-day game contests. This is a squandered opportunity that’s potentially leaving lots of money of the table for both sides.
From the eyeball test, the Sparks and Lynx look like they’re in mid-season form while the rest are trying to figure it out. I got my eye on a few dark-horses, so let’s not over-react about league dominance just yet. Even giants can stumble and fall, the 73 win’s Golden State Warriors can attest to that.
Let’s start with a very prominent disclaimer: I am not a professional sports critic or analyst in any sense. I’m just a guy who loves sports and giving my impressions every now and then. The same can be said for a millions of others who have a passion for sports. So why bother reading this when you can get the same content from better established and renowned places? Well, that question is similar to the one the WNBA has been trying to figure out for the past 20 years.
I’ve been a passive supporter of the WNBA (and other women’s sports). I’ve tried to defend their ‘legitimacy’ and call-out any of the ignorant criticisms (poorly, mind you). I even attend games occasionally. Some would say, that alone, would align me somewhat as a “supporter” or “fan”. But that’s not really moving the needle in terms of growing the league. And that presents a contradiction that doesn’t sit right with me. In an effort to get on a deeper level with the WNBA, I signed up for WNBA league pass and secured tickets to a few more games this season. And I’m blogging and podcasting about this endeavor. And on that note, let’s dive into the opening weekend of games.
Before signing up, I was skeptical of League Pass would work given how inexpensive cost ($16 for the entire season). But that skepticism quickly turned to frustration when NONE of the opening day games were available on League Pass, only ESPN3. You’d think that with opening day, 20th anniversary fanfare, new league president, new rule changes, and so; the league would want to make these games as widely available as possible. Nope, many other league pass subscribers found themselves in the same predicament: no live game footage due to blackout restrictions. And yet, there was absolutely zero response from the WNBA support regarding the matter. But that wasn’t the most egregious part of the affair, the Twitter-verse detective discovered the games were available, but only on the Watch ESPN app which is FREE! Now, I’ve worked in social media before; you can’t respond to everyone obviously. But if you’re in a space where you’re struggling to generate interest and keep people engaged; you have to come back with some response to something that was clearly more than an isolated incident. Instead of being profusely apologetic or a generic canned response (an explanation to clear up the confusion or redirect people to the Watch ESPN app), there was nothing but silence. Message to WNBA: This is NOT the way to engage people when you’re coming from behind. Setting that issue aside, I was able to catch up on the other games thanks to the feature allowing subscribers to watch any past game that season.
Lots of rust, but also a few Sparks
The season will kick off a change in the regular season / playoff format. Time will tell how that plays out. My main focus going into the weekend was to enjoy these games at face value. But for the most part, these games weren’t any different than many other season openers: disjointed and uncoordinated, some flailing limbs, and just plain sloppy. Players are coming off half-hearted, pre-season scrimmages. It’s just the start down the road to figuring out their key lineups and rotations. But there were definitely a few stand-out moments worth mentioning:
- Minnesota Lynx vs. Phoenix Mercury
The marque game of the day. The 2015 defending champs didn’t seem to lose a step during the off-season. This was the most sound performance of the weekend. Maya Moore ended the night with a solid double-double. The other stars of this game, Brittney Griner & Diana Taurasi, didn’t fair as well. Taurasi sat out last year to rest up and play overseas (which resulted in leading her team to its third championship), so I was taken back a bit that she was less than 0.500 shooting on some open shots. But the Mercury as a whole fell in with the rest of the league median for the weekend.
- Candace Parker #WATCHMEWORK
One of the most questionable moves leading into this season was Candace Parker being cut from the US team for the Olympic games in Rio. 2 time WNBA champion, 2 time Olympic gold medalist, 3 time WNBA all star , and the list goes on. The decision still makes no sense to this day. But that slight is clearly sitting with her. Watching her play was the highlight of the weekend (dropping the most points of the weekend, 34). The way she stretched the floor and even got physical with Bird and Stewart (both Olympic selectees) was incredible. This was definitely an “F** You” game leaving many wondering how or why she was ever cut. I’m calling it now, Parker will be out for blood this season. And I’m going to witness and savor ever second of it.
- The Stewart Storm
As a transplant who’s been living in Seattle, I’ve come to following their sports teams as well. Again, I’m not the most well-versed with this Storm team but looking over this roster and what I gathered from Wikipedia and other sources. This Storm team appears to be a roster of fresh faces, many of whom haven’t been on the team for more than two years. From the looks of it, this is a rebuild will take some time to get going, or if it’ll even work in the first. And after the waxing Parker and Sparks out on them, they’ll need it fast. Enter fout time UConn champion, 2016 WNBA number one draft pick, Breanna Stewart.The amount of pressure and expectations the Storm and the WNBA as a whole have riding on this young rookie is beyond extraordinary. But Stewart is no stranger to rising to the challenging occasions and the spoils of winning. It’s practically all she’s known since her freshman year of high school. And ins many ways, she’s nothing the NBA or WNBA have ever seen before. So far, she’s handled the whirlwind of fame and media scrutiny with a surprising amount of humility and focus. But for all of Stewart’s success, she’s had a strong cast of players working with her. Her Sunday debut, while impressive, was met with a sizable lose. Losing is not something Stewart is familiar with. And from the looks of it, the Storm could likely eat more “L’s” during this rebuilding period. So it’ll be interesting to see how this will affect her development in the league and with the Storm. Fellow UConn alum Sue Bird should prove to be a solid mentor in dealing with these kind of hardships. I can’t imagine how jarring it is to transition from a long, established culture of winning to an organization that’s in flux in a city that doesn’t turn out to support their team. All the endorsements and cash in the world usually can’t repair that kind of psychic trauma for atheletes wired like Stewart. Regardless, watching it all unfold will be great
As stated the earlier, these games were mostly just warm-ups. But the things will get in gear soon given the short season. Also worth considering is how things will pan out with key players taking off for the the Rio games, not to mention the playoff format adjustments, etc. For now, I’ll close with some minor predictions, questions, and quick takes:
- If the Storm keep shouldering her the majority of work, Breanna Stewart will be the unanimous Rookie of the Year without question. But will it actually help elevate the Storm to being a formidable threat again is the question.
- The LA Sparks will be a force to be reckoned with under Brian Agler. The fury of Candace Parker will at least take them to another conference final if not the finals.
- Shoni Schimmel: The general consensus is that Schimmel was traded after coming to training camp out of shape for the second year in a row. This isn’t uncommon for most athletes for any sports real. These type of players generally play themselves into shape over the course of the season. And that’s exactly what she did, becoming one of the league’s All-Stars for two seasons. Cutting bait with a key role player like her seems very suspect. Speaking of which…
- With so many key players leaving for Rio, how will teams make adjustments to competitive?
- And lastly, how will my hometown Chicago Sky fair? Looking at the past few seasons, the Sky have been a top tier team during the Pokey Chatman era and thanks to Elena Delle Donne (who was inactive this weekend due to ‘illness’). Hopefully they’ll overcome their demons escaping the playoff berth puling into either of the finals again.
The NBA is in full swing with now with some great match-ups with this historic Golden State team against the reinvigorated OKC Thunder with Cleveland just waiting in the wings for the final showdown. But do yourself a favor and squeeze in some time for these WNBA games. You may be surprised at how entertained and involved it is. If you don’t believe me; listen to the man himself, Draymond Green.