2012 review and offseason summary
Back in 2011 when the Seattle Storm were eliminated by the Phoenix Mercury in a heartbreaking Game Three at KeyArena it seemed that their championship window had closed suddenly and that they should begin a rebuilding process.
And any rebuilding process would have to include thinking about life after Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson.
Last year’s salary cap move before the draft to trade Swin Cash and Le’coe Willingham to the Chicago Sky for the #2 pick in the draft seemed like a nod toward the future when it happened and by the end of last season it just looked like a wise basketball move: Cash had the lowest PER of any full season in her career and Willingham took a sharp decline after a down year in 2011.
In contrast to 2011, last season’s first round playoff exit against the Minnesota Lynx was not nearly the massive disappointment. Expectations had to be lower entering the season, the age of the roster appeared to be catching up to them at times as they dealt with a number of injuries, and they fought hard despite failing to advance to the second round again. Yet weaknesses that had emerged to haunt them occasionally over the past few years had suddenly become persistent problems.
2012 Four Factors & efficiency statistics for the Seattle Storm.
But once again they were confronted with that same question: at what point do they transition from trying to “rebuild on the fly” – not enough strengths to be considered a contender yet just good enough to win their way out of the lottery – and “bring the house down to its foundation”, as described in our offseason preview of the Storm?
Season-ending surgeries for Bird and Jackson during the offseason both forced the issue and allowed them to put off an affirmative answer a bit longer. Without their two stars this season in a Western Conference with three teams essentially competing for one playoff spot, the Storm could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003 when they had a winning season but loss a tiebreaker with the Lynx. And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing: it would give them a shot at some of the top talent in the 2014 WNBA Draft while giving it at least one more shot with their foundational duo.
For now, the Storm have decided to continue down the path of rebuilding on the fly with veterans.
In 2012, six of the Storm’smajor rotation players (Bird, Jackson, Ann Wauters, Katie Smith, Tina Thompson, Svetlana Abrosimova) were over 30 years old for the entire season; having added Temeka Johnson and Nakia Sanford this offseason, they’ll have four players on the roster over 30 and a fifth (Tanisha Wright) turning 30 this calendar year. If anything, they’re preparing for one last push with a (hopefully) healthy Bird, Jackson, and a high draft pick in 2014.
In the meantime, their offseason acquisitions do represent some effort to address their weaknesses from last season.
2012 statistics & playing styles for Seattle Storm returners and veterans.
In adding Temeka Johnson and Noelle Quinn this offseason, the Storm bring in a pair of efficient distributors who can help with ball handling responsibilities though neither is likely to match the type of numbers that Bird puts up even in a bad year. And they still have a crew of interior players that are awfully turnover prone, including Camille Little who has become increasingly turnover prone since the championship season in 2010 due in part to taking on more offensive responsibility.
In other words, turnovers are still likely to be a problem even if Wright can serve as a more efficient ball handler.
Another concern is that without Bird and Jackson – in addition to Katie Smith’s 40% 3-point shooting and Ann Wauters’ 57.9% true shooting percentage – the Storm probably won’t be able to maintain that shooting efficiency differential that they established during last season.
And that’s to say nothing of their rebounding woes – all that red you see in the offensive rebounding percentage column above represents a roster full of average and below offensive rebounders relative to their style of play.
But that’s also where their draft selections come in.
More: Lauren Jackson out for season; Ann Wauters released What the Temeka Johnson, Noelle Quinn signings mean Nakia Sanford signs with the StormSue Bird out for the seasonFull offseason storystream 2013 WNBA Draft: Tianna Hawkins
Tianna Hawkins and Chelsea Poppens were both players who seemed to have a great shot to make this roster because they really needed some rebounding help quite badly, independent of Lauren Jackson being out for the season.
For a team that needed a rebounder and scorer, Tianna Hawkins was probably the best option. Post players can struggle to adjust to the pro game at times, but Hawkins is a player who should definitely be able to hold her own on the boards and if she continues expanding her game (she shot 27.58% from the 3-point line in her senior year entering the tournament) she’ll be able to find ways to score as an inside-outside threat in the WNBA.
Poppens was another dominant rebounder in college basketball this past season, but keeping Cierra Bravard in favor of her might make sense if the 6’4″ center who went undrafted in 2012 is in better shape and can bring a rebounding and scoring presence without fouling too often.
Storm coach Brian Agler likes to keep versatile players on the roster and they have that this season. Alysha Clark, Noelle Quinn, and second year player Shekinna Stricklen are all players who will probably play at least two positions depending on whether they want to go big or small. Tanisha Wright can play either guard spot and, as someone who is rated as a distributor, is probably underappreciated as a lead ball handler. So they’re going to have options around the perimeter along with Temeka Johnson at point guard.
Thompson has always been a player who can score from multiple places on the court and was much better last season after a subpar year in 2011, Little has been a versatile contributor on both ends of the floor, and Tianna Hawkins should be able to give them some board help.
But the Storm have really struggled against bigger posts over the years, which is why 6-foot-4 Nakia Sanford’s size could help even if she’s not able to play more than the 16.7 minutes per game she played last season in Phoenix.
But they’re still heavily reliant on Johnson as a ball handler to help make them an efficient ball handling team and possibly equally reliant on Hawkins for rebounding.
The big concern with this roster is that they likely won’t match that scoring efficiency of last season and aren’t the kind of dominant offensive rebounding team that can easily make up for that weakness. If they also struggle with turnovers, things could really get ugly. And poor rebounding and turnovers are almost a given for the team this season.
What the Storm do have though is a roster that runs deeper than some of the others in the league, even some team who we’d expect to be much better. And they have so many players that can play multiple roles that they have a number of options for the 2-4 spots, depending on how often they’re willing to go small.
The only major concern is at the center spot: Sanford has been declining for years now (albeit a solid defensive presence in limited minutes) and Bravard is a rookie. Getting more than expected out of one of those two could be huge.
X-Factor: Shekinna Stricklen
Stricklen started slow last year, but anybody familiar with her game in college probably realized even during that slow start that this is an excellent situation for her. And by the end of the year, I’d argue she was a solid Sixth Woman of the Year candidate (better than the actual winner to me, but that’s neither here nor there) and All-Rookie team candidate.
The big question is how she might improve this year. One of the things that made her such a strong draft prospect in 2012 was that there wasn’t much she couldn’t do in college when locked in. She has the size and athleticism to be better across the board this season: as a rebounder, scorer, and someone who can get to the free throw line more often than she did.
Obviously, she’d be a major help if she could contribute more on the boards, but if any second year player could make a significant jump in one area this season it’s Stricklen.
Key question: How will they mitigate their weaknesses?
The Storm have enough talent to win games, but the problem is they just happen to have a roster with two major weaknesses: rebounding and turnovers.
Their new acquisitions will help them some, but these were also weaknesses that Bird and Jackson didn’t entirely erase when they were present last season. So it’s reasonable to believe that they’ll have the same struggles as last season and, at times, struggle to score efficiently.
Of course we could say that they might win games “ugly”, but that really requires rebounders to do consistently even if they are able to maintain their standing as one of the league’s top four defenses since Agler took over – unfortunately, the rest of the league is getting better from top to bottom as the Storm appear to be headed in the opposite direction.
Can the Storm make the playoffs? Absolutely. But the Shock are a team that can very likely exploit the Storm’s weaknesses and the San Antonio Silver Stars will have Becky Hammon returning this season to lead their young talent, which gives them a definite edge in making the playoffs compared to the others at the bottom of the Western Conference.
But would it really be such a bad thing for the Storm to find themselves in the lottery with a chance to add a player like Chiney Ogwumike or a point guard like Chelsea Gray or Odyssey Sims as their point guard of the future? Probably not. Brian Agler isn’t the type of coach to openly tank for a draft pick, but it wouldn’t hurt the Storm at all if they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.