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.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 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.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
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.
Monday, May 28, 2007
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.
Friday, May 25, 2007
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.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
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.
Posted by kp at 11:37 PM
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.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Storm guard Betty Lennox missed Tuesday's practice for personal reasons and is a game-time decision for tomorrow night's game against Phoenix. The Storm is homing to get Lennox back for the game - if not, Coach Anne Donovan said her replacement would be a game-time decision as well. Presumably, Katie Gearlds and Tanisha Wright are the most likely options, with a chance of Shyra Ely moving into the lineup and bumping Iziane Castro Marques to shooting guard.
For Sue Bird, this is a matchup against her good friend and former UConn teammate (and current teammate with Spartak) Diana Taurasi. That's how the Storm-Mercury clash is naturally billed, though Bird and Taurasi don't really guard each other any more. That task falls to Iziane Castro Marques, who realizes she's in for a challenge and just wants to make Taurasi work.
Bird and Taurasi were joined in Spartak by Lauren Jackson for the playoffs, and they're trying to convince her to spend all of next off-season in Russia. Jackson's in a complicated situation because the Korean WKBL will be off next winter in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, but she is under contract. Jackson could be cleared to spend the season with another team, which would allow Spartak to have her all year.
Monday, May 21, 2007
There are few greater pleasures in life as a sports fan than perusing the latest boxscores to glean some insights on what's going on around the league. That's especially true early in the season, as we're still figuring out teams and players. From time to time, I'll break down some boxscores, starting with Sunday's action:
Sacramento 74, Minnesota 64
First off, congrats to Jenny Boucek on her first win as a WNBA head coach. Looking at this box, you have to wonder, is it still 2006 in Minnesota? A lot of the talk for the Lynx was focused on getting more scoring help for Seimone Augustus, but Augustus - a game-time decision after injuring her knee in Saturday's opener - scored 28 points Sunday on 10-for-16 shooting. Her teammates combined for 36 points and shot 9-for-45 (20%) from the field. The Monarchs are very good defensively, but that's gotta be disheartening for the Lynx in their home opener.
No. 1 overall pick Lindsey Harding looked very much the rookie, shooting 1-for-12 from the field. On the Sacramento side, I think Kara Lawson (on my fantasy team) is going to enjoy playing for Boucek, who drew up a play for a Lawson three out of a timeout Saturday in Detroit. Through two games, Lawson has 33 points.
New York 83, Chicago 71
The big story here is obvious - 28 points and seven three-pointers from Erin Thorn. Shooters usually thrive with regular minutes, and it looks like Thorn is going to get them. The Liberty got solid play from its veterans, but you have to wonder if they're really thinking as long-term as they should be. No. 2 pick Jessica Davenport did not play during New York's second-half comeback, and Tiffany Jackson, drafted fifth, played just four minutes. 2006 first-round pick Sherill Baker, pegged in this corner to replace Becky Hammon in the starting five, did not even get off the bench. Is this a youth movement or not?
Fairly rough debut for Armintie Price, who missed six of her eight shots and four of her six free-throw attempts. Price did hand out five assists to go with her eight points. Monique Currie kicked off her bid for Most Improved Player with 20 points and 11 boards, but needed 19 shots - nine of them three-pointers. That's not her game.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
That says it all, doesn't it? A couple of additional things to add from tonight's Live From Press Row:
- The brilliant, talented and ever-helpful Paul Swanson of the Minnesota Lynx created a PDF of the box score from just the 44-9 run. It is remarkable to behold. The Storm went a quarter and a half without a turnover while forcing seven by the Comets. Not one, not two but three Storm players outscored Houston during that stretch (the big three of Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and Betty Lennox).
Also, and I hate to keep harping on it because she's obviously incredibly talented and this was a lot to ask of a rookie in her WNBA debut, but Ashley Shields was not very good. She missed all eight of her shot attempts during the run, hitting only one free throw. Ashley Shields should not have more attempts than Tina Thompson (six) and Sheryl Swoopes (four) down the stretch.
- Anne Donovan pointed out postgame that the Storm had success forcing Shields to her left hand and trapping her when she ran pick-and-rolls. Other WNBA teams probably already have this in their scouting reports.
- I didn't mention it during the game, but Comets owner Hilton Koch was in the house. Koch was very low-key - when he first came up to the broadcast location to do a halftime interview with Houston brodcaster Craig Ackerman, I thought it was a Comets fan. He was significantly more downcast when I saw him after the game.
- The Storm's broadcast also featured a halftime interview with the owner, Professional Basketball Club, LLC Chairman Clayton Bennett (taped this morning). Click here to listen to that.
See you at the Key Wednesday!
Posted by kp at 10:18 PM
At Storm HQ, we've put together our second annual WNBA Fantasy League. With the season starting today, we held our draft yesterday. Participating are:
- Your humble blogger, the defending champ
- Kelly Nigh, senior coordinator of Storm business operations, who finished second in 2006
- Todd Albright, events coordinator
- Gentry Davis, senior Storm experience specialist
- Jason Hanson, market research manager
- Kris Kolehmain, senior coordinator of sales & marketing analysis
- Derek Long, ticket operations coordinator
- Dallas Pride, Storm community relations coordinator
- George Waterstraat, database coordinator
- Susie Young, Storm ticket sales account executive
Here's how the first round went:
1. Derek - Diana Taurasi
2. Jason - Tamika Catchings
3. Kris - Lauren Jackson
4. Todd - Seimone Augustus
5. Kelly - Sheryl Swoopes
6. Susie - Cappie Pondexter
7. George - Alana Beard
8. Kevin - Tina Thompson
9. Gentry - Cheryl Ford
10. Dallas - Taj McWilliams-Franklin
Besides Thompson, my squad looks like:
We'll check in from time to time this season on how the league is going.
The 2007 WNBA season kicked off this afternoon with the host Detroit Shock receiving their WNBA Championship rings, then beating the Sacramento Monarchs 75-68 in a Finals rematch.
In Jenny Boucek's first game on the sidelines, the Monarchs looked mostly the same as they did under John Whisenant. As Doris Burke emphasized during the ABC broadcast, Boucek was very poised. She'll do great.
Looking at the boxscore, the Monarchs got big efforts from shooting guards Kara Lawson and Chelsea Newton, who scored 14 points apiece. Veteran Yolanda Griffith, however, spent much of the game in foul trouble and was quiet when she did play. Yo had one point and three rebounds in about 19 minutes of action.
For Detroit, Plenette Pierson played just about as good of a game as she ever has in the WNBA, scoring 22 points on 7-for-15 shooting and pulling down eight rebounds (six offensive). Is it just me or does Pierson always have big games on ABC? She's a nice fit for her role as Detroit's top reserve post because she can be streaky, but the Shock can roll with her when she's playing well and go with their starters when Pierson doesn't have it.
Connecticut and Washington are just tipping off on NBA TV and WNBA.com Broadband. Alana Beard is not playing tonight and her shoulder injury was just described as "week-to-week" instead of "day-to-day." Keep an eye on that injury, which is huge for the Mystics.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Less than 21 hours until Opening Night ... .
Storm Coach Anne Donovan was asked after today's practice about her rotation tomorrow night. Donovan said she isn't sure. Here's what she - and therefore we - know. Rookie Katie Gearlds will be the first perimeter player off the bench, and Wendy Palmer the first post.
The big question mark Donovan raised was how much Tanisha Wright will play. Donovan has mentioned a couple of times that she wants to play more pressure defense this season.
It hasn't gotten a lot of attention (even here), but the WNBA moved to an eight-second backcourt rule to align itself with the NBA - down from the previous 10 seconds. That makes full-court pressure a better gamble than it was before.
Anyways, the amount of full-court defense the Storm plays will affect how much Sue Bird is able to play. Also, Wright is the better defensive option when it comes to full-court pressure.
Donovan didn't specify who else would be part of the rotation, but my assumption is at least nine players will see action, meaning one of Shyra Ely or Ashley Robinson will likely see time.
On the eve of her WNBA debut, Gearlds indicated there is no nervousness whatsoever.
"Not at all," she said. "If there was any, I think the preseason got that out of the way. I'm not a player that usually gets nervous. It's something we've been doing all our lives - it's just a different level. I'm ready to get after it."
Gearlds said she definitely watched the Comets growing up, when Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson - along with Cynthia Cooper - led Houston to the league's first four championships. Gearlds respects the players she'll be playing against, but isn't intimidated by them.
"I can't be star-struck and I'm not going to be," Gearlds said. "Obviously, both teams are going to be competing for the same thing, and that's for a win. It doesn't matter if it's Sheryl Swoopes or one of my teammates from Purdue - I'm going to go out there and do what I can to win."
Donovan spoke for the first time about the decision to keep Ely over Barbara Turner for the Storm's 11th and final roster spot. She pointed out that, if Palmer is out, neither Robinson nor Tye'sha Fluker really has the ability to play the high post. Ely offers that option; again, Donovan was unwilling to use Turner in that role.
"It was difficult because we love Barb, she's been in our system for a full year," said Donovan. "It was tempered by the fact that she put herself in a very difficult situation - coming back so late - and having absolute conviction that Shyra's versatility is definitely what we need right now. As difficult as it was, there's no doubt it was the right decision for the team."
Plenty of appearances tonight and a few over the weekend:
Sue Bird will be in-studio with Paul Silvi at KING 5 TV for the Northwest Sports Report .
Betty Lennox with chat with NY Vinnie on 710 KIRO AM at 8:35 this evening.
Lauren Jackson will be on 950 KJR AM at 8:35 this evening with Ian Furness.
Betty Lennox will chat with Dick Fain on 950 KJR AM on Saturday at approximately 11:15 a.m.
Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson will be live in-studio with Dan Devone on Sunday at 10:40 p.m. for Q It Up Sports on Fox 13.
In a story in the LA Times, Lisa Leslie plants the seed again that she could return in August instead of missing the entire season, as was initially reported.
The more surprising tidbit, however, is this:
"I know my heart and what I want to do," the three-time WNBA most valuable player said, adding that she and husband Michael Lockwood would name their daughter Lauren.
How about that?
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.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
If you want to know why Shyra Ely made the Seattle Storm's roster over Barbara Turner yesterday, you have to look all the way back to June 4, 2006. That was the first game Wendy Palmer missed after injuring her Achilles, and the Storm faced a San Antonio team that went small in the second half.
Playing a frontcourt of 6-2 LaToya Thomas and 6-1 Sophia Young, the Silver Stars outscored the Storm 52-41 in the second half of an 89-87 come-from-behind victory. When San Antonio went small, the Storm had no answer. Anne Donovan stuck with her typical frontline of 6-5 Janell Burse and 6-5 Lauren Jackson, and the Silver Stars outquicked them.
Young had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Thomas 15 points and six rebounds and San Antonio pulled down 18 offensive boards.
Okay, Storm Coach Anne Donovan probably isn't thinking quite so literally about that one game, but she does know that in today's WNBA, the ability to match up small against certain teams is important. She also knows that size is valuable at a small forward position that includes some players whose size and athleticism make them difficult matchups like Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings and Chamique Holdsclaw (at least during the Storm's playoff series with L.A.).
Donovan didn't believe that Turner, two inches shorter than her listed 6-0 height, could play that role for the Storm. Turner played some minutes at power forward last season, but when I asked Donovan about that possiblity this season, she said it wasn't fair to either the Storm or Turner to play her there except in extreme situations.
That's what yesterday's decision was ultimately about. Coach Donovan made no secret of the fact that she was unhappy with Turner for reporting to camp late because of her obligations in Turkey. That absence allowed Ely to come to camp and open eyes with her performance. The Ely we saw in camp was a better player than the one we saw in San Antonio the last two seasons - a better shooter who was aggressively taking the ball to the basket at times and capable of playing both forward positions.
Donovan's buzzword this season has, for some time, been "versatility." Tye'sha Fluker at the four might be a little bit of a stretch, but otherwise everyone else on the Storm's bench can play at least two positions and sometimes three (Ely also played shooting guard during the preseason when the Storm was short of guards, though it's unlikely she'll see action there during the regular season).
Turner will be missed after a solid rookie season where her great personality was evident to everyone around the Storm. I look forward to and expect to see her somewhere else in the WNBA this season. For now, however, Ely was the better fit for Donovan.
Posted by kp at 8:57 AM
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Busy night tonight for the Storm's stars. Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson will be in studio at KJR with the Gasman tonight at 6:20 p.m.
Betty Lennox will be interviewed on FSN Live prior to tonight's Mariners game at about 5:20 p.m.
Wrapping up the evening, LJ will be New York Vinnie's guest on tonight's installment of "Storm Warning." Same bat time (8:35 p.m.), same bat station (710 KIRO AM).
Not a whole lot of major news from today's practice. Ashley Robinson sat out the portion the media watched to rest an Achilles that has been sore recently. Everyone else practiced.
Coach Donovan was asked about her rotation and said she's not sure yet. Her claim is that she prefers an eight-player rotation, though I've got to say I can't remember ever getting to that point with the Storm. This year's group will probably have at least nine in the rotation.
I'm not sure how I see this shaking out. I think Tye'sha Fluker is behind Wendy Palmer and Ashley Robinson for backup post minutes, but both reserve guards (Katie Gearlds and Tanisha Wright) as well as the winner of the Shyra Ely/Barbara Turner competition could be in the rotation. That might mean 10 in the early going. We'll see.
The Storm held its annual Tip-Off Breakfast this morning at the Spirit of Washington Events Center in Renton and, as usual, it was a great deal of fun. First and foremost, however, it was for a good cause.
All proceeds went to benefit Renton Area Youth & Family Services, and FSN Stars - the community arm of FSN - helped the Sonics & Storm Foundation present the event. During the event, there was a raffle and also a silent auction of several items autographed at Monday's Media Day.
Most of the schedule was devoted to Q&A with the players and coaching staff. Katie Gearlds, Wendy Palmer and Lauren Jackson joined Anne Donovan on the stage, while Sue Bird and Ashley Robinson took the microphones into the crowd and served as moderators.
There were plenty of comments that had everyone in attendance laughing.
The players on the stage were asked about what music they like to listen to before games and came up with very different answers: country for Gearlds (a decidedly minority choice), Nine Inch Nails for Jackson and gospel for Palmer.
Several players were asked for their picks in "best on the team" categories. Tye'sha Fluker went with former Tennessee teammate Shyra Ely as the best dresser (and, as she pointed out, Ely had matching shoes for her midnight blue dress). Barbara Turner was asked to choose Storm contestants for "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol," picking Lauren Jackson and Tanisha Wright, respectively. However, Wright was unwilling to sing for the crowd.
Assistant Coach Heidi VanDerveer got in a good line when asked about creating Betty Lennox's nickname, B-Money, during Lennox's rookie season when both were in Minnesota.
"When she had a few turnovers, we called her B-Change," said VanDerveer. Then she started playing well and we called her B-Money."
Palmer couldn't resist a dig at her coach when asked about whether the WNBA would ever go to shorter shorts.
"We don't want to go back to the days of Charles Barkley and Anne Donovan," joked Palmer, drawing a big laugh.
All in all, it was a fun morning as we moved one step closer to tipping off the season on Saturday against Houston.
Posted by kp at 10:36 AM
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Tune in to 710 KIRO AM at 8:35 p.m. to hear Janell Burse and NY Vinnie on tonight's installment of "Storm Warning."
If you read only one Storm story today, I hope it's my look at how Lauren Jackson is healthy and rejuvenated after a very enjoyable off-season followed a 2006 that was frustrating because of her shins.
If you only read one Storm story outside storm.wnba.com, however, make it Jim Caple's excellent look at life overseas for Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi as part of ESPN.com's eTicket series.
The conditions in Russia have always been fascinating. We've heard a lot about these rich oligarchs who are willing to bankroll these teams at a loss, but never met any of them until now. This is a story that could only be reported from Russia, and kudos to ESPN.com for sending Caple. Major credit to Caple, a Seattlite and UW grad who checked in on Sue and LJ at yesterday's Media Day, for his excellent reporting and deft wit:
"(Bird and Taurasi) learned about the Soviet Union in history class, certainly, but they do not personally remember when Reagan first called the U.S.S.R. the 'Evil Empire', nor the decades when the threat of nuclear war between the two countries was a constant source of tension and worry. Though they somewhat understand the complexities of those times because they saw 'Rocky IV.'"
WNBA.com's GM Survey continues.
Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson got some credit today for their poise on the court. Sue got two votes for best court smarts, Lauren one. Meanwhile, Lauren's two votes tied her with Lisa Leslie as the best on-court leader, while Sue got one vote. LJ also got a vote as the league's toughest player. Given all the injuries she's played through, hard to argue with that.
Again, my off-the-cuff answers (today's questions, specifically the leadership/personality ones, are a lot harder to answer):
Most athletic player - Deanna Nolan
Best post moves - Lisa Leslie
Best pure shooter - Laurie Koehn (8-for-9 on threes the other day)
Best leaper - Deanna Nolan
Best post passer - Janel McCarville
Best open-court finisher - Cappie Pondexter
Quickest with the ball - I can't pick Izi (no Storm picks, but how did she not get any real votes?), so ... Deanna Nolan
Best court smarts - Sheryl Swoopes
Best at making teammates better - Nikki Teasley
Toughest player - Tully Bevilaqua
Most intense player - Temeka Johnson
Most easy-going player - pass
Best on-court leader - Sheryl Swoopes
Best locker-room leader - pass; how would I know?
Posted by kp at 9:15 AM
Monday, May 14, 2007
I was expecting this to be a fairly low-key Media Day, given it is not kicking off training camp as it has in year's past, but we quickly have a fairly big story here: Barbara Turner's presence despite her Fenerbahce team being headed to a Game 7 in Turkey. We'll get Turner's take and Anne Donovan's comments later.
Also look for a behind-the-scenes perspective on Media Day since I won't be as busy tracking down stories as in years past. Make sure to keep checking back for the latest.
10:53: Media Day is set up with about eight different stations for players to rotate to throughout the morning. They're getting their pictures taken (naturally), filming video for StormVision, taping audio for Storm broadcasts, signing autographs and much more.
That means a lot of time waiting around for the media. We had a lengthy chat with Lauren Jackson, expounding more on her off-season rejuvenation in South Korea and more. None of her teammates in Korea spoke English, which allowed her to focus on basketball and avoid any drama (despite the best efforts of her translater). LJ also hung out from time to time with other WNBA players, most notably friend Alana Beard, who played on a nearby team.
11:18: Sue Bird spoke at length about her experience in Russia to the media. She described winning a championship as "almost anti-climactic. You don't get any chance to celebrate." As soon as the series was over in Russia, Bird, Jackson and their teammates were en route back to the U.S.
The arena Spartak played in held 3,500-4,000 fans and was often sold out.
The Spartak team had an assistant coach who Bird and Jackson felt looked exactly like Anne Donovan, to the point where they discussed who would win in a one-on-one game - the fake Donovan (who went about 6-6) or the real Donovan?
11:35: "It will be good to have everybody back here," said Donovan about Barbara Turner's return from overseas. Turner made the decision and informed the Storm after her team lost Game 6 in Turkey on Saturday, which forced a deciding Game 7 tomorrow. We've yet to get a chance to talk with Turner.
12:40: We had a chance to chat with Turner.
"It was a very difficult decision not playing in the final," she said. Turner had been thinking about the schedule and how much it would hurt her chances to make the team missing three practices. After Game 6, she made the decision, informed her coach and then called Donovan to give her the good news. Turner arrived in Seattle last night, but doesn't seem to be feeling much in the way of jetlag.
"It was a great experience in Turkey, a great team, a great coach," she said.
Turner explained that the decision to move from Israel to Turkey was about growing her game. In Israel, she was mostly playing power forward. With her Fenerbahce club in Turkey, she played the wing positions and had the opportunity to work on her outside shooting and defense.
Things are winding down here at The Furtado Center. I got a chance to watch Sue Bird record some of the "hypes" for the StormVision screen. Sue's a riot, and she was cracking herself up with her acting.
I also had a chance to feel like a player by getting my headshot taken by Sonics & Storm Photographer Terrence Vaccaro. The glare of the lights is harsh indeed.
Ashley Robinson has been hanging out with Sonics Mickael Gelabale and Johan Petro, getting them a sandwich from the food available for players, staff and the media. Now Robinson is playing H-O-R-S-E with Gelabale, who has an advantage from the perimeter.
1:00: Katie Gearlds chatted quickly about her trip back to Purdue for graduation after wrapping up her Media Day responsibilities.
"It was awesome," she said. "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Gearlds was thankful Donovan and the Storm let her take time off to go back home. After flying from Seattle to Indianapolis and back in a 48-hour span, she's a bit tired and was looking forward to a nap before this afternoon's practice.
I think that's a wrap. Thanks for reading and stay tuned as we start our week-long season preview here on storm.wnba.com.
Posted by kp at 10:24 AM
Be sure to check back later today, as we blog live from Storm Media Day, which runs from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
WNBA.com debuted its always-entertaining GM Survey today. Two Storm players got the love - Iziane Castro Marques, the choice of half of the 10 GMs who voted to be the international player who has the biggest breakout season, and Lauren Jackson, picked by 8 of 11 as the best international player in the game (as for the other three, try to trade with them).
Jackson's turnaround baseline fadeaway got the nod as the most effective go-to move in the league, but surprisingly Jackson got no votes as the player people would pick if starting a franchise today.
Katie Gearlds got one vote as the rookie who will be best in five years, and the Storm got one vote as the most improved team in the league.
Off the top of my head, my picks in each category (Storm players excluded):
Player to start a franchise? - Diana Taurasi
Breakout season in 2007? - Monique Currie
Most effective move? - Cappie Pondexter's crossover
Most underrated player? - Penny Taylor
Best rookie in five years? - Lindsey Harding
Best "Sleeper" rookie? - Marta Fernandez (not technically part of the Draft class, but the Spaniard is a rookie)
Most improved team? - Chicago Sky
Most fun to watch? - Phoenix Mercury
Best perimeter defender? - Tully Bevilaqua
Best interior defender? - Yolanda Griffith
Best international player? - Um, since I can't pick LJ, Penny Taylor
International breakout? - Belinda Snell
Sunday, May 13, 2007
As the Storm continues its efforts to get out in the community and promote Opening Night on May 19 (now less than a week away, if you can believe it), Tanisha Wright, Shyra Ely and Tye'sha Fluker will be at Green Lake today with an ice cream truck, giving away ice cream from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Here's hoping the sun peeks through by then.
Also, on behalf of the entire Sonics & Storm organization, a Happy Mother's Day to everyone out there.
Posted by kp at 10:33 AM
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson are happy to be back in Seattle. That much was evident when we chatted with them today after the conclusion of the "Meet Your Team" event for season ticket holders.
Jackson said she rediscovered her love for the game over the off-season, thanks largely to her stint in Korea. Because no one else on the team spoke English, she was able to clear her head and focus on basketball. Making things even better was the fact that Jackson is feeling better physically than she has in some time.
Jackson says her shins aren't giving her much trouble and she's clearly lost weight. Barring a surprising result from her evaluation by the Storm's doctors, it looks like Jackson probably will not have her minutes limited at all this year. They were not limited overseas and Jackson practiced every day in Korea and Russia. The impact of having Jackson playing a few more minutes per game cannot be overstated.
Jackson was the difference for Spartak in its Russian Superleague Finals win in Bird's mind. She emphasized the importance of Jackson's size against the CSKA Samara frontline of Maria Stepanova and Ann Wauters.
Bird obviously enjoyed her third season in Russia and first with Spartak. She spoke at length about getting Israeli citizenship and the possibility of playing in Israel down the road. Her father's cousins live there, having gone to Israel when Sue's dad emigrated to the U.S.
Bird signed a one-year deal to return to the Storm. You might have heard some (half-joking) rumors on the WNBA message boards about a trade, but the only reason for the delay was that Bird didn't entirely trust faxing her contract from Russia. She was to have re-signed at the NBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas, but that went out the window when her flight was cancelled because of inclement weather.
The one-year deal made sense for Bird because of uncertainty around the Storm's future. It's worth noting that several players, like Connecticut's Katie Douglas, signed one-year deals because the WNBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at year's end, which could change the playing field for free agents.
Both Bird and Jackson thought it was beneficial for them to play together in Russia, taking away some of the feeling-out process that usually takes place when they join up for training camp. They also don't have to adjust to many new teammates with the Storm, as only three newcomers - Shyra Ely, Tye'sha Fluker and Katie Gearlds (who missed today's practice to return to Purdue for her graduation) - are left on the roster.
As far as non-Bird/Jackson news, Janell Burse is doing okay. Coach Anne Donovan compared her shoulder spasm last night to a stinger. Burse said she reached too far back, forgetting about the limitations she still has with the shoulder simply because she was feeling so good.
There is some concern about Iziane Castro Marques, who has a sore Achilles. Castro Marques tried to go today but was unable to do so. It didn't help that today's practice was early for the day after a game. The Storm has tomorrow off, which will give Castro Marques some rest.
We knew Bird was reading from Russia, and she confirmed it, mentioning that every morning - except one day when the Internet connection was out - she and Jackson would check out The Horton Report and the audio on storm.wnba.com.
They're baaaaack. Great to see Sue and LJ out on the floor. The rumors are very true - LJ looks to be in incredible shape after playing in Korea and Russia during the off-season.
More great news: Janell Burse is on the court for contact. I haven't noticed any lingering effect of her shoulder spasm last night. Tye'sha Fluker is also on the court, though that's not really a surprise.
We've missed this: LJ grabs a rebound and hands off to Sue. After the ball is advanced upcourt, LJ screens for Sue, who steps back and nails the three-pointer.
Izi Castro Marques has not been on the court since I arrived. Not sure why. Shyra Ely is getting the vast majority of the reps at small forward.
Anne Donovan calls a foul on Lauren, who protests. "Well, that's a WNBA official for you," answers Donovan.
It's a very different experience watching a practice with fans in the crowd cheering. Solid turnout for today's "Meet the Team" event for season ticket holders, which includes the chance to watch practice and more.
I want to take a moment to give credit to all the Storm folks who have worked to make today's event possible: Gentry Davis, Katie Dahl, Kristina Netzler, Susie Kandzor, Dallas Pride, Gabriella Buono, Todd Albright, Kelly Nigh (who specifically requested a shout out), Matt Heuer, the Knittels, Alan Horton and Adia Barnes and everyone with Storm basketball operations ... I'm sure I'm missing people and I apologize to them.
LJ is clearly fighting the effects of jetlag to some extent. She's smiling about missing shots she knows she's going to hit in a week.
One of the members of the practice squad nearly runs into Coach Donovan on the fast break. Fortunately, disaster averted and the crowd gets a good laugh.
Janell Burse hits both ends of a one-and-one to finish us off and Lauren Jackson swarms her with a bearhug to show her appreciation.
While the players do their post-practice stretching, Alan and Adia raffle off some great prizes. As the players file back out to the floor, they're joined by Doppler, who has a surprise - a birthday cupcake for Lauren Jackson (26 yesterday), accompanied by the fans singing "Happy Birthday." One fan brought an enormous birthday card/poster for Lauren.
Fans ask, how jetlagged are Sue and Lauren?
"Pretty jetlagged," says LJ. Their total trip was about 18 hours, including a 13-hour flight from Moscow to Los Angeles.
Betty was asked about what it's like playing overseas for coaches who don't speak English. She compares it to how it was depicted in the movie "Love and Basketball." Have your teammates translate for your coach and then say, "Get me the ball."
The "Tennessee trio" (I'm thinking about trademarking that one) was asked to compare Coach Donovan to legendary Pat Summitt. Ashley Robinson sees a lot of similarities. Coach herself says that Tennessee is one of those programs that prepares its players really well for the WNBA - adding in UConn to appease Sue Bird.
"Just ask them what happened," says Bird, referring to the two NCAA titles UConn won over Tennessee during her career.
Anne concludes the group portion by thanking fans for their support. Now season ticket holders will break into smaller groups to meet the players in a more intimate setting.
"I feel so positive during 2007," says Ashley Robinson. She was candid when asked if she always rebounds as well as she did last night. "My statistics say I don't," she admitted.
Tanisha's favorite food: "Good old spaghetti with meat sauce." I'm sitting with a young group, so we're hearing a lot about favorite pets.
Tye'sha Fluker is speaking at length about playing for Coach Summitt. "She wants to develop you as a woman first." Later, she adds, "Being here reminds me of being at Tennessee."
"Did they put all the kids in one section?" asks Anne Donovan. Wasabi Bistro is the consensus favorite restaurant of the sushi-loving coaching staff.
LJ says ice hockey is becoming her favorite sport outside of basketball. I can't imagine where she got interested in that. Lauren surprised herself by saying, "I'm home," when she got to her place in Seattle last night, something she didn't expect and never would have imagined as a homesick 20-year-old rookie.
Sue has no pets and solicits suggestions. When she had goldfish, she reports, they died the second day when she was changing the water. Sue's favorite hangout is "wherever these guys go," referring to her teammates.
Talking about her legendary coach at Louisiana Tech, Leon Barmore, Betty notes that Coach Donovan is the first female coach she has ever had. Betty is confident the boxing and kickboxing she did over the winter helped her game and worked on her shooting in Poland because she didn't want to drive into the lane and get her head knocked off - all for no call.
JB describes the recovery in her hometown of New Orleans as "really slow." Seattle is "so far away," which is why her favorite thing to do for a vacation is go home.
"I'm all yours," exclaims a smiling Izi, ready for questions. She had to be convinced to pick up basketball at about age 13 because nobody else in her family is an athlete "at all."
That wraps up a fun event. We'll have more after media availability.
Posted by kp at 11:45 AM
Final: Besiktas finishes the game on a 13-3 run to come from down two to win easily, 72-64. Game 7 will be played on Tuesday and it now seems unlikely Barbara Turner will have more than one practice at best with the Storm before next Friday's deadline for final rosters to be submitted to the WNBA.
Update: Midway through the fourth quarter, Fenerbahce has taken a 59-58 lead. This one looks like it's going to come right down to the wire and there is a great deal on the line for Barbara Turner and for the Storm.
Turner is playing some crucial minutes today and has eight points and five boards. Cappie Pondexter now has 29 points, while Sheri Sam is scoreless soince halftime.
It's halftime right now and Barbara Turner's Fenerbahce team trails 42-39. You can follow along online by visiting the TBBL Web site and clocking on the scoreboard in the upper right-hand corer.
Turner has three points, three assists and two boards at the half.
It looks like this series is going to be decided by the Indiana Fever. In Game 5, Tammy Sutton-Brown led Fenerbahce. Tonight, she's got just four points and two boards at the half. Meanwhile, Indiana teammate Sheri Sam, held scoreless in Game 5, has 15 on 6-for-8 shooting so far tonight.
- At one point during Betty Lennox's second-half three-point barrage, I slid a note to Alan Horton suggesting he ask Adia Barnes whether Lennox's play reminded her of the 2004 WNBA Finals.
That might have been the last time Lennox was so hot, but when I looked up the box scores, I got a surprise. Lennox hit three triples in the Storm's Game 1 loss, but didn't hit a single one in either Game 2 or Game 3, when she combined for 50 points. So tonight's performance was truly unprecedented for Lennox.
- No Storm player has ever hit seven three-pointers in a regular-season game. Sue Bird tied the franchise record - previously held by Sonja Henning from the expansion 2000 season - with six at Detroit last Aug. 8. You might remember Sue also set a WNBA record for three-pointers in a half in that same game, hitting all six of her threes before halftime. Betty had seven threes in the second half tonight.
- There's always something that slips through the cracks during Live From Press Row. Tonight I forgot to mention that Sonics Mickael Gelabale and Johan Petro, regular presences at practice, were sitting courtside. Gelabale was intently studying the boxscore at halftime, as if he was going to be tested on it later.
- When they said Katie Gearlds was leaving right after the game to head home for her graduation from Purdue, they weren't kidding. Gearlds had time to answer a few questions before bolting the arena for Sea-Tac Airport, where Bird and Lauren Jackson were headed to arrivals instead of departures.
- LJ's jersey was hanging in her locker and it was decorated for her birthday. While she won't see it on her actual birthday, Jackson will get a look tomorrow.
- Speaking of which, the latest is that Bird and Jackson will practice with the Storm on Saturday. Season ticket holders, see you at the "Meet Your Team" event. Everyone else, check out storm.wnba.com for all the latest tomorrow.
Posted by kp at 12:50 AM
Friday, May 11, 2007
I watched the end of the Monarchs shootaround this morning before interviewing Jenny Boucek for the site. Sacramento is still without vets Ticha Penicheiro, DeMya Walker and Rebekkah Brunson, all working their way back from overseas, but this group seems to have some good chemistry.
Boucek closed shootaround like Anne Donovan does here in Seattle, with a halfcourt shootout with $50 on the line. Nobody made it the first time through, but three did in a span of about five shots in the second round. That's $16.67 apiece (did anyone bring change?) for Nicole Powell, Kim Smith and rookie Erin Batth.
Yolanda Griffith did not win despite bringing out her veteran tricks, shimmying and shaking in an effort to get the shooter's roll with her attempt.
Posted by kp at 4:52 PM
A very Happy Birthday to our favorite Australian power forward. Lauren Jackson turns 26 today. Hard to believe she was a tender 19 years of age (going on 20) when she first arrived in Seattle in 2001.
Unfortunately, it's not a great birthday for LJ, who is busy making the lengthy flight back to Seattle from Russia. At least she's got Sue Bird along for the trip.
Posted by kp at 4:48 PM
The news that Francesca Zara will not be coming to Seattle and the Storm's roster is almost set dominated yesterday's practice report and story. A few things that might have fallen through the cracks:
- Betty's back. Lennox practiced for the first time with the Storm this season after playing in Tuesday's game at Connecticut.
"If I could just get a few hours of sleep, that would really help," Lennox said. "Other than that, I'm excited to be back in Seattle. I'm excited to be back in the United States, first of all."
Lennox sprained her right ankle at the start of the Polish Finals. Since her team had four American players, that meant her team sat Lennox down and she did not see any action the rest of the way. Lennox re-twisted the ankle on Thursday, but later returned to practice.
- Katie Gearlds is human. The Storm's first-round pick, who has shot the ball so well during training camp, was just 2-for-14 from the field in her first two exhibition games.
"The game in Indiana - total wash," said Donovan. "She's starting at point guard, out of position, against Tully. The game at Connecticut, we're looking at that as more of an evaluation. She did a good job coming off the bench, playing more of her role, more of her position, but she's still a rookie and that's still really clear."
Gearlds' reputation as a shooter clearly preceeds her.
"She's a focal point," Donovan said. "She checked in the game, Connecticut double-teamed her as soon as she touched the ball. That's how much respect they have for her shooting. It's like 'Welcome to the WNBA.'"
With Sue Bird due back to Seattle over the weekend, Gearlds' point guard days are nearing an end, at least for now. Donovan still has interest in using her at the position down the road, but doesn't see it happening much, if at all, this season.
"It's got to be against the right team," explained Donovan. "It's not going to be against Tully. It's going to be in the right situation where we can set her up for success."
- Donovan is ready for Sue and Lauren to get back. One of the things we talked about last week in the discussion of lessons from camp was how much less has been said this year about "When we get Sue back ... ." Now that the Storm superstars are so close to arriving, however, Donovan is clearly pining for them.
"Once we get everybody back in their roles," she said, "a lot of things are going to take care of themselves."
Posted by kp at 9:38 AM
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Barbara Turner's Fenerbahce team took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven TBBL Finals with Thursday's 85-58 blowout win over Besiktas.
Turner had five points, three assists and two rebounds in 16 minutes of action. Fenerbahce was led by the 20 points of Tammy Sutton-Brown, who also added nine rebounds. Besiktas' Sheri Sam, a member of the Storm's 2004 Championship team, was held scoreless in 24 minutes of action on 0-for-5 shooting.
Storm fans should root for Fenerbahce to complete the series win in Saturday's Game 6, played at Besiktas. A win would make a huge difference for Turner's return, as Game 7 would not be played until Tuesday.
A little more than a week away from the deadline to finalize rosters in the WNBA, the Storm is very close to its final 11-player group. Coach Anne Donovan told us after practice that the only real roster competition left is between Shyra Ely and Barbara Turner for the backup small forward spot.
Francesca Zara will not be joining the Storm this season, due to a combination of factors. Her visa was held up by the fact that the Storm did not sign her until just before training camp, her series in Russia just wrapped up (Zara is on the Spartak roster with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, though she did not see any action in the Finals) and the Italian National Team called on Zara.
Even if Zara had come to camp, however, Donovan emphasized that she would have had a tough time beating out Tanisha Wright. Wright's strong training camp has been powerful enough in Donovan's mind that she said she has not really been tempted by point guards who have come available on the waiver wire. Wright has made the team and will be the Storm's backup point guard.
The roster picture has also gained clarity up front. It appears very likely that both Tye'sha Fluker and Ashley Robinson will make the team, giving the Storm five post players.
Maybe it's just the fact that we're at KeyArena today instead of the friendly confines of The Furtado Center, but there seems to be a diferent sense of urgency to today's practice. The preseason finale is tomorrow and the season opener is just nine days away, so a sense of urgency is appropriate.
The Key is almost ready to go for tomorrow's game. The Storm's court is down, the "Go Storm" banner is up at the South End of the arena and the 200 level has been curtained off. There's only one big change that needs to be made - the scoreboard still reads "Sonics" and "Mavs" from the Sonics home finale.
Five-on-five today against the practice squad, first halfcourt and then later going up and down. It's competitive. Turnovers seem like an issue for the Storm offense after there were 25 of them in Tuesday's preseason game at Connecticut. This is Betty Lennox's first practice with the Storm after she played in that game, so there's some reintegration going on that should work itself out. Still, taking care of the basketball should be a priority over the next week.
Katie Gearlds nails a one-and-one and we're finished for the day.
More after media ...
Posted by kp at 12:44 PM
Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson are champions of the Russian Superleague. Their Spartak Moscow Region squad defeated CSKA Samara 88-72 today in a winner-take-all Game 5 of their Finals series.
Jackson, along with Tina Thompson, paced a balanced Spartak scoring attack with 17 points. LJ hit three three-pointers and pulled down 13 boards. Sue Bird scored 13 points and added three triples of her own.
Trailing after one quarter, Spartak dominated the middle quarters, outscoring CSKA 43-24 to take a 16-point lead to the final period. CSKA was unable to rally.
Jackson finishes her off-season having won the FIBA World Championship, finished as the runner-up in Korea and winning in Russia.
Bird, meanwhile, adds the Superleague title to the Euroleague crown Spartak won earlier this season, her WNBA Championship, a gold medal in the Olympics, two NCAA titles at UConn, a National High School Championship at Christ the King, a contest she won in the fourth grade where the prize was a phone shaped like a yellow tennis ball and too many others to count. What can you say? Sue's a winner.
(Okay, this phone story (which is all too real) is too good to leave alone. I'm told that not only was the phone shaped like a tennis ball, the receiver was shaped like a racket. Apparently, Sue was not allowed to use the phone for real ... but it broke from pretend usage. Hilarious.)
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
One of the very best blogs out there covering the WNBA is Chasing the Title, devoted to the Storm and written by season-ticket holder Patrick Sheehy.
Plus-minus has been Patrick's pet project, and over the last couple of days he's rolled out the numbers on the Storm last season:
- Individual plus-minus
- Lineup plus-minus
Check out Patrick's observations from the numbers. I have more than a sneaking suspicion that plus-minus will factor into the season preview series we'll have on storm.wnba.com next week.
The Los Angeles Sparks are making more news than anyone else in the WNBA this week, with a couple of big stories I wanted to check in on.
On Monday, the Sparks signed forward LaToya Thomas, probably the last big name available as a free agent. Thomas, who spent the last three seasons in San Antonio, was the top overall pick in 2003. She lived up to that billing during her sophomore season, when she averaged 14.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, but a shoulder injury limited her in 2005 and Thomas came off the bench behind Sophia Young last year.
Despite the fact that Lisa Leslie will miss the season due to pregnancy, the Sparks still have as much depth up front as anyone after trading for Taj McWilliams-Franklin and signing Thomas to go along with All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw. Given three other players saw time for L.A. in the frontcourt last season (Murriel Page, Jessica Moore and Christi Thomas), Michael Cooper has plenty of options at his disposal. Included, in all likelihood, are lineups with Holdsclaw at the small forward, like former Sparks Coach Joe Bryant used last year in the playoffs against the Storm.
What might be more troublesome for L.A. is the backcourt. I'm still reeling from finding out today in Clay Kallam's Sparks preview that Temeka Johnson has undergone microfracture knee surgery. Johnson is apparently out until mid-June. I think Johnson will probably be okay long-term (check out this story for my NBA microfracture research and conclusions), but the most important thing with a microfracture is to avoid coming back too soon.
L.A. has several other players who can play the point, including Tamara Moore (who started alongside Johnson last year), Doneeka Hodges-Lewis and newcomer Megan Duffy. But Johnson will be missed. The Sparks do have an intriguing addition at guard in Spaniard Marta Fernandez, who scored 16 points in yesterday's exhibition win over Phoenix.
"She’s really opened everyone’s eyes," Michael Cooper told Kallam. "She’s a very good passer."
(Incidentally, I think Johnson might be the first WNBA player to undergo a microfracture. The only other reference I can find so far to "WNBA microfracture" on Google refers to, of all people, the Storm's Sue Bird. I'll have to make a mental note to ask her about that.)
(Update: Sue passes along from Russia that she did indeed undergo a microfracture procedure. Hi Sue!)
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Despite 12 points from Storm forward Barbara Turner, her Fenerbahce team fell 62-55 to Besiktas Thursday. The Turkish Finals series between the two teams is now tied at two games apiece. That's bad news for the Storm, hoping to get Turner back as quickly as possible. The best-of-seven series continues with the following schedule:
Game 5 - Thursday, May 10 at Fenerbahce
Game 6 - Saturday, May 12 at Besiktas
Game 7 - Tuesday, May 15 at Fenerbahce (if necessary)
If the series goes a full seven games, Turner will have a practice or two at best with the Storm before Anne Donovan and the coaching staff have to decide on the competition between Turner and Shyra Ely for a spot on the Storm's roster.
As we await Thursday's deciding Game 5 in Russia, I wanted to blog quickly about a question I've heard within the office: Why is the star-studded Spartak team going to five games with CSKA?
When you hear the names on Spartak - Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, Ticha Penicheiro, Diana Taurasi, Tina Thompson - it sounds like a WNBA All-Star squad in many ways. CSKA's biggest WNBA stars are DeMya Walker and Ann Wauters - solid players, both All-Stars in 2005, but not superstars.
There was an excellent discussion of this seeming anamoly at the RebKell Junkie Boards yesterday. To quickly sum it up:
- The Two Russians Rule
Both teams (and every team in the Russian Superleague) has to have two Russian players on the floor at all times. Spartak has a very good one in Svetlana Abrosimova, but CSKA center Maria Stepanova is the best player in Russia and a star in the WNBA when she deigns to play for the Phoenix Mercury (which hasn't been very often of late). Ilona Korstine gives CSKA a second Russian standout.
- Limited Time for Non-Russians
The first two reasons are opposite sides of the same coin. Because Spartak has to play two Russian players, it can only play three non-Russians. Tamika Whitmore, a fine WNBA player, is largely worthless to Spartak because there are no minutes available for her. Meanwhile, Penicheiro and Bird are splitting time at the point (with Bird playing the majority of the minutes), limiting their combined impact.
- Not All Stars are in the WNBA
Like Stepanova, Spanish forward Amaya Valdemoro could certainly play in the WNBA, but prefers to take her summers off. Even those who do play here are not necessarily as valuable. While Edwige Lawson-Wade did a solid job for the Storm as a reserve behind Bird last season, she's never been a consistent WNBA regular. Overseas, however, Lawson-Wade is an experienced veteran.
- Team Chemistry
Spartak's roster has largely been built this season, with Jackson added just before the playoffs. Bird certainly knows how to play with LJ and Taurasi, but the team as a whole is probably not as cohesive as CSKA.
Monday, May 7, 2007
After finishing Saturday's preseason game with just five players, the Storm should have something approximating a normal lineup tomorrow, when they take on Connecticut (4 p.m.).
All eight Storm players in camp practiced Monday, including Tanisha Wright, working her way back from a pulled groin, and Wendy Palmer, who left Saturday's game after straining her left quad muscle.
Betty Lennox was working on getting to Connecticut and getting her mandatory physical out of the way on Monday. It's expected that she will also play against the Sun. That would give the Storm nine players and a full three guards and five perimeter players.
Four Storm players remain overseas - All-Stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, forward Barbara Turner and invitee Francesca Zara.
Posted by kp at 10:37 AM
The Russian Superleague Championship will be decided in a winner-take-all Game 5 after Spartak Moscow Region evened the series at two games apiece by defeating CSKA Samara 69-60 on Monday.
Spartak got 22 points from Diana Taurasi, who was a big reason why Spartak outscored CSKA 27-12 from three-point range. Lauren Jackson added a pair of triples, scoring 10 points, and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds. Sue Bird had eight points and two assists.
The third-fourth series is over. Congrats to Adia Barnes and UMMC Ekaterinburg, who earned third place and won the series 3-1 over Dynamo Moscow. Game 4 went to Ekaterinburg by a 74-59 final. Cheryl Ford finished off a dominant series with 26 points and 19 boards. Adia had two points. For the losers, former Storm forward Natalia Vodopyanova had 14 points and eight boards and, if I'm reading the box correctly, drew 11 fouls.
So Sue and LJ are still alive for a championship, but it's now unlikely they will play in the Storm's preseason finale on Friday against Sacramento at KeyArena.
Sunday, May 6, 2007
With an opportunity to take the series lead at home today, Spartak Moscow Region instead fell 86-83 to CSKA Samara in Game 3. CSKA leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 on tap tomorrow. CSKA will be looking to close out Spartak.
Lauren Jackson had 17 points and five rebounds. Sue Bird had four points, six rebounds and four assists. Ann Wauters led CSKA with 19 points, while Edwige Lawson-Wade had 16 points and seven assists.
In the third-fourth series, UMMC Ekaterinburg defeated Dynamo Moscow 65-56. Adia Barnes had six points on 3-for-5 shooting in the win. Cheryl Ford dominated the paint for UMMC, posting a double-double of 18 points and 18 rebounds. UMMC will look to take the series tomorrow at home.
In Poland, Wisla Pack Can Krakow won the title with a 68-54 win over Lotos. Betty Lennox is headed home with the series over and her team defeated. Lennox ultimately did not play in the finals series, as the fourth non-European player (just three are allowed).
Meanwhile in Turkey, Barbara Turner's Fenerbache team took a 2-1 series lead with Sunday's 72-70 win. Turner had her best game of the series with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists. Game 4 will be Tuesday.
Saturday, May 5, 2007
The Storm tips off the preseason this afternoon at 3 p.m. against the Indiana Fever, but really those two squads exist in name only at this point of the preseason. Like the Storm, Indiana is missing three starters - Anna DeForge, Tamika Whitmore and Tammy Sutton-Brown. The Fever is also without two top reserves, Sheri Sam and Tan White. The Storm won't truly get a look at a team that should be a serious contender in the East.
Who is in camp for Indiana? Well, a pair of All-Defensive First Teamers in perennial MVP contender Tamika Catchings and former Storm guard Tully Bevilaqua. Indiana also has Ebony Hoffman, a starter 33 times in 34 games last season, who will probably give up her starting job to newly-acquired Sutton-Brown.
I believe newly-acquired Ann Strother has reported to camp, and then you've got the rookies - 6-7 Alison Bales from Duke was Indiana's first-round pick, and the Fever got good value in the second round with Iowa State's Lyndsey Medders.
On the Storm side, the first goal is simply to stay healthy with only seven players likely to see action. The lack of depth on the perimeter will severely test rookie Katie Gearlds, but it's also an opportunity. Shyra Ely, like Gearlds an Indiana native, should play heavy, heavy minutes as she battles for a spot on the roster.
Along with Ely, this game is important for Tye'sha Fluker and Ashley Robinson, who still have to make the team. It's possible and maybe even likely the Storm will keep both players and five posts. Strong showings today will make that decision easier.
Posted by kp at 10:00 AM
Friday, May 4, 2007
With Katie Gearlds and Shyra Ely (who is also an Indianapolis native) heading home, the Indianapolis Star has a feature today on how the WNBA has helped spark a surge in top female players in the Indy metropolitan area.
Here's what ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman has to say about Gearlds:
"I like what she does on the court, how she moves, how she gets other people involved. That's what makes her special. She's a typical Indiana kid that can do a lot of things.''
I linked this in yesterday's Gearlds feature, but FeverBasketball.com had a good Q&A with Gearlds' former four-year teammate at Purdue, Erin Lawless.
Moving to the WNBA at large quickly, if you're not reading Megan Vogel's blog, you're missing out. Vogel is a rookie out of South Dakota State who was a second-round pick by the Mystics. She's experiencing the classic transition from growing up in small towns to living in Washington, D.C. and is a great blogger.
This Vogel story by the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader features one of my new favorite quotes:
"In her first three days of camp, Vogel made involuntary blood donors of two teammates ... ."
From 3,000 miles away, I'm rooting for Vogel to make the Mystics.
... while Tanisha Wright has no such difficulty.
Posted by kp at 9:54 AM
Thursday, May 3, 2007
I had the unfortunate task of bringing some bad news to Coach Donovan today. She'd been on the practice floor and had yet to hear the outcome in Poland by the time she chatted with the media. As I blogged earlier, that final series is headed to a deciding seventh game, which
I believe will be played on Saturday. Therefore, no Betty Lennox for Saturday's preseason opener in Indiana. Lennox might be with the Storm in time for Tuesday's game at Connecticut, but today's result puts that in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, it doesn't sound like Tanisha Wright will be able to play Saturday, though the Storm has decided to bring her on the road trip.
"I'm really convicted that she's not going to play until she's ready. T understands that," said Donovan. "Our goal was Saturday. That looks unrealistic, so our next goal would be Tuesday - and not a day before she's 100%."
No Lennox, no Wright means not a lot of depth - or any - in the perimeter on Saturday. We chatted with Katie Gearlds about making her professional debut in her native Indiana, and she mentioned she was excited because, looking at the numbers, she was going to see some minutes. That's an understatement.
"I wish we had more bodies in our perimeter," Donovan said about her mindset going into Saturday. "We're trying to prepare Katie for Tully (Bevilaqua). Eager to play against somebody besides these guys."
Barring a miraculous return by Wright, Gearlds and Iziane Castro Marques will start at guard against Indiana. Shyra Ely and Wendy Palmer will be at forward with Janell Burse in the middle. And the only perimeter sub is Palmer, if she plays small forward, as she did during Thursday's practice.
"It's exhibition," said Donovan. "That's what I'll keep telling myself."
Bevilaqua, who has some of the fastest hands on defense of anyone in the WNBA, is sure to test Gearlds in her debut. The Storm's backup point guard at the moment is Castro Marques, something Donovan said she'd never imagined.
Palmer at small forward is something that was considered when Palmer first came to Seattle, but had never been put into reality before today.
"When I talked to her today," Donovan said, "I reminded her, when we recruited her as a free agent, that was one of the things that we talked about. She was hurt too early last year. We never got her settled with the post. This year, with certain matchups on the floor ... we'll see."
Palmer is not yet 100%, and Donovan will be cautious with her minutes in the exhibition season. There's no limit placed on how much Palmer can play, however.
We've talked a lot about how the injuries will affect the exhibition games, but Donovan pointed out something a little more subtle - practices on the road will be difficult ("pretty conservative," in Donovan's words) because the practice squad will not be there with the Storm.
As for Wright, she's in an unfortunate position. She's fighting for a spot on the roster, which makes it important for her to be on the court, but if she comes back before she's ready, that doesn't help anyone. Wright has shown the kind of patience that is needed and she is feeling better. She was able to go through a drill with some contact today.
We've been let in for another controlled 20-minute scrimmage, very similar to what we saw yesterday.
No Tanisha Wright and Jason from the practice squad is playing with his male peers instead of handling the point for the Storm, so it's Katie Gearlds and Izi Castro Marques with ballhandling duties.
It's only a preseason game, but Tully Bevilaqua is looming. Coach Donovan stopped the action at one point to make sure the other perimeter players know they're going to need to come to the ball to give Katie some help when the former Storm backup presses up defensively.
Gearlds herself definitely looks aware of what she's in for. She's making a conscious effort to work the ball ahead to the wings.
Izi misses a jumper off the dribble and then lets out an exasperated sigh before making the saddest face she is capable of. She made a great play in transition, putting on the jets in the open court before finding Shyra Ely for a layup.
Very nice finish by Ashley Robinson off-balance going away from the basket, as she banked it up and in off of an inbounds pass. I don't know if she would have made that shot a year ago.
Wendy Palmer is playing some small forward today. There was talk of her potentially finishing games alongside Lauren Jackson and Janell Burse in a big lineup when Palmer first came to the Storm, but I can't say I ever recall seeing Wendy at the three before. The lack of depth on the perimeter means she needs to play some time there right now.
Izi seems frustrated today, though her speed in the open floor has changed the game. After missing the front end of a one-and-one that could have ended practice, she's had turnovers on two straight possessions.
After three players missed, Ashley Robinson completes the one-and-one - with the assistance of the glass on her first attempt - and we're finished. That should be helpful for Ashley's confidence at the line.
More after media availability.
Posted by kp at 12:02 PM
Posted by kp at 9:34 AM
Big turnaround between Games 1 and 2 of the Russian Superleague Finals. After a convincing win by CSKA Samara on Wednesday, today Spartak dominated with defense in a 74-53 victory to square the series at one.
CSKA shot a dismal 21.0% from the field. Just two CSKA players scored double-figures. Spartak got another strong performance from Lauren Jackson, who had 18 points and nine boards. Tina Thompson had 22 points and nine rebounds and Svetlana Abrosimova a double-double of 18 and 10. Combined, those three players outscored CSKA 58-53.
In the third-fourth series, host Moscow Dynamo eeked out a 75-74 win to even that series as well. Dynamo's Anete Jekabsone hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds to pull it out.
Both series will have two days off before resuming Sunday and Monday for Games 3 and 4. Spartak and UMMC Ekaterinburg will return home with a chance to win the series.
Update: Okay, no link yet, but it appears Barbara Turner's Fenerbahce team lost Game 2 74-73 over Besiktas today. In Poland, Wisla Can Pack Krakow beat Lotos Gdynia 88-77, evening that series at three to force a winner-take-all Game 7. That will be played on Saturday.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
It's always fun to talk with Storm veteran Wendy Palmer, and Wednesday after practice was no exception. Wendy filled us in on her latest nicknames for the Storm's youngsters - Shy Boogie for Shyra Ely, a teammate of Palmer's in San Antonio in 2005, where they were close, and K-Geezy (or is it Jeezy? Gizzy?) for rookie Katie Gearlds.
"There's only one KG," explained Palmer, referring to Kevin Garnett. Like everyone else around the Storm, Palmer is impressed with Gearlds' shooting, saying, "Her shot is so sweet, it's like money." Of course, money-related nicknames are already taken with Betty Lennox, aka B-Money.
The conversation turned to second-year forward Barbara Turner, whom Palmer took under her wing last year as a rookie. Missing out on training camp has hurt Turner's chances in the battle for spots on the Storm's final roster.
"As soon as the last game's over [in Turkey], she's on the first thing smoking," said Palmer.
A veteran of international play, Palmer recognizes how difficult it is to be overseas at this time of year.
"You want to be in two places at one time," she said. "You want to finish up strong and you want to be here."
Storm guard Tanisha Wright has yet to practice as she comes back from a pulled left groin, but she's been able to shoot around after practice the last two days. The news on Wright seems to be positive. "Our goal is for her to play Saturday," said Storm Coach Anne Donovan. We'll probably have a better idea of whether that will be the case tomorrow, the Storm's last practice before heading to Indiana for their exhibition opener.
We got a chance to watch a 20-minute controlled scrimmage against the practice squad today. By controlled, I mean it wasn't completely live, with Coach Donovan frequently stepping in to provide some instruction as needed and call some plays.
Donovan's focus right now is clear. She continues to emphasize the glass, especially against the practice squad, and stopped a copule of times to point out how much she liked a post-up option. Anne is still a post player at heart and loves to get those looks. With Katie Gearlds at the point - she played there almost exclusively after Corey from the practice squad was injured, forcing Jason from the Storm's lineup back to the male fivesome - there are constant mismatches to be exploited.
The guys won the scrimmage 38-35, taking advantage of the offensive glass and a quickness advantage - this was a smaller practice unit than we've seen in the recent past.
You do occasionally notice that Katie is not used to playing point guard. On one rebound, it looked like she headed upcourt, as she would as a wing, before realizing she had to come back to get the ball. Overall, she's doing well and continues to shoot the ball very well.
Wendy Palmer is still working her way back into game shape after so long off because of her Achilles injury, but her ability to finish around the bucket gives the Storm a dimension that was lacking last season when Lauren Jackson and Janell Burse were off the floor.
More after media availability.
Posted by kp at 12:13 PM