Monday, June 30, 2008

Weekly Look at WNBA Stats

Two teams, Connecticut and Detroit, have hit the midway point of their seasons. The Storm will be there on Thursday. Let's take a look at the numbers, shall we?

Team          ORating     Team          DRating
--------------------- ---------------------
Phoenix 106.6 Los Angeles 90.4
Minnesota 103.0 Indiana 90.8
Connecticut 102.3 San Antonio 93.7
Detroit 101.9 Seattle 94.9
Chicago 101.4 Detroit 96.3
New York 101.2 Washington 96.7
Los Angeles 99.2 Houston 96.9
AVERAGE 98.4 Connecticut 98.4
Seattle 97.4 AVERAGE 98.4
San Antonio 96.9 Minnesota 99.2
Sacramento 96.0 Sacramento 99.9
Houston 94.2 New York 100.6
Atlanta 93.0 Chicago 101.6
Washington 92.1 Phoenix 107.6
Indiana 91.3 Atlanta 110.4
The Mercury offense continues surging. A week ago, Phoenix's Offensive Rating was 104.5, and it was 102.8 a week before. I'm pretty sure there's a Mercury rising joke in there somewhere. Phoenix's defense continues to be as bad as ever. Who knew Penny Taylor was really a defensive specialist?

A change at the top of the Defensive Ratings leaderboard, with the Sparks passing Indiana for the title of stingiest defense. The Storm made a nice push forward on the strength of yesterday's dominant defensive effort against Washington. Connecticut's defense is slipping a little.

The Dream's offense has been pretty good lately. However, Atlanta's defense has been as bad as ever, keeping the team winless.

Team          ExpW    Team          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
Los Angeles 23.7 Connecticut 21.7
Minnesota 20.3 Detroit 21.5
San Antonio 19.2 New York 17.7
Seattle 17.6 Indiana 17.3
Houston 16.3 Chicago 16.6
Phoenix 16.2 Washington 12.7
Sacramento 13.6 Atlanta 2.6
For the first time all year, the Sparks lead the league in Expected Wins. That really has more to do with the Sun and Shock beating each other up than the Sparks playing well, given they lost last week. Minnesota '08 is like Storm '07 in terms of winning by a lot and losing by a little. (Also, the Lynx have a really good offense and an average defense, like last year's Storm. Maybe it's something about Alan Horton?)

The Western Conference isn't quite as close in terms of differential as in the standings, where two games separate second place and seventh. However, Minnesota and Phoenix are all very tight. The Monarchs remain the odd team out of this group by differential.

Player              Tm   PER
Diana Taurasi PHO 30.5
Lauren Jackson SEA 26.9
Candace Parker LAS 25.9
Sophia Young SAS 25.3
Lindsay Whalen CON 24.9
Cappie Pondexter PHO 24.8
Candice Wiggins MIN 24.7
Janel McCarville NYL 24.6
Lisa Leslie LAS 23.5
Seimone Augustus MIN 23.3

Sancho Lyttle HOU 26.9 162 mins.
Sylvia Fowles CHI 24.6 123
Tasha Humphrey DET 23.8 166
In addition to the top 10 in PER, I've listed the players who would appear had they played enough minutes to qualify (I'm going with 200 as the current cutoff).

Taurasi has been hot, hot, hot lately and has pulled away from the rest of the league in PER. Parker also made a move up the charts, while Whalen has slumped a little.

The most interesting player here might be Lyttle. Her last two games in place of an injured Tina Thompson have been unreal: 38 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, nine steals, 17-for-21 shooting. Yikes! Find her some minutes when Thompson gets healthy.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Waiving Beck Gives Storm Flexibility

The Storm announced today that rookie guard Kimberly Beck has been waived, and the timing is significant. Tomorrow is the date when all player contracts become guaranteed for the remainder of the season, so the waiver wire has been busy around the league.

"If we had waited even one day, we would not have had any flexibility," explained Storm Head Coach Brian Agler by phone after practice.

With an open roster spot, the Storm will now have the option of potentially adding a post player or a wing if needs arise at those positions.

Starting Tuesday, players can be signed to seven-day contracts, and Agler said the team would probably sign a player in the near future to fill Beck's roster spot while preserving that flexibility.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Storm's Focus: Getting Better

After a travel day between Los Angeles and Seattle yesterday, the Storm took the floor Thursday at The Furtado Center with a singular focus: getting better. In the wake of a 76-62 loss at Los Angeles that dropped the Storm to 8-7, there is surely room for improvement - particularly in terms of the defensive end of the floor and rebounding.

"We brought some things to their attention and worked on them, rebounding being one," Head Coach Brian Agler said after practice. "We've got hopefully a couple more days to try to get better. Our focus right now is just getting better. We've got to get better in some areas and also prepare for the next game.

"I'm not thinking two weeks, three weeks down the road. I'm just really trying to get better in this window we have here and play well on Sunday."

During a spirited session, Agler could be heard exhorting his players to apply more pressure defensively and for everyone to make rebounding a priority.

"We watched a lot of film," he said. "We spent 45 minutes really reviewing some of the things we talked about after the Connecticut game. Watched a lot of our film, broke a lot of our defense down. I don't think it's just all our defense - we've got some improvements to make offensively too, but when you only have X amount of minutes, you ought to focus on one and get one shored up as much as possible."

The Storm was able to take a positive from Tuesday's game in terms of the performance of the second unit. Agler started the fourth quarter with five reserves together on the floor, and they were able to slice Los Angeles' lead from 14 points down to nine. Later, Agler put the second unit back in the game after the starters were unable to make further progress.

"I guess I just look at this way," Agler said of going back to the reserves. "If we weren't going to do the things we were capable of doing, then I felt we should take advantage of the opportunity to let some of our second group play."

The reserves combined for 21 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. Katie Gearlds was able to get her confidence going from the perimeter, knocking down a pair of three-pointers.

"I think it was good for Katie," said Agler. "Kelly Santos had some bright spots, Ashley (Robinson) had some bright spots, so I thought it was really good for them."

The Storm will have two more days of practice, tomorrow and Saturday, before returning to action by hosting the Washington Mystics (6:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW, TIX).

Sue Bird Expects Great

The stars of the two newest WNBA Expect Great commercials (debuting during tonight's Fever-Liberty game on ESPN2) are former UConn teammates Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who filmed these ads in Seattle a couple weeks ago. Check them out:

In addition to talking about the commercials, Bird also touches on a number of other topics in the latest installment of the Bird & Dee blog - Taurasi's birthday party after the Storm beat Phoenix at KeyArena on June 11, the Storm's loss in Los Angeles (and the dunk) and the Storm missing out on a trip to the White House after winning the 2004 WNBA championship.

And for some reason, we didn't go after we won our WNBA title a few years back. We were actually just talking about this the other day. I don't know why we didn't go. I don't know what happened… Maybe there was a war… Something a little more serious than meeting a professional sports team. So I'm still a little pissed about that. But, you know, he's a busy guy, so I guess I can't blame him for that.

Now I guess we'll have to win another title… or maybe they'll have us if we win gold at the Olympics. (WOW, I just got a glare from Lauren… When I said "the Olympics," she gave me the evil eye! Man, this is the last time I blog in front of her.)

Look forward to an Expect Great commercial featuring the Storm's Lauren Jackson (as well as one with Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter) in the near future.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Agler Q&A on Little

After the Storm practiced Monday in Los Angeles, Storm Head Coach Brian Agler chatted by phone about yesterday's trade for forward Camille Little.

What does adding Little do for the Storm?
I don't think there's any question she gives us some depth off the bench. She's definitely going to help our rebounding, both offensively and defensively. I like her versatility - she can play both the three and the four. She played real well for us last year in San Antonio; she was a part of that tight rotation.

Do you see her as a part of that tight rotation here?
We'll see. She'll work her way into PT. We made this move to help us now, but also for the future. She can be a real solid player for us down the road.

Do you have a sense for how difficult it was for San Antonio to part with Little before the season?
They had really high hopes for Camille to be a part of their rotation. Then they had the opportunity to pick up Ann Wauters, who's a real special player, and she was the piece Atlanta wanted in addition to the first-round pick. I know that San Antonio valued her play a year ago.

Can you talk about Little on defense?
She's physically strong and quick. She's going to help us and our defense around the basket. She's really versatile defensively - she can guard times twos and threes in addition to post players. She's going to fit in well.

Is she in Los Angeles yet?
She's getting in tonight.

Will she play tomorrow against the Sparks?
I don't know that. We haven't decided yet. If she gets in to shootaround tomorrow, we'll make a decision on that then.

WNBA Numbers Update

The latest weekly update on the advanced WNBA statistics shows a lot of interesting movement. Let's start with per-possession offense and defense, shall we?

Team          ORating     Team          DRating
--------------------- ---------------------
Phoenix 104.5 Indiana 88.9
Minnesota 103.3 Los Angeles 91.0
Detroit 102.5 San Antonio 92.9
Connecticut 102.1 Detroit 95.1
New York 101.9 Washington 96.0
Chicago 101.2 Seattle 96.1
Los Angeles 99.7 Connecticut 96.8
Seattle 98.5 Houston 97.8
San Antonio 96.4 New York 98.9
Sacramento 95.1 Sacramento 99.6
Washington 92.9 Minnesota 99.9
Houston 92.6 Chicago 101.5
Indiana 90.8 Phoenix 109.0
Atlanta 90.6 Atlanta 109.1
For the first time all year, it is the Phoenix Mercury that boasts the league's best offense. With Le'coe Willingham playing great basketball, the Mercury has missed Penny Taylor on offense much less than we expected. On the other end ... not so much.

The trend for Minnesota's Offensive Rating isn't good. Two weeks ago, the Lynx were at 110.7. Last week, that dropped to 105.9, still good enough to lead the league. Now, their rating is 103.3. Naturally, that's gone hand-in-hand with a five-game Minnesota losing streak.

Connecticut took a hit at both ends of the floor during a five-game road trip despite going 3-2.

From a more positive perspective, the New York Liberty boasted the league's worst offense a year ago. Now, the Liberty sits fifth in the league. Remarkable turnaround. And since when have the Mystics been a defensive force?

Let's look at the standings based on point differential, shown by expected wins over the course of the 34-game season.

Team          ExpW    Team          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
Los Angeles 23.8 Detroit 24.4
San Antonio 19.7 Connecticut 22.4
Minnesota 19.4 New York 20.0
Seattle 17.6 Indiana 18.8
Houston 14.2 Chicago 15.8
Phoenix 13.4 Washington 13.5
Sacramento 13.2 Atlanta 1.8
The Sun and Silver Stars tumble. In the actual West standings, Minnesota and Sacramento are tied at 6-6. A look at point differential shows that the Lynx (who have lost six games by a combined 27 points) has played much better than Sacramento (whose six losses are by a combined 83 points). In the East, Washington is a game and a half up on Chicago in the standings, but the Sky has been the far more competitive team.

As usual, we wrap up with the leaders in John Hollinger's PER for individual players.

Player              Tm   PER
Tasha Humphrey DET 33.4
Diana Taurasi PHO 29.4
Lauren Jackson SEA 26.9
Lindsay Whalen CON 26.3
Janel McCarville NYL 25.8
Tiffany Jackson NYL 25.4
Lisa Leslie LAS 25.4
Cappie Pondexter PHO 25.1
Sophia Young SAS 25.0
Candice Wiggins MIN 24.9
Humphrey just snuck over the 100-minute threshold for entry (she's played precisely 100 minutes) and thus leads the league, almost entirely on the strength of her huge game against Phoenix on ABC. We'll see if she keeps up that pace. Taurasi has caught fire for the Mercury and leads the legitimate regulars.

You could probably surprise a lot of people by telling them that, statistically, the best frontcourt duo in the league plays for the New York Liberty. McCarville has played great since a slow start, while Jackson has been terrific off the bench all year. (Still, I'm going for Leslie and Candace Parker, who ranks 11th, if I'm picking top duos.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Little Trade That Could be Big

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

In late June, the Storm trades next year's second-round pick to an expansion team in exchange for a player to bolster the team's bench. Sound familiar? It should. While that describes Sunday's trade that brought second-year forward Camille Little to Seattle, it's equally accurate when applied to the Storm's 2006 trade with the Chicago Sky for Ashley Robinson. That move has paid off handsomely; Robinson is still with the Storm, while just two players drafted after the Sky picked Stephanie Raymond with the Storm's pick remain active in the WNBA. This trade has a chance to be as beneficial to the Storm.

In Little, the Storm gets a young player who has already contributed to a playoff team and has two-plus years left on her rookie contract. Taken early in the 2007 second round by San Antonio, Little was considered a major steal. I had her as the second-best power forward available in the draft. Here's my scouting report:

Just as much as Ivory Latta, Little has been responsible for North Carolina's remarkable success over the last four seasons. The seniors hope to cap their career by winning the NCAA title next week. It was Little who was the ACC's "Rookie of the Year" in 2003-04 before taking a backseat to the Latta Show. Still, Little has played a key role in the Tar Heels' frenetic defense and is a capable scorer who is averaging a career-high 14.4 points per game as a senior.
As a rookie, Little played both forward positions off the bench, giving the Silver Stars a big lift when Erin Buescher was lost for the year with a torn ACL. She averaged 3.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game and was one of five rookies in the league to play at least 20 minutes per night. That earned Little a spot on the All-Rookie Team.

Surely San Antonio wanted to hang on to Little, but when the opportunity came up to acquire veteran center Ann Wauters, the Silver Stars made Little the centerpiece of their package to the Dream. Now Little is reunited with her former assistant coach in San Antonio, Brian Agler. Not only does Agler know what he's getting, that should help make changing teams easier for Little.

The strength of Little's game is her defense. A very athletic player, she can defend either forward position and is active at that end of the floor. She gives the Storm another option off the bench up front and should be a regular part of the team's rotation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Griffith Goes Through Practice

After going through Thursday's practice, Seattle Storm center Yolanda Griffith is a game-time decision for Friday when the Storm hosts the Indiana Fever (7:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW, TIX). Griffith, who injured her left knee and left ankle last Friday in San Antonio and has missed the Storm's two games since then, both losses, is clearly making progress in her recovery.

"Practice went good," Griffith said after practice. "I still have some soreness in my ankle. That's the concern right now. I've got to deal with a little soreness. Yesterday, I worked out for like 25 minutes individually with our conditioning coach working on cuts, rebounding, stuff like that. Today, did a full practice with the team. In the morning, we'll see if there's any swelling in my ankle and my knee. If not, it's the trainer's call."

Griffith practiced wearing a brace on her left ankle for extra support. She also had a brace on her left knee that she said would help "calm down" the ligament she tweaked.

Storm Head Coach Brian Agler did not notice much of an effect on Griffith's game of playing with the braces.

"The time that she was out there, she looked good," he said. "We will anticipate taking a strong look at her again tomorrow.

"I think she's a need no matter who we're playing. She just gives us a presence inside. She has the ability to do a lot of dirty work around the basket. When she got back out there today, you could see that what she had given us in the past, we were missing for a period of time."

Griffith knows her value to the Storm and admitted it was somewhat frustrating watching the Connecticut Sun pound the offensive glass during Monday's win at KeyArena. However, she also is thinking long-term and doesn't want to rush back and do further damage.

"I know it's important for me to help this team and be the center they need me to be," Griffith said, "but it's also important to be smart about the whole situation."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cash, Gearlds Looking to Shoot Way Out of Slumps

The Storm's two primary small forwards, Swin Cash and Katie Gearlds, are both vital parts of the team's offense - Cash with her ability to score in a variety of fashions and Gearlds in large part because of her perimeter shooting. Both have endured shooting slumps in the month of June, but Storm Head Coach Brian Agler believes they're ready to turn things around.

After starting the season playing some of the best basketball of her career, Cash has seen her shooting drop off. She shot 52.3 percent from the field over the Storm's first six games, five of them wins. Since then, she has seen her shooting percentage slump to 26.8 percent over the last seven games, five of those losses. Cash has scored double-figures just twice in that span.

"I have to really focus back in and hit some easy shots," said Cash. "I'm a perfectionist, and when I miss easy shots, sometimes I carry that with me."

Cash has experienced some trouble with her back, getting treatment on it last week before the Storm played Phoenix (the win over the Mercury was Cash's best game in the month of June, as she scored 17 points). While Cash's movement hasn't appeared to be inhibited and she has been active on defense, blocking a career-high five shots last Saturday in Houston, Agler feels the injury has had an impact in combining with the Storm's busy schedule to limit Cash's practice time.

"This is the first time she's practiced - of course, we haven't had many practices - since we played Detroit here (on June 7)," Agler said. "After we played Detroit here, then she had some things done with her back and she sat out the practice we had going into Phoenix. Then, after Phoenix, we never practiced until today. think that has a lot to do with her shooting more so than anything else. Shooting is a skill - you have to practice skills."

Cash's play has been a key indicator for the Storm. While she's played an identical 32 minutes per game in wins and losses, her scoring average leaps from 8.3 points per game in losses to 15.3 in wins. Cash has shot 45.2 percent in wins as compared to 29.2 percent in losses, and her rebounding average (6.6 rpg in wins vs. 4.2 in losses) is also much better.

Gearlds started off the season well, coming off the bench to knock down three triples in the fourth quarter of a come-from-behind win over Sacramento on May 20. She followed that with eight points at Phoenix in the Storm's next game, but since then her playing time and her shooting percentage have waned. Over the Storm's first five games in June, she totaled two points on 1-of-10 shooting. Gearlds has scored a field goal in the Storm's last three games, and hitting a crucial three-pointer in the fourth quarter Monday against Connecticut seemed to energize her. Moments later, Gearlds used the threat of her shot to drive the lane and find Lauren Jackson for a layup.

"I think Katie's sort of on a little upswing now," Agler said. "I think you'll see her start playing well. I thought she did some good things the other night. She played well in Houston and even in San Antonio, even though they weren't huge minutes, they were good minutes. I just sort of see her confidence coming back. We're going to give her some opportunities to play."

Before Monday's game, Agler took Gearlds aside and chatted with her courtside, encouraging her to stay with it by using an example from the NBA Finals.

"I sort of referred to Ray Allen," Agler related. "You remember in the playoffs, Ray Allen didn't have it going. He struggled for a period of time, but now you watch him play, it's like he never went through that back against Detroit."

Indeed, the former Sonics guard scored 26 points and made seven three-pointers as the Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship by beating the L.A. Lakers in yesterday's Game 6 of the Finals.

After Gearlds' early scoring spree, she found her name on opposing scouting reports, and that will force her and the Storm to adjust.

"Defenses understand what she can do, so they don't give her a lot of room," said Agler. "We have to work harder and she has to work harder to get her some looks."

- Storm center Yolanda Griffith remains day-to-day with a left knee sprain, but is making progress in her recovery.

"She did a little bit today," said Agler. "Tomorrow, she'll be very active in practice. As far as Friday? We'll see how we get through tomorrow."

Griffith participated as the Storm ran through its quarter-court offense early in practice, testing out a brace that she may use when she returns. Later, she rode an exercise bike to keep up her conditioning. The Storm hopes to have Griffith available Friday, when the Indiana Fever visits KeyArena (7:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW, TIX).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Having Helped Brazil Qualify, Santos Returns

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Having helped her Brazilian National Team qualify for the last spot in the Olympics by beating Cuba in Sunday's final game of the FIBA Olympics Qualifying Tournament, Seattle Storm center Kelly Santos wasted no time in returning to Seattle. Ahead of the team's schedule, Santos arrived yesterday morning and dressed for last night's game against the Connecticut Sun, though jetlag limited her to emergency duty and she did not play.

With Brazil qualifying, Santos is headed to her third consecutive Olympics. She won a bronze medal in 2000 in Sydney.

"I'm excited but I know it will be very difficult for us," Santos said after the game. "We have the younger players now, inexperienced, but you have to work to separate that."

The Brazilian National Team has undergone a makeover since the 2004 Olympics, with Santos sharing that eight of the team's players have no Olympic experience.

"It's nice for us that the younger players got more experience and more confidence to go to the Olympic Games," said Santos. "Qualifying was very difficult because we have a younger team. I think the team looked for identity.

"I think the team has to prove more. The team can give more."

The qualifying process became more difficult when the leading Brazilian scorer, former Storm forward Iziane Castro Marques, left the team after arguing with Head Coach Paulo Bassul. Castro Marques had not played in the second half of Brazil's loss to Belarus in a quarterfinal matchup with an Olympic berth on the line before being asked to reenter the game in overtime. She refused and returned to the Atlanta Dream before Brazil's last two games.

"She's my friend, and I'm sad," said Santos, "but I hope that she can talk with the coach and come back with us for the Olympic Games."

Santos does not expect to miss any more time with the Storm because of her commitment to the Brazilian National Team. She plans to join her Brazilian teammates for a warm-up tournament in Australia after the Storm's last game before the Olympic break.

Weekly WNBA Numbers

A day late because of the rare Monday Storm home game, let's take a look at the numbers around the WNBA. I was also delayed putting together a column looking at the surprising depth of the league's rookie class thus far, so be sure to give that a look.

We start with the Offensive and Defensive Ratings. These numbers do not include last night's games.

Team          ORating     Team          DRating
--------------------- ---------------------
Minnesota 105.9 Indiana 85.9
Connecticut 103.2 Los Angeles 91.3
Phoenix 102.8 San Antonio 93.9
Chicago 101.4 Detroit 94.5
Detroit 100.7 Connecticut 95.3
Los Angeles 99.5 Seattle 96.5
New York 99.5 Chicago 96.7
Seattle 98.1 AVERAGE 97.8
AVERAGE 97.8 New York 98.5
San Antonio 95.0 Washington 99.4
Sacramento 94.6 Minnesota 99.6
Washington 93.5 Sacramento 99.8
Houston 92.5 Houston 100.5
Atlanta 92.1 Phoenix 108.3
Indiana 90.2 Atlanta 112.4
The Lynx have come back to the pack a bit on offense, but still lead the league. New York's offense has been surprisingly potent in the early going, and seeing Chicago fourth in the league is also something of a surprise.

At the defensive end, Indiana remains way, way ahead of the rest of the league. Atlanta remains way, way behind - but so too is Phoenix. That kind of poor defense is going to be difficult for the Mercury to overcome and is unexpected with the team playing less smallball this season. San Antonio's defense really picked up last week in wins over the Storm and especially the offense-poor Fever.

How about the standings based on point differential, shown in expected wins over a 34-game season.
Team          ExpW    Team          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
Los Angeles 23.0 Connecticut 23.8
Minnesota 21.3 Detroit 23.1
San Antonio 18.3 Indiana 20.4
Seattle 17.6 Chicago 19.8
Sacramento 12.9 New York 18.2
Phoenix 12.8 Washington 11.2
Houston 11.8 Atlanta 1.9
Both conferences are fairly tight at the top with a gap. In the West, that's after fourth place. In the East, five teams are in serious contention for four playoff spots. Congrats to Atlanta, which finally is projected to actual wins over the course of the season.

We'll wrap it up with a look at the individual leaders in John Hollinger's PER rating.
Player              Tm   PER
Lindsay Whalen CON 28.0
Candice Wiggins MIN 26.1
Diana Taurasi PHO 25.9
Lauren Jackson SEA 25.7
Cappie Pondexter PHO 25.2
Sophia Young SAS 25.2
Sylvia Fowles CHI 25.0
Lisa Leslie LAS 24.0
Candace Parker LAS 23.9
Tiffany Jackson NYL 23.7
Whalen remains the league's early leader in PER, though I think that went down last night as Tanisha Wright blanketed her defensively. Wiggins has proven tremendous at getting to the free-throw line, attempting a league-high 68 free throws (Swin Cash, before last night, was second with 67. She does benefit from the Storm playing so many games so far).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Santos, Brazil Into Olympics

The very last spot in the 2008 Beijing Olympics women's basketball competition was claimed Sunday by Brazil, which earned it with a 72-67 victory over Cuba in the finals of the FIBA Olympics Qualifying Tournament. It took a late comeback for Brazil, which trailed 61-56 inside the final five minutes before going on a 13-4 run to claim the lead for good.

Storm center Kelly Santos, headed to her third straight Olympics having won Bronze in Sydney in 2000, scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 30 minutes of action. She finished the tournament having averaged 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, shooting 48.7 percent from the field and a solid 81.2 percent from the free-throw line.

Santos joins Storm teammates Sue Bird (USA) and Lauren Jackson in the August Olympic Games.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Brazil Into Finals

Kelly Santos and the Brazilian National Team dominated an overmatched Angola squad 75-58 in Saturday's semifinals of the FIBA Olympics Qualifying Tournament. Brazil led 28-8 after one quarter. Thereafter, the goal became resting for tomorrow's winner-take-all final matchup with Cuba. No Brazilian player saw more htan 24 minutes of action. Santos was limited to 14, in which she scored 10 points and grabbed three rebounds.

Tomorrow's matchup should be a terrific one. Everything is on the line with the winner moving on the Olympics and the loser finished with major international play until the 2010 World Championships.

Brazil has the greater international tradition in women's basketball, but Cuba has really surged the last couple of years. In addition to putting a scare in the U.S. in last year's FIBA Americas Championships, Cuba's claim to fame is beating this same Brazil team in the semifinals of that tournament. Now Brazil will be without star forward Iziane Castro Marques. Can they overcame that to make it to the Olympics? We'll find out tomorrow.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Brazil Falls; Izi Out?

Stunning news from Madrid today as Brazil attempted to qualify for the Olympics. In the all-important quarterfinals of the FIBA Olympics Qualifying Tournament, Brazil fell 86-79 to a less-heralded Belarus squad. More surprising is this: According to's recap of the game, former Storm forward Iziane Castro Marques refused to play in the second half after arguing with Brazil Head Coach Paulo Bassul.

"I don’t have anyway out, Bassul said. "As a leader, I have to make difficult decisions. She didn’t say no just to me, but the group and the country.

"I don’t know about the future."

Trailing 35-28 at the break, Brazil rallied without Castro Marques, who has been the team's star player. Brazil led 72-70 in the closing seconds only to allow Belarus to the free-throw line twice, tying the game and sending it to OT. Belarus dominated the extra session, outscoring Brazil 14-7.

Storm center Kelly Santos led the Brazilians with nine rebounds but was unable to find the touch from the field, scoring six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Karla DeCosta stepped up to fill the void left by the absence of Castro Marques, who scored 12 of Brazil's 28 first-half points. DeCosta finished with a game-high 22 points.

The unusual nature of this tournament is that the four quarterfinals winners (all European sides - Belarus, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Spain) are done. They've qualified for the Olympics and go home. The semifinals pit the four losers against each other, with one last Olympic berth on the line. Brazil will face Angola tomorrow, while Cuba and Japan square off in the other semifinal matchup.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Brazil Tops Spain

In a matchup of two of the top teams in the FIBA Olympics Qualifying Tournament, Brazil eeked out a 71-68 victory over host Spain Wednesday to win Group C and set up a quarterfinals matchup with Belarus.

Brazil and Spain had both clinched quarterfinal berths by beating Fiji, but today's game was still meaningful in terms of matchups. While Brazil will face Group D runner-up Belarus, Spain will have to take on Group D winner Cuba.

Brazil led most of the way, but Spain got within one in the closing seconds after a three-pointer by Anna Montanana. After Iziane Castro Marques knocked down a pair of free throws, the Brazilians intentionally fouled, eventually putting Amaya Valdemoro on the line with under four seconds remaining. She accidentally made her second shot and, after two more Brazil free throws, Spain got only a desperation attempt at a tie.

Storm center Kelly Santos scored 10 points for Brazil, struggling from the field (2-of-8 shooting) but making all six of her free-throw attempts. Santos pulled down four rebounds. Castro Marques led the Brazilians by scoring 18 points.

Quarterfinals will take place on Friday, and if Brazil defeats Belarus, that will secure a spot in this summer's Olympics. The losers of the four quarterfinal games will play on with one last Olympic berth on the line.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Phoenix Duo Challenges Storm Defense

The Seattle Storm practiced Tuesday at The Furtado Center knowing that a challenge awaits them tomorrow night at KeyArena (7:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW, TIX). The Storm will host the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA's highest-scoring duo, guard Cappie Pondexter and forward Diana Taurasi. Pondexter and Taurasi rank first and second in the league, respectively, in scoring, combining to average an even 50 points per game. No other team in the league has three players combining to average 50 a night.

"I don't know who's got a better duo than Phoenix," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "Knowing both of those individuals personally, I know what kind of competitors they are. Coaching against them for a period of time, I understand how difficult it is to guard them. You can't ask one person or two people to guard them one-on-one. It's got to be more of a team activity."

Between them, Pondexter and Taurasi scored 44 points when the Storm won in Phoenix last month, but the Storm controlled them in the second half. In particular, reserve Tanisha Wright blanketed Pondexter, who struggled down the stretch. Pondexter and Taurasi shot 17-of-40 from the field and showed signs of fatigue, having both recently returned from overseas.

"(Tanisha) played a big role in us coming back there," Agler said. "She did a good job defensively. She was fresh at the end of the game - I think they were a little tired at the end. They're going to be better conditioned now."

One unusual factor: Tomorrow is Taurasi's 26th birthday. After the game, she'll celebrate with good friends and overseas teammates Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. During it, the Storm hopes she doesn't have a big game like Katie Smith did on her birthday last Wednesday in Detroit, when she scored 33 points and blew out 34 candles.

"Dee's only 26," joked Bird, "so that might be her average."

- In Saturday's impressive Storm win over Detroit, center Yolanda Griffith continued to have problems with foul trouble, picking up two fouls in the first quarter and finishing with five personals for the fourth straight game.

"I'm not even thinking about it because we're winning and if I sit here and complain about the fouls, then I'm playing into their hands and I'm not," Griffith said. "When my team needs me, I step it up and play the defense I need to play. We keep moving.

"I'm looking at videotape and we sent them a lot of tapes on the fouls that they have called and I'm not going to worry about it. I see a lot of the things that they're calling on me are happening with other players and they're not calling it. It's not consistent, so I can't worry about it. The only thing I can do is, when I get my minutes to play, do what I've got to do to help this team."

While the fouls have cut into Griffith's early playing time, she's played 51 minutes the last two games against Detroit, near the upper limit of what she would play even if fouls were not an issue. Fouls also haven't cut into Griffith's production on the glass. She's averaging 6.6 rebounds per game and 12.2 per 40 minutes, good for sixth in the WNBA.

- Sue Bird was in street clothes and did not practice Tuesday, having undergone the last of a series of three shots of Synvisc, designed to help her knees. Bird was unable to do any strenuous activity today, but will be fine for tomorrow's game. Synvisc has helped Bird in the past.

"The way the doctor explained it in layman's terms it's like putting oil on a rusty doorhinge," she said. " It's for arthritic or pre-arthritic knees, so that's what I've got and I've got to deal with it. It's nothing harmful. It's not permanent. It lasts anywhere from 3-6 months. I've done it before - I did it when the WNBA season ended last year. I had really good results. You move freer and it's really helpful, so it's something that coming into this season I wanted to do again."

Forward Swin Cash also missed part of Tuesday's practice.

"Swin's gone through a series of medical things for her back," Agler said, "but she'll be back full go tomorrow."

Watching the W: Lynx-Sun

I hope you caught a great game tonight on ESPN2's WNBA Tuesday. The Minnesota Lynx hosted the Connecticut Sun in a matchup of the leaders in the two conferences on the heels of the Sun handing the Lynx their first loss last Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Minnesota seemed well on its way to evening the season series when I started watching at halftime. However, Connecticut dominated the second half, outscoring the Lynx 47-29 after halftime to steal the game. The key player was former Storm forward Barbara Turner, who scored 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting and came up with several timely buckets to hold Minnesota at bay down the stretch.

It's good to see Turner, always a favorite during her time in Seattle, making good on her potential with the Sun. During the game, ESPN2 broadcasters Pam Ward and Carolyn Peck gave credit for Turner's development to her reuniting during the off-season with John Lucas. Turner had worked with Lucas when he was the head coach of the Cavaliers and she was growing up in Cleveland. Now Lucas trains NBA players in Houston, and Turner worked with them. She's improved her three-point shot, which has opened up her game, and is better at creating off the dribble.

It was only one game, but I was disappointed with a Minnesota offense that came into the game as far and away the league's most efficient on a per-possession basis. The Lynx shot 33.3% from the field in this game, and while Connecticut deserves credit, Minnesota's shot selection left much to be desired. It is obvious how the rookies have helped the Lynx, however. I'm inclined to believe that even if they can't keep up this pace, they'll be a threat all year long.

For more on the game, might I suggest checking out The Horton Report and our old friend Alan Horton?

Santos, Brazil Rout Fiji

The FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women kicked off yesterday, but Brazil had the day off. Today, Brazil got an easy warmup by playing Fiji. Your final: Brazil 125, Fiji 45. Even in the fourth quarter, with the outcome already long decided, Fiji managed just four points. Ouch.

As for Storm center Kelly Santos, she had 15 points in 20 minutes, shooting 7-of-8 from the field and pulling down eight rebounds. Former Storm forward Iziane Castro Marques led the Brazilians, scoring 28 points in 20 minutes and knocking down six three-pointers.

The competition gets serious tomorrow, when Brazil will play Spain to decide the winner of Group C. Both teams are through to the quarterfinals, but the winner of tomorrow's game will get a more favorable matchup against the runner-up from Group D (the winner of Belarus-Taiwan) instead of Group D champion Cuba. Cuba beat Brazil in the semifinals of last year's FIBA Americas Championship.

Monday, June 9, 2008

WNBA Stats Update

Scary thought: By the end of this week, the Storm will be more than a third of the way through the 2008 campaign. The Storm and the Detroit Shock are the only teams in the league who have played nine games (three of them are sitting on six games so far), but this season is moving right along. Let's check in on the advanced numbers, shall we?

Team          ORating     Team          DRating
--------------------- ---------------------
Minnesota 110.7 Indiana 83.8
Connecticut 104.4 Los Angeles 91.0
Phoenix 104.4 Detroit 93.4
Chicago 104.1 Connecticut 94.5
Detroit 101.6 Seattle 96.3
Seattle 98.8 New York 97.1
AVERAGE 98.3 Chicago 97.4
Los Angeles 97.3 San Antonio 98.0
New York 97.2 AVERAGE 98.3
San Antonio 94.5 Minnesota 98.4
Houston 92.9 Sacramento 100.0
Washington 92.6 Washington 100.7
Sacramento 92.6 Houston 102.6
Indiana 92.6 Phoenix 108.4
Atlanta 91.6 Atlanta 115.1
It's not too early to begin discussing where the Indiana Fever ranks amongst the best defenses in WNBA history. It's also not too early to consider whether the Atlanta Dream is the worst defense this league has ever seen. Yikes! The Minnesota Lynx offense shows no signs of slowing, while it is the Connecticut Sun of all teams that has the league's best balance, ranking in the top four in both offense and defense.

How about the standings based on point differential and expected wins over the course of the 34-game season?

Team          ExpW    Team          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
Minnesota 25.3 Connecticut 25.0
Los Angeles 22.2 Indiana 24.3
Seattle 18.6 Detroit 24.1
San Antonio 14.8 Chicago 21.3
Phoenix 14.4 New York 17.8
Sacramento 11.2 Washington 9.2
Houston 10.0 Atlanta 0.0
Despite losing their first game, the Lynx remain the WNBA's best team in terms of differential. Indiana deserves great credit for playing so well without Tamika Catchings. The big surprise to me, however, is that the East has been so much stronger than the West in the early going ... although it probably doesn't hurt to get to play the Dream so frequently. Consecutive victories over Atlanta by a combined 35 points did wonders for Chicago's differential.

Let's look at the individuals.

Player              Tm   PER
Lindsay Whalen CON 30.0
Sophia Young SAS 26.6
Cappie Pondexter PHO 26.3
Lauren Jackson SEA 25.7
Diana Taurasi PHO 25.1
Seimone Augustus MIN 25.1
Candace Parker LAS 25.0
Sylvia Fowles CHI 24.7
Tiffany Jackson NYL 24.4
Plenette Pierson DET 24.1
How about some love for Lindsay Whalen? Whalen is, by my measure, the best passer in the league (just ahead of New York's rookie surprise, Leilani Mitchell). She's also pulling down nearly six rebounds per game from the point and shooting over 50% from the field. Can we get her a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team?

The combination of a strong week and several other players dropping off has Lauren Jackson up to fourth in the league in PER. That probably won't be where she tops out.

Can we quiet the Candace Parker for MVP talk a little? Parker is terrific, and it's a matter of when, not if she gets her first WNBA triple-double. However, Parker's efficiency leaves much to be desired at this point of her young career.

Most of the surprising players have dropped off a little lately, but New York's Tiffany Jackson has surged. Per 40 minutes, she's averaging 18.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday Notebook

- Wednesday was Storm forward Swin Cash's anticipated first trip back to Detroit since she was traded by the Shock to Seattle in February. Cash had 10 points in the Storm's loss.

"I thought it was fine," Cash said of the reaction she got from fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills. "They cheered when my name was called, but after the tip went up, obviously you expect them to be cheering for their team. I saw a lot of fans that had been fans of mine for a long time there. At the end of the day, it was just basketball."

After the game, Cash told reporters she had nearly gone to the wrong locker room when she had arrived with the Storm. On the court, her experience proved a plus because she knew exactly what her former Detroit teammates were doing.

"It was funny," she said. "They would call a play and I'm out there on the floor trying to yell it to our team because I knew what was coming."

The two teams play again tomorrow at KeyArena (7:00 p.m., FSN, 1150 AM KKNW, TIX), completing the regular-season series.

- Foul trouble has become a recurring issue for Storm center Yolanda Griffith. Starting with the Storm's May 24 loss at San Antonio, when Griffith fouled out in 21 minutes, she has averaged five fouls per game - including precisely five in the team's last three games. Early foul trouble has limited Griffith's minutes.

"I think officials are really watching her," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "She's been in the league for 12 years now. Other coaches complain about how she plays and they call the league offense and I don't think she gets a lot of the benefit of the doubt, in all honesty. At the same time, there's some things she can clean up to help herself. We'll talk about that."

- Storm rookie Kimberly Beck watched practice from the sidelines in street clothes.

"Yesterday on the bus, her eye was really bothering her," explained Agler. "We traveled all day, so we didn't get a chance to get it looked at yesterday. She went to the doctor this morning. They think she has some kind of virus, so they had to put some ointment in there."

Agler said the Storm would see tomorrow how Beck feels before determining her status for the game. Beck scored her first WNBA basket in Detroit, knocking down a key three-pointer during the third quarter.

Ashley Robinson also sat out late in practice with ice on her right Achilles, which bothered her to some extent. Robinson went through most of the practice.

Buddy Blog Returns

Word on the street had it Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi would not be blogging again for as they did last season with hilarious results. Fortunately, that's proven to be untrue, with the first instalmments from the long-time teammates and close friends posted today.

Here's DT on next week's upcoming Storm-Mercury tilt:

We have a big game tonight against the Sparks, but after that, we're headed up to Seattle for another matchup on June 11, which just so happens to be my birthday. So we'll get after it on the court for 40 minutes, then we'll go celebrate my 26th a little bit and have a good time in Sea-town.

You know we're coming for you on the court. But after that, just pick a good restaurant and make sure my present has diamonds on it. See you soon!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Storm at T-Mobile Coverage Jam

Laura Sgrecci/Storm Photos

Storm and WNBA partner T-Mobile held its annual "T-Mobile Coverage Jam" Thursday at T-Mobile USA headquarters in Factoria. Led by Cole Brodman Chief Technology and Innovation Officer and Neville Ray, SVP of Engineering & Operations, the Coverage Jam is a business update meeting that also includes a basketball tournament for all employees.

Helping out with the event were Storm forward Shyra Ely, who interned in the Marketing/Sponsorships department for T-Mobile last off-season, 1150 AM KKNW play-by-play broadcaster Dick Fain and Doppler.

Ely helped out with some honorary coaching duties, while Fain called the action on the floor and Doppler provided entertainment.

Despite the June Seattle drizzle, the Storm helped make it a special event for T-Mobile employees.

Monday, June 2, 2008

WNBA Numbers Update

Two full weeks into the 2008 WNBA season, the advanced statistics have settled down ... slightly. With the Minnesota Lynx as the league's last undefeated team at 4-0, there are still some surprises.

Let's look first at the per-possession numbers on offense and defense.

Team          ORating     Team          DRating
--------------------- ---------------------
Minnesota 111.6 Indiana 81.6
Connecticut 104.2 Los Angeles 86.2
Detroit 100.0 Detroit 91.3
Phoenix 100.0 Connecticut 92.3
Seattle 99.5 Seattle 93.5
Chicago 98.7 AVERAGE 96.5
AVERAGE 96.5 Minnesota 96.6
Los Angeles 96.4 Washington 97.4
San Antonio 96.0 Sacramento 98.3
New York 92.9 New York 98.8
Sacramento 91.8 Chicago 99.4
Washington 90.2 San Antonio 99.5
Houston 89.9 Houston 102.0
Indiana 89.9 Phoenix 108.9
Atlanta 88.8 Atlanta 115.0
Two teams in the league are playing games unlike anyone else at one end of the floor. The Minnesota Lynx are in a league of their own on offense, while the Indiana Fever has been otherworldly at the defensive end of the floor even without former Defensive Player of the Year Tamika Catchings.

I was surprised to see the Storm come out so balanced; it certainly feels like the team has been much better at the defensive end of the floor than the offensive end so far, though that might have something to do with the team's slow pace.

So far, the Los Angeles Sparks have been way overrated on offense but underrated on defense. I doubt that will continue to be so extreme the rest of the season, but that actually doesn't surprise me that much. The Sparks backcourt doesn't offer a lot of shooting, and the team's length is going to be very hard for opposing teams to combat.

How about the projected standings as based on point differential, converted to expected wins over the course of the 34-game season.

Team          ExpW    Team          ExpW
------------------ ------------------
Minnesota 27.4 Connecticut 26.0
Los Angeles 25.7 Detroit 24.7
Seattle 22.4 Indiana 23.7
San Antonio 14.2 Chicago 15.9
Sacramento 10.5 New York 14.2
Phoenix 10.0 Washington 9.8
Houston 8.9 Atlanta 0.0
Three elite teams and then a drop-off in both conferences. Though Houston and Phoenix are winless, both have been very competitive (losing by a combined five points to the Storm) and should put one in the win column soon. For an alternative advanced look at rating teams, check out commenter Petrel's effort to recreate John Hollinger's power ratings at the RebKell boards.

Last but surely not least, let's take a look at the individual leaders in Hollinger's PER rating.

Player              Tm   PER
Sophia Young SAS 32.6
Lindsay Whalen CON 31.4
Sylvia Fowles CHI 28.4
Plenette Pierson DET 27.7
Candice Dupree CHI 27.5
Charde Houston MIN 27.0
Nicky Anosike MIN 26.5
Candace Parker LAS 26.3
Erika DeSouza ATL 26.2
Cappie Pondexter PHO 26.0
It's early, of course, but still a lot of surprising names remain in the top 10. How about the performance of rookies around the league so far? Three of them rate in the top 10, while Essence Carson (23.2), Candice Wiggins (22.4), Alexis Hornbuckle (21.6) and Erlana Larkins (20.6) are all playing at a high level.

The Storm's leader in PER is Swin Cash (25.5), who ranks 12th in the league.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

National Team News

The news out of Storm camp the last two days has all been about national teams and the upcoming Olympics. Yesterday, Sue Bird was one of nine players named to the U.S. Olympic Team. has plenty of coverage, including a Q&A with Bird. The site also has some quotes from yesterday's press conference to announce the team, which included Head Coach Anne Donovan.

There are three more players to be chosen for the team, announcements USA Basketball said yesterday are expected by July 1.

"We still have three more players to add to the team," said Renee Brown, chair of the selection committee, in yesterday's release, "and we’re hoping to add a tough defensive stopper on the perimeter who can also score for us, as well as at least another post player."

Storm forward Swin Cash could figure into the mix for those last three spots, having played extensively for the U.S. National Team over the winter and spring. Cash could be that defensive player the committee is looking for, though the first choice for that position is likely to be Tamika Catchings should the Indiana Fever's All-Star forward return from her torn Achilles soon enough to convince USA Basketball she is healthy and ready to go for Beijing.

Today came the news that center Kelly Santos has joined her Brazilian National Team. Why now? Brazil has yet to qualify for the Olympics and will be taking part in the inaugural FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women in Madrid, Spain from June 9-15. The last five spots in the Olympics will be on the line in Madrid, and Brazil has to be considered amongst the favorites in a field that also includes the likes of Cuba, the Czech Republic and Spain.