Barnes Breaks Out

On the Seattle Storm’s second possession of a 78-51 victory over the Indiana Fever on June 10, guard Sue Bird drove the left side of the lane. When the inevitable double-team came, Storm forward Adia Barnes was left open from three-point range. Bird found Barnes, who swished the open shot to give her team a 3-2 lead. The play was simple enough. Textbook basketball, perhaps apropos of a player the WNBA’s PR department deemed “Miss Average” for the 2003 season.

To those who followed the Storm last season, however, the play illustrated a key reason why this year’s team could be even better than last year’s 17-15 Seattle team that earned the Storm’s first-ever playoff berth. The reason is the development of Barnes. A year ago, Barnes played 493 minutes and started 17 games, plus two more in the playoffs, for the Storm largely on the strength of her defense and rebounding from the perimeter. On offense, Barnes was largely a non-factor, averaging just 3.5 points per game and shooting 33.3% from the field. Barnes made just one three-pointer in 26 games.

Barnes has been an asset at both ends of the court this season
It was quickly evident that this season would be different for Barnes as the Storm opened training camp with new Coach Anne Donovan. Barnes was hitting from the perimeter, which in turn forced defenders to check her more tightly, giving her room to drive to the basket. As a result of her strong play in training camp, Barnes was the Storm’s starting small forward in their preseason opener against the Sacramento Monarchs. She has yet to relinquish the position, and Barnes explains, “It was never said (that I was the starter), it was how we played into (a starting lineup), finding a group that can work well together.”

Despite Barnes’ preseason performance, the naysayers, as they are wont to do, naysayed, contending that what was important was how Barnes played when the games counted. It was true that Barnes had a strong 2002 preseason, earning herself a spot on the team as an allocated free agent. This time, the improvement carried over. Count Donovan amongst the new believers in Barnes’ offense. “From what I understand of her history, she’s done well with that in training camp, but then it doesn’t always translate into gametime” Donovan said after a recent Storm practice. “She’s been outstanding in games. Taking the right shot, the open shot, taking it with confidence and knocking it down.”

A glance at the statistics six games into the season confirms that we’re seeing a different Barnes. Already, she’s hit for two three-pointers – one more than she hit all of last season - in three different games. Overall, Barnes has made seven of 11 three-point attempts, placing her first on the Storm in percentage (and fourth in the WNBA) and third in threes made.

Barnes’ development has changed the way other teams defend the Storm. “I know as an opposing coach, in years past you just didn’t guard Adia,” Donovan says. “You could sag off her and emphasize on Lauren (Jackson) or Sue or somebody else. This year she’s too much of a threat to do that.” Barnes herself has made the same observation. “My man last year sat on Lauren, so I put a lot more pressure on her,” she says. “By me making shots and Sandy (Brondello) making shots, it’s opening other things up.”

With Barnes shooting well from the perimeter and Brondello at shooting guard, the Storm has five players who can legitimately score in its starting five. No longer is the team quite so dependent on the duo of Jackson and Bird. Indeed, with Bird’s shot affected by chondromalacia in her left knee the last three games (she’s made just five of 23 shots in that span), the team has played well, winning all three by an average of 13.3 points per game. Jackson has scored at least 20 points in all three games, Brondello and Vodichkova have been in double-figures in each. As for Barnes? She was critical in the Storm’s 70-56 victory over the Sacramento Monarchs on June 3. A pair of Barnes three-pointers, one from each side of the court, sparked a 14-0 run that put the Storm in command of the game.

Barnes’ performance this season has borne more resemblance to what she did as a rookie with the Sacramento Monarchs during the 1998 season than anything since. As a 21-year-old rookie, Barnes started 16 games for the Monarchs, averaging 7.6 points per game and making 14 three-pointers. After being drafted by the Minnesota Lynx in the 1999 Expansion Draft, Barnes was unable to find a similar comfort zone before coming to Seattle. After one season in Minnesota where she played just 91 minutes, Barnes was traded to the Phoenix Mercury. She never played a game with the Mercury before being released prior to the 2000 season, catching on with the Cleveland Rockers mid-year. After three more games with the Rockers the following season, Barnes was released again, her career at a crossroads.

Opponents have to worry about Barnes on the perimeter, as she’s shooting 63.6% from three-point range
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
Seattle turned out to be a perfect fit. The Storm was in need of a quality defender for the mid-sized players between Jackson and point guard Sonja Henning. Barnes filled the need, regularly covering the opposition’s top scorer almost regardless of position after Henning was traded to Houston. Barnes played both forward positions before ending the regular season in the starting lineup at shooting guard as the Storm won its way into the playoffs. Along the way, Barnes defended players as big as former Mercury forward Jennifer Gillom, to whom she gives up four inches. It was nothing new for Barnes, who played in the paint as a power forward at the University of Arizona.

Despite her strong season, Barnes’ position in the starting lineup was anything but guaranteed entering training camp, especially with the Storm adding wings Brondello, Stacey Thomas and rookie Jung Sun-Min. “A lot of that stuff just wasn’t in my control,” Barnes says. “I think the main thing was making the team better, and we brought in some additions that definitely made the team better.” Brondello’s addition moved Barnes from shooting guard to her more natural small forward, but she remained in the starting lineup. By beating out strong competitors, Barnes only enhanced her lock on a starting position. Additionally, Barnes’ offensive contributions allow the coaching staff to better utilize her defensive and rebounding skills. “You’re not playing her at one end of the floor,” Donovan says. “She’s a very good defensive player, rebounds the ball very well from the perimeter for us. Now that she knocks shots down, she plays at both ends of the floor and really contributes.”

So how, despite all of Barnes’ obvious talents, did she come to be named “Miss Average”? Fortunately for Barnes, the WNBA believes her average in physical attributes only. The league’s PR department annually calculates league averages for height, weight, age and experience based on opening-day rosters. Barnes, who checks in at 5-11, 165 and has five years of experience at age 26. Asked to describe her response to the honor, Barnes is genuinely stumped, though amused. “I’ve never really considered myself average,” she responds. The comment is not a boast, but simply the well-earned self-confidence of a player who has seen the ups and downs of WNBA life and knows she’s doing well now. Almost as well as her three-point shot.