Bevilaqua’s Pluses Outweigh Her Minuses

At a glance, Seattle Storm reserve point guard Tully Bevilaqua's statistics are unimposing. Last season, Bevilaqua averaged 1.9 points and 1.0 assists per game, albeit in limited playing time. In one statistical category, however, Bevilaqua looked like an All-Star. Bevilaqua's plus-minus rating - the amount by which the Storm outscores its opponents or is outscored with a particular player in the game - was tops on the Storm on a per-minute basis (9.4 per 40 minutes), better than those of MVP Lauren Jackson (4.3) and the All-Star Bevilaqua backed up, Sue Bird (3.3). (Complete plus-minus ratings)

That definitely means something, but what?

Bevilaqua has always been known for her tenacity on defense.
Jeff Reinking/WNBAE/Getty
"That kind of rating system is hard for me to put stock in, because I think it really depends on lineups more than anything," comments Storm Coach Anne Donovan. "If Tully is in there with four starters, for example - it depends on who she's playing with. That's how I look at it as a coach."

"Obviously it's a good stat to have there," says Bevilaqua herself. "I think it just means that when I go out there, for the few minutes that I'm out there, I need to really increase the tempo and play aggressive defense and hopefully turn the go around by changing the pace of the game. In a few of the games last year, obviously that came about."

Bevilaqua is correct when she refers to a few games. In particular, her excellent plus-minus rating was built up in a couple of games - Jul 31 vs. Charlotte and Aug. 25 vs. Sacramento. Against the Sting, Bevilaqua scored a career-high 14 points in just 12 minutes of action, and that translated into a +23 score for the Storm when she was in the game (-8 when she was on the bench). In the season finale against the Monarchs, Bevilaqua was a +20 when she was in the game, the Storm -7 when she was out.

Without those two games, Bevilaqua's plus-minus rating is more ordinary. On the other hand, how many reserves can essentially be credited with winning their team two games?

Everyone can agree that Bevilaqua's plus-minus rating does not indicate that she should be starting over Bird, or even necessarily playing more minutes. Instead of being evidence of her stardom, what it says is that she did a solid job of doing what she was asked to do - keeping the Storm in the game when Bird was out by picking up the pace of the game.

"While Sue is having a rest, I need to go out there and increase (the pace) and play aggressive defense and filter that around toward the other players that are out there as well," Bevilaqua says.

Donovan, however, was not entirely pleased with Bevilaqua's performance last season. Looking for more consistent production behind Bird, she threw the position into competition at the start of this year's training camp by signing free-agent point guards Stacy Clinesmith and Lindsey Wilson.

"Point guard, we definitely have some issues there that we're still trying to work out," Donovan said at Media Day. "I don't really have a grasp on that."

"You're always being challenged," says Bevilaqua. "I always knew that I was going to have to lift my game if I was wanting to keep my spot on the team."

Bevilaqua has responded to the challenge better than Donovan could ever have hoped, playing some of the best basketball of her career during training camp. Donovan has been consistent recently in her praise for Bevilaqua's performance.

"Tully is, more than ever, showing her value," says Donovan. "I don't think we ever saw Tully at full strength last year, and I'm not sure why. She has come into training camp this year, and she's a different player than she was last year, so by whatever rating system you use, she has really picked it up.

Bevilaqua has had an outstanding training camp.
Jeff Reinking/WNBAE/Getty
"I think if one player on the team has really been impressive from day one, it's Tully."

From her perspective, Bevilaqua agrees with Donovan, feeling that getting to camp on time has helped her dramatically. Last year, Bevilaqua was playing in Hungary and did not return to the US until May 8, just three days before the Storm's first preseason game. In Seattle since prior to the start of this year's camp, Bevilaqua has faced a much shorter adjustment period. She's also in better shape, motivated in part by the competition for her job.

As a result, Bevilaqua has already outlasted Clinesmith and Wilson, who have both been waived by the Storm. That doesn't mean Bevilaqua can get comfortable just yet. Reserve shooting guards Michelle Greco and Rita Williams both are capable of playing the point, and the Storm could also import another point guard who becomes available as other teams make their cuts.

"We felt like Stacy was not going to beat her out of that spot, that's why we let Stacy go," Donovan says. "But we're still working out who the final 12 are going to be. Nothing is set in stone at this point."

Bevilaqua knows better than to relax.

"Camp hasn't finished yet, we've still got another week or so to go, and every day we're still being tested," she says. "You should never think that you have a spot, because if you let up, then someone else is going to step up and show they can do that job just as well."

That result would be a bitter disappointment to Bevilaqua, who never gave a second thought to returning to Seattle for the 2004 season despite the potential impact on her chances of making the Australian Olympic squad - part of the reason former Storm teammate Sandy Brondello remained in Australia instead of rejoining the Storm. Bevilaqua would love to play for the Opals, but her role with the Storm is more important at this point.

"What's been driving me is this enjoyment that I've been getting out of the game the last year or two, and I had an unbelievably great time here in Seattle," Bevilaqua says. "That basically kept me going, because I wanted to come back for this season. I made up my mind a long time ago, even before I was included in the Australian Olympic team, I'd made up my mind that I was definitely coming back to Seattle.

"I know it obviously puts a question mark over my Olympic selection, but I was able to attend a camp before coming over, so I've shown them what I can offer. My plans were always to come back to Seattle. I love playing in the WNBA, it's a great feeling."

That attitude is just one of the many reasons Bevilaqua's pluses outweigh her minuses.