Storm's Bench Battles Through Injuries

With a young starting lineup headlined by All-Stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, the Seattle Storm knew it had a solid foundation for long-term success at the end of last season. To get deeper into the playoffs, however, the Storm also knew it was going to have to upgrade the supporting cast for that starting five. Despite the successful mid-season addition of wing Kate Starbird, the Storm’s bench struggled in the Storm’s two-game sweeps at the hands of the eventual champion Los Angeles Sparks, totaling 24 points but making just six of 24 field-goal attempts.

Burras has shown flashes of her ability to score down low, but injuries have hurt her consistency.
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Nine months later, when the Storm opened its 2003 campaign at Houston, just one of the six players on the bench against Los Angeles, center Simone Edwards, was still on the roster. In place of the others were four new faces and small forward Amanda Lassiter, a starter in 2002. The Storm’s new bench has been up and down this season, but ultimately has given the team more depth as it makes its way towards a possible second straight playoff appearance.

The demise of the Portland Fire and the Miami Sol afforded the Storm an easy opportunity to add reserve depth. In the Dispersal Draft, the team selected Fire center Alisa Burras to add size and shooting ability to the frontcourt. Burras’ former teammate, guard Tully Bevilaqua, went unselected in the Dispersal Draft, allowing the Storm to add her as an unrestricted free agent. A day after the Dispersal Draft, Seattle selected Korean forward Jung Sun-Min in the Amateur Draft. The bench was not completed until days before the Storm’s opener, when veteran guard Rita Williams was acquired from the Houston Comets in exchange for a third-round pick in next year’s draft.

For all the acquisitions Storm General Manager Billy McKinney made to upgrade the bench, perhaps his biggest was not a player at all but Coach Anne Donovan. Former Coach Lin Dunn was notorious for her inconsistent usage of her reserves, which was how guard Jamie Redd could go from on the injured list to top reserve guard to out of the rotation in a ten-day span last season. In contrast, Donovan has generally stuck with a ten-player rotation this season. Edwards believes the change has been for the better. “Now it’s a set starting lineup and a set bench, so the roles are more clear” Edwards says. “Because the roles are more clear, the bench is stepping up a little more than last year.”

While the size of the rotation has generally stayed consistent, the names have not always been the same – not by Donovan’s choice or any of her players’ – as injuries are beginning to take their toll on the Storm’s reserves. Lassiter was promoted to the starting lineup following Adia Barnes’ season-ending knee injury, a void that Donovan has filled with a pair of free agent acquisitions, Mactabene Amachree and Tonya Massaline, who has impressed so much that she was signed for the remainder of the season last week. Now, another top Storm reserve is moving into the starting lineup, with Edwards replacing Kamila Vodichkova after Vodichkova was placed on the injured list yesterday with a sprained left foot. Vodichkova is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season. Donovan still thinks her bench has enough depth to get the job done. “As you go down the stretch, you’re counting on your starters and your top six players to carry you, but it sure helps to have one or two people to come in and give you a blow” she says. “Rita Williams will do that. We’ve got to find a post player who can give Lauren and Simone some rest.”

The obvious candidate to fill that spot is Burras, who has had a difficult first season in Seattle. During 2002, Burras emerged as the Fire’s starting center thanks to her uncanny shooting accuracy. She shot 62.9% from the field last year, the best mark in league history, while also contributing on the boards. But since opening the season as the Storm’s starting center while Vodichkova worked her way into the lineup after returning late from the Czech Republic, knee problems have kept Burras from showing her ability in more than flashes. Little more than a week after putting together consecutive double-digit scoring efforts off the bench, Burras went on the injured list in early July. “It has been kinda frustrating with the injuries I’ve had,” Burras says. “I was coming in, playing well, and then the injury came and not playing was very frustrating.” In Vodichkova’s absence, Burras has a chance to finish her season strong if she can provide the kind of impact she did last Friday in the Storm’s 68-65 victory over Minnesota, when she scored six points in 11 minutes on three of three shooting and exploited the Lynx’s double-teams on Jackson. “When they double-team Lauren, that opens it up for your guards or for your posts, so I have to change their defense,” Burras says. “I think it’s really important that the other post we have in there helps Lauren out.”

Jung will see more action down the stretch.
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The two constants on the bench have been Williams and Bevilaqua, who share backup point guard duties while also seeing action at the other guard position. With starting two-guard Sandy Brondello slumping recently, Williams has seen her role increased. She played 19 minutes against the Sparks on Aug. 7, scoring a season-high nine points, and followed that up with five points in 16 minutes against Minnesota – including a clutch score inside the final minute and a free throw to seal the Storm’s victory. “Each team is different, each coach is different, each system is different,” Williams said earlier this season. “I’m just trying to find my place in the system and flourish in it.” Lately, she’s been doing just that, building on the confidence Donovan gained in here when the two teamed up in Indiana.

Though she has been used less this season than any other regular member of the bench, Jung is coming on as her rookie season nears its conclusion. After Wednesday’s practice, Donovan expressed her confidence in her first-round draft pick. “We picked a great person for our situation,” Donovan said. “I feel right now – I’m glad to have her, because I think she’s going to come in handy. She’s somebody who can play the three, right now will play the four, and can do some of the things offensively that Kamila did for us.” Adjusting to a new country, a new league and a new position has made Jung’s transition difficult, but she now appears ready to contribute. Jung played extensively down the stretch against San Antonio with Vodichkova out, drawing a pair of charges and scoring an important basket. Donovan was pleased with how she played, saying, “I really felt good about her last night. She gave us great minutes defensively.”

While the Storm’s new-look bench has been successful so far despite the injuries, its ultimate test will come in the regular season’s final six games and, if the Storm makes it that far, the playoffs. The performance of the team’s reserves, particularly if Vodichkova remains sidelined, will go a long ways towards determining whether the Storm’s 2003 season is viewed as a success or not.