Aaron Last/Storm Photos
Bird Returns to Revamped Storm
The Seattle Storm team that point guard Sue Bird returned to Tuesday was very different from the one she left last August at season's end. Having completed her season in Russia, Bird practiced for the first time with a new head coach and three new All-Star teammates as starters.
"I'm very excited about it," she said afterwards. "You look at our team, it's All-Star-studded, champions, Olympians, you name it. Once Lauren (Jackson) gets here, we'll finally be complete and able to start working towards winning a championship."
The changes around Bird mean that she will take on a slightly different role this season. New Storm Head Coach Brian Agler has reiterated the theme of putting players in position to make use of their talent. As an assistant coach last season in San Antonio, Agler helped Silver Stars point guard Becky Hammon post the best season of her WNBA career and emerge as an MVP candidate. While Bird's mentality is to think pass first much more than Hammon, especially when surrounded by so much talent, Agler wants to see her become more aggressive in looking for her shot and attacking in transition.
"And then keeping the ball in her hands more, especially in transition. She's a great player; we want the ball in her hands more. See if she can get in the lane and be creative that way."
While playing overseas, Bird has tended to set up teammates before looking for her own shot. This season, she was more of a scoring threat playing with Jackson in Russia for Spartak. In Spartak's Finals victory over rival CSKA Moscow, Bird averaged 15.5 points per game and was nearly automatic from three-point range, shooting 11-of-16 (68.8%) from downtown in the series and 62.5% overall from the field.
Agler also wants Bird to step up her game at the defensive end of the floor, never considered her forte. Bird is an exceptional transition defender, using her instincts to play the passing lanes and frustrate opposing fast breaks, but has not been as effective defending in the half-court. Agler sees the ability to do more.
"People keep telling me she can't guard people, but I think she can," he said. "We're going to challenge her to do that. I saw her do that in Russia, and that's going to be our expectations here."
In her first practice under Agler, Bird quickly saw the differences between his system and the one that became so familiar during Anne Donovan's five seasons in Seattle.
"The way we're going to play our defense, the way our offense is going to run, the things we're looking at, it's totally different," Bird said. "Practice is different. Five years under the same coach, the same system - it's an adjustment to switch, but I really like the things Brian has going.
"It's a very equal-opportunity offense. It's going to make it hard for teams to double-team Lauren, because anybody can do anything at any moment. To be honest, you're going to see things and half the time we won't know what we're doing. But it's going to work out because there's a lot of movement. Similarly on defense, some of the philosophies are a little different."
As the point guard, Bird needs to master Agler's offense, which makes her late arrival in camp somewhat challenging. She did what she could to learn ahead of time, requesting and getting playcalls to study while playing in Russia.
"We have a lot of different actions, I guess is the word that he uses, and it's just about putting them together," explained Bird. "There's a name for every movement, and it's putting all the movements together and calling them out. I looked at them a little bit, but it's hard to get things on paper. I went over them yesterday when I came in and I feel, actually, pretty good. It's just a matter of putting them together. That's where it gets tricky."
From Agler's perspective, getting Bird up to speed in his offense, "Didn't take long at all. We came out yesterday and walked through some things and she picks things up probably as quickly as anyone I've ever been around. I think it's going to be a matter of her getting used to playing with the other people on the team more than picking up the offense."
WINDS OF CHANGE:
"It's very comfortable," Bird said Bird of her new teammates. "I feel very comfortable already on this team. They're very vocal, which is great. It's nice to have some veterans around. Hopefully the transition can be easy."
Having so many veteran teammates also changes Bird's role in terms of leadership. Never entirely comfortable as a vocal leader off the floor, Bird welcomes the additional voices while retaining her role as the leader on the court at the point.
"To be honest, let them be vocal," she said. "That's cool by me. When we're on the court, to use the football analogy, I'm definitely the quarterback. When it comes to telling people where to go and what not, that's probably my job. If people want to be vocal, the more the merrier. Once we figure out how everybody fits in and how that's going to work, I don't see it being a problem. If anything, it's going to be a huge plus."
Over in Russia, Bird and Jackson watched from afar as the Storm's busy off-season unfolded, Agler making sure to keep them in the loop.
"Brian's done a really good job of involving us," said Bird. "Just little things like, 'Hey, we might get Swin in a trade.' OK. 'Hey, we're looking to sign Sheryl - text her.' Alright. With Yolanda, it was like, 'Give me her number. I want to text her and make sure she knows we want her here.'
"Every step of the way, I kind of knew that things were in the making. So I feel like I had some hand in - no, I had no part at all, but it's very nice to have these women here."