Aussies Add to Storm's Depth

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Kevin Pelton, | February 9, 2011

A strong eight-player rotation with depth on the perimeter and in the post was key to the Seattle Storm's run to the 2010 WNBA championship. By signing two Australian free agents on Wednesday, the Storm went a long way toward ensuring that same kind of bench production for 2011. Guard Erin Phillips and forward Belinda Snell, both WNBA veterans, figure to play key roles for the Storm in the upcoming season.

"I think both Belinda and Erin give us great, quality perimeter players added to our roster," said Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler. "They're going to obviously impact our depth. The reason I say that is because they have great experience both internationally and in our league. They've been former starters in our league. They know the league pretty well. They know the players in our league. I think they'll be able to come in and blend with the core group that we have."

"I think both Belinda and Erin give us great, quality perimeter players added to our roster. They're going to obviously impact our depth."
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

While the Storm has five players from last year's rotation under contract and hopes to complete a new deal for starting forward Swin Cash soon, reserves Svetlana Abrosimova and Jana Veselá will not return because of their commitment to playing for their respective national teams in this summer's EuroBasket competition. For Agler, adding Phillilps and Snell "starts the process" of filling the open spots on the Storm bench.

Like Abrosimova and Veselá, Phillips and Snell bring the ability to shoot from the perimeter and score. Last season, the Storm had five players make at least 20 three-pointers and the entire eight-player rotation had the ability to shoot the ball from long range. That trait is shared by Phillips and Snell. Perimeter marksmanship has always been Snell's calling card. She made 42 three-pointers for San Antonio in 2009, her last full WNBA season. Phillips made 34 threes for Connecticut in 2009 before sitting out last year.

To Agler, having players who can shoot and score coming off the bench is crucial because of the way it opens things up for the rest of the Storm's players.

"I think we want to have people on the floor that can stretch the floor for our opponents' defense," he said. "We found that when we can do that, we have the ability for people like Tanisha (Wright) and Camille (Little) and Swin (Cash) and Le'coe (Willingham) to attack the rim. At the same time, it makes it difficult for opponents to get real creative in how they defend Lauren (Jackson) and Sue (Bird). When we put people out there that can score, they have to be defended. Both Belinda and Erin have to be defended because they both can score."

Phillips and Snell are both fixtures on the Australian National Team, where they have played alongside new Storm teammates Jackson and Abby Bishop. Snell was one of the Opals' leading scorers during the 2006 FIBA World Championship, when Australia won gold, and en route to winning silver in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The younger Phillips was also part of the Australian roster in 2008 in Beijing. However, it was the two players' experience in the WNBA as well as their success in Europe - both play for teams that have advanced to the Euroleague quarterfinals this season - that sold Agler on their value.

"I sort of based my decision on Belinda on how she played against us," he explained. "I've watched her play both in Europe and in our league. I've seen her play internationally. I have a good gauge on what she can bring to the table. She's an exceptional perimeter shooter. She has good size. She has a good demeanor on the floor. I feel good about that. Erin is sort of the same way. Even though she hasn't been in the league, I really valued how she played against us in the past.

"They have a wealth of experience in our league. I put a lot of value on that. I think one of the most difficult things for a player coming into our league new, whether they're a rookie out of college or a free agent out of Europe, is they're not familiar with the people that they're playing against and they're not familiar with the style of play and each team's philosophy. With those two having a history in the league, I think that is really going to be advantageous for both them and for us."

Snell has more experience. She joined the Phoenix Mercury in time for the 2005 season and played three seasons in Phoenix. After sitting out 2008 to prepare for the Olympics, she signed with the San Antonio Silver Stars and enjoyed her best WNBA campaign in 2009, averaging 6.2 points per game and sharing a starting spot at small forward.

Phillips played three seasons with the Connecticut Sun, who drafted her in 2005. She played behind Lindsay Whalen before emerging as a starter in the same backcourt with Whalen in 2009, also the best year of her career. Phillips averaged 8.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 2009, but her style might be better suited for a reserve role where she can back up both Bird and Wright and provide a boost of energy off the bench like Abrosimova did last season.

Though Phillips and Snell cannot play exactly the same roles Abrosimova and Veselá did for the Storm, the strengths the Aussies bring to Seattle should allow the team to maintain the depth that allowed the Storm to overcome injuries and thrive throughout 2010. Adding them helps a new Storm team begin to take shape.

"Erin and Belinda aren't like Jana and Svetlana identically, but they are, in their own right, exceptional players," he explained. "We're not going to have the exact same team we had a year ago, but our goal is to try and put the group of players that we have in training camp together, form as good a team as we possibly can and then take the floor on June 4."

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