Ely Comfortable Back at Power Forward

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | June 5, 2008
Throughout her WNBA career, Shyra Ely had heard she was too small to play the post. Power forward was Ely's natural position and where she thrived at Tennessee, but as a senior she converted to the wing because of the expectation she would have to play small forward in the WNBA due to her 6-2 height. That proved to be the case after San Antonio took Ely with the first pick of the second round of the 2005 WNBA Draft. As a rookie, Ely started 11 games at small forward, where she played nearly exclusively through two years with the Silver Stars and one in Seattle.

This year, however, Ely has returned to her more familiar spot. Because new Storm Head Coach Brian Agler is fond of versatile lineups, he's comfortable playing Ely at power forward, and while splitting minutes at both forward positions this season, she has played primarily up front.

"There are a lot of undersized fours in the league and they do pretty well."
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
"I thought I would be at the three more so, but I'm a lot more comfortable at the four," said Ely. "There are a lot of undersized fours in the league and they do pretty well. Coach told me in the off-season to work on my four game. I played the four all overseas, so I feel pretty confident."

Ely has seen action off the bench in each of the Storm's first eight games, averaging 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, the latter mark tops amongst Storm reserves. Her 52.0% shooting from the field leads the entire team.

With Ely at power forward, the Storm has the ability to match up with a new breed of athletic and skilled but undersized WNBA post players. Phoenix's Penny Taylor (6-1, 168), currently sitting out to prepare for the Olympics, might be the most extreme example. However, Ely's former San Antonio teammate Sophia Young (6-1, 165) and Sacramento's Nicole Powell (6-2, 175), who plays both forward positions, are also players proving it doesn't take traditional size to effectively play power forward in the modern WNBA.

Like those other players, Ely uses the skills she has honed while playing on the perimeter to her advantage when she moves up front. She's become a good enough three-point shooter that opposing defenses have to respect her jumper when the Storm runs the pick-and-pop with her setting the screen.

"It makes post players defend me as far out to the three, so that's important," explained Ely. "It makes me harder to guard which makes the team harder to guard. It opens up things for Lauren (Jackson) down low or Yo (Griffith) down low. Any time I can create some kind of disturbance for the defense, it's good for us altogether."

According to research by Patrick Sheehy of the Chasing the Title blog, Ely has already spent 79 minutes at power forward this year, up from 43 in 2007. More than 85 percent of Ely's playing time has come as a post.

"I think in San Antonio they had her sort of slotted playing the wing position," said Agler, part of the Silver Stars coaching staff that brought Ely into the league. "I think naturally she's one of those between-type players, 3/4-type players. I think she's done real well for us playing the four spot, but she's sort of playing the same role for us - she's swinging back and forth. I like Shyra's game. She's played well for us. She's giving us some great minutes and hopefully that will continue."

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Despite the fact that she's playing against bigger opponents, Agler thinks one factor that has helped Ely this season is getting a little lighter.

"I just encouraged her to get in the best possible shape she could," he said. "She lost some weight from January up until now. She's kept it off and it's helped her. It's provided her with a little more quickness and agility out on the floor. You've seen her get the ball to the rim quite a bit, and I think that's a big part of it."

Wednesday in Detroit, Ely showed that ability to create off the dribble, beating a slower defender and completing the play with a nice finish off the glass for one of her two scores.

Her relationship with Agler has also worked to Ely's favor. While the rest of her teammates dealt with learning an unfamiliar system and growing accustomed to Agler's style during training camp, Ely could draw on the two years they spent together in San Antonio.

"Just the fact that we have a relationship off the court helps a lot," she said. "If I didn't know him from a prior experience, the way he gets on me, yells at me, I'd probably take it personally. I know he's just trying to make me better. Sometimes you just have to laugh his stuff off. He's a funny guy. He's really personable and he's definitely approachable. I think because I know how he is anyway, it's easier for me to take his message and move on."