Gearlds Finding the Range
From the way Katie Gearlds was connecting from the perimeter during Monday's practice, the rim must have looked as big as a hula hoop to the Seattle Storm's resident sharpshooter. Gearlds has been hot lately, including 17 points on July 5 against Minnesota, but she really got a chance to show off her touch as the Storm scrimmaged against the mostly-male practice squad. Gearlds hit repeatedly from the perimeter and ended one scrimmage with the game-winning jumper after upfaking to send her defender flying by.
"Everything feels pretty sound," said Gearlds after practice. "Everything mechanically has felt good all year. It was just a matter of getting the legs. Shots weren't going left and right; in my mind, I was missing them short and long. That's what I want as a shooter. If I see my shots going left and right, then I know mechanically something is up.
After starting the season well, including 17 points in back-to-back wins over Sacramento and at Phoenix in the first week, Gearlds fell into a shooting slump. It would be over a month before Gearlds would make more than one shot in a game. During that span, she shot 20.0 percent from the field and missed 11 straight three-point attempts.
"It was a little frustrating because everything felt pretty solid and, in my mind, shots were in the basket or popping out or just coming up short - not getting my legs underneath me or something like that," explained Gearlds. "I usually know whether I make the shot right when I shoot it. I know where it's probably going to go if I miss it.
"Just right now it does feel good. Like today in practice, I did shoot the ball pretty well. I think that translates to me getting a lot of shots in after practice, seeing the ball in and getting that repetition going."
Inevitably, the streak was going to come to an end. Gearlds is too good a shooter to stay in a slump for long. Storm Head Coach Brian Agler calls her "one of the best" shooters he's coached.
By late June, Agler saw signs that Gearlds was coming out of the rough patch. He told reporters he saw an upswing ahead for her. It took a little longer, but Gearlds got going in earnest against the Lynx. After hitting a couple of jumpers to get in rhythm, she got rolling and hasn't stopped since. Over the last four games, Gearlds is 12-of-21 from the field, including 7-of-12 from three-point range. Overall, Gearlds has made 10 of her last 17 attempts from downtown. As she's heated up, Gearlds has begun to take - and make - more challenging shots she might not have tried early in the season.
"When you know you've got a rhythm going, you feel like anything you shoot is going in," she said. "Still, you've got to be smart and take good shots for your team."
For the season, Gearlds is now hitting 43.6 percent from three-point range, which ranks her fourth in the WNBA. Opposing teams are being forced to recognize her as a threat off the bench, which opens things up for her Storm teammates.
"It gives us another weapon and someone else that they have to extend their defense too," said Agler. "Or if they don't, there's a chance she's going to knock the shot down. I think it gives us a different look and makes us a more difficult type of team to defend at times."
Gearlds and her fellow reserves will take on added importance for the Storm over the next five games as the team plays without reigning MVP Lauren Jackson. In Jackson's absence, the bench should have the opportunity to play heavier minutes, which helps allow a shooter like Gearlds find her range. That can be a challenge in the short stints she has played at times this season. No matter what her role, Gearlds is looking to take advantage of the minuets she does get.
"It can be difficult at times coming in straight off the bench and having to find your legs right away after you've warmed up and then gone and sat down and cooled down for a little bit," she said. "I think all of us have gotten that rhythm where we know what's expected of us, when he's going to call our names. When he does call our number, it's just a matter of making the most of the opportunity. Whether it's for two minutes at a time or five or six minutes at a time, you have to make the most of what you get."