The Centerpiece: Storm Looks to Relieve Pressure on Jackson

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Kevin Pelton, | May 14, 2008
Since taking over as the Seattle Storm's head coach, Brian Agler has spoken repeatedly about putting players in position to take advantage of their skills and finding their sweet spots. So, the coach was asked Wednesday, is there something he wants to do to get more out of Lauren Jackson?

"Not really," Agler answered. "She brings it out already."

It's difficult to imagine Jackson playing much better than she did in her 2007 MVP season, when she averaged 23.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game and was also named the league's Defensive Player of the Year. Opponents recognized Jackson's dominance with regular double-teams, and while they were never able to stop Jackson, they occasionally succeeded in slowing her down.

"I'm not the quickest at picking up plays, but today I felt a lot more confident in doing it."
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
During the playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury sometimes threw a box-and-one defense at Jackson, the ultimate sign of respect. She shot 56.5% from the field in the two-game series, but Phoenix was able to limit her to 23 shot attempts - the third-highest total on the Storm. The task for Agler and the Storm coaching staff, then, is to find ways to keep opposing defenses from turning their full attention to Jackson.

"We'll try to keep her on the move," said Agler. "We're not going to let her be stationary where people know where she's going to be. We're going to try to keep her moving and encourage her to really be in attacking mode."

Wednesday was Jackson's first practice under Agler after arriving in Seattle Tuesday night, having finished her season in Russia. It's early, certainly, but from what she saw Jackson believes Agler's schemes will help.

"I think that it's going to be hard to double-team out of the plays that he's running and the way we're dissecting the plays," she said. "I think it's going to be a lot tougher."

"It's a very equal-opportunity offense," Storm point guard Sue Bird said the day before. "It's going to make it hard for teams to double-team Lauren, because anybody can do anything at any moment."

Even if they find the opportunity for extra defensive pressure on Jackson, Storm opponents will have to make a trade-off. Containing Jackson will mean ceding good looks to her Storm teammates, a group that now includes newcomers Swin Cash, Yolanda Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes. Teams may think twice about leaving them open.

Already, Jackson has noticed a difference with the new Storm lineup.

"I don't feel as much as pressure as I've felt in a long time out on the court, which is crazy," she said. "I trust my coaching staff and I trust my teammates hugely. I've got a lot of experience out there. With Sheryl and Swin and Yo out there, they're all people that have won championships. It just feels good."

Star-studded lineups are nothing new to Jackson, who just finished playing for Spartak in Russia alongside not only Bird but also WNBA All-Stars Diana Taurasi and Tina Thompson. After joining the team in time for the Russian Superleague playoffs last year, Jackson spent the full season in Russia this season, living with Bird and Taurasi. They helped lead Spartak to a second consecutive impressive double - Euroleague and Superleague championships. The latter task was completed Saturday, and while Bird wasted little time jumping on a plane to get back to Seattle, Jackson was able to do some celebrating.

"A couple of us stayed because (Spartak owner) Shabtai (von Kalmanovic) put on a big governor's event," she said. "There were 6,000 people and our GM. Just unbelievable dress and shows. He put so much money into it. He does so much for us and he's my main breadwinner. He's the man that pays the money, so I had to be there and enjoy it."

Ultimately, Jackson arrived in Seattle Tuesday night. She spent this morning taking her physical, then was out on the court for a special afternoon practice moved back to accommodate her schedule. Jackson admitted she was tired after the practice, with jetlag in play, but it wasn't evident as the Storm scrimmaged its male practice squad.

Jackson got a crash course in Agler's system on her first day in Seattle, getting out on the court with Bird (who had a whole one day of practice experience under Agler) to go over the plays before practice.

Check back all week as gets you ready for the 2008 season, looking at the changes made by the Storm and throughout the WNBA.
Monday: Fresh Start: Cash Begins Anew in Seattle
Tuesday: Bird Returns to Revamped Storm
Wednesday: Eastern Conference Preview
Thursday: The Veterans: Griffith and Swoopes Looking for Familiar Result with New Team
Western Conference Preview
Friday: Is This "The Perfect Storm?"
WNBA/Awards Predictions

2008 Preview Homepage

"We threw a lot at her, obviously," said Agler. "She did a real good job."

For her part, Jackson credited her quick work in learning the offense to Agler's ability as a teacher. She compared him to Tom Maher, her former coach with the Australian National Team and the WNBL's Canberra Capitals now coaching the Chinese National Team.

"Today, even the stuff that he was going through with me earlier, I kind of picked it up quickly," Jackson said. "He definitely teaches really well. For me, I'm not the quickest at picking up plays, but today I felt a lot more confident in doing it."

Leaving Russia so abruptly after the championship and making the transatlantic trip was difficult for Jackson, but getting back to familiar surroundings Wednesday made it a whole lot easier.

"Stepping back onto the Storm court, I definitely felt a lot better just getting out there," she said." It's tough going from team to team, especially when you win championships and you're sort of coming down. Honestly, I love Seattle. I'm just glad to be back and get back into it. It will take a couple of days, but we've got four days."