Storm Struggling to Score

Kevin Pelton, | June 20, 2011

"I don't think we played that great in the first half; I think L.A. played better than us," said Seattle Storm star Lauren Jackson. "All game it didn't feel like we were in our flow. To prepare for our next game, we have to work on everything - rebounding, shooting. It's OK, though - we will get it back."

Jackson's assessment of Sunday's Storm loss at the Staples Center? Actually, no. That quote comes from after the Storm's 76-62 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks in June 2008, during which the team trailed by as many as 19 points. It could also have come from a 27-point thrashing at the hands of the Sparks in June 2009 during which the Storm scored just 55 points.

Lauren Jackson shoots.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Jackson and her Storm teammates have yet to get on target from the perimeter this season.

Those examples indicate that the Storm's loss on Sunday, while disappointing, was hardly out of the ordinary. They happen on the road against quality teams early in the season, as the Indiana Fever found out two nights earlier at KeyArena. It's only against the backdrop of the magical 2010 campaign, during which the Storm lost by double-figures just once all year, that struggling on the road early in the season stands out.

In both 2008 and 2009, the Storm kept improving after early stumbles and played the best basketball of the season much later in the year. That example is why the mood from Head Coach Brian Agler the day after the game was one of determination and not despair.

"We're just not clicking right now, but I have great confidence that we will soon," said Agler during the team's layover in Denver between Los Angeles and Tulsa. "There's a lot of areas we've got to get better at, but we're not quite as far away as some people might think."

Outside of the first quarter of the loss to the Minnesota Lynx at KeyArena, the Storm's defense has actually been quite effective. The Storm is allowing the fewest points in the league (70.0 points per game). Adjusted for pace, the Storm's defense is third in the WNBA on a per-possession basis, trailing the Lynx and the San Antonio Silver Stars. Even against the Sparks, the Storm allowed less than a point per possession, holding Los Angeles below its average scoring output by controlling the defensive glass and forcing 17 turnovers.

The Storm's issues, then, have almost entirely been at the offensive end of the floor. Seattle is averaging a league-low 89.4 points per 100 possessions and has yet to reach league average (about a point per possession) in any of the first four games, wins or losses. This time a year ago, the Storm was scoring 107.3 points per 100 possessions.

The difference can be seen in multiple areas. As compared to a year ago, the Storm is grabbing fewer offensive rebounds and turning the ball over more frequently. Fundamentally, though, the issues are primarily getting to the free throw line (where the Storm is 11th in the WNBA) and making shots (where the Storm is last in terms of effective field-goal percentage, which accounts for the additional value of three-point shots.

The interconnected nature of offense means the two problems are surely related. Unable to get as many easy points at the line, the Storm is spending more time on the perimeter. At the same time, as long as the Storm is having a difficult time making outside shots, teams will pack things in defensively as the Sparks did. Poor shooting is also a reason why the Storm has seen so much zone defense. While the Storm's offense was no better against man defense by Los Angeles than zone, the Indiana Fever did have success with a matchup zone in the fourth quarter on Friday.

So far, the Storm has shot just 26.3 percent from beyond the arc, which puts the team 11th in the WNBA. Only the Atlanta Dream has made fewer threes or hit them at a lower percentage. That's a major change from last season, when the Storm ranked second in the league with 36.9 percent three-point shooting and made more triples than any other team in the league. Though the Storm lost a pair of solid shooters in Svetlana Abrosimova and Jana Veselá, they were replaced with two players equally capable from outside in Katie Smith and Belinda Snell. Instead, the issue is that the Storm's players simply aren't shooting as well as they have in the past.

Player Career 3P% 2010 2011
 Sue Bird .380 .399 .333
 Swin Cash .296 .407 .267
 Lauren Jackson .356 .346 .286
 Katie Smith .366 .362 .154
 Tanisha Wright .293 .411 .286

All five Storm players who have attempted at least 10 three-pointers are below their 2010 shooting marks. And while Swin Cash and Tanisha Wright are near their career percentages, which they improved upon last year, Jackson, Smith and Sue Bird are proven three-point shooters who have yet to be accurate beyond the arc. That's had huge ramifications for the Storm.

"When you hit shots, it helps everything," said Agler. "It even helps your defense because you have a chance to get your defense in place."

"She's still working through things. She'll come back; there's no question in my mind."
- Agler on Jackson

Jackson's rough start goes beyond her three-point shooting. Inside the arc, she's making just 28.2 percent of her attempts, down from 51.9 percent during her MVP 2010 season. Jackson is also getting to the free throw line about a quarter less frequently than she did last year, which is important because Jackson shoots better than 90 percent from the charity stripe. It's a matter of when, not if, Jackson gets going again. Her offensive rhythm is not the same after Jackson sat out more than four months following offseason surgery. In 2010, Jackson was able to find her touch after being sidelined while playing in the Australian WNBL. This time around, she did not have that luxury.

"This year, her first time on the floor was at training camp," explained Agler. "She's still working through things. She'll come back; there's no question in my mind. She is being more aggressive, though, than she was the first two games."

The key with Jackson, and the Storm as a team, is patience. In 2008, that lopsided loss in Los Angeles dropped the team to 7-6 a third of the way through a season that opened with high expectations. By the time the Storm won the rematch two and a half weeks later, more accurate shooting had helped carry Seattle to a six-game winning streak. There is no guarantee the Storm's improvement will be so rapid this time around, but it has been done before.

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