Sue Bird is happy to be reunited with Lauren Jackson as part of a complete Storm roster. (Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images)

Storm Sees Potential of Full Roster

Kevin Pelton, | August 28, 2012

On Sunday night, the Seattle Storm finally got a look at the complete roster Head Coach and General Manager Brian Agler envisioned going into the 2012 season. The immediate returns were impressive. With all 11 players active for the first time following Lauren Jackson's return from the Olympics and Tina Thompson and Ann Wauters coming back from injuries, the Storm led by double-digits throughout the final three and a half quarters of an 84-66 win over the New York Liberty.

Count Liberty Head Coach John Whisenant among those impressed by what the Storm might accomplish at full strength.

"Now that they've got Lauren back - and when she gets back in rhythm like I know she can - I can see them getting into the playoffs and winning the whole thing," said Whisenant, acknowledging the strength of the rest of the Western Conference. "(Lauren) is one of the best women's basketball players in the world and Sue (Bird) is arguably the best point guard and when you've get that combination with two other leading scorers of all-time there in Katie (Smith) and Tina - they're a good crew. They'll be right in the thick of it."

Ann Wauters scores against the New York Liberty.
Neil Enns/Storm Photos

In her first game action since June 30, Ann Wauters scored nine points in as many minutes Sunday.

Whisenant's words echoed those of Indiana Head Coach Lin Dunn, who got a bit of a break Thursday night. Her Fever came from behind to win at the buzzer against a Storm team playing without Thompson and Wauters, and with Jackson limited in her first game of the season. Yet Dunn still commented on the Storm's potential.

"When they get healthy," Dunn said, "they're scary. I don't even want to think about it."

By contrast, the Storm can't wait to think about the possibilities after grinding through the first two-thirds of the season. Playing without Jackson until after the Olympics, Agler wanted to remain in position to make the playoffs. That task that was complicated by a challenging early schedule, the difficulty of integrating multiple key newcomers and injuries that struck the vulnerable Storm frontcourt before the Olympic Break.

Nonetheless, at 11-13, the Storm is in good shape for a playoff berth. With the top three teams in the West pulling away, the Storm - 6.5 games back of San Antonio for third place - is unlikely to move up. At the same time, the Storm leads Phoenix and Tulsa by 6.5 games for the fourth and final playoff spot and could wrap up a ninth consecutive trip to the playoffs as soon as next week. That's testament to how the healthy Storm players have performed. Reserves like Alysha Clark and Ewelina Kobryn capably handled much larger roles than expected, keeping the team afloat.

"The group that's played has done a tremendous job," said Agler. "Not only have they won games for us, but they've been competitive against some really good teams when we've been outnumbered. I think what they did was huge because they kept us in playoff contention."

Now, Agler has far more options, which is a mixed blessing in some ways. Paring down 11 players who have shown the ability to contribute into a cohesive rotation will be a challenge.

"It's hard to play 11 people, let's be honest," he said. "But at the same time, it's nice to have the ability to play everybody if need be, depending on what the situation might be."

As part of that process, Agler must figure out what combinations work together to build a rotation going into the playoffs. The Storm has four frontcourt players capable of starting in Jackson, Thompson, Wauters and Camille Little. That could mean experimenting with Little or Thompson at small forward to make more room up front. With just one game over the next week and a half, Agler will have time to study combinations in practice before trying them out during games.

Players must also develop chemistry with Jackson. Sunday night was the first time she and Thompson played together outside of All-Star Games, and Jackson is also playing for the first time with rookies Clark and Shekinna Stricklen. Jackson and Wauters spent last winter playing together for EuroLeague champions Ros Casares Valencia, but with Jackson at small forward instead of her usual post position.

"As we get more practices under our belt then I think we'll reacquaint ourselves with each other and we're going to get better," Jackson said after Sunday's game. "It was obvious the other night. Our next game we'll get better. You never know what we'll achieve.

"When they get healthy, they're scary. I don't even want to think about it."
- Dunn

"I think the team has the potential to do great things. There is a lot of talent once everyone gets healthy, and we'll definitely go for a run. There's no doubt about that. It's just a matter of getting to the point of getting healthy and getting comfortable with everyone."

Bird describes this as a "crash course" in the kind of chemistry teams usually build over the course of the season. The Storm has 10 more games to do so before entering the harsh crucible of the playoffs.

If the team can get on the same page, the possibilities for a lineup featuring four of the WNBA's Top 15 Players of All-Time are immense. Consider Sunday night's game a preview. The Storm shot 58.3 percent from the field in building a 21-point halftime lead. Bird thrived both as a distributor, handing out 10 assists, and as a scorer, making seven of her 10 shot attempts to finish with 18 points. Even with Jackson still finding her rhythm from beyond the arc, the Storm's attack proved difficult to stop.

"I think for the most part we have so many weapons you just have to get the ball to the open person," Bird said. "With this roster and this talent you've got people who can make shots. They make me look good. They make that assist column look really nice. It's nice to finally have the full roster out there. It doesn't mean that things are just going to magically happen on their own. We still have a lot of work to do, but to finally have 11 is definitely a good thing."

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