The Storm bench celebrates during Sunday's win at Connecticut. (Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)
Storm Stats Reflect Turnaround
It started three weeks ago in Tulsa. With an 86-73 win over the Shock, the Seattle Storm began to put a 1-7 start to the 2012 campaign behind them. Starting with that game, the Storm has won six of its last seven outings, meaning a win Saturday at Los Angeles (7:00 p.m., ESPN2, 1090 AM) has the potential to pull the Storm's record back to .500 with three games remaining for the WNBA's Olympic Break.
The contrast between the team's performance over the last seven games and the first eight is as stark as the difference in terms of wins and losses. The Storm had been outscored by an average of 8.6 points per game; during the 6-1 stretch, that's improved to +5.0 points per game, which would be good for fourth in the WNBA.
The Storm has improved at both ends of the floor, but more dramatically so on offense. On a per-possession basis, the Storm went from the league's least potent attack to one far better than average. After falling short of the 40 percent mark from the field seven consecutive games following Opening Night, the Storm has topped 40 percent in each of the last seven games save last Saturday's loss at New York. Three times, the Storm has made more than half its shots. Overall, the Storm's shooting percentage has gone from 38.3 percent in the first seven games to 46.6 percent over the last six.
To players, that change represents increasing comfort with a rotation that was remade over the offseason.
"I think earlier on in the season we were thinking too much - trying to understand why we were doing things," said point guard Sue Bird. "Now we just go out there and play. Obviously it's not always pretty, but we have a good mentality right now."
Veteran forward Tina Thompson, one of the most prominent newcomers, had the opposite perspective from long-time Storm stalwart Bird.
"In the beginning, Sue was probably frustrated with us because I know I wasn't in places that I was supposed to be," Thompson explained. "I was trying to get familiar with playing two positions and not getting a lot of reps at both. It's one thing when everyone is learning the system together, but some people that are new, some people that aren't, it happens."
Indeed, it was the newcomers who actually performed to expectation early in the year while the holdovers struggled with their shooting. That's changed over the last seven games. Bird's shooting percentage has gone from 33.0 percent to 50.6 percent. The Storm's other established starters, Camille Little (38.5 percent to 53.5 percent) and Tanisha Wright (30.4 percent to 40.0 percent) have also seen their accuracy leap during the strong stretch.
"I think any shooter who goes through a stretch where they don't really make as many as they usually do, you have to keep shooting. Eventually, it's going to come around," said Bird. "But I do think early on, a lot of us, there was a little uncertainty there. That definitely plays a role in not just shooting - everything. Now I think everyone is on the same page, and that helps."
Over the past seven games, the Storm has also tweaked the offense to put the ball in Wright's hands more with Bird lurking as a spot-up shooter. Bird's assists have gone down from 5.9 per game to 4.4 while Wright's have gone up from 3.4 to 4.4 per game. While Wright initiating the offense is nothing new, especially late in games, switching the guards somewhat more frequently has paid dividends for the Storm.
"I don't think there's any question that when Sue are Tanisha are aggressive - in terms of scoring or just with the basketball - we're a better team," said Head Coach Brian Agler.
Besides the overall numbers, the most notable difference in the Storm offense over the last seven games is the easy scoring opportunities the team is generating. Early in the season, the Storm had to work for every basket. By getting the ball inside more and making the extra pass, the offense is now working much more efficiently. That's reflected both by an increase in points per game in the paint (up nearly a third from 21.3 to 28.0) and free throw attempts per game (up from 15.5 to 21.4).
At the other end of the floor, the Storm has also gone from (slightly) below average to above average. The team's Defensive Rating over the last seven games would rank third in the league over the course of the season. Opponents are shooting just 38.8 percent from the field in that span, and their three-point accuracy has gone down from 39.0 percent over the first eight games to 35.5 percent. Such improvement at closing out is typical of Agler's defenses as players get comfortable with his style of aggressive help.
"The last couple of years, we started the season off by giving up a lot of threes," he said. "I do think we're guarding that a little bit better now."
More generally, Agler's Storm teams have tended to play better later in the season, with the notable exception of the 2010 squad that tied a WNBA record with 28 wins. In 2008, the Storm was 8-7 before ripping off seven consecutive wins just before the break for that year's Olympics. In 2009, the Storm followed an 8-6 start with a 4-1 stretch. And just last season, the Storm went 5-1 after posting a .500 record through the first 14 games. All three teams went on to win at least 20 games. Getting there after a 1-7 start will be a challenge, but the Storm's play over the last three weeks has made it a realistic possibility.
In part, the Storm has benefited from the schedule evening out after a brutal start that included four early road games at Los Angeles and Minnesota. However, the team has still played more road games (four) than home games (three) over the last seven. Performances like last Sunday's overtime win at East-leading Connecticut demonstrate the real improvement the Storm has made. For players, it was just a matter of time.
"Everything takes time," said Thompson. "Of course you want to play a certain way, be familiar right away, but you can't do that without time. We had a couple of situations where we had three days or four days of practice where we could get in and review and continue to work on our tactics, and I think it helped."Comments blog comments powered by Disqus