In the Wright Spot
When Seattle Storm Head Coach Brian Agler has turned down to the bench to make his first substitution of the game, more often than not he has looked to guard Tanisha Wright, who has emerged as the Storm's sixth woman. Because of the Storm's versatile lineup, Wright can step in for any of the team's starters. Usually, however, she doesn't replace point guard Sue Bird, meaning Wright is playing shooting guard alongside the Storm's All-Star.
"More than anything, I think it puts T in her natural position," said Bird. "I think she's just more comfortable at the two spot, kind of knows when to create, when to shoot, when to do all those things at the two spot. I think it puts her mind at ease a little bit and allows her to just play. If that's what having a point guard on the floor along with her does, that's great."
Things changed when Agler replaced Anne Donovan as the Storm's head coach and Lennox was selected by the Atlanta Dream in the expansion draft. While Sheryl Swoopes has stepped into Lennox's starting spot, Swoopes' ability to swing down to small forward has allowed Wright to play more frequently at shooting guard. That's where Agler prefers to play Wright.
"I don't mind her playing the point," Agler said. "I do think her true position is at the two and I like how she and Sue play together. They're a good complement."
The Bird-Wright backcourt pairing has gotten more action together this year than at any point since late in Wright's rookie season, when she started eight games at shooting guard in place of an injured Lennox. According to charting by Patrick Sheehy of the Chasing the Title blog, Bird and Wright played together an average of 8.3 minutes per game in 2006, though many of those minutes came in small lineups with Lennox at shooting guard and Wright at small forward. Last year, Wright and Bird were paired for just 4.6 minutes a night. This year, that average has more than tripled to 15.2 minutes per game, accounting for the heavy majority of the 19.6 minutes Wright averages.
"It's true," said Bird. "In the last couple of years, even though we were teammates, I'd venture to say we weren't on the floor all that often together. This year has been different. The more we play together, the easier it's been."
The duo of Bird and Wright has been a highly productive one for the Storm, which has outscored opponents by 9.0 points per 40 minutes with them together in the backcourt. Overall, the Storm is +7.2 points per 40 minutes with Bird on the floor, meaning Wright has been her most effective partner in the backcourt.
"I just think we're comfortable with one another," explained Wright. "We're comfortable with each other's games and we kind of have a feel for each other and what we're going to do and things like that. For me, it's a lot easier because I'm comfortable with and confident in her and how she can make me better, so when she's on the floor I'm just a lot more comfortable."
While the Bird-Wright pairing has been particularly good for Wright, it has helped Bird as well by providing another strong ballhandler to help with pressure defense. At times, the two players can also flip positions, with Wright initiating the offense while Bird takes advantage of her ability to play without the ball.
"It's nice to have somebody else who can handle the ball and call offenses on occasion," said Bird. "I think in that regard, we kind of balance each other."
For Wright, greater comfort has meant improved production. Her 6.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game are both easily career highs, and Wright is shooting 46.0 percent from the field, up from 40.0 percent last year and 35.3 percent the year before. Her shooting percentage is tops amongst Storm regulars. In addition to the time at shooting guard, Wright credits Agler's system for allowing her to play more freely.
"It's a lot of playing basketball," she explained, "and growing up that's pretty much all I did was just play basketball. You have to think, obviously, but there's not a lot of plays - it's about going out and playing the game. You make reads, you make decisions and you live with that."
Wright's scoring is nice, especially with the rest of the Storm's bench struggling at times before coming together during the team's six-game winning streak. Where Wright really shines, however, is at the defensive end of the court. That's a perfect fit for Agler's emphasis on defense, and Wright is enjoying the team's success at that end of the court.
"It's a lot better," she said of the Storm's defense. "We got some new additions as well that helped from that side of it, but I just think it's the constant and constant reinforcement that in order for us to be good with his system, we're going to have to play defense. We're going to have to get it done on the defensive end. If we don't get it done at the defensive end, we just won't get it done. He's constantly pounding us about that. It doesn't stop. We hear that more than we hear anything. We really do."
In turn, Agler likes the performance he's gotten from Wright.
"Tanisha's really played well for us this year," he said. "She brings a lot to the table."