Wright Fills Important Role for Storm
Even in a Seattle Storm locker room that was disheartened by the outcome of Sunday's 86-81 loss to the Chicago Sky, the Storm's first regular-season home loss since June 2008, the performance of Tanisha Wright could not be ignored.
"Tanisha had a gallant effort," said Storm forward Lauren Jackson. "The things she did were amazing."
For Wright, it was an outing that highlighted the versatility she has offered the Storm in her fifth season in Seattle and first as a full-time starter. Wright handed out seven assists, tying her career high for the second straight game. She pulled down seven rebounds, scored 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting and spent the entire game switching between defending Chicago's leading scorer Jia Perkins and red-hot guard Kristi Toliver.
Normally, Wright's production won't steal the spotlight, but it has been invaluable for the Storm all season long. She's capably stepped into the role of glue player who can offer the team whatever it needs from her, be it ballhandling, the ability to create off the dribble or a defensive stopper on the wing.
The Storm got a taste of this kind of play from Wright during the second half of the 2008 season, when she stepped into the starting lineup as injuries hit the team. After signing a new multi-year deal to stay with the Storm as a restricted free agent, Wright entered training camp with the inside track at a starting spot at shooting guard and has maintained a firm grip on the position with her confident play.
"I obviously gained a lot (of confidence) last year with Brian coming in," said Wright. "This year is just a continuation. I think I've been pretty confident this whole year from the beginning up until now. It's a continuation from last year."
Wright has seen her confidence pay off at both ends of the floor, but the most obvious difference might be in her ability to create for her teammates. More comfortable playing strictly at shooting guard with the arrival of Shannon Johnson - a one-minute stint at the point late in last night's first half aside - Wright has nonetheless been collecting assists at an impressive rate. In four July games, she's averaged 5.5 assists and just 1.5 turnovers. While Wright says the difference is merely her teammates doing a great job of hitting the shots she sets up, Agler likes the controlled aggression with which Wright is playing.
"I think she's just playing at a good pace for herself," he said.
For the season, Wright ranks an impressive sixth in the league with 4.0 assists per game. Four of the five players in front of her, including league leader Sue Bird, are full-time point guards. The Storm's offense affords Wright plenty of ballhandling opportunities, in part to allow Bird to play off the ball and look to score, and Wright has taken advantage of those opportunities.
Add in the 4.1 rebounds per game Wright averages, good for fourth on the Storm, and she's got a chance to join an elite group of WNBA players who have averaged at least four rebounds and four assists per game. Phoenix's Cappie Pondexter is the only player to surpass both of those marks so far this season. In the history of the league, just 14 players have done so, including the Storm's Johnson and Swin Cash and All-Stars Tamika Catchings, Sheryl Swoopes and Diana Taurasi.
More difficult to quantify, though no less valuable, is Wright's play at the defensive end of the floor. Most nights, Wright defends the best player on the other side of the court, and her increased playing time has coincided with the Storm taking strides forward at the defensive end the last two seasons.
"I think that's where your competitiveness comes out and that's where you're the best," said Wright. "When you're playing with a competitive edge and you want to do the best you can do. I enjoy guarding people who are good; it gives me a challenge when I'm on the court."
Before coming to Seattle, Agler coached one of the league's most versatile role players, Vickie Johnson, as an assistant in San Antonio. When the Silver Stars visited town last week, Agler called Johnson one of the "all-time greats" in the history of the WNBA despite flying under the radar. While hesitant to completely compare the two players because of Johnson's edge in experience (she's played more games than any player in WNBA history), Agler can see a comparison between their skillsets.
"Tanisha is a little bit bigger than Vickie, but they're similar players," he said. "Good midrange jumpshooters, occasionally can hit the three-point shot. Can play the point, play the wing. Timely rebounder. Good defender. Do I think Tanisha's capable of being like her? Definitely so."
Agler liked what he saw from Wright last season to the point he made her re-signing a top priority entering the offseason. So far, he hasn't been disappointed by the way she's stepped up her game again this year.
"I think she's playing real well," he said. "I think she had some good spurts for us last year too. Last year there was even more of a burden on she and Sue because we didn't really have any support behind them. Maybe it's because she has had more rest during games."