2005 Review: Francesca Zara
Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com
Francesca Zara was a last-minute addition to the Seattle Storm's roster. Not satisfied with the performance of training-camp invitee Shaquala Williams as the backup to Sue Bird, Storm Coach Anne Donovan signed the Italian veteran and WNBA rookie on May 17, after the team had completed preseason play and only a few days before the deadline to set final rosters. With her performance during practice, Zara won the backup job over Williams.
On May 21, Zara made her WNBA debut as the Storm opened the season against the Los Angeles Sparks. She had an assist and a rebound in six minutes. Zara's adjustment to the WNBA was slow, as teams forced her to beat full-court pressure. She had two turnovers in two minutes against Houston and saw limited playing time over the next four games.
That changed in a hurry when Bird broke her nose and her right orbital bone on June 7, when the Storm was playing Connecticut. She would miss the next four Storm games, leaving only Zara and fellow rookie Tanisha Wright - a shooting guard by trade - to play the point. Zara played 34 minutes in her first WNBA start the next night at Detroit, scoring nine points, grabbing four rebounds and handing out three assists as the Storm pulled the upset over the Shock.
The Storm finished 2-2 in Zara's four starts as she averaged 6.3 points and 2.0 assists per game. After turning the ball over 14 times in her first three starts, Zara committed only one in 18 minutes in the last start she made.
The playing time Zara got in place of the injured Bird proved invaluable in terms of accelerating her adjustment to the WNBA. After seeing her score, teams were forced to respect Zara's shooting ability, giving her the opportunity to get to the basket and create for teammates.
While Zara's playing time was limited by the presence of Bird, she was more productive in this reserve role, committing only six turnovers over a 13-game span from June 15 through July 23. She had a key game for the Storm off the bench on July 3 vs. Sacramento, scoring seven points on 2-for-2 shooting and handing out three assists in 13 minutes as the Storm defeated the eventual WNBA Champions.
Zara came into more playing time after another injury late in the season. When Betty Lennox partially tore a ligament in her left wrist, Zara stepped into a third guard role, playing frequently alongside Bird. Zara played at least 10 minutes in nine straight games, scoring seven points three times - at Minnesota on Aug. 12, vs. Minnesota on Aug. 18 and at San Antonio on Aug. 23. She also handed out a career-high five assists on Aug. 25 as the Storm beat Sacramento at home.
Back to a limited role in the postseason, Zara was effective. She scored in all three games against Houston, averaging 3.7 points in the series and shooting 4-for-6 from the field.
During her rookie season, Zara demonstrated an ability to shoot and score rare amongst WNBA backup point guards. After being prone to turnovers for the first quarter of the season, she averaged only 2.8 per 40 minutes the remainder of the year while posting an assist-to-turnover ratio near two (42 assists, 23 turnovers). Now that she is comfortable in the WNBA and knows what to expect, Zara should be more effective in her second season.
Anybody who saw us early (in the season) and watches us late sees two different players in Fran. She was unconfident, unsure, a great shooter, but you wouldn't know it. Now she may not knock down the shot, but she's taking it because she knows she's a good offensive player in this league. She's improved her defense. You don't blow past Fran - that was her reputation when she came in. Another intelligent player who's figured it out.