2008 in Review: Sue Bird
Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | November 7, 2008
Sue Bird had two very different 2008 seasons. The first saw her play her traditional role of distributor for the Storm, albeit with more aggressiveness than in recent seasons. Through Lauren Jackson's departure to join her national team prior to the Olympics, Bird led the league in assists with 6.1 per game while averaging 13.1 points. With Jackson missing the rest of the season following ankle surgery, Bird stepped into the role of go-to scorer and spent more time playing off the ball.
Over the next 11 games, Bird would average 17.5 points as the Storm went 7-4 without the reigning MVP. She did it while managing to improve her field-goal and three-point percentages, and came up with big scores in the fourth quarters of close games. The result was an unlikely but strong MVP push for Bird, who was somewhat uncomfortable with all the attention she received for her own play rather than the team's success. Ultimately, Bird finished third in MVP voting behind winner Candace Parker and runner-up Lindsay Whalen. She was also selected for the All-WNBA Second Team.
While Bird did not win MVP, an argument can be made - and was throughout the season by Storm Head Coach Brian Agler - that no player was more indispensable to their team. The Storm was outscored by 10.0 points per 40 minutes with Bird on the bench, and her net plus-minus rating of +15.3 points per 40 minutes - the difference between how the Storm played with Bird and without her - was the best in the league.
Agler helped bring out some of the best basketball of Bird's career. From the start of training camp, he emphasized the need for Bird to look for her own offense and keep the ball in her hands, drawing upon the tactics San Antonio had used to get an MVP-caliber season out of Becky Hammon the previous season when Agler was an assistant for the Silver Stars. The difference was quickly evident, with Bird getting to the free-throw line eight times - twice as many as in any 2007 game. While Bird led the league in assists, the improvement in her game was somewhat obscured by an early slump from beyond the arc.
By midseason, Bird had found a groove and was beating opponents with both her ability to score and distribute. It helped that she was fully healthy after spending the 2007 season first battling an injury to her left knee and then coming back quickly after midseason surgery.
The adjustment in Bird's philosophy helped set the stage for the second half of the season. With Jackson sidelined, the Storm needed points, and Bird was ready to score more than she had since her rookie season in the WNBA. With Tanisha Wright moving into the starting lineup and picking up ballhandling duties, Bird effectively played shooting guard down the stretch.
The high-scoring Bird contrasted with the pass-first point guard she played in the Olympics as the starter for the U.S. National Team. Bird averaged 3.0 points, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals while offering key leadership as the U.S. women went a perfect 8-0 and dominated the competition in Beijing en route to their fourth consecutive gold medal and the second won by Bird.
Despite a quick turnaround from the Olympics to the WNBA, Bird came back playing at a very high level. She scored 20-plus points in four of the Storm's first five games after the break and had 19 in the other. As important as the totals was Bird's ability to score when the Storm needed it. She had 13 points in the fourth quarter of a come-from-behind win at Chicago, beating the defense time and again with pull-up jumpers and three-pointers.
When the postseason rolled around, the Los Angeles Sparks focused their defense on containing Bird. Still, she was able to give the Storm a lift with her scoring, going for 23 points in Game 1 and 20 in Game 2. During Game 3, Bird was limited to five points in the first half before getting going after halftime and finishing with 16. While the Storm fell short in the series, it was Bird's best postseason effort since the Storm's run to the 2004 championship.
Bird may have had two very different 2008 seasons, but the results were impressive either way. With the Storm at full strength in 2009, Bird figures to be able to find a happy medium that sees her again amongst the league's leading assisters while also forcing defenses to account for her ability to create her own shot.
2008 Photo Gallery
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