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Storm Tracker (First Half Review)

First-Half Review

The Seattle Storm concluded the first half of its season with a 9-7 record, just one game better than they were at this point the last two years. For several reasons, that mark has to be considered a much greater success. One obvious point is the changes to the Storm over the off-season. The team added a new coaching staff, one new starter, and several new reserves. As a result, Coach Anne Donovan preached repeatedly during training camp that her team would not hit its peak until well into the season. Also key is that the Storm is third in the Western Conference, just a half-game out of second place, making Seattle a legitimate contender. From the delayed start of training camp to the first-half finale against the Los Angeles Sparks, Storm Tracker takes a complete look at the first half off the 2003 campaign:

THE PLAYERS

PG Sue Bird
first half: 13.3 ppg, 7.4 apg, 3.4 rpg, 1.8 spg, 37.2% threes, 94.1% free throws
Best Performance: 21 points, 10 assists, 3 steals, 7-12 shooting vs. WAS 7/3

A left knee injury has kept Sue Bird from putting up the kinds of scoring numbers one might have expected, but she has still had a tremendous sophomore campaign. Bird currently leads the WNBA in assists per game and is putting together one of the best passing seasons in the league’s history. Her ability to run the break is, at this point, virtually unparalleled. While Ticha Penicheiro remains a better passer, Bird’s ability to score adds another dimension and allows her to open up the floor even more. When Bird is really going well, defenses have to choose which way they want her to beat them – by scoring, or by finding teammates? And she’s only 22.

SG Sandy Brondello
first half: 9.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.8 rpg, 1.0 spg, 46.2% from three, 2.19 assist-turnover ratio
Best Performance: 21 points, 9-14 fg, 3-4 threes 6/19 @ LAS

Sandy Brondello was put in the starting backcourt alongside Bird from the start of training camp, and has put a stranglehold on the position with her shooting. Proving there’s plenty of basketball left in her at age 34 (35 next month), Brondello has been amongst the WNBA’s leading three-point shooters, currently ranking seventh with 46.2% shooting after leading the league for a stretch. Brondello has also been notably stingy with the basketball, committing just 16 turnovers so far. Her assist-turnover ratio (2.19, seventh) and steal-turnover ratio (1.0, fifth) are also amongst the league leaders. Brondello has had some big games, including her 21 against L.A. and 19 first-half points at Indiana, but could stand to become more consistent in the second half of the season.

SF Adia Barnes
first half: 5.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 38.7% threes
Best Performance: 12 points, 4 steals, 3 assists, 5-8 shooting 6/30 @ CHA

From the start of Storm practices, it was evident that Adia Barnes’ hard off-season work had paid off in an improved offensive game. She too spent time leading the league in three-point shooting after making just one triple during the 2002 regular season, and is currently making 38.7% from beyond the arc. Barnes’ numbers still aren’t overwhelming, but she is a strong rebounder for a small forward and the stats can’t reflect her tremendous defense. Barnes’ improved play made her loss to a torn ACL suffered in the final game of the first half of the season against Los Angeles all the more devastating to the Storm. She will be missed.

PF Lauren Jackson
first half: 19.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.5 bpg, 45.9% fgs
Best Performance: 27 points, 14 rebounds, 8-9 fts 6/7 vs. PHO

The transformation of Lauren Jackson’s game that began at the All-Star break last season is now nearly complete. Poised, patient, and confident, Jackson has benefited from the tutoring of Coach Anne Donovan to improve her inside scoring, making her all the more effective when she does go outside. With her combination of skill, size and speed, Jackson has become virtually unguardable, scoring at least 15 points in every game this season. Equally impressive has been her newfound killer instinct. After Jackson struggled down the stretch in the Storm’s home opener against Los Angeles, she has been dynamite in the second half. Jackson has also improved her rebounding this season and remained a defensive force, making her the complete package and a potential MVP.

C Kamila Vodichkova
first half: 10.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 49.1% fg, 86.2% free throws
Best Performance: 17 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 4-6 fgs, 9-10 fts 7/5 @ LAL

The consummate WNBA player, Kamila Vodichkova continues to provide a consistent presence down low for the Storm. Never loud or flashy, Vodichkova merely puts up double-figures scoring regularly (streaks of six and four games with double-figures scoring during the first half), does battle with and holds in check the WNBA’s best down low, and chips in on the glass. One of the league’s most efficient scorers, Vodichkova is eighth in the WNBA in field goal percentage and 10th in free throw percentage. Her free-throw shooting, tremendous for a post player, has gone largely unheralded, but Vodichkova’s game can’t for long.

C/F Simone Edwards
first half: 4.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 47.1% fg, 80.0% ft
Best Performance: 14 points, 11 rebounds, 6-8 shooting 6/28 @ IND

Given the unenviable task of backing up Jackson and Vodichkova, Simone Edwards has been very effective in her minutes off the bench. In a sense, she’s provided Vodichkova-lite performance, also shooting good percentages from the field and the free-throw line. Edwards has been even better on the boards, and is amongst the WNBA’s top 20 rebounders on a per-minute basis. She gave a good idea of what she might do given the chance to play more when she replaced an ailing Jackson with a double-double against the Fever last month.

SF Amanda Lassiter
first half: 3.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.64 bpg
Best Performance: 12 points, 3-3 shooting, 2-2 threes 6/30 @ CHA

Just 6-1 and seventh on the Storm in minutes, Amanda Lassiter is nonetheless third on the team in blocks per game. It’s a testament to the defense she’s been playing off the bench. Lassiter has used her long arms and speed to lock up players on the perimeter. On the rare occasions when she is beaten to the basket, she has often been able to recover in time to block the shot. Barnes’ development has curtailed Lassiter’s playing time, but she’ll get plenty in the second half of the season. On offense, Lassiter has been inconsistent from the perimeter but has provided versatility with her ability to shoot, drive and pass.

G Rita Williams
first half: 2.3 ppg, 1.1 apg
Best Performance: 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3-3 fg, 1-1 threes 6/22 vs. SAS

Rita Williams came to the Storm in a trade on the eve of the season opener without a role, but she quickly worked her way into the rotation as a backup at both guard positions. Williams started the year slowly, but her shooting has picked up since her outing against the Silver Stars. Including that game, Williams has shot 9-for-17 and 3-for-7 from three-point range over the Storm’s last six games. Williams’ ability to run the offense has allowed Bird to play more off the ball while she is in the game, and Williams has also done a quality job defensively.

C Alisa Burras
first half: 3.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 48.8% fg, 76.9% ft
Best Performance: 10 points, 3 rebounds, 4-5 shooting 6/27 @ CLE

With the Storm’s other post players performing so well, Alisa Burras has found minutes hard to come by so far this season. She has not shot as well as she did in leading the league with Portland last year, but does lead the Storm at 48.8%. Like the rest of the team’s frontcourt players, she is shooting well from the free-throw line, making 77% so far this season. Burras has done a solid job on the glass as well. She seemed to be putting it together with back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts off the bench, but was placed on the injured list before the All-Star break with chondromalacia in her left knee.

PG Tully Bevilaqua
Season: 1.8 ppg, 1.4 apg, 37.5% threes, 88.9% fts
Best Performance: 5 points, 4 steals, 2 assists, 1-2 threes 6/30 @ CHA

Tully Bevilaqua’s aggressive style has rapidly endeared her to Storm fans. Though the league keeps no such statistic, Bevilaqua undoubtedly leads the WNBA in jump balls forced per minute, as she frequently ties up much bigger players. Bevilaqua has not seen heavy action this year, but has come through when the Storm has needed her. Twice this year Bevilaqua has replaced Bird early in games because of injury. Both times she sparked the Storm, making two momentum-changing threes against Phoenix and playing the aggressive defense that resulted in four steals against the Sting. The Storm won both games. Enough said.

F Jung Sun-Min
first half: 1.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 2-2 free throws
Best Performance: 4 points, 5 rebounds 6/22 vs. SAS

The transition from South Korea to the United States and center to forward has left Jung Sun-Min without a great deal of playing time so far during her rookie season. Jung has been used occasionally as a zone-buster and, while she has yet to make a three, has shown good shooting touch from the perimeter. Barnes’ injury may afford Jung the playing time she needs to find her WNBA comfort zone and make good on her promise.

F/C Danielle McCulley
first half: 0.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg
Best Performance: 1 rebound 7/5 @ LAS (not much choice)

Danielle McCulley’s first half was wiped out by tendinitis in her left Achilles. After playing well during preseason, she spent the season’s first 15 games on the injured list. She was activated before the Storm’s first-half finale against Los Angeles and played six minutes in her 2003 debut. McCulley should have a chance to prove herself further during the second half of the season.

THE STATS

FIRST-HALF LEADERS
POINTS
Jackson - 19.7
Bird - 13.3
Vodichkova - 10.3
Brondello – 9.6
Barnes - 5.5
REBOUNDS
Jackson - 7.5
Vodichkova - 4.5
Barnes - 4.1
Edwards - 3.6
Bird - 3.4
ASSISTS
Bird - 7.4
Brondello - 2.2
Jackson - 1.5

TOP GAMES

3. Storm 69, @Los Angeles 67 – Jun. 19
After losing a late lead to the Sparks in their home opener and falling in overtime, the Storm was not about to be denied in the rematch in L.A nationally televised on ESPN2. They marched into the Staples Center and took a big lead early, eventually leading by as many as in the second half. Being the two-time defending WNBA Champions, the Sparks rallied and pulled to within 67-65 with under a minute left. That’s when Brondello, who led the Storm with 21 points in a low-scoring game, came up big. Her score gave the Storm a four-point lead, and the team rode it out for a 69-67 victory that was the Sparks first home loss.

STORM POLL
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STORM POLL
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2. @Storm 93, San Antonio 53 – Jun. 22
To Donovan, this was a gut-check game. The Storm was playing its first back-to-back of the season a night after a disappointing loss to the Monarchs in Sacramento. After the game, Donovan had a fiery chat with her players audible outside the locker room, and they responded in thrilling fashion. The Storm buried the helpless Silver Stars, never letting them come up for air in a game that possessed little drama. The Storm set a franchise record for most points scored as well as largest margin of victory in the game, arguably their finest performance ever from a statistical perspective.

1. Storm 83, @Charlotte 71 – Jun. 30
There is, alas, more to a great game than impressive statistics. The circumstances matter too. The Storm had every reason to lose the finale of a three-game East Coast road trip against Charlotte. It was the team’s third game in four nights. The Sting is playing terrific basketball, and is in first place in the East as of the All-Star break. Jackson was playing injured, having sat out the previous game with a sore right foot. Bird was knocked out of the game briefly in the first half. Combined, they scored just four points in the first half, all of them by Jackson. Still, the Storm trailed just 37-35 thanks to Barnes and Vodichkova, who stepped up their offense. In the second half, Jackson was brilliant, scoring 17 points. With aid from Lassiter, who finished with 12, Jackson led the Storm’s comeback and helped put the Sting away, winning going away by an 83-71 final.

TOP STORIES

5. Stormin’ the All-Star Game
Thanks to an injury that held forward Tina Thompson of the Houston Comets out of last Saturday’s All-Star Game, the Storm became one of just three teams (New York and Los Angeles the others) to have a pair of players in the starting lineup, with Bird voted in and Jackson replacing Thompson. Both players played well, with Bird finishing with 11 points and four rebounds and Jackson recording nine points, four boards and three blocked shots. While Bird was a natural storyline, returning to her native New York to start her second straight All-Star Game, and was featured in ABC’s pre-game segment, it was an important exposure opportunity for Jackson. Thanks to the efforts of Bird and Jackson, the Western Conference maintained its undefeated record in All-Star play, pulling out an 84-75 victory.

4. Adia Barnes’ Season Ends Prematurely
Nobody, least of all Barnes, thought her season was over when she went down against the Los Angeles Sparks. “I definitely didn’t think I tore anything,” she said afterwards. The injury was initially diagnosed as a sprained knee. When the Storm returned to Seattle, however, an MRI revealed the torn ACL that will keep Barnes out for approximately six months. It was a disappointing end to what had been a splendid season for Barnes. This story will probably loom larger in the second half as the Storm looks to replace Barnes’ production at small forward.


Jackson’s play has been the biggest story of the first half .
Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE/Getty
3. Battling for Second Place
While the Storm was certainly optimistic heading into this season, the depth of the Western Conference was reason for concern. Minnesota, after adding Teresa Edwards and Sheri Sam to its starting lineup, and Sacramento, returning to full health and adding a pair of top rookies, both looked like strong playoff contenders. None of the other playoff teams from 2002 were about to give up their spots easily, so the Western Conference playoff picture looked like it would be fiercely contested. It probably will be in the end, but in the first half of the season the battle has yet to materialize. Sacramento, a disappointing 8-11, changed coaches last week, with John Whisenant taking over on an interim basis. San Antonio has slipped after trading Natalie Williams, and is just 6-11, while Phoenix, at 3-14, is not in the playoff picture. The Sparks, the WNBA’s best team at 15-3, are in a class all by themselves. For the moment, that leaves Houston (10-7), the Storm (9-7) and Minnesota (9-8) all battling for second place in the West. With nine of its final 14 games at home, the Storm is in excellent position, but every game is important – especially match-ups with the other two teams, of which the Storm has six left, starting with Tuesday’s game against Houston at KeyArena.

2. Sue Bird’s Injury
There was a slow collective recognition in KeyArena on May 30 that something was wrong. At first, Bird’s absence from the game’s waning moments of regulation could be attributed to a desire to get a stronger defender on the court. When Bird limped off the court early in overtime, a pall descended on the Key. A lengthy injury to Bird would be devastating to the Storm’s playoff hopes. The diagnosis came over the following weekend – chondromalacia in her left knee. Ever a trooper, Bird played despite the injury, but was not herself for several weeks. Her offense, so strong in the season’s first three games, did not entirely return until the final week of the first half, when she twice scored 20 points or more. In the end, Bird’s injury may have been a blessing in disguise, allowing Jackson to step into a lead role in the offense and causing Bird to focus on setting up her teammates, something nobody in the WNBA did better during the first half of the season.

1. Lauren Jackson Emerges as an MVP candidate
As the season goes on, Jackson’s performance could emerge as the biggest story of 2003. She has a chance to put together a season for the record books. Already, Jackson’s current averages of 19.7 points and 7.5 rebounds would be the highest single-season averages in franchise history. If the Storm stays in the middle of the West’s playoff picture and Jackson continues her individual domination, she will assuredly be amongst the leading candidates for MVP at season’s end.

The Week Ahead

Tue, July 15 Houston Comets 7:00 p.m. KeyArena (tickets) 950 KJR AM
Thu, July 17 Connecticut Sun 5:00 p.m. Mohegan Sun Arena 950 KJR AM and ESPN2
Fri, July 18 Detroit Shock 4:30 p.m. The Palace of Auburn Hills 950 KJR AM
Sun, July 20 Minnesota Lynx 3:00 p.m. Target Center 950 KJR AM and NBA TV

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