Storm Has Had Success Without Jackson
When Lauren Jackson was lost for the season following ankle surgery last August, the biggest task for the Seattle Storm's players was convincing everyone else - and possibly even themselves - that they could win without the league's reigning MVP. A year later, the Storm is again facing an extended stretch without Jackson, but now history suggests the team is anything but doomed.
"We've been here before," Head Coach Brian Agler noted before Saturday's double-overtime win over Atlanta. Jackson missed the final 13 games of the 2008 regular season because of National Team commitments and her surgery. She also missed two games earlier this season while bothered by a strained left Achilles. The Storm's record in those games? 11-5, good for a .688 winning percentage that is actually better than the Storm's winning percentage in that span with a healthy Jackson, .617 (29-18).
As recently as two years ago, the Storm struggled to merely compete without Jackson. From 2003 through 2007, she missed 11 games due to either injury or personal reasons. The Storm won just one of those games. Even the 2004 squad that went on to win the championship lost three straight games when Jackson returned home after the Olympics to visit her dying grandmother and rest a sprained mid-foot.
Players give credit for the team's ability to win without its star to Agler's offense, which does not emphasize Jackson as single-mindedly and creates good opportunities for multiple different players.
"A lot of what we did (in the past) really revolved around Lauren, and rightfully so," said Sue Bird, "but to the point where when she wasn't there we almost had a bit of an identity crisis in how to run our offense. With Brian, it's a lot more read and react.
"Don't get me wrong - we're still doing things to get Lauren the ball because that's the type of player she is and that's what you want to do when you have somebody like that on your team. When she's removed from the lineup, it's still kind of the same movements and people are still getting the same shots. For everybody else, you don't really miss a beat."
"We're in a different system which allows us to adapt," added Tanisha Wright, pointing to the team's balance. "We play a system where I think all five of our starters score in double-figures almost every game."
The Storm has also seen players help replace Jackson's production. Bird has experienced the most dramatic change in her role, becoming the Storm's go-to player and an MVP candidate during the second half of the 2008 season. This year, Bird has scored at least 20 points twice in the three games Jackson has missed. While playing alongside Jackson, Bird has topped 20 three times in 26 games.
Center Janell Burse, Jackson's replacement in the lineup, has been a solid contributor for the Storm as a starter. Burse scored a season-high 17 points on Saturday, having previously tied her season high of 14 points in consecutive games while Jackson's minutes were limited by her back injury. In three starts in place of Jackson, Burse has averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 55.2 percent from the field.
Forwards Swin Cash and Camille Little have also helped the Storm fill in for Jackson on the glass. Little, who pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds on Saturday, has averaged a double-double in Jackson's absence (11.7 points, 10.3 rebounds), while Cash has averaged 8.3 rebounds in those three games.
As the Storm heads out on a three-game road trip, playoff positioning is still an important consideration. The Storm is trying to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason and would like to make a run at Phoenix for the top seed in the Western Conference. Losing Jackson for an indefinite period makes that task more challenging, but doesn't mean it is impossible. The Storm has proven that over the last two years.
"We've played with Lauren enough the last couple of years," said Agler. "I think we have people that will step up."