Insider Preview - Storm vs. New York
Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com
The New York Liberty is starting to look an awful lot like a John Whisenant team. Whisenant and his predecessor, longtime Seattle Storm Head Coach Anne Donovan, have slightly different philosophies. When Whisenant was coaching the rival Sacramento Monarchs, Donovan once noted that he was happy to win games in an ugly fashion but she felt her team was too talented to do so. (That proved out when the Storm knocked off the Monarchs in a 2004 Western Conference Finals series that went the distance.)
In part because of Donovan's influence but also because of the team's personnel, Whisenant inherited a Liberty team that relied more on hot shooting than tight defense to win games. Last year's New York team finished third in the WNBA in Offensive Rating and fifth in Defensive Rating.
Early in this season, the Liberty's offense/defense balance was similar. Over the course of the schedule, however, players have gotten more comfortable with Whisenant's white-line defense and are exerting more energy at the defensive end of the floor. As a result, New York's defense is moving up the rankings while the offense has tumbled slightly.
The change is evident looking strictly at points per game and splitting the Liberty's 26 games to date in two. Over the first 13 games, New York outscored opponents 81.3-80.0. During the last 13 games, the Liberty is scoring just 73.5 points per game but is giving up 72.0 a night - a mark that would be second in the WNBA behind the Storm over the course of the season.
It's easy to see examples of nights New York has won with defense. Three times in the month of August alone, the Liberty has emerged victorious despite scoring fewer than 60 points. A 59-49 win over the Chicago Sky was the ugliest of the wins, but a 58-56 triumph over the Storm last Tuesday at the Prudential Center in Newark also qualifies.
There is plenty of evidence that Whisenant's style can work. He led Sacramento to the Western Conference Finals four consecutive years. The Monarchs reached the WNBA Finals twice and won the 2005 WNBA championship.
As compared to those Sacramento teams, New York boasts more offensive potential, starting with go-to guard Cappie Pondexter, one of the WNBA's best individual scorers. The Liberty has surrounded Pondexter with tough post players and capable outside shooters. Four New York players average double-figure scoring, with forward Nicole Powell not far behind at 9.2 points per game.
Before the trade deadline, the Liberty added another scoring threat in talented center Kara Braxton, dealt away by the Phoenix Mercury after being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. A starter in Phoenix, Braxton is still playing limited minutes with New York as she works to pick up Whisenant's defensive system. Still, her size and skill give the Liberty one of the league's best reserve post players.
More playing time for Braxton could also help New York address its largest weakness - an inability to get to the free throw line. The Liberty averages .21 free throw attempts for every shot from the field, far and away the WNBA's lowest mark. Starters Powell and Leilani Mitchell have attempted just 30 free throws all season in more than 1,300 minutes. Braxton herself has shot 44 free throws this season - though just two in five games since the trade.
The trip to Seattle carries extra meaning for a couple of members of the New York roster. Mitchell is a native of Kennewick, Wash. who has had dozens of family and friends in attendance at KeyArena in the past. This season, the Liberty added first-round pick Alex Montgomery, who grew up in Tacoma and attended Lincoln High School before playing at Georgia Tech.
The Storm could get a lift tonight with the possible return of center Lauren Jackson to the lineup. Jackson has been cleared medically, but Head Coach Brian Agler is still uncertain as to whether she will play. The Storm also doesn't know about the availability of shooting guard Tanisha Wright, who is flying back to Seattle today after attending her mother's funeral. Should both players play, it would be the first time the Storm has had its full complement of players since June 21. Jackson's minutes will be limited when she does return, and working her into the lineup will take some time, but her mere presence in uniform could be enough to boost the team's spirits.
|Besides Pondexter, the other Liberty player to reach double figures in the win over the Storm was forward Plenette Pierson. At 12.8 points per game, Pierson is New York's second-leading scorer. She's also been a consistent presence, scoring at least 10 points in every game during the month of July. Despite the success Pierson has enjoyed, including winning the Sixth Woman Award, her scoring average is a career high. The Storm hopes Camille Little can carry over her strong performance Tuesday in Phoenix. Little did an excellent job of finishing in the paint as part of the pick-and-roll, making seven of her nine shot attempts and scoring 16 points.|
A series of opportunities were not enough for the Storm to claim a precious road victory Aug. 9 in New York. Having trailed most of the night, the Storm went ahead 56-55 on Ashley Robinson's finish at the rim off a Sue Bird feed. Pondexter gave New York back the lead by scoring in the paint with 41.1 seconds left. On its next trip down, the Storm had three looks at the basket, but could not connect. Bird missed from beyond the arc and the free throw line before Pondexter altered Swin Cash's attempt at the rim just enough to keep it from going in. Still, the Storm had a chance to tie or win when Pierson split two free throws. At the buzzer, Bird's shot attempt was rejected from behind by Essence Carson, giving the Liberty a 58-56 win.
In a low-scoring, defensive game, the Storm again struggled with turnovers - 20 of them in all. Seattle also had a tough time finishing against New York's interior defense, shooting 27.7 percent on two-point attempts. What kept the Storm in the game was outside shooting (Bird scored 15 of her 17 points from beyond the arc, where the Storm shot a respectable 38.1 percent) and tough defense. The Liberty, which has five players averaging double-figures this season, saw just Pondexter (19 on 8-of-19 shooting) and Pierson reach that mark.
Storm - Center Lauren Jackson (surgery, left hip labrum) is questionable.
New York - Center Quanitra Hollingsworth (sprained left ankle) is questionable.Comments blog comments powered by Disqus