Insider Preview: Storm vs. Tulsa
Friday, June 1, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 1090 AM
Live Access: Available with subscription
Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com
Having completed the worst season in WNBA history with a 3-31 record, the Tulsa Shock committed to a new direction during the offseason. After Nolan Richardson proved unable to adopt to the professional game and coaching women, and Teresa Edwards failed to improve the team's performance following a midseason coaching change, the Shock opted for more WNBA experience on the sidelines. Tulsa hired long-time assistant Gary Kloppenburg, who spent 2000-02 as part of Lin Dunn's staff in Seattle and was most recently Dunn's top aide with the Indiana Fever.
So far, the Kloppenburg era has yet to translate into more victories, thanks to a heartbreaking finish Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The Shock, up by four with 10 seconds to play, saw Kristi Toliver make a jumper, Karima Christmas miss both free throw attempts and Toliver nail a step-back three-pointer at the buzzer to steal the victory. Tulsa dropped to 0-4 with the loss, which is tied with New York for the league's worst record, yet has been far more competitive this season than at any point in 2011.
All four Shock losses have come by single digits, and three have been tossups decided by three points or fewer. By contrast, Tulsa never lost by such a small margin in all of 2011. Over the course of the season, the Shock's current point differential would historically translate to around 13 wins. That would surpass the total of nine wins in the franchise's first two seasons in Tulsa.
The Shock has managed that kind of improvement despite playing without franchise center Liz Cambage, who is training for the Olympics in Australia with Lauren Jackson, among others. Tulsa also suffered the worst possible fate in the lottery after last year's 3-31 finish, dropping all the way to the No. 4 pick. Still, the Shock was able to add a pair of top rookies. Tulsa took Tennessee forward Glory Johnson, a terrific rebounder, at No. 4. When Miami guard Riquna Williams dropped to the second round, Tulsa happily added a top-10 talent with the 17th overall pick.
Kloppenburg also helped orchestrate a pair of additions to the backcourt. The Shock dealt Andrea Riley, who was later waived, to the Phoenix Mercury for veteran point guard Temeka Johnson, a steadier hand at the point. Tulsa then brought back guard Scholanda Dorrell, the team's second-leading scorer in 2010, via free agency.
The result is a small, quick roster built to pressure opponents and create shots off the dribble. The Shock's three leading scorers - Johnson, Williams and holdover Ivory Latta - are all 5-7 or shorter. Two of the three play together at most times, and Tulsa compensates for the lack of size with pressure defense - a Kloppenburg trademark inherited from his father, Bob, a Seattle SuperSonics assistant coach during the 1980s and 1990s who developed the SOS pressure defense. Bob Kloppenburg's scheme was responsible for the Sonics finishing with the NBA's second-highest steal total during the 1993-94 season, and his son has put it to equal success in the WNBA.
"Historically, he's been sort of a defensive guru coaching with Lin, either here or in Indiana," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler.
The Shock has taken the Kloppenburg style to new extremes in terms of forcing turnovers. Opponents are averaging 26.8 turnovers per game - nearly five more than any other team in the league creates. Tulsa also leads the league in steals per game (14.0) and points off of turnovers (27.3, which accounts for more than a third of the Shock's scoring. On Tuesday, the Shock forced Toliver into a WNBA-record 14 turnovers before she became the hero by hitting the winning shot.
"They've obviously extended their defense to create those turnovers - trapping and being aggressive on the ball, being really proactive on the ball side," explained Agler. "It's a matter of whether we'll be able to deal with it or not."
During a preseason matchup in Tulsa, the Storm was not ready, committing 39 turnovers. That came with a makeshift backcourt on the floor, but miscues have continued to plague the Storm early in the regular season. The team had 27 turnovers in the opening loss to L.A. but has made progress since then, turning the ball over a season-low 17 times at Minnesota on Sunday. Playing against the Shock's pressure will guide how the Storm plays to some extent.
"We want to make sure we have experience on the floor, multiple ballhandlers on the floor," Agler said, "but we also want to make sure we space the floor and move the defense in unison. We've been working a lot on that."
The Storm must take advantage of Tulsa's other weaknesses. The Shock has been one of the league's worst rebounding teams, allowing opponents to rebound 38.7 percent of their own misses. Opposing teams also make better than 50 percent of their shot attempts when they can avoid turnovers. Beating Tulsa's pressure for threes and scores in the paint rather than merely breaking it will be key to the Storm's success.
|A complementary player in Phoenix, Johnson has taken on a much larger role in the Shock's offense. In fact, she leads Tulsa in scoring at 14.8 points per game in addition to handing out 6.3 assists a night (third in the WNBA). Johnson has never before averaged double figures during her WNBA career. Free throw attempts are one sign of Johnson's increased aggressiveness. She's gone to the foul line 18 times so far, putting her on the verge of matching last season's total of 22 attempts in 30 games. Sue Bird has historically matched up well with Johnson defensively, but now must also deal with Tulsa's pressure defense.|
Storm - None.
Tulsa - None.Comments blog comments powered by Disqus