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Storm Roster Taking Shape

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | Feb. 14, 2012

With a pair of moves Tuesday, the Seattle Storm's roster for the 2012 season is coming into focus. In separate moves, the Storm picked up second-year forward Victoria Dunlap from the Washington Mystics for Ashley Robinson and re-signed veteran star Katie Smith. The two additions give the Storm eight players under contract and represent the first steps toward shaping a second unit.

Dunlap and Smith have very different WNBA pedigrees. While Smith became the third WNBA player to reach 6,000 career points at the end of last season and has scored more points than any other player in women's professional basketball history, Dunlap is just beginning her career. Taken by the Mystics with the 11th overall pick last April - just before the Storm picked 12th, taking Jasmine Thomas before trading her to Washington for Smith - Dunlap has a promising future.

Katie Smith is congratulated on her 6,000th career point.
Neil Enns/Storm Photos

Katie Smith got a standing ovation last season when she scored her 6,000th career point.

"We had her on our close radar last year going into the draft," said Storm Head Coach and General Manager Brian Agler. "We like her versatility offensively. Athletically, she's as good as there is in the league. We felt like we wanted to get some good young players on our roster. It's a combination of all those things. We had the opportunity to bring her on our team and we took advantage of it."

As a rookie, Dunlap was stuck behind All-Star Crystal Langhorne, which limited her playing time. When Dunlap did get opportunities, she proved effective. The former SEC Player of the Year averaged 12.0 points and 6.3 rebounds in three starts when Langhorne was injured. Included was the best game of her career - 19 points and eight rebounds, both career highs, against the Storm on July 3. Per 40 minutes, Dunlap averaged 10.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and a league-high 3.3 steals.

"She's quite a bit like Swin (Cash) was coming out of college - an explosive athlete who played primarily with her back to the basket in college in a very successful way," Agler said. "We're hoping that she can make a similar transition to facing the basket that Swin did. She's very active defensively, a tremendous rebounder, can run the floor and we just like her athleticism."

A year ago, the Storm felt that adding Smith in a sign-and-trade deal could be a difference-maker off the bench. After suffering soreness in her Achilles tendon during training camp, Smith was limited early in the season. However, she caught fire midway through the season and ended up shooting 39.5 percent from three-point range, good for 13th in the WNBA and second on the Storm behind Sue Bird.

"I think at times we saw very good parts of Katie's game," said Agler, referring to her 43 points in the last two games of the regular season that helped the Storm clinch home-court advantage in the playoffs, "but I don't think that she was consistently at the level she wanted to be at. I feel strongly that she has a chance to be more herself this coming year.

"She obviously played extremely well for us defensively. She's one of those people who can go and defend some of the best players in the WNBA on the perimeter. She just has that knack. She also has a knack for switching off and defending players that are bigger than her because of her strength and her experience."

To Agler, it was Smith's defensive toughness, as well as her intangible attributes, that made retaining her important.

"I think that as we keep moving forward," he explained, "we don't want to lose our identity as being a defensive-minded, physically and mentally tough team. She definitely brings all those attributes. She's a proven winner. She's very versatile, especially at the defensive end. She gives us an opportunity to keep playing the way we've played her over the last four years."

The contrast between Dunlap, 22, and Smith, 37, reflects the Storm's attempt to get younger and more athletic while at the same time continuing to complete with the WNBA's top teams. Dunlap and the player the Storm ultimately adds with the No. 2 pick (possibly via trade) represent an infusion of youth and energy. These young players can also learn from veterans like Smith.

"As we continue to sign free agents," said Agler, "I think people will see that we're putting together a team that's going to have some explosive athleticism, but yet also some very savvy veteran high-caliber free agents who have been proven in this league. It's a unique balance as we move forward."

Dealing Robinson for a younger player helps give the Storm additional flexibility under the salary cap. Having added Ann Wauters and re-signed Bird, Smith and Tanisha Wright, the Storm is positioned to make one last big splash in free agency before turning its attention to the draft and filling out the roster with younger free agents who will come to training camp with a chance to make the team.

"We need to get deeper in the post, but we also want to bring in people who can shoot the basketball," Agler said. "We've probably got one more signing to make, and we feel like the direction we go there will show that. After that, it will be younger free agents and draft picks that will make up the remainder of our roster."

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