By Michelle Smith
When the Washington Mystics talk about their transition to “position-less basketball”, they talk about being inspired by the Golden State Warriors. It’s a big part of the reason Elena Delle Donne wanted to be in Washington.
When Connecticut coach Curt Miller talks about the production he’s getting from Alyssa Thomas at the “stretch-4” spot in his lineup, he talks about using Thomas “like the Warriors use Draymond Green.”
When Pokey Chatman talked about her Indiana Fever team taking on the Los Angeles Sparks she referred to them as the “Golden State Warriors” of the WNBA because of their ability to both score and defend with the best teams in the league.
The newly crowned NBA Champions are undeniably the hottest team in basketball. They are star-studded, and play an appealing, exciting brand of the game.
And they are a model for many teams both in the WNBA, and collegiate women’s basketball, where smaller lineups, strong shooting, ball-sharing and versatility are both valued and attainable.
“It fits the women’s game well,” said Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird. “It fits our team. That versatility. You look at the Warriors and you see a ton of talent, but you also see a lot of players with versatility on offense and defense. We have played Washington, with Elena and see what they are doing, spreading the floor and attacking. That style is good for the women’s game.”
Seattle Storm coach Jenny Boucek has been mining NBA basketball for good ideas for years. She has watched the Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks and seen elements of what the Warriors are doing now.
She also remembers watching teams that featured isolations and one-on-one play and trying to figure out how to alter it and adjust it to make it work.
“This is about continuity and spacing and flow,” Boucek said. “It’s the way we want to play. Be able to have multiple play-makers and decision-makers on the floor. Make it tough for people to guard you.”
Boucek has one of the league’s most versatile players in the league on her roster in Breanna Stewart, with a seven-foot wingspan, post moves and the ability to drop bombs from beyond the 3-point arc.
“It’s an advantage that not many people have,” Stewart said. “Creating, to be able to shoot, dribble, play inside-out. I am trying to get better at those things, working on my ball-handling, shooting a better percentage. If I can do it, why can’t I get better at it?”
Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said she likes to think her team is like the Warriors in that they strive to be the best team in the league on both offense and defense.
“But we don’t do it because they do it,” Reeve said. “We’ve done it since 2011.”
When Reeve, who said her own team plays more similarly to the San Antonio Spurs, watches the Warriors she sees a commitment to doing an “unbelievable job of setting screens.”
“It’s not just isolation or one-on-one, it’s not all pick-and-roll, the things that the pro game has always been perceived to be,” Reeve said. “It’s more of a team game, and that’s the thing that stands out.
“As coaches, we are always watching what other teams do. The ‘position-less’ concept is legit. It’s not just the Warriors. It’s the way the game is going. In the WNBA, you only have 11-12 players on the roster and your ability to play as many players as you can, there’s incredible value in that.”
Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler is an Ohio guy. Saying nice things about the Warriors doesn’t come easy to a Cleveland Cavaliers fan.
But he knows all about the value of versatility with players such as Candace Parker, who has set the bar for versatility during her decade in the league, and Nneka Ogwumike on his roster.
He appreciates the way the Warriors have displayed the merits of a team game and of a player like Green, who is willing to “do the dirty work” in that system. He sees players such as his own Alana Beard and Essence Carson, Minnesota’s Rebekkah Brunson, and Washington’s Tierra Ruffin-Pratt as examples of that kind of “do what it takes” ethic. Particularly on the defensive end, the kind of play that Agler sees from Green and Klay Thompson in the Golden State lineup.
“They don’t have to have the ball to impact the game,” Agler said.
The irony in all of this is that the WNBA is being dominated so far this season by more classic post players such as Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner. In fact, with the addition of Tina Charles, Nneka Ogwumike and Delle Donne, the top five scores in the league are post players.
“The NBA is mostly getting away from having true centers, and I can’t say I see that in our league,” Reeve said. “Getting your post player the ball, that’s a necessity for us. And it’s an incredible asset. I didn’t think we’d been making the best use of Syl, and we wanted to take off some of the load from our perimeter players.”
Bird said that size still matters in the women’s game.
“Big players still wear you down,” Bird said. “Sylvia and Brittney and those players are still able to dominate.”
Agler doesn’t see that changing.
“Early in the season, people have been guarding people one-on-one in the post and they are stepping up because you can’t stop these players one-on-one and they get so much production off of secondary offense, with rebounds and put-backs,” Agler said. “I think you will see as the season goes along more double-teams coming their way.”