Monday, May 17, 2010

Opening Night

Wow. That was fun. I almost forgot how much fun it is to just be a fan of this team. Last year, even when I was in the stands while someone else officially covered the game I was much more reserved...probably from my poor attempts at being objective from media row.

Seattle returned all 5 starters...who we ALL recall played every minute of last season. OK, they didn't play every minute, but they did score every point. So I am guilty of a little exaggeration. Who cares?

The bench on opening night put up 4 points (A-Rob on an uncontested put-back layup and Svetlana Abrosimova on a second chance mid-range jumper) in about 26 minutes of game time. With 200 minutes of play available, the starters managed to only have to play 87% of the available minutes to start the season.

To be fair, Agler went to his bench early showing us his core for the season with Willingham, Abrosimova and Lacey being called on (no surprises) as well as Ashley Robinson. Many observers would have A-Rob as the 11th player on this wait, most would have had the young woman cut. Some have insulted the entire league and women athletes in general with blatant accusations equating to libel saying she has not earned her roster spot with her play on the basketball court.

Robinson is a professional. Her coach put her in the game, she did what she has always done. She played solid defense (guarding Candace Parker, perhaps the league's most dynamic post), making the proper rotations within the coach's defensive screens and taking shots in the offense that needed to be taken. Granted, as often happens, she only made one out of those three shots. The one she made should have been taken three seconds earlier. Wake up idiots. She isn't in the game to score baskets. She isn't in the game because of how she looks (sweet as it may be.) She is in the game to use her length, speed and height to disrupt her assignment and make the RIGHT rotation to help her team by stopping someone else from getting a basket while her assignment is well guarded. (See Le'Coe Willingham for an example of someone who only got the first half of that job right people.)

I am a self confessed Vin Baker apologist. I am NOT an Ashley Robinson apologist. I look at the roster Coach Agler has put together and I get it. It makes PERFECT sense to me. It wasn't the one I put together, but...

  1. I don't get to watch any practice...
  2. I am not as smart about basketball as he is...
  3. It isn't my dang job!!!

I look at what he did, and I can see WHY he did it. I also can see why my lineup was probably not quite as good as his.

Anyone who loves this game has to think about one thing and one thing only. Lauren Jackson wants to win. This may be the singular most powerful thing I have ever learned about this young woman. I am not an insider. The few quality questions I have asked her have been answered tersely and without a personal connection. Actually she was much more real when I asked her a really BAD question. That actually informed me of what kind of person Lauren Jackson is. I am not a reporter...I am just a fan with some meager skills with language who had a chance to talk to a person who embodies the essence of the only sport he loves. I waited until the REAL reporters were done and then I asked my questions. I blew it. I asked some stupid question...I can't even remember what it was. She didn't rub in my inadequacy...she merely said "It's alright, mate." Then she created an answer to a better question than I had asked which I could quote in my game article for the night.

She did the same thing with A-Rob tonight. Ashley forcefully grabbed that offensive rebound. Then for what seemed like an eternity, she looked around for who she should pass it to. The whole time, LJ was boxing out what seemed to be the entire LA team while screaming, "Shoot the ball!" or at least she was screaming something. The crowd was far too loud to hear anything she was saying. Robinson shot the ball and made the basket. Lauren did not chastise her for waiting, and she didn't pretend that everything was OK. She just laughed...WITH A-Rob.

I could write pages on those 10 seconds alone. If I can sum it up...A-Rob is our woman and LJ, well, she is so much more than her height, her looks and her turn around, fade-away jumper. Those two women are Seattle Storm Basketball, and if you don't get haven't been there.

By the way, there was a basketball game being played, did I mention that?

Yes, the highly touted (even here years before she wore the purple and vomit) Candace Parker shot 4-11 from the field. It wasn't as big a deal as the media will make it out to be. LJ played some spectacular defense on Parker...particularly when Parker tried to score on the move. She had some truly quality help from Wright, Cash, Little, Robinson and even Willingham. Le'Coe can defend one on one...(surprise Phoenix!) but she still has to internalize Agler's defense.

Really, his defense is not that complicated...if you have to coach it. Playing it, well that is another matter entirely. He gave his elementary version to the Boy's and Girl's Club of King County this year. I don't claim to understand it all, but the overview he gave answered a TON of questions I had after two years of watching his teams play here in Seattle. There are many nuances I don't get yet, (see pick and roll 101) but I see his ultimate vision. From there I can deconstruct much of what I see on the court (maybe low 60 percentile.) Willingham is still a step and a half slow at her reactions. She wants to hedge on the handler when she should be showing on the handler but hedging on her own assignment. Actually, this is where it probably gets too complicated. She likely has a primary hedge but has to adjust by how well the OTHER defender covers her assignment. OK, now I am getting confused...anyway...let us just say that I think Le'Coe is a dang sharp woman and she will have this down in a week or two. The lady just got to camp...give the "girl" a break.

So, my first time feeling truly free from the restrictions of an editor and I am just running off free form with tangential bruhaha.

In the end, the Storm won because they played starter minutes against a solid team on the second night of a back to back. LA is struggling (IMHO) to find the proper chemistry, and the Storm were able to exploit that by coming out aggressive and maintaining that aggression through the end of the game. LA did not fold until the 4th quarter. Seattle kept it close and played their bench more heavily in the 1st half. That left steam in the starting lineup to look for the weak point and go for the win.

I never doubt this team on the quality of their starters nor the quality of their coaching. I look forward to how the next few games play out. If this game was part of a complicated chess match to win one against LA, it was perfect. In the long run, though, we will need to see more offense from the bench and less minutes from the starters. A team that has fallen from the post season in the first round for 4 consecutive years CANNOT afford a 87% dependency on the starters for minutes.


Kendal said...

Great read, especially about giving the team time to gel. Seriously our bench, exception of ARob is entirely new! I read post after post with the same old song "Why did he play the starters too much, why did he keep ARob......and so on...." It gets old, I'm not a player, not since I was a teenager, and I've never been a coach. Since Agler took over we have been honored with some of the worlds best players on our team giving us some of the best games since 2004 playoff series is enough for me to just sit back and enjoy the season. It can't be helped that we lost LJ for the playoff games otherwise I would say with that they would have taken the 'ship in 08, maybe even 09. Will this be our year? I think so, either way I'm going to enjoy the ride......again.

Patrick said...

I agree, it is always a great ride. I am still thrilled with how well a truly offensive oriented team has become a defensive powerhouse WITHOUT losing the ability to be exciting on offense. That is the true magic of what Karen Bryant has done by bringing in Agler to be the 3rd coach in team history. This team is SOOOO young and still growing...think how good they can be!