During a Sunday night game in which seemingly every able body got a chance to try stopping Seattle Storm forward Lauren Jackson, San Antonio Silver Stars rookie center Jayne Appel came in and got her chance.
Indeed it has to be a daunting task for a rookie, but Appel didn't exactly back down.
If Appel has any immediate physical advantage in the WNBA, it's that she's strong and relatively nimble given her wide frame. So she used it to the best of her advantage against Jackson -- on one play when a teammate shot the ball, Appel ducked underneath Jackson to get position and just sort of threw her body at her, something like how a hockey player might throw a body check. The Storm ended up getting the ball, but Appel had made her presence felt - Jackson visibly grimaced from taking the hit as she turned to run up the court.
Although Appel hasn't been a major contributor for the Silver Stars to this point, the presence she brings to the post bodes well for her to earn more minutes to do exactly the type of thing Storm fans saw against Jackson at least for now. Given that she's still learning the system after a late start due to injury, It's too early to pass a final judgment on just how good she could be.
"She's good," said Silver Stars coach Sandy Brondello prior to the Storm game when asked about Appel's early development. "Obviously Jayne wasn't in the game against Phoenix. She didn't practice in the training camp or for the first one or two weeks so it's a work in progress for Jayne. But she's going to get to play a little bit more time because I think she's a player that can help us."
If there was anything we knew about Appel on draft day, it was that her biggest immediate impact would probably be exactly what she demonstrated against the Storm -- a strong interior presence who could contend with other post players in the league for rebounds. Since the Silver Stars were outrebounded last season, Appel appeared to be a huge asset despite seemingly having a glut of post players.
"She gives us another low-block presence, which is what we need," said Brondello of Appel's performance after an ugly loss to the Storm. "Our bigs have to get more rebounds. We're much better in the open court if we can run and we couldn't really run tonight because we're always taking the ball out of the basket."
Thus far this season, that's showing up in the advanced numbers Appel has put up in limited minutes. Appel's has a respectable offensive rebounding percentage -- the percentage of available rebounds that she gets -- of 9.93%, which is the highest on her team despite the limited minutes. Her total rebounding percentage is second behind center Michelle Snow.
However, Appel isn't necessarily redundant either. Her passing ability is also an asset to any pro team looking to put a center at the high post to help facilitate the offense. Appel has an assist ratio of 14.53% in her limited time this season, which is strong among post players with similar tendencies (utility post players who tend to be more rebounders than scorers) and a little above Silver Stars center Ruth Riley's assist ratio. From the position in the high post, Appel has also demonstrated the ability to cut to the basket off pick and rolls and finish well. Every time she's played she looks more confident and that should only increase as she gets more time.
"She's still transitioning from learning all the stuff that we had because she missed the training camp," said Brondello. "And that's good for her. But she's a good kid, she's working hard, and hopefully we get her on the court a little more and then she can get the confidence that she needs to compete."
Michelle Smith of LeftCoastHoops.com described how Appel appears to be "taking steps forward' and the direction she's going in could make her a unique player on a team thought to have a number of redundant post players in the pre-season; Riley can pass and shoot the ball from the high post but has modest rebounding numbers, Snow is a stronger rebounder, but neither the passer nor shooter that Riley is, and Appel is a solid rebounder and passer despite still developing shooting range.
Appel would not only give the team rebounding help, but another type of player to plug into their offense. Defensively, she may not have stopped Jackson but really, who does? The point is that her size, strength, and deceptively quick instincts will help Appel defensively down the line.
None of this is to say that Appel is headed down a path to stardom -- before the draft, it looked more likely that she would be a solid career rotation player. Certainly the numbers are nothing to get overly excited about given that we still haven't seen what Appel can do in consistent minutes. However, her overall performance thus far is probably a reasonable reflection of what we can expect from Appel going forward, both in terms of limits and potential. With the way the Silver Stars traditionally like to play basketball, the San Antonio rotation could be a good environment in which Appel can grow.