After Seattle Storm point guard Shannon Johnson announced her retirement from the WNBA, the obvious question for the Storm was who would back-up Olympic gold medalist and All-Star point guard Sue Bird in 2010.
With Bird passing through her prime as one of the best in the world at her position, the Storm not only entered the off-season having to think about filling a spot on the depth chart, but also planning to fill Bird's shoes at some point in the future.
"I never thought of it," said Bird last September after the announcement of her multi-year extension in response to a question of whether she would like to see the Storm bring in a younger player to groom for her spot. "I never really thought about that. You kind of see that in college where someone's a senior and you might bring in that freshman. So I wouldn't be opposed to it -- I'm all for anybody who can help us win."
Although finding a back-up point guard was not necessarily at the forefront of Bird's thinking, both the short-term and long-term point guard situation was apparently a priority for the Storm.
The Storm addressed the void left by Johnson's retirement this off-season first by selecting Iowa State point guard Alison Lacey with the 10th pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft and following that up by signing point guard Loree Moore, waived by the New York Liberty prior to the draft.
Storm coach Brian Agler characterized the Moore singing as a matter of "adding competition" to training camp. However, looking at the Storm as currently composed, the additions of Lacey and Moore appear to the types of moves that will help the Storm add a some wins to their record.
With those two moves, the Storm accomplished two rather significant things: 1) adding a legitimate veteran presence to run the team when Bird leaves the court and 2) bringing in a young guard to potentially groom for the future. In doing so, a Storm team that was second to last in bench scoring last season has added two players that might not become big scorers, but will significantly help the team maintain some level of productivity when Bird is off the floor.
New York Liberty fans -- as well as the Liberty front office in waiving her -- might point out that Moore is coming off of a down year and hasn't quite reached her potential as a floor leader. Moore's mediocre season notwithstanding, she is a huge upgrade for the Storm given what they had last season. It's not a terribly splashy move -- like adding All-Star Cappie Pondexter or Katie Smith -- but it's an effective move.
In fact, the move to acquire Moore might epitomize what makes the Storm's off-season among the best in the league -- they've made a series of moves that are seemingly minor on the broader WNBA landscape but will have major implications for the team in the forthcoming 2010 season.
What the Storm have essentially done this off-season is replace Johnson and forward Katie Geralds -- sitting out this season due to a knee injury -- with Moore, forward Le'coe Willingham, in addition to adding draft picks that reinforce their primary needs. It's a significant upgrade to their bench and while we can debate where it places them in the Western Conference standings, they are almost indisputably better as a unit.
In signing Moore, the Storm have added a distributor to their second unit that they did not have last season.
As important as Johnson was to the Storm last season as a veteran presence, Moore was a far more productive distributor last season with the Liberty. While neither was an aggressive scorer, Moore was by far the more trustworthy ball handler in terms of both pure point rating and turnover percentage and had an assist rate that was closer to average among distributors in the league. Defensively, Moore is known for her defensive ability and although she has not made an All-Defensive team in the last two years, last season her defensive numbers -- never perfect metrics -- were among the best of any point guard.
Although she won't directly contribute to scoring for the Storm, having a player like her who has both proven the ability to run an offense and defend her position is huge for the Storm, especially coming off the bench.
Put simply, the Storm had the least productive bench statistically of any team in the league in 2009.
On more than one occasion, the Storm bench simply failed to produce. The most memorable incident might have been at home against the Atlanta Dream on August 29th, when the bench produced only two points while Bird and Wright combined for 49. Although they managed to stay in the game despite a poor first half, in the second half Bird and Wright did almost everything offensively while forward Camille Little cleaned up the boards. Although forward Lauren Jackson's injury certainly had an impact on the team's depth in that particular game, the lack of bench production was something of a pattern.
Last season, the Storm were a somewhat distant second to last in bench scoring with 15.70 points per game (the Indiana Fever, a team not known for scoring much to begin with, was last with 14.40 points per game). Even more troubling, the Storm's starters accounted for a league-high 79.5% of the team's overall statistical production. Considering that their primary starters missed a combined 14 games, their bench's numbers might have produced even less without the injuries. While Indiana was the next closest team at 73.5%, the fact that they were such a strong defensive team means that their lack of quantifiable production may have been less significant. So while Moore provides an additional floor leader off the bench, Willingham brings someone who can actually score.
Willingham has said she is ready to come off the bench for the Storm this season after starting for the 2009 WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury. Although it's reasonable to argue that her numbers were inflated in Phoenix, she was a more efficient scorer than anyone on the Storm's bench last season and had an outstanding offensive rebounding percentage of 17.4% last season, meaning she can help create more second chance scoring opportunities for the team.
Their rookies figure to have an impact as well.
While Lacey has the opportunity to learn the point guard position from one of the best, the second round selection of Texas A&M small forward Tanisha Smith is no less significant to the Storm's effort to improve their bench. Although Smith was not the most consistent jump shooter in college, she showed the ability to create her own scoring opportunities in addition to playing excellent defense on and off the ball. When looking at the Storm's roster from last year, one of the most noticeable things is that they had very little athleticism on the wing. Given the Storm's personnel, Smith has as legitimate a chance as any second round pick in this year's draft to make a roster, assuming she performs well in training camp.
So with added depth on the bench, Moore's signing becomes more significant as the person to lead them.
Regardless of what people think of Moore's performance last season, with all the additions to the bench, the Storm might have been the best situation for her. With Moore no longer expected to lead a team but to step in as a veteran presence to anchor the second unit in support of other stars in what will probably be a slightly more regimented system, she could have a bit of a "revival" this season. The hope would seem to be that with Moore able to direct the offense off the bench and find teammates like Willingham in position to score they will no longer have to rely on nearly 50 point games from their starting backcourt to win.
For the team as a whole, what these signings and draft selections mean is that Agler has a much more versatile roster in terms the combinations he can put on the floor. With Moore and Lacey potentially available to fill minutes at the guard spots and Willingham possibly able to come in at the forward position to add some scoring punch, the Storm shouldn't have another season of low bench productivity.
None of these were major moves, but they may prove to be the right moves for the Storm.
- It might also be interesting to look at bench points per possession as a measure of bench productivity as compared to points per game. However, the point still stands with the Storm -- they struggled to get production from their bench.
- Despite the improvement, with the Minnesota Lynx making massive improvements and the Phoenix Mercury looking like a more balanced, if Pondexter-less, team, the Storm could actually finish a spot lower in the standings this season.
- Moore has signed a training camp contract which means her deal is not guaranteed for the season at this point.