The Seattle Storm held their first practice open to the media today and there's plenty to chew on even after watching one piece of one session.
The first thing: it's sort of weird to watch a team of people claiming to be the Storm playing without Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Lauren Jackson, and Tanisha Wright, who combined for over 65% of the team's total production last season.
The second thing: some of these "other" players were playing pretty well against the male practice squad.
It's too early to make any final judgments on players after watching one day of practice. However, as a basketball old-timer once told me, the best thing to do in these instances is look for players who make plays. And there were a few who did that extremely well.
Devanei Hampton, rookie, University of California '09/Utex Row Rybnik: Hampton was arguably the most impressive newcomer of the day overall. One of the most important things that both Storm coach Brian Agler and Hampton pointed out is that she has gotten herself in much better shape since leaving Cal.
"One thing last year out of Cal is I was overweight -- I had to lose 28, 25 pounds," said the 6'3" Hampton after practice. "So I'm back down to 200, 198. So now I'm more mobile, my knees are in better shape, and I extended my range out so I can be a threat at the three point line too, more inside-outside."
That's exactly what Hampton showed.
She used an array of post moves against the male players that everybody claims are beneficial because they are stronger. She finished with nice touch around the basket and handled the ball reasonably well when she needed to. Defensively, she was among the more vocal players, but like any rookie transitioning into the professional ranks, has work to do.
- Heather Bowman, rookie, Gonzaga University: While Hampton was probably the most impressive newcomer, observers noted Bowman as one of the more unexpected surprises. She might have been the player that stood out the most from watching the scrimmages with the male practice team simply because she was a bit more effective than expected. At Gonzaga, she had very strong scoring tendencies statistically and those were on display in camp. Not having to worry about being a priority for the defense, Bowman did a very good job of finding spaces in the defense to score both on the block and with mid-range opportunities. As a somewhat undersized post player, she looked a little less comfortable on the wing, rarely dribbling the ball and passing it when she wasn't able to score. Overall, Agler commented that Bowman is a smart player who can make plays, but might have a tough time making the league just based on roster reductions.
- Alison Lacey, rookie, Iowa State University: Lacey didn't do anything spectacular, but perhaps that's exactly what you'd expect. She's a confident ball handler, a great passer, and recognizes the open teammate well offensively. Although she doesn't have the quickest release on her shot, she takes good shots and, as in college, she's an efficient shooter. Like the other first year players trying to adapt to a new level of competition and Agler's defensive system, there will be a learning curve on defense, but overall she looks like a nice addition to a team looking for a backup point guard.
Loree Moore, 5th year free agent, New York Liberty/Tennesse '05: As a veteran, there were times when Moore controlled the offense as you might expect and times when it seemed like she was still trying to pick up the nuances of a new system. Her biggest mistakes -- turnovers that led to fast breaks or passes that maybe fell a bit beneath where a player could catch -- could be considered mistakes of aggression: she recognized the right opportunity, but just mistimed the play or is still trying to develop a connection with her teammates. A definite asset she would bring is her defense -- she does not take plays off defensively and that could have value on an Agler-led team that intends to make defense its signature. Although Agler said she had "a much better practice today", when asked about Moore after practice, Agler was still cautious as to keep her presence on the roster in perspective.
"I don't think anything's given right there," said Agler. "I think she's got great experience, she's a very, very good player. The experience factor plays into it -- as time goes on, that will start coming out a little bit more. So we'll just see. If you think about it, we've got 19 players, we like the players we've got now and we've got 9 more. I was just thinking, we have 5 or 6 players that aren't here that have guaranteed contracts. So those people are on the team and it's going to be extremely competitive. So if you think you have six players that aren't here that are guaranteed, that means you only have five spots left for other people. There's only five spots left for 13 players, 12 players."
Tanisha Smith, rookie, Texas A&M University: On the first move that I watched her make to the basket not long after the media was allowed in the gym, Smith picked up where she left off in the Seattle sub-regional of NCAA tournament: with her athleticism and feel for the game, she quickly got a step on her defender and went to the basket strong. Although she ultimately missed the shot, it was the type of athleticism that Agler want to add to this roster. However, later in the practice, she made one of the "ESPN moves" that Texas A&M coach Gary Blair mentioned -- she drove to the basket, took to the air, and turned to pass the ball to a player who had already vacated the wing, resulting in a turnover. She violated a rule that people learn at all levels of basketball: never jump and pass. Agler gently reminded her of that.
"I don't mind you doing all that 'til the ball ends up other there," said Agler, pointing the spot out of bounds where the errant pass landed.
In the interim, Smith was relatively quiet, still showing instincts to play the passing lanes on defense and making safe plays on offense. Smith has the athleticism and talent to make this roster and contribute, but like the other newcomers, there will just be a period of adjustment.
Ultimately, the practice had to be seen as encouraging for the Storm -- Agler is pleased with the roster as is, they have significantly improved their bench scoring in the off-season, and he has a set of talented players to choose from to fill out the roster. So although there is plenty of reason for optimism about the Storm's 2010 season, fans shouldn't make any assumptions about what that final roster will look like.
STORM: Notebook: Storm Preparing for Tough Decisions
"I think the best way to explain it is we've got a really good, athletic, active team right now," said Agler after Monday's practice, the first open to the media. "We know we have some really good players yet to come in and we're going to have some tough decisions to make, which is good and bad. It's tough to make difficult decisions but it's good from the standpoint that we think we're going to have several options."
- The Seattle Storm tweeted who played for the black team/white team.
- I chatted with Hampton and Moore and will have more on those two players this week.