Have the Seattle Storm gotten the national attention they deserve for their start? Who knows.
But since we've seen enough to start formulating preliminary answers to pre-season questions around the league, accepted a few unaccepted surprises, and gotten a sense for the direction that many teams are headed, maybe a team that had a relatively boring off-season but remained solid will get a little more attention.
With their 90-72 victory over the Atlanta Dream last night, the Seattle Storm not only assume the top spot in the WNBA, but also continue their franchise best pace by starting the season 6-1. The win was arguably their best of an already impressive season. They're very good. However, the overwhelming feeling in the Storm locker room is that they are still hungry, as described by guard Tanisha Wright.
"Well, we've been good and obviously you want to be good," said Wright in her typically matter of fact tone when asked about the team's consecutive blowout victories. "But at the same time I don't think we've been our best, you know what I mean? Even tonight, we weren't our best."
Yes, this team is very good, but ironically in their best game of the season they had a turnover problem, normally a relative strength. And since Wright brought it up, let's take a look.
"We turned the ball over I don't know how many times," continued Wright. "But in the first quarter we had, four--"
When she stopped to recall the number of turnovers they had in the first quarter, I showed her the stats I was holding.
"Yeah, see we had four turnovers boom, boom, boom in the first two minutes or whatever," said Wright. "So we're still trying to get better. If we're doing those kind of things we're obviously not at our best."
Wright's assessment is correct -- they did have a rough first two minutes of the game: they committed turnovers on 4 of their first 5 possessions before Camille Little scored the first field goal on an assist from Sue Bird just under 8 minutes. After that first few minutes of poor ball control, the Storm only committed one more turnover for the quarter. However, the problem got worse before it got better in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
The Storm finished the game with 21 turnovers for a turnover rate -- the ratio of turnovers per possession -- of 25.80%. Just to put that in perspective, their turnover rate for the season has been 11%. Even in that 84-75 road loss against the Chicago Sky that most everyone just tried to put behind them, they didn't have any higher than a 24.5% turnover rate in any given quarter.
In the second quarter of last night's game, they had turnover rates of 35.7% in the second quarter (compared to the Dream's 22.93%) and 33.6% in the third quarter (compared to the Dream's 22.93%). In other words, while 7 turnovers in each of those quarters might not immediately strike you as problematic, it becomes more troublesome when you think about it in terms of tossing the ball away on every third possession.
"We were just a little fast, fast in what we were doing," said Wright. "Instead of really just taking our time and just executing. That's basically it. Some of the things like Swin dropped one that she should've caught. It's just normal things, normal things you know."
So how did they survive those stretches? It helps that they shot 72.7% (8 of 11) in the 2nd quarter and 50% in the third along with 5 offensive rebounds. Lauren Jackson hitting 4 of 4 free throws in the second didn't hurt either. Even if a team is coughing up the ball with such frequency, being able to make up for it by maximizing the remaining possessions is a winning formula.
Yet apparently -- if we take Wright's words at face value -- this is a team looking to make "normal" an error free existence. If they can accomplish that, they're well on their way to maintaining their position at the top of the league.
"It's a game of errors," said Dream coach Marynell Meadors when asked about some of their early turnovers. "Whoever makes the least errors wins the game."
Obviously, the Storm made less errors overall than the Dream, who also had early turnover problems, foul trouble, and shooting struggles to say the least (4-22 in the first quarter). However, that seems to minimize what makes this game so impressive: at times they couldn't rely on controlling the ball by maintaining possession, they found ways to maximize their possessions by shooting well above their season norm of 41.14%. Their shooting efficiency ended up being the key. The Storm had an effective shooting percentage -- their shooting percentage accounting for the additional value of three point shots -- of 61.21% compared to the Dream's 40.41%, which included winning the battle of points in the paint 42 to 24.
It's part of what makes this team special -- they're versatile not only in the sense that coach Brian Agler has more options this season than he has before, but also in the sense that they have personnel that can adapt when things aren't quite going the way they would like. That's not just a matter of making the least errors but finding ways to mitigate those errors with positives.
It allows them to learn from the situation, but also do so with a bit of extra confidence.
"We're at a point where we're just trying to get better each time we step out on the floor," said Wright.
Flaws aside, if they continue to get better every time they step out on the floor, they'll eventually be at a point where opponents will have a difficult time staying within single digits of the team with the league's best record.