Yesterday at SBN Seattle, I posted a piece about the championship-level commitment of the Seattle Storm coaching staff that I think bodes well for their chances to repeat. Today I look at whether they have the personnel to make that happen.
Assuming injury-free circumstances, the Seattle Storm could end up being the only team in the Western Conference to start the same lineup that started the majority of last season's games and could end up being the only team in the WNBA to do so depending on how things shake out in the Eastern Conference.
It's hard not to start there when considering their chances to be the first WNBA team to win back-to-back titles since the Los Angeles Sparks last did it in 2001 and '02 - having a starting unit that is entering its third year playing together is a significant advantage in the process of forming chemistry in a basketball season that consists of 34-games in three months.
The continuity in their starting lineup was unquestionably part of what helped the Storm get out to that blistering 22-2 start last season before dropping four games in August that were essentially meaningless.
Numbers aren't really necessary to describe just how good the Storm's starting lineup was last year, but just to put in perspective their starters accounted for 77% of their total statistical production, which was again at the top of the league. Part of that is certainly coach Brian Agler's trend of relying heavily on his starters, but that level of production is really quite astounding when considering just how much "garbage time" they played during their 28-6 campaign last summer.
However, the quality of the Storm's starting lineup probably isn't in question for most knowledgeable WNBA fans: while they have maintained a consistent starting five over the last two seasons, Ashley Robinson is their only consistent reserve in that time.
How balanced are the Storm?
The starting lineup as balanced as one could possibly imagine: Bird and Wright are strong distributors; Cash, Jackson, and Little handle rebounding in addition to Wright being an above average rebounder for her position; and last season all except Cash turned the ball over less than average for their style of play.
So the key to repeating as WNBA champions will be what the bench can produce.
Le'coe Willingham is the other returning reserve for the Storm and was the team's best offensive rebounder by percentage, which is a huge asset. But this was the best rebounding team in the league last year and with the additions of Jacina Monroe they stand to have an even stronger interior rotation once again, especially defensively.
Where there's a gaping hole on the bench is that they have no distributors to back up Sue Bird. Tanisha Wright helps in this regard - she's among the most efficient ball handlers in the league and the Storm were able to get by with her and Svetlana Abrosimova sharing responsibility for distributing the ball. But with Abrosimova gone and no other point guard on the roster, the Storm have a void in the rotation behind Bird.
What will the new acquisitions add?
The biggest off-season acquisition for the Storm was Katie Smith in that she's not only a veteran with championship experience, but she figures to be looked upon as that third person to shoulder the burden of ball handling. But coming from San Antonio, Belinda Snell has been a very efficient distributor from the wing, which could help further alleviate the Storm's lack of a true point guard off the bench.
Ify Ibekwe was a very intriguing draft pick, primarily because of her three point shooting ability and defense agility that could help her transition to the pros. Jacinta Monroe figures to add another defensive option off the bench on the interior.
For more on the Storm's new acquisitions:
Monroe/Smith: Washington Mystics Fill A Need With Little Leverage In Three-Way Trade With Seattle Storm, Indiana Feve
Ibekwe: WNBA Draft 2011 Analysis Part I: Which Teams Got The Best Value?
Snell: Storm signings of Phillips, Snell add perimeter depth
How well do these players complement one another?
Again, the starters complement one another extremely well: Lauren Jackson is the highest usage player and everyone else either drives, passes, rebounds or knocks down threes to complement her.
So the question, again, is about how well the bench can complement the starters. Aside from Willingham, they don't have a particularly efficient contributor off the bench (VCR). One might expect that to change if Smith comes off the bench and her minutes go down and Monroe could certainly improve to become a more efficient contributor.
What are the Storm's strengths and weaknesses?
There's no point in talking about the Storm in terms of strengths and weakness - let's say strongest points and less strong points.
And it comes right back to the their lack a point guard on the bench.
Washington Mystics Fill A Need With Little Leverage In Three-Way Trade With Seattle Storm, Indiana Fever
If you were to pick out an area of improvement for the Seattle Storm - or perhaps we should call it a less strong point - it was their turnover percentage differential. Bear in mind, they allowed the least points off turnovers (15 per game) and the least fast break points (6.94 per game) so it's not like there's any discernible way that turnovers held them back from anything. However, the consistent factor when the Storm struggled was turning the ball over - in getting down big to the Mercury twice and losing to the Tulsa Shock and Minnesota Lynx as well as in their early season loss to the Indiana Fever turnovers were a factor. For a team that went 28-6, that's significant and one - or both - of these players might have helped.
Other than that, considering that Abby Bishop and Alison Lacey didn't see regular minutes last year, they could potentially be a deeper team this year given the experience they've added, point guard depth notwithstanding. If nothing else, Agler will probably have more options than he's ever had in his tenure in Seattle.
Given that the Storm won last season despite concerns about their point guard situation, it's hard to look at this year's roster and not think that they still have a good chance.
For background on the statistics and thinking informing these questions and their answers, click here.