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Becky Hammon & How The San Antonio Silver Stars' Playoff Berth Was Won

While writing a piece about the San Antonio Silver Stars' chemistry back on July 1, I cut out a section about All-Star guard Becky Hammon.

It wasn't at all that she didn't belong in a conversation about the Silver Stars' chemistry; it was just an extra 400 words that was just as easily summarized by writing, "Hammon still scored [in 2010], but the Silver Stars didn't have the distributors around her to complement that scoring."

The Silver Stars were 7-1 at the time and I figured I would have ample opportunity to highlight Hammon's contributions again.

Well, of course, the Silver Stars lost three straight and then Hammon only scored five points in a win against the Seattle Storm that had me more caught up in a certain team's 20 turnover-performance. Then the All-Star break, a win at Washington, and Danielle Adams' injury which led to losing 10 of 12 games.

You can read the rough draft "outtake" here, but the main point here is that Hammon is one of a handful of players that I sort of chose early on as someone to follow despite hardly writing a word about her in this space.

And then Hammon's 17-point fourth quarter in a 17-point win over the Los Angeles Sparks happened.

Silver Stars statistical MVP: Becky Hammon drops 37 on the L.A. Sparks

What made the Silver Stars' 82-65 win on Tuesday so perfect is that Hammon was playing closer to the way she was playing back in 2008 when she, Ann Wauters and Sophia Young led the team to the finals as a trio: Hammon, while still creating scoring opportunities for teammates, was a scorer first.

And not just a shoot-first player, but a high usage player: Hammon's usage rate on Tuesday night was 38.97%.

For perspective on what it means for a player to use up - or create a shot for oneself - on nearly 40% of the possessions they're on the floor, Atlanta Dream wing and WNBA leading scorer Angel McCoughtry has a league-high 35.64% usage rate this season prior to her own outburst on Tuesday. That, as your eyes probably tell you with McCoughtry, is a lot of shots; Hammon, who is also known for taking her share of shots, only has a usage rate of 24.5% this season entering this final week.

Not necessarily to compare MVP credentials - but certainly to draw upon a seemingly rising McCoughtry for MVP campaign - the difference between a typical Hammon performance and a typical McCoughtry performance is two-fold:

  • First, Hammon's ability to hit 3-pointers (4-for-7 at L.A.), find teammates (16.02% assist ratio), and score so well off the drive (83.33% 2pt%) allows her to spread the defense in more ways that McCoughtry. To be clear, that isn't to negate how dangerous McCoughtry is as someone who scores more points than anyone else in the league; instead, it's simply to say that Hammon can take over a game as a scorer in ways that McCoughtry can't (and, quite frankly, doesn't need to).
  • Second, and perhaps more importantly, Hammon's scoring versatility is part of what makes her a more efficient scorer that a player like McCoughtry even at a high usage. McCoughtry's free throw production has helped her to a 51.07% true shooting percentage this season despite only shooting 41.4% from the field. Hammon - with her combination of 3-point shooting, a strong free throw rate for a point guard, and her craftiness around the basket - has a true shooting percentage of 57.29%. On Tuesday - at a usage rate of nearly 40% - she had a true shooting percentage of 87.26%.

Scoring performances don't get a whole lot more dominant that what Hammon did to the Sparks on Tuesday. And even though she wasn't an efficient distributor in that game (-4.76 pure point rating), a 16.02% assist ratio (5 assists) is nothing to snicker at and, along with free throw shooting and threes, helps to overcome 5 turnovers.

Of course this gets closer to the conversation of whether Hammon is a point guard, to which I say both "yes" and "who cares" - it doesn't much matter what hole you put her in if her driving and scoring ability allows her to set up teammates just by attracting so much defensive attention.

All in all, Hammon accounted for 40.77% of the Silver Stars statistical output for a Silver Stars team that struggled to put the Sparks away due to turnovers throughout the game.

But if Hammon normally uses up less possessions and creates an assist more often (25.11% assist ratio in the 2011 season) yet suddenly becomes much more scoring-oriented, how does a team that has always been about "chemistry" and working as a unit continue to function?

Key player: Jia Perkins helps pick up the slack as a distributor while Hammon is scoring

The way all of that relates to the 2008 Silver Stars is that Hammon was more scoring-oriented and less of a distributor, but the team had players around her to help keep the ball moving: Wauters and Vickie Johnson headline that list, but others such as Ruth Riley and Belinda Snell as well.

When Hammon went off in the fourth quarter, it was Jia Perkins playing the role of the distributor with two assists to her. Perkins only finished with two assists, but without a turnover she had a pure point rating of 4.76 and she wasn't the only one. On an off scoring night, forward Sophia Young tied Hammon with a team-high 5 assists (team-high 28.15% assist ratio) and a pure point rating of 4.04. Jayne Appel added 2 assists and 1 turnover.

Even without efficient nights from Tully Bevilaqua (-1.38 PPR) and Danielle Robinson (-7.84 PPR), the Silver Stars have so many players to keep the ball moving that coach Dan Hughes can play with the combinations until he finds one that works.

And when the Silver Stars are working, good things happen.

Key statistic: Silver Stars come together to shoot 71.4% in the fourth quarter

With Hammon doing what she does best and multiple other players able to move the ball, suddenly the Silver Stars were as fluid as they had been all game even as Hammon was in full-on scorer mode.

Although the Silver Stars only assisted on 50% of their made shots in the fourth quarter, they were getting good scoring opportunities, recording an effective field goal percentage of 82.14% against a Sparks squad that once again struggled to stop anyone. Of course, of the Silver Stars' three shots Hammon didn't make, she assisted on two of them.

This might not have been ideal Silver Stars basketball. But with Adams, Robinson, and Young having only limited impacts, rallying around Hammon in the way they did - both defensively and in cutting turnovers down to a more efficient 12.34% of their possessions - the Silver Stars found a way to win. However, in watching their matchups with the Storm, we've also seen why relying solely on Hammon doesn't work as well - the Storm have been outstanding at cutting off her drives and making her almost a non-factor as a scorer to shut down the Silver Stars' entire offense.

Yet if Hammon can remain a scorer, but get a little more help - as she did in the early season - this "chemistry" team could be a more formidable playoff opponent than some may first assume. Even with Hammon being a scorer, the responsibility for winning still needs to be more evenly distributed for them to approach what worked well last time they got out of the first round in 2008.

But finding a way to step up as a team in the fourth is still a good sign for a team that very recently lost 10 of 12.

Meanwhile, the Sparks seemed to implode after being down only two points at the end of the third quarter

Sparks statistical MVP: On brink of elimination, Tina Thompson tries to carry Sparks

Before the game, the local sideline reporter quoted Candace Parker as saying that, "These are the kind of games real competitors live for."

Perhaps not coincidentally then, Thompson stepped up to lead the Sparks in scoring for the first time in the season with 18 points as well as six boards. For a player who has had an "inconsistent" season, as described by commentator Krista Blunk, it was an admirable show of heart with the season on the line.

Thanks in part to Thompson's rebounding, neither team really separated themselves on the boards, with each getting about the same offensive rebounding percentage.The Sparks, far more surprisingly, won the turnover battle by a wide margin of 13.26% to 22.22%.

But the Sparks, once again, failed to show up on the defensive end, putting up minimum resistance to what the Silver Stars were trying to do in half court sets and somehow losing Hammon amidst the confusion of switching scheme they clearly weren't comfortable with.

Ultimately in game that stood to highlight real competitors in a playoff-type atmosphere, it was Hammon who not only "won the day" but also literally willed her team to victory in the fourth.

She was undeniably the realest baller on the floor that night.

And with fans seemingly so easily swayed in their thinking about end-of-season awards by such late-season performances, it's surprising that there isn't a little bit more buzz about a player who remains the core of the league's top "chemistry" team.

Related links:

L.A. Sparks Eliminated From Playoffs With 82-65 Loss To San Antonio Silver Stars

Photos: L.A. Sparks Coach Joe Bryant Getting Himself Ejected In 82-65 Loss

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