August 13, 2013 at 9:00 AM
Is the Storm bench coming together to help Seattle reach the playoffs?
In a Storm season sans All-Stars Lauren Jackson (hamstring) and Sue Bird (knee), it turns out consistency and not talent is Seattle’s biggest question mark. Co-captains Tanisha Wright and Camille Little solidified an entertaining inside-outside bond in 2010. Tina Thompson is a living legend and Temeka Johnson is among the best PGs in the WNBA.
So, talent is there. Even reserves Tianna Hawkins, a 2013 first-round draft pick, Noelle Quinn, Ashley Robinson and Alysha Clark are respected in the league. But consistency among the group has been as elusive as championships. The weekend’s polarized games between San Antonio are a prime example, losing badly on Friday only to execute one of the Storm’s better games in a win on Sunday.
“Obviously that’s the goal, to try to be consistent,” Little said. “To me, even (Sunday’s win) wasn’t consistent. We played really well in the first half and let them back in in the second half and gave them some confidence and it became a game, again. We have to be able to carry over. We have some practice time (now) and hopefully we’ll be able to get into a good groove.”
Since the WNBA All-Star break, Seattle is 3-2 overall and appears to have the needed backup it’ll need for a true playoff push. It’s not even unrealistic to believe Seattle (10-12) could leapfrog Phoenix (12-11) to snag a coveted No. 3 seed. Based on Monday’s standings, that would be a first-round matchup against Los Angeles (16-7) — a better route to reaching the Western Conference finals.
Uhn? Exactly. But it can only happen with a solid bench.
It’s the reserves who had to adapt to unexpected roles to help Seattle survive without its franchise players. And in the last five games, Hawkins is shooting 60 percent from the field in an averaged 12 minutes since the break. She’s averaging 6.4 points and 2.6 boards in her past five games.
Quinn, who started 13 games this season, is above her season averages in her past five games, averaging 5.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Clark has done well in the wins, Sunday being her best in terms of impact. In three minutes in a pivotal second-quarter, Clark nailed a three-pointer off a feed from Quinn and a layin off an unexpected pass from Wright to keep Seattle’s momentum racing to a 15-point advantage headed into the break against the Silver Stars.
Seattle outscored San Antonio 21-9 in the quarter overall. It didn’t allow the visitors a single offensive rebound — Quinn grabbing five defensive rebounds. The boost allowed Shekinna Stricklen to exit the game due to illness and gave Thompson, a 17-year veteran, needed rest. She played four minutes in the quarter, returning in the second half to score a team-high six points with four rebounds in the fourth quarter to help win the game 69-63.
One reason why the reserves looked better was because they played extended minutes in Friday’s loss because the veterans didn’t make any runs in trying to win. Storm coach Brian Agler and his staff are also trusting the group more after grooming them since training camp.
“It’s good that they get time,” Agler said of Friday. “Sometimes you don’t like the reasons they get good time but it’s always good to see them play.”
The loss also turned into a tryout for F Jasmine Hassell, who was signed to a second seven-day contract on Sunday. She played a combined eight minutes since first being signed. Aug. 3. She replaced veteran C Nakia Sanford, who left the team after agreeing to sign seven-day contracts when not offered a guaranteed deal.
“Nakia is a 11-year veteran and she’s as professional as they come,” said Wright, a co-captain, of the way teammates felt about Sanford’s abrupt departure. “We understood when it happened and you can’t let those types of things effect you. We still have a job to do. We still have to wake up the next day, put the shorts on and get to playing.
“We love Nakia here. We loved having her around. Her presence was great, she was a great teammate. She didn’t disappear in the middle of the night, she wasn’t interested in continuing to sign back-to-back-to-back (seven-day contracts). Like I said, she’s 11-year veteran, she wants to know there’s some job security, so you understand it. I’ve talked to her (since), she’s chillin’, having a good time at home.”
Robinson has been a better replacement for the permanent roster spot in comparison to Sanford. Agler likes Hassell for the short term because she’s active and as a rookie, may be able to develop into a quality deep reserve.
Either way, Seattle is forming a bench that’s key to have if you want any kind of success. Now the question is can it and the starters form some consistency in the Storm’s final 12 regular-season games. Seattle hosts Eastern Conference-leading Chicago (15-7) on Thursday at KeyArena.
“Right now, everything is about the playoffs, to me,” Wright said. “My focus right now is to make sure I’m concentrating on winning games – game-by-game – but understanding in the back of my head that every game matters. Every game is about making the playoffs.”
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