Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird leading Storm to top of WNBA at All-Star break

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MINNEAPOLIS — At an All-Star Sport, it helps to have folks round who know what you need. Close to the top of Staff Delle Donne’s low-key observe Friday, coach Dan Hughes of the Seattle Storm gathered his gamers close to one foul circle at Goal Heart to clarify a spot-up capturing drill. When he completed, Sue Fowl, the veteran Storm level guard, jumped in to clarify it just a little extra for Diana Taurasi, her previous pal from Staff USA and a number of All-Star gatherings.

Fowl, 37, is the WNBA’s oldest participant, and her savvy and management are main causes for the Storm’s league-leading 19-7 report. However the emphasis on protection and rebounding introduced by Hughes, the two-time WNBA Coach of the 12 months who got here out of retirement this season to educate the Storm, meant much more. Breanna Stewart creating into the league’s main scorer and a Most Priceless Participant candidate additionally helped come collectively.

Stewart, Fowl, Hughes and fourth-year Storm guard Jewell Loyd are all right here, with Loyd on Staff Parker and the remaining on Staff Delle Donne. Their presence displays Seattle’s enchancment. One yr after coach Jenny Boucek was fired late in a lackluster 15-19 season that ended with a fifth consecutive first-round playoff loss, Seattle stands 2 1/2 video games away from the pack within the race for the WNBA’s finest report and prime general playoff seed.

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“We had been all the time a very good offensive group,” Fowl mentioned. “On the defensive finish, we have gotten lots higher. I feel that is a product of including expertise. We’re simply way more gifted. I feel we’re gifted and deep, and that is the most important distinction from this yr to the last few years.”

Final yr, Seattle gave up precisely as many factors per sport because it scored (82.6), and its defensive and offensive scores matched as nicely (104.7). Hughes got down to repair that. He mentioned he used analytics greater than some other time in his 17-year WNBA head teaching profession as an example the tenacious protection he wished — getting stops, forcing turnovers and letting the offense stream from there.

The distinction is noticeable. Seattle offers up about three fewer factors per sport than final yr (79.5), and its 98.5 defensive ranking ranks third behind Atlanta (95.9) and Minnesota (97.5). Seattle additionally grabs 51.1 p.c of accessible rebounds, up from final yr’s 47.5 p.c. That created a slight uptick in possessions per sport and a league-leading 107.eight offensive ranking, precisely what Hughes was searching for.

Hughes credited holdover assistant coach Gary Kloppenberg, the interim coach after Boucek was fired, with main the defensive instruction.

“The opposite factor I am a beneficiary of, they wished to be good, and so they knew it was an space we needed to get higher,” Hughes mentioned. “I used to be very impressed offensively with the chemistry I inherited. However I additionally need them to grasp, whenever you take a look at the profitable groups in our league, there is a counterbalance of the protection. Yeah, we are able to win some video games offensively. But when we will win actually vital video games, we have to have a steadiness.”

“We had been all the time a very good offensive group. On the defensive finish, we have gotten lots higher. I feel that is a product of including expertise. We’re simply way more gifted. I feel we’re gifted and deep, and that is the most important distinction from this yr to the last few years.”

Sue Fowl

Seattle additionally added depth in ahead Natasha Howard, acquired in a commerce with Minnesota; free-agent ahead Courtney Paris, the two-time league rebounding chief; and guard Jordin Canada, a first-round draft choose from UCLA. Howard, a backup with the Lynx, is averaging 12.eight factors and 6.5 rebounds as a starter, each profession highs. Paris and Canada contribute vital minutes off the bench. Loyd, the 2015 Rookie of the 12 months and a first-time All-Star, strung collectively 5 consecutive 20-point video games in Could and averages 16 factors.

“A number of what we do has come from our chemistry as a group that we have constructed over the past couple of years,” mentioned Fowl, chosen to her report 11th All-Star Sport. “Final yr there was undoubtedly one thing off, however concurrently we now have extra expertise this yr. It permits your group to play higher when you’ve higher gamers.

“We had been the youngest [team] the previous few years. We’re not that. Although Natasha Howard continues to be comparatively younger, she has a wealth of expertise enjoying for Minnesota. Courtney Paris, very skilled. We simply have depth and expertise about us now.”

Then there’s Stewart. Hughes aimed to chop her minutes and enhance her effectivity, a method that performed out. Her scoring (22.eight factors) and capturing percentages (54 p.c) are up over final yr. If her present tempo holds, her offensive and defensive scores and efficient area aim percentages might be profession highs.

“The way in which she’s performing this yr is head and shoulders above what she did her first two years,” Fowl mentioned. “On this league, there are occasions when issues usually are not going to go your method, and also you want that participant that may bail you out it doesn’t matter what. Look all the nice groups. Minnesota, Maya [Moore] is their bailout. Phoenix, Diana is their bailout. Now Stewie is proving to be our bailout.

“Not each sport goes to be roses and rainbows. Typically it is going to be actually arduous. You’ve got want that participant who it doesn’t matter what’s taking place can go and get you 30 [points], and Stewie is doing that.”

Loyd is amongst these benefiting.

“Should you depart her single guarded, she’s going to go off,” she mentioned. “Should you double her, she’s nonetheless in a position to go off and have 5 assists. It opens up lots. As an entire, we do an excellent job of passing the ball. We’re arduous to entice and arduous to double as a result of everybody can shoot from Three, everybody can penetrate, everybody’s prepared to make the additional go.”

Pretty much as good at Stewart is, Fowl stays the face and coronary heart of the franchise, the tough-minded competitor everybody turns to for a lot. Fowl is the final hyperlink to Seattle’s 2004 and 2010 WNBA championships, and her teammates would like to get her another title earlier than she retires.

“Sue has helped us and pushed us to get up to now,” Stewart mentioned. “Any recommendation, or something she has from earlier experiences, we’re simply taking all of it in. She’s like a player-coach. That have you solely get from longevity and enjoying over time. Us as youthful gamers, we hope to get the purpose the place she’s at — be 37, and nonetheless be the most effective gamers on this league.”

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