If you're a women's basketball fan, the very notion of a "positional revolution" that some NBA analysts have described recently might seem a bit odd.
Aside from the fact that it might not seem that new if you've been paying attention to basketball over the last decade or so as pointed out by Bethlehem Shoals at FreeDarko.com, the challenge to standard norms of "positionality" seems to be one of the unique features, if not a defining element, of women's basketball.
No matchup in the WNBA seems to epitomize this idea of a positional revolution that has already come to pass than the Western Conference Finals matchup between the top-seeded Seattle Storm and the second-seeded Phoenix Mercury. Of course, if the premise is that there's something "apositional" about the entire league, then it's not that these particular teams have something that others don't; it's that these two teams happen to have players that could be the best of what the WNBA has to offer in that regard.
For all the talk about the Storm's 6-foot-5 Lauren Jackson - who will be honored as the 2010 MVP tonight - and her sometimes unreal versatility on defense and offense, forward Swin Cash is sometimes too quietly one of the most versatile wings in the league. With three additional frontcourt players who shoot over 34 percent from the 3-point line, the Storm will occasionally play a lineup in which they put three bigs out on the floor with the intent of spreading the defense, as they did against the Sparks.
While the Storm embody frontcourt versatility, the Mercury's backcourt versatility is probably what will have the biggest impact on this series. Known for their uptempo style and relying heavily on strong play around the perimeter, the Mercury have actually played better at times with dynamic scorer Diana Taurasi and wing Penny Taylor running the offense in the latter portions of the season. Taylor is as versatile a wing as there is in the league and arguably the Mercury's MVP this season primarily due to her increased efficiency with which she's distributed the ball.
The Mercury have claimed on more than one occasion that their uptempo system designed by Paul Westhead actually hinges on having a strong power forward and Candice Dupree has fit the bill this year. Dupree gave the Storm fits in their last visit to KeyArena, racing up and down the court for easy transition layups before the Storm could get set in their halfcourt defense. Rail thin 6'4" reserve forward DeWanna Bonner has won WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year in each of her first two seasons in the league and picked up Storm point guard Sue Bird on more than one occasion
This may sound effusive and exaggerated, but that's because if you have any interest in what a vision of "post-positional" basketball might look like it's here in the WNBA Western Conference Finals. And as you take stock of what that vision might look like, it might occur to you that any notion of analyzing this series in terms of traditional positional matchups is a lost cause - it's a series that will feature a lot of seemingly bizarre combinations and configurations that defy any notion of positional boundaries.
With bigs running the floor and wings running the offense, what exactly is your defensive focus? With the best point guard in the world running an offense with a center who can score in every way imaginable and power forwards who can spread the floor, how do you stop them for even 24 seconds at a time?
So as tantalizing an offensive matchup as this series might be, even more interesting for those who have thought deeply about this new post-positional world is that defending these potential configurations - or scoring against them for that matter - becomes a particularly daunting task. Although that may seem to favor the Storm - by far the best defensive team in the Western Conference led by 2010 Coach of the Year Brian Agler - the Mercury have shown lately that they can defend as well.
"I've heard - that's the rumor - is that they're really focused on their defense," said Bird, when asked about the Mercury's defensive performance in their first round series against the San Antonio Silver Stars. "They feel like that's gotten better, which for them is great because they're such a potent offensive team - if they can get their defense going too obviously that makes them extremely tough. But we'll see."
The bottom line for this post-positional series is that -- all focus on Jackson and Taurasi aside -- the team that plays better on the defensive end will probably end up moving to the WNBA Finals. The Mercury have shown that they're more than capable of doing that.
For the keys to the WNBA Western Conference Finals, see the preview at SBN's Swish Appeal.
For ticket information, visit StormBasketball.com.