Although the Tulsa Shock's 1-5 record looks abysmal, this isn't a game that the Seattle Storm can afford to take lightly.
Not were the Storm caught off guard by a surprising 84-75 loss at the hands of the Shock in Tulsa last August, but they're also struggling to find their shot right now.
And if the Shock have paid attention to what the Los Angeles Sparks did to the Storm during a resounding 74-50 defeat on Sunday, they'd be wise to follow a similar defensive game plan - play zone.
With 6-foot-8 rookie center Liz Cambage and 6-foot-4 rookie Kayla Pedersen (Stanford), the Shock have been formidable at times with their 2-3 zone in halfcourt sets, despite the buzz about coach Nolan Richardson's trademark 40 Minutes of Hell style of play that won him a NCAA men's basketball National Championship at Arkansas. The Shock should probably be expected to turn to the zone defense early and often give the Storm's talent, regardless of how the reigning champs have performed thus far this season.
The Storm are currently ranked 11th out of the WNBA's 12 teams in shooting efficiency and have the league's lowest offensive rating, according to Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com. Their struggle to hit threes (26.3 percent) and get to the free throw line, allow teams to pack it in and make it difficult on the Storm to establish anything in the paint. As the Indiana Fever did with some success, the Sparks sat in a zone to pack the paint and waited for the Storm to shoot them out of it.
The Storm shot 4-for-20 from beyond the arc and 30 percent for the game.
The result is two-fold: a stagnant offense relying on jumpers a bit more often than usual and Sue Bird shouldering a large responsibility for scoring in addition to being the team's lead ball handler.
Kristi Toliver Leads Dominant Los Angeles Sparks Bench Effort Against The Seattle Storm - Swish Appeal
While Bird and Swin Cash combined to 5-for-7 in the second quarter, the rest of the team only shot 2-for-9. That means two things: first, they simply weren't able to establish anything in the paint, partially because they're not able to knock down outside shots consistently. Second, Bird is shifting into more of a scorer's role, which is not bad at all but noteworthy in terms of the fluidity of their offense.
With her game-high 15 points and three assists, Bird was responsible for 72.12% of the team's overall production and it's safe to say that that's uncommon for the Storm.
Of course, Storm fans will recall stretches of both 2008 and 2009 before last season's dominant championship run when Bird similarly just took over games, so her shouldering such a large load is not entirely unheard of. But the bottom line is that this team has got to start hitting shots to be successful, not just against the Shock but down the road this season.
There's no reason to believe they'll continue to shoot so poorly this season given that they were among the best shooting teams in the league last season and have returned the majority of their scoring personnel and added veteran scorer Katie Smith. But they're not going to go as far with Bird carrying so much responsibility for their success as they would with a more well-rounded team effort.