Commentary

Storm's LJ should have plenty of help

Supporting cast -- not just Jackson's production -- pivotal to Seattle's success

Originally Published: June 8, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Lauren JacksonTerrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty ImagesSue Bird (No. 10) and the Storm need to have star Lauren Jackson's back this season.

Once coach Brian Agler knew Seattle would have Lauren Jackson back, it's not as if he put his feet up on the desk and said, "OK, now I just go into Dagwood mode."

LJ's presence makes his job a whole lot better, and she's off to a strong start, as are the Storm. Seattle won its first two games -- 71-61 and 80-70, both over Sacramento -- this past weekend, with LJ getting 23 and 25 points.

However, there's a lot more to Seattle than just its centerpiece. Agler needs to effectively distribute playing time for Jackson and her fellow front-line players. That's something to look for in the Storm's game at Indiana on Tuesday night (ESPN2, 7 ET).

[+] EnlargeSwin Cash
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter offseason back surgery, Swin Cash's long-term status is up in the air.

"For Lauren to really excel and help our team be successful, she has to have people around her who are going to defend and rebound, too," Agler said. "She can't be the only person around the basket who does everything."

Agler has all but guaranteed that Jackson won't have to be, because he has made this such a post-heavy team. Which is logical. To even have a chance to win the WNBA championship, Seattle is likely going to have to get past Los Angeles in the West.

There are only two "pure" guards on the Storm, and both are durable, dependable veterans: Sue Bird and Shannon Johnson. And there is the "tweener," 5-11 guard/forward Tanisha Wright. Her strength, athleticism and team-first attitude have secured her a job with the Storm the past four seasons despite her ineffectiveness from 3-point range. For her pro career, she has shot 21.5 percent from behind the arc.

The 6-1 guard/forward Katie Gearlds is a cog who, like Wright, has the type of personality to just do whatever is asked of her. Gearlds shot 39.1 percent (36-of-92) from long range last season.

The other seven members of the Storm are posts, with four of them 6-4 or taller: LJ, Janell Burse, Ashley Robinson and Suzy Batkovic-Brown, Jackson's fellow Aussie who just joined the team after her recent wedding but didn't play in the first two games.

Robinson and Batkovic-Brown (who played just one previous WNBA season, 2005) are career role players at this level, and that's not meant as a putdown. To the contrary, they're very necessary to have.

Burse was that type of player her first four seasons in the WNBA (three with Minnesota), but she became a regular starter who averaged at least 24 minutes a game in the 2005-2007 seasons.

Burse sat out the 2008 WNBA season with shoulder and foot problems, and her shoulder has been bothering her somewhat in recent days, too. But Burse is still expected to be an important part of the Storm.

Seattle's other three posts are 6-1 Swin Cash, 6-2 Camille Little and 6-1 Ashley Walker, the lone rookie on the squad.

[+] EnlargeSue Bird/Lauren Jackson
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesSue Bird had an MVP-caliber season in '08, while Lauren Jackson is a two-time MVP.

With Cash, it's just a matter of how her back holds up through the course of the season. She's still one of the league's most talented players when she feels OK. Walker became a college star at Cal by playing bigger than her height, and she's going to soak up and learn from all the post experience around her.

Little is in her third WNBA season out of the University of Rebounding, aka North Carolina. Last June, Seattle traded a 2009 second-round draft pick for Little, who started 13 games in 2008 after joining the Storm and is again in the starting lineup this season.

"Camille Little was a really good pickup for us," Agler said.

The team's makeup does put a lot of stock in Bird's ability to stay healthy and play through fatigue, although Johnson and Wright both will help with that. Bird -- despite her poor, oft-broken nose -- has been remarkably durable ever since a knee injury her freshman year at UConn.

Bird was my choice for league MVP last season (getting the Storm to the playoffs without LJ), and Agler points out that even Bird's defense is better than she's usually given credit for. She and Johnson, who played for now-defunct Houston last year, should really fit together well for Seattle.

None of this means that LJ won't still have a big load. But she can handle that. Agler just doesn't want her to feel like she's carrying a Hummer on her shoulders all season.

He sees this as a team that, of course, will rotate around Jackson but not be completely dependent on her.

"We have to improve in the next 30 days, absorb information and acclimate to each other," Agler said. "And hopefully at that point, we'll be on our way to a team that can be in the hunt."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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