Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fowles and Parker: Give them the damn ball (in the right places)

It struck me while watching the Chicago Sky take on the New York Liberty on Thursday that the Sky offense looked a bit off whenever Sylvia Fowles was in the game. This is to be expected, since she was injured for most of the season, and then spent the last month playing in Beijing while the rest of her teammates were on vacation. Still, it was frustrating. In the post, Liberty defenders sagged off the perimeter and, if Fowles did happen to receive and entry pass, collapsed on her. During the second and third quarters, Fowles ended up quite often setting screens at the top of the key in what seemed like a waste of her talents - not unlike seeing Ben Wallace setting screens 20 feet away from the basket. She's the biggest player on the floor, and the most athletic, and she should be receiving the ball near the basket.

(Janel McCarville did do a solid job of defending Fowles when she did get the ball).

For a while, Fowles mostly made her presence felt on the defensive end, by getting rebounds. Then, as the game went on, the Sky cleaned up their transition game a bit and started to find Fowles under the basket early in the shot clock, before the defense had had a chance to set up. Fowles responded by scoring easily. She ended with an ok 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 turnovers in 28 minutes of play. It seemed like she could have done a lot more if the Sky had been able to get her the ball earlier in the game, but it seemed to work out by the end. (I didn't see their next game, but according to the box score Fowles had an excellent game, scoring 20 points on 10 shots, so perhaps the chemistry is starting to develop).

[Complete sidenote: Jia Perkins played a great game]

Now, Candace Parker is a very different player from Sylvia Fowles, but I noticed on Saturday night that, beyond both being top rookies who played in the Olympics this year, Fowles and Parker also share a somewhat similar situation in terms of still struggling to find their role offensively on their respective teams. In Saturday's game between the Sparks and the San Antonio Silver Stars, the Sparks struggled getting the ball into the post early, in large part due to the Silver Stars' collapsing defense. Both defenses were playing really well, and neither team was shooting that well, so the Sparks stayed in it despite a flurry of turnovers. By the second quarter, Parker began turning her defensive rebounds into instant points by turning around and pushing the ball up herself, and isolating herself on the wing and easily dribbling past her defender before the rest of the Silver Stars had had a chance to set up (sound familiar?). Fowles doesn't have the ability to bring the ball up the court in transition like that, but the theme of getting these players the ball in the right places early in the shot clock is important.

It's also worth pointing out that, despite all of the ballhandling she was doing, Parker didn't register a single turnover during the entire game.

In the first half, the Sparks' were only able to stay in the game because of their dominant offensive rebounding, and Parker's ability to create transition offense (she scored close ot half of the entire team's total points during the first half).

In the second half Los Angeles was able to find more ways to feed Parker, specifically using Lisa Leslie and Delisha Milton-Jones at the high post. L.A.'s guards aren't quite tall enough to make the lob passes that are made available by the agressive post-denial defense that San Antonio was playing. However, both Leslie and Milton-Jones are threats to score from the perimeter, so the Sparks were able to have either one of them initiate the offense from the top of the key, leading to some effective lobs into Parker. This strategy isn't perfect -- Leslie and Milton-Jones ended up with 4 turnovers each on the night -- but it did lead to a lot of easy scores for Parker, as well as opened up the perimeter for the Sparks other scorers.

The Sparks ended up winning in large part thanks to Leslie and Shannon Bobbit making some huge plays down the stretch. But they wouldn't have been in a position to win at all if they hadn't been able to open up the offense by effectively getting the ball in low to Candace Parker in the second half.

[Sidenote: Becky Hammon is one of my favorite players to watch. She played a great game.]

The WNBA playoffs are just around the corner, and I hope that both the Sky and the Sparks will be part of them (the Sky are currently two games back of Indiana for the last spot in the East). Hopefully, both teams will find ways to get their star rookies the ball in effective positions.

On an unrelated note: in the Silver Stars game, Candace Parker played 39 minutes. She was great, but she did look a little tired at times, and she did just play in the Olympics while most of her opponents were vacationing. Not to mention, she's been playing non-stop basketball since the beginning of last year's NCAA season, so close to a full calendar year. The Sparks are in a battle for playoff position, but Parker definitely will need some rest at some point . . ..

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