Is Seattle the best WNBA team ever?
by Clay Kallam
Remembering that it’s not about how much, but whether, the Seattle Storm staked a serious claim to being the best WNBA team ever this summer.
In simple terms, they won more games than any other team, but that’s in part because the Playoffs are longer now than they were in the late ‘90s. But they also jumped out to a 22-2 record, relaxed for a while (going 6-4 the rest of the way), and then went 7-0 in postseason.
Skeptics may point to the average 2.3-point margin of victory in the finals against Atlanta, but it’s not about point spreads, it’s about winning – and all Seattle did was win.
Setting aside the basic truth that it’s pretty much impossible to compare teams from different eras, it’s still fun to try to compare the Storm to the 1998 Houston Comets, which went 27-3 in a shorter regular season. That was arguably the best of the great Comets’ teams, which won the first four WNBA titles, and so we’ll go down the roster (using the regular season numbers for both teams) to see how they stack up.
Point guard: Kim Perrot was a fine player, and a better defender than Sue Bird, but Bird is the best point guard of her generation, and Perrot was never in that conversation in her day. Bird shot better, took (and made) big shots, turned the ball over less and had more assists. Though Perrot filled the role she needed to fill for Houston, Bird is clearly the better player.
Shooting guard: Here’s another no-brainer – Cynthia Cooper is one of the best female players ever, and though Tanisha Wright is a solid WNBA starter, she’s nowhere close to Cooper. And remember, WNBA fans only saw Cooper on the downside of her career, and she was still fabulous. Cooper pretty much did everything, and was a more than adequate defender, and Cooper also was the one who took the big shots. Cooper, in a landslide.
Small forward: This is a little closer, but even though I’m a big Swin Cash fan, Sheryl Swoopes is clearly better. Though Swoopes didn’t quite shoot as well (42.7 percent to 43.5 percent) and was a slightly less effective rebounder (5.1 to 6.0), she turned the ball over much less often and was arguably the best defender in WNBA history. Swoopes, but maybe not by as much as people first think.
Power forward: To make this more fair, we’ll match the young Tina Thompson against the in-her-prime Lauren Jackson – and though Thompson was (and is) pretty damn good, Jackson is the dominant player of the first decade of the 21st century. At 6-5, Jackson can control every aspect of the game, from scoring to rebounding to defending, and isn’t afraid to take the big shot, or throw an elbow. Jackson is a no-doubt choice here.
Center: So who out there remembers Monica Lamb? Or Polina Tzekova? Or Tammy Jackson? The Comets ran out a series of role-players at center because they needed five to play, but Lamb (the 1998 center) was typical: 5.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 54.1 percent shooting. Camille Little, though undersized, has emerged as a well-above-average WNBA player, and her 10.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 1.6 spg speak for themselves. Little gets the nod here, easily.
Bench: Janeth Arcain was one of the greatest players of her time, and led the World Championships in scoring one year, so having her come off the bench meant there was little dropoff when any of the perimeter players needed a rest. Arcain could run the point (and did, in 1999), or play the three, which would move Swoopes to power forward for a few minutes. The dropoff after Arcain was pretty steep, so careful consideration has to be given to the Storm trio of Svetlana Abrosimova, Le’coe Willingham and Jana Vesela. None of those three are nearly as good as Arcain was, but there are three of them – so we’ll call this even.
Coach: Brian Agler vs. Van Chancellor? Nothing to pick from here. Even.
In conclusion: If you believe all the categories are equal, Seattle wins 3-2-2, but let’s not forget the huge advantage Cooper gives the Comets at shooting guard. So we have two great teams, filled with great players, coming from different eras, that in the end can’t really be separated. Put a gun to my head, and I probably pick Houston because I think Cooper and Swoopes are more likely to make big plays late, but then again, I wouldn’t mind having LJ and Bird with the ball in their hands either. Call me a wimp, but this mythical series goes five games, and the team that gets the last shot probably wins – and I’m not saying who that team is.