Why Sue Bird Should Be the 2011 WNBA MVP
Her significance to the Seattle Storm’s success.
“Sue Bird plays her position better than anyone else plays their position in the WNBA. She is a true winner. The best example I can give is her ability in the clutch and how we have been able to stay strongly in the playoff picture without Lauren [Jackson] for 20 games including 13 of our 17 road games. Also, for people in women’s basketball around the world, how she took Spartak back to the Finals of the Euroleague without Diana [Taurasi], Lauren [Jackson] and Sylvia [Fowles]. Every WNBA and NBA team would love to have a player that does things on the court like Sue does.” – Seattle Storm coach, Brian Agler, exclusively to SLAMonline
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
In 2011 thus far, Bird has recorded six assists or more in a game 11 times, scored 15 or more points 18 times, and turned the ball over two times or less a staggering 20 times.
Considering how often the ball is in her hands for the Storm, these totals are nothing short of remarkable.
In the league’s 15th season, the WNBA has never been more competitive or featured as much parity; virtually every team has two or more superstars. Perhaps even more amazing is that Bird has managed to attain these numbers in a league loaded with phenomenal guards such as Lindsay Whalen, Becky Hammon, Temeka Johnson, Renee Montgomery, Lindsey Harding, Cappie Pondexter, and Ticha Penicheiro.
Hence, based on the amazing seasons that multiple players are having, I figured that determining my vote for WNBA Most Valuable Player would be exceedingly difficult when my ballot arrived in the mail.
However, after looking at the season Sue Bird is having for the Seattle Storm, it was easy.
In what will likely be the tightest race for MVP in league history, there are literally ten players (including Sue Bird) that could end up winning the award without objection: Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Tamika Catchings, Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Becky Hammon, Sylvia Fowles, Penny Taylor, and Diana Taurasi.
Each one of those players deserves the MVP in 2011 and their team wouldn’t be nearly as successful without them.
But Sue Bird has managed to separate herself from the rest of the pack.
In a season where the Storm lost Lauren Jackson (the team’s leading scorer and 2010 WNBA MVP) for 20 games (including 13 on the road) Sue Bird has managed to not only keep the Storm in the race in the Western Conference, but has them in second place (19-13) and nearing the 20-win mark.
In 2011, Bird is averaging a career-high 14.8 ppg, 5.0 apg (5th in WNBA), 3.0 rpg, shooting 45 percent from the floor, and just 2.4 turnovers in spite of playing 33 minutes a night with the ball in her hands the vast majority of the time.
In fact, the season Sue Bird is having is eerily similar to the one Steve Nash had in 2005-06 with the Phoenix Suns. After winning the MVP award and leading Phoenix to the Western Conference Finals in 2004-05, the Suns went without Amare Stoudemire for the entire 2005-06 season due to a knee injury and lost Joe Johnson to the Atlanta Hawks. There wasn’t a soul on the planet who thought the team would come close to the success they had in 2004-05 (62-20), much less make the playoffs.
Instead, Nash led the Suns to a 54-28 record and another trip to the Western Conference Finals along with his second Most Valuable Player nod.
Nash didn’t have overly gaudy numbers during the 2005-06 season; he averaged 18.8 ppg, 10 apg, and shot about 50 percent from the field. The MVP easily could have gone to Dirk Nowitzki (26 ppg, 9 rpg, 3 apg) whose Dallas Mavericks made the NBA Finals that year.
But without Steve Nash in 2005-06, would the Suns have won 54 games? Made the Western Conference Finals? The playoffs?
By definition, Nash meant more to his team’s success than any other player that year. It didn’t mean that Nowitzki wasn’t valuable or that the Mavericks would have performed equally as well without him; it simply meant that having Nash on the court made the Suns, as a team, infinitely better.
This is case with Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm in 2011, no?
Bird does so much more for the Storm than simply facilitate their offense. She’s someone the team looks to in clutch situations, someone who generates offense both for herself and her teammates, and a player that they can rally around. Intangibles like these (including a unified belief in Bird as the Storm’s leader) goes an incredibly long way towards a team’s success.
The Storm averages about 70 points a game in 2011. That means that Sue Bird’s 15 ppg and 5 apg can account for 40-50 percent of the team’s offensive output on any given night.
Take that away and what would happen to the 2011 Seattle Storm?
The beauty of Bird’s game isn’t that she is supremely efficient with the ball, it’s that she creates so many opportunities for her teammates to be successful. She utilizes screens perfectly, places the ball in a position where her teammates can easily put up a shot, and understands when and how to attack the opponent’s defense.
It’s hard to quantify Bird’s what Bird means to the Storm. Sure, she is a fantastic play-maker buft her presence on the court also helps bring the team a calm confidence in their ability even without Lauren Jackson. Like Steve Nash does for the Suns, Bird inspires belief and balance for the Storm in a way that few players can.
MVP’s make others better, and that’s exactly what Sue Bird has done for the Storm over the course of her career.
Without Bird in 2011, would the Storm be nearing 20 wins? 15 wins? If that’s the case, their record would probably be closer to where San Antonio (16-16) or Los Angeles (13-19) currently is which would be good for fourth or fifth place in the Western Conference rather than second (19-13).
If that doesn’t exemplify what an MVP is, I’m not sure what does.
Admittedly, the odds of Bird winning the MVP aren’t great. It would surprise me if she ended up finishing as one of the top three vote-getters. Other players are putting up bigger numbers for their respective team and the attention will probably go to them.
It’s a shame because, to date, Bird has led a Lauren Jackson-less Seattle Storm to just six-fewer wins than the league-leading Minnesota Lynx (25) who feature a lineup full of healthy All-Stars.
Again, this isn’t taking anything away from the contributions that other MVP-favorites have made; it’s simply recognizing how important Sue Bird is to her team.
Unlike other candidates, not everything Bird does will necessarily show up in the box score.
Still, you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me there is another player who has meant more to her team this season than No. 10 for the Seattle Storm.