Photo by Stephen Litel

by Stephen Litel

As the All-Star break looms, the San Antonio Silver Stars are beginning to come back to their form that led them to the WNBA Finals last summer. After winning the Western Conference last year, Becky Hammon and company find themselves fighting for a playoff spot in the stacked conference.

“In the whole league there aren’t any easy games, even the teams that sit at the bottom of the standings right now,” said Hammon. “They’re still very dangerous and still have very good players. With Houston folding and the players they had there and a new influx of players, cutting down rosters, all these teams are loaded. The West is typical though. High-scoring, great offensive players, Seattle and Sacramento play tremendous team defense, we’re starting to play our style of defense and the East is just grind it out. It’s a nice mix. Overall, I’m happy that the scoring is up because that’s what the fans like to see. It’s difficult this year. This is the most difficult year that I’ve ever been playing in the WNBA.”

Surprisingly, the veteran team began the year with road woes. Unable to secure a road win until their fifth try in Minnesota on July 12, the question became if the Stars were shooting themselves in the collective foot or if the ball just wasn’t bouncing their way on those evenings.

“It’s a little bit of all that,” said Hammon. “Phoenix, our first game of the season, we had one breakdown. We basically led the whole game up until the last three or four minutes. It’s a shame because those ones tend to come back and bite you in the butt when you let those road wins get away. In Seattle, we just didn’t rebound or shoot the ball well. Defensively we were there, but just didn’t finish it out on the rebounding and we struggled shooting that day. We have to put that combination of great defense along with efficient offense. For me and our team, it’s about efficiency more than anything.”

One of the benefits of having a veteran team, as opposed to youthful talent, is the ability to state clearly what the current issues happen to be without confidence of individuals suffering. Most often, that happens behind closed doors, as the veterans know how to keep insider issues out of the coverage of the team. Yet, when addressing an area that needs improvement to the press, it is always a matter of team, rather than individual.

“Weaknesses? We still have lulls,” said Hammon. “We have these little breakdowns in rebounding or offensively not being efficient with the ball. We just have to be a better road team than this and we’ve dug ourselves a bit of a hole on the road, but hopefully we keep learning from our mistakes and we just keep getting better and better. There’s little things we can tweak, but we feel once we get Anne (Wauters) back, we feel we’ll have all the pPhoto by Sophia Hantzesieces and we’ll be able to make a really strong push. We’re excited to get Anne back in a couple weeks hopefully, because she’s a big part of us. Right now, we just try to hold down the fort for a little bit until she gets back. I mean, she’s a 15-point, 10-rebound type player, so that’s a lot to make up for.”

With an absence as great as Wauters, others must step up while she’s away. Hammon and Sophia Young are doing all that they can, but that is certainly not enough to ‘hold down the fort.’ That is another reason the Stars are lucky to be a veteran team.

“We’ve had great bench contributions,” said Hammon. “Ruth Riley has been playing great. I think she’s putting together one of her best years so far. ‘Snelly’ coming in off the bench is coming in and giving us a nice little boost. ‘Snelly’ may be that missing piece as that pure shooter where Detroit really exposed us because they cheated defensively. Now we have somebody who can extend the defense and V.J. has been shooting the ball really well, so as long as we get people involved early and often and we share the ball, we’re a very difficult team to contend with. I think we have the pieces and with Anne coming back, that’s the one piece that will be able to get us over the hump.”

Coming off a loss in the WNBA Finals last year, the season has not begun as Becky Hammon and the Silver Stars hoped. Yet, they are confident that once they work out the kinks and have their entire roster in tact, they can regain their winning ways.

“Our biggest strength is probably our defense and our chemistry,” said Hammon. “More than any other team I’ve been a part of, chemistry is very, very good on this team. We have a lot of players who know how to play the game of basketball and understand the team aspect of basketball, so obviously, we have a ton of experience and that’s a strength of ours.”

Acknowledging the work that needs to happen, yet having confidence in your team is a great asset in a true leader. Becky Hammon is one of the best leaders in the WNBA. San Antonio may have work to do at this point, but Hammon knows there is enough time to achieve their goals.

“We don’t want to be playing our best basketball right now because we want to play our best basketball in late August into early September. We’re still a work in progress.”

Let’s see if that work produces another Western Conference championship.