The WNBA, like most professional sports leagues, is run by its stars. You have the big names: Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne, Candace Parker and so on. These players are all-world talents, mostly known for their superb athleticism and ability to put up a ton of points in a hurry. This is exciting basketball, and for a league that still struggles to fill seats at times, it’s necessary that these big names get put out there as much as possible. As a die-hard fan of the league who wants nothing more than to see it succeed, I have no problem with this.
However, there are a lot of players in the WNBA who contribute in other areas and are elite in areas of the game which may not be immediately apparent to the casual fan. Make no mistake about it: these ladies are very, very good at what they do, and it’s a crying shame that they don’t get recognized for it.
So here, I’ll be making a case for the glue players, the veterans, the players every coach would love to have on his/her team. These aren’t players who dunk or score 30 points per game, but contrary to popular belief, one can be good at basketball without doing those things. From defensive intensity to basketball IQ, there’s a good reason why these women are playing professionally, and it’s far past time they get the credit they deserve.
Welcome to Unsung Heroines.
Alysha Clark: Seattle Storm
A 5’10” post player out of Middle Tennessee, Clark led the nation in scoring her senior season, but a professional career for her still seemed like a longshot. She would have to become comfortable playing on the perimeter, a project the San Antonio Silver Stars were repeatedly unwilling to undertake; she was drafted by the team in 2010 but waived in training camp, then waived again a year later after being given another chance. Clark didn’t give up, though, and then-Seattle Storm GM Brian Agler saw something in her…and the rest is basketball history.
Now in her fourth season in Seattle, Clark has completed her transformation, turning her game upside-down to become one of the most versatile, efficient and intelligent players in the WNBA. She’s not scoring in huge bunches like she did in college, but she doesn’t need to. The style of play Clark had adopted is far more efficient.
As the following screenshot of the WNBA statistics leaderboard shows, Clark currently ranks fifth in the league in WNBA in FG%, which is impressive enough in itself. What also needs to be pointed out is that of the FG% leaders, Clark is the only player on the list who doesn’t play exclusively in the post. In other words, despite not having the height or size to get off the sheer volume of close-range shots that players like Brittney Griner and Emma Meesseman do, Clark remains a highly efficient scorer anyway.
(Source: http://www.wnba.com/stats/player-stats/#?sort=FG_PCT&dir=1; WNBA.com)
This is even more impressive when you consider that Clark takes a significantly higher number of three-point shots than any of these players. Nearly 43 percent of her shots come from three-point range, and she converts on 36 percent of them. If this still isn’t enough for you, take a look at the shot selection of the WNBA’s players (kudos to Paul Swanson of the Minnesota Lynx for these statistics). Scroll to Clark’s named and you’ll find that she’s only taken 10 shots that aren’t at the rim, in the paint or behind the 3-point line, for the entire season.
What all of this means is that current Storm coach Jenny Boucek has a player who understands that if she’s not going to be taking a lot of shots, the ones she does take should be of the highest quality. It’s a simple enough concept, but on a team with so many youngsters, one that needs to be demonstrated by a team veteran on a consistent basis.
Posting an incredible (and league-best) .653 TS% on the season, Clark is Boucek’s ultimate veteran presence. She’s the steady player who’s more than willing to let players like Jewell Loyd and Ramu Tokashiki bear most of the offensive burden (an important step in a high-ceiling player’s development), while acting as a sort of release valve who can be relied on to make the smart play when the Storm offense gets too stagnant or out of control.
Of course, none of this speaks to Clarks’s brilliance on the defensive end. In her first season as a full-time starter, she’s been assigned the toughest perimeter player in each one of the Storm’s games, which once again takes the pressure off Seattle’s younger players as they focus on learning Boucek’s movement-heavy offense.
It’s a thankless job, but one that Clark never shies away from, going from trying to contain Maya Moore on the perimeter one game to matching up in the post against Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike the next. One could make the argument that Clark’s offensive efficiency is even more impressive given that she expends so much energy on defense, but again, you wouldn’t know it from watching her play. A WNBA All-Defensive honor at the end of the season for Clark would certainly not be underserved.
What’s next for Clark? She’s still just 28 years old, and since Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Storm will likely continue to keep her on board as an intelligent, steady veteran to help guide their young core to stardom. I certainly wouldn’t mind having her on my team, and I’m guessing GMs around the league feel the same way.