May 23, 2021 

Who should close games for the Seattle Storm?

The team has experimented with multiple late-game lineups with mixed results so far

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Mercedes Russell #2 of the Seattle Storm plays defense against the Dallas Wings on September 9, 2020, at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages)

Overreacting to a team’s season when they’re one-eighth of the way through their season makes little sense. However, it is great for the content. The Seattle Storm are 3-1 after wins over Minnesota and Dallas this weekend. Both victories required the Storm to show resiliency, especially after the young Wings pushed them to overtime.

Yet, neither win looked alike. Each game required the Storm to finish the game differently.

Jewell Loyd, Breanna Stewart, Jordin Canada, Sue Bird and Mercedes Russell were effective in closing out the Lynx on Thursday.

On Saturday, Dan Hughes closed regulation with Loyd-Stewart-Bird-Canada plus Dupree instead of Russell.

The results we saw from both lineups is in line with what we’ve seen from both groups so far this season.

On Thursday, Loyd subbed in with 5:32 remaining and a five-point deficit. Russell replaced Dupree at 4:33 in the fourth quarter down six. The group of Bird-Canada-Loyd-Russell-Stewart closed the game on a 15-3 run that began at the 3:22 mark.

Saturday was a different story. Dupree replaced Russell with 3:11 left in the third quarter and remained in the game until the 22-second mark. That seems like a long time for one player to remain in the game. However, bringing Dupree in late in the third quarter allowed Hughes to rest Russell so she was fresh to give Stewart a break in the fourth quarter.

Seattle grew their lead to as much as seven in the fourth quarter. The Storm held that lead with 4:48 to play and instead of closing out the more inexperienced opponent, Arike Ogunbowale tied the game at 81 with 1:10 left. Ogunbowale later hit two free throws to put the Wings up four but a Loyd 3-pointer and final seconds Canada layup sent the game to overtime.

In overtime, it was that same crunchtime lineup the Storm used Thursday to finish the Wings off. A one-possession game is often a coin flip, but it felt as if returning to this lineup made an impact.

What the numbers say

All of these lineups are small samples at this point but the numbers back up what we’ve seen on the court.

Stewart-Bird-Canada-Loyd-Russell are outscoring opponents by 75 points per 100 possessions together. Conversely, Stewart-Bird-Canada-Loyd-Dupree are -105.3 together. That’s a huge swing. Considering that the unit has played just six minutes together, likely all of it on Saturday, this isn’t entirely surprising.

The Dupree closing lineup has been outscored, out-rebounded and out-everything so far. That’s less than ideal for a lineup the Storm tried finishing games with.

Why is this happening?

Hughes admitted after the game the team is still trying to blend its new pieces, like Dupree. This likely a lot of it. For instance, in crunch time on Saturday, Ogunbowale drives to the basket and Stewart helps off Isabelle Harrison to trap her. Ogunbowale sees Harrison suddenly open, passes her the ball, and Harrison shoots over Dupree on the closeout.

Things like that get better as a lineup has more time together. It didn’t necessarily look like Stewart needed to help, which may have been part of why Dupree was late. As Dupree and Stewart play more together, they will learn each other’s tendencies. They just aren’t there yet.

That familiarity makes a big difference. The Canada-Loyd-Russell-Stewart-Bird lineup has years of experience together. You can’t just create that chemistry overnight. If one link is off, it can disrupt the entire chain. This isn’t necessarily about Dupree doing anything wrong.

The only way to build that familiarity is to play together and Hughes probably prefers to have them learn in the situations they will play in. While the Dupree lineup may be more of a liability, there is likely more value in having them learn in those high-stakes situations. Easing them in during, say, the middle of a first-quarter probably has a different feel.

In the end, the Storm know they can fall back on the Russell crunch time lineup. It is still early enough in the season for the Dupree lineup to figure things out anyway. Over time, we will hopefully see less variance in how the team performs with those two lineups on the floor.

Written by Derek James

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