The question seemed simple enough, but Alysha Clark didn’t have an answer — at least not until after a long moment of reflection.
If you had to only pick one, would you rather a) lead the WNBA in three-point percentage shooting or b) get voted on the All-Defensive team.
“Oh man, that’s a tough one,” the Storm forward said. “They’re both great accomplishments. … It’s hard to choose because I had to work so hard at both to get to this level.
“If I had to only pick one, I would pick defense because that’s how I had to carve my way into this league since I wasn’t a shooter. I had to find a way to be valuable to my team and learn to play defense. I would choose that one first.”
Fortunately for Clark, she doesn’t have to choose because the 5-foot-10 forward led the league with a 48.1 three-point percentage and was named WNBA All-Defensive second team.
Both achievements are validation of an eight-year career as Seattle’s unheralded role player who is finally — after all this time — receiving her justified recognition.
Clark’s steady defensive presence and improved perimeter shot is another reason why the No. 6 seed Storm overcame myriad injuries and modest preseason expectations to advance to the quarterfinals of the WNBA playoffs to face No. 3 Los Angeles.
If Seattle wins Sunday’s 12 p.m. single-elimination game at Staples Center, it’ll travel to No. 1 Washington for Game 1 on Tuesday in a best-of-five series.
“When you lose the players that we lost (injured stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird), no single person was going to come in and make up that difference,” coach Dan Hughes said. “We needed everybody to just give a little more. … And (Alysha) is always going to be so consistent with her defense, but her shooting gave us a little more and was obviously greatly appreciated because we lost a lot in that area with Sue and Stewie.”
To truly appreciate Clark’s transformation into a three-point sharpshooter, you have to understand where she started.
The Mount Juliet, Tenn. native, who spent two seasons at Belmont before transferring to Middle Tennessee State, was a prolific scorer who won two player of the year awards from both the Atlantic Sun and Sun Belt conferences.
As a senior, Clark led the nation and set a Middle Tennessee State record while averaging 27.5 points.
However, she estimates she attempted 20 three-pointers her during her collegiate career.
“I didn’t score outside the paint,” Clark said. “I just didn’t.”
Clark’s scoring dominance in the low post didn’t carry over to the WNBA and her lack of a perimeter shot made her an offensive liability.
“When I came into this league, teams left me open because I wasn’t that great of a shooter,” she said. “I didn’t like that feeling so I just worked and worked and got better and found confidence in my shot.”
Last year, Clark converted 29 of 74 three-pointers while shooting 39.2 from deep and averaging 7.4 points and 3.5 rebounds during the regular season.
This year, she canned 51 of 106 shots behind the arc and her three-point percentage set a team record. Clark is also set career highs in points (9.6), rebounds (4.7), assists (2.5), steals (1.0) and blocks (0.5).
“Some people think they work hard, but AC really puts in the work,” guard Jewell Loyd said. “And you see it’s paying off.”
Take last Thursday for instance.
After defeating No. 7 Minnesota 84-74 in the first round on Wednesday night, the Storm had an off day, which included a video session, medical treatment and interviews.
After most players left Seattle Pacific’s Royal Brougham Pavilion, Clark underwent a comprehensive shooting workout with player development coach Ryan Webb.
“Just a little tune-up,” she said. “Making sure my shot feels good and my shot is in alignment going into the game on Sunday because I haven’t been shooting great the last two games,” said Clark who shot 2 of 7 on three-pointers in the past two outings. “In the past, it’s not that I didn’t utilize gym time but I felt like I could have done more and I didn’t want this summer to go by and still have the same feeling.”
Clark admits she had to work extra hard to improve her perimeter shot whereas her newfound defensive recognition arose in part due to Natasha Howard, the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, and Jordin Canada, who finished first and second in steals respectively.
“I should have been on the All-Defensive team before this year,’ Clark said. “And I say that because what I do may not show up in steals or blocks, but I guarantee if you ask a coach who guards their best players and holds them to a low percentage from the Seattle Storm and it’s going to be me.
“I had players come to me last year and was like it’s (expletive) that you’re not on the All-Defensive team. So, that for me, let me know at least they know. Am I happy that I finally made it? Absolutely because I busted my tail to be that person for this franchise and my team. For the coaches now to recognize that, thank you.”