Many professional athletes hate to engage in hypothetical scenarios that sports fans and media types love to debate.
However, Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb had no reservations and dove right in.
If the Storm trailed by two points with five seconds left, who takes the shot?
“Sue Bird,” Clark said without hesitation.
Whitcomb added: “When I watch Sue, she doesn’t miss when she practices. The others, they rarely miss too, so it’s hard to say. I just know how clutch Sue is. So under the gun, under the pressure, a three-point shot, catch and shoot, I’d probably put my money on Sue. It’s a tough one because I’d like to pick all of them honestly.”
There’s really no wrong answer considering the Storm’s cadre of long-distance gunners led by Bird, who is shooting 54.8 percent on three-pointers this season.
Somehow the 39-year-old ageless wonder, who is a 39.1% career three-point shooter, has discovered a fountain of youth at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where she’s having the best shooting season of her 17-year career.
And it’s not just Bird.
Five Storm players rank among the top 15 WNBA players in three-point shooting percentages for those with at least 12 attempts. The Storm leads the WNBA in shooting beyond the arc, with nearly 10 three pointers made a game.
Bird is third in the league followed by Breanna Stewart (46.3%, 10th), Whitcomb (46.0%, 11th), Clark (44.4%, 12th) and Jewell Loyd (42.4%, 15th).
“That’s how this team is built,” said Bird, who ranks third all-time in the WNBA with 872 three-pointers. “This is not a surprise. This is our identity. This is who we are. It’s what we look for. It’s where we thrive. We like to shoot threes. We like to look for them, so it’s not surprise this is happening.”
Heading into Thursday’s 5 p.m. matchup against the Indiana Fever (4-7), the Storm (11-1) boasts the No. 1 offense in the WNBA. It’s ranked first in scoring (87.9 points per game), three-point shooting percentage (42.9), assists (21.8), assists-to-turnovers ratio (1.5) and offensive rating (108.7).
The Storm’s fast-paced, small-ball attack is the latest iteration of the Mike D’Antoni-coached Phoenix Suns teams from 2004-10 that revolutionized basketball and inspired the Stephen Curry-led Golden State teams that won three NBA titles.
“I really enjoyed those teams,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “Mike D’Antoni, his influence on the game started in that era with those teams and the early push. They tried to score within 7-12 seconds. It’s something that we try to emphasize with out team.
“We’re trying to push and not call plays. We’re trying to push it down quickly and put a lot of pressure on defenses by going north and south.”
Bird, the consummate playmaker and efficient scorer, is a mirror image of two-time MVP Steve Nash. Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP, is a more dominant version of four-time NBA All-Star Shawn Marion. Natasha Howard is an undersized, rim-running, screen-setting post player much like Amar’e Stoudemire.
“That style with Phoenix and Golden State as well later on, has influenced how I feel about how you want to play offense,” Kloppenburg said. “Philosophically, we’re trying to play like that.”
Like most WNBA teams since the start of the league in 1997, the Storm used an inside-out offensive attack that featured a dominant post player, wings who scored primarily on isolation plays and a pass-first point guard who ran pick-n-roll plays to create mismatches.
The Storm’s reliance on the long ball began in earnest during its 2010 WNBA championship season when the team attempted 667 three-pointers, which was an increase of 181 from the previous year.
When coach Dan Hughes took over in 2018, the Storm attempted a team-record 816 three-pointers en route to winning its third league title.
The Storm still employs the same up-tempo offense that values three-point shooting, spacing, ball movement, quick decisions and skilled positionless players.
“It’s really been part of the evolution of the modern offensive systems,” Kloppenburg said. “When you look back then, you didn’t have the spacing. Everybody is jammed up around the key.”
What makes the Storm dangerous is its ability to flood the floor with high-percentage three-point shooters, which stretches opposing defenses thin and creates an abundance of scoring opportunities.
Stewart is a rare 6-foot-4 forward who can shoot from outside. Loyd routinely curls around screens or pulls up in transition to pop three-pointers. Bird and Clark are traditional set shooters with flawless mechanics.
And Whitcomb is the quick-release three-point specialist who will fire at any time and from any range, including a highlight 41-footer against Connecticut.
“The beauty of our team is we have people who are very good three-point shooters,” Bird said. “More than that, we have people who can hit tough three-point shots.
“When it comes to those that can hit the toughest, Sami is up there. Stewie, because of her height and arm length, she can hit tough threes. Then we have players like Jewell who can come off screens and hit them off the dribble. AC has been stroking it well.”
At its best, the Storm canned 18 three-pointers and tied the WNBA record during last week’s 100-63 win over Atlanta.
And it’s hardly a surprise the Storm had its worst three-point shooting display (5 of 25) during its only defeat, an 89-71 loss to the Washington Mystics.
“When we’re hitting our threes, we’re tough to beat,” Loyd said. “And thankfully, we have pretty good three-point shooters.”
Here’s a look at the WNBA’s top three-point shooters.
Name Team 3-pt %* Totals
1. Seimone Augustus LA 60.0 9-15
2. Bridgett Carlton Minn 57.1 8-14
3. Sue Bird Seattle 54.8 17-31
4. Dearica Hamby Las Vegas 53.3 8-15
5. Sydney Wiese LA 53.3 16-30
6. Julie Allemand Indiana 51.4 19-37
7. Riquna Williams LA 50.8 30-59
8. Ariel Atkins Wash. 50.0 22-44
9. Jazmine Jones New York 47.1 8-17
10. Breanna Stewart Seattle 46.3 25-54
11. Sami Whitcomb Seattle 46.0 23-50
12. Alysha Clark Seattle 44.4 16-36
13. Marina Mabrey Dallas 42.9 9-21
14. Kelsey Mitchell Indiana 42.7 32-75
15. Jewell Loyd Seattle 42.4 25-59
*Players with at least 12 three-point attempts heading into