Bella’s Block Party: The Offense Isn’t Here Yet, But Alarie’s Defense Is

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Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a rookie out of a non-Power 5 conference by her struggles to figure things out offensively in her first few WNBA games. Sure, Dallas Wings rookie Bella Alarie hasn’t scored more than six points in a WNBA game yet. She’s 0-for-5 from three. She didn’t even take a shot against Atlanta.

When it comes to understanding young players, we should look at the things that that player is doing well, and for Alarie, that thing has been blocking shots.

Alarie has nine blocks already in her short career, providing Dallas with enough rim protection that they’ve essentially given her the minutes originally earmarked for Astou Ndour. She’s providing a fairly formidable force in the paint to prevent opposing teams from driving on her.

Again, Alarie’s too young and has too big of an adjustment to make when it comes to the quality of her competition for us to dwell on the things she hasn’t done so well. Instead, let’s head to the video room to talk about some of Alarie’s blocks and what that’s done for the Wings defensively.

But first, some numbers!

What Do The Stats Say About Alarie’s Defense?

I’m not quite sure what to make of advanced stats during a shortened season with a big chunk of the league missing, but let’s explore some of the on/off and impact metrics. What are they saying about Alarie’s early defensive impact?

First, some basic on/off stuff.

In 122 minutes with Alarie on the floor, the Dallas Wings have a defensive rating of 95.9. That’s the best mark on the team, and while the sample size is still pretty small, it does seem to suggest that the defense picks up when Alarie is on the floor. Especially when compared to the 105.8 defensive rating when Alarie sits.

Positive Residual’s Estimated Contribution metric has Alarie’s defensive EC as the highest on the Wings roster at -0.2. Jacob Goldstein’s Player Impact Plus/Minus metric has Alarie’s D-PIPM at 1.27, also the highest on the team, with Isabelle Harrison fairly far behind her at 0.22.

Again, the sample size for Alarie is too small for us to just rely on these numbers, but the early returns from a statistical perspective for the Princeton grad are really, really encouraging!

Let’s move on to some film to talk about just how encouraging the results have been.

Let’s Look At Some Bella Blocks!

So, how is Alarie impacting things defensively for the Wings?

Let’s watch some videos and find out, starting with her first WNBA block:

Kia Nurse misses a corner three, and a batted around rebound eventually lands in the hands of New York’s Jazmine Jones. Jones goes up for the putback, but BOOM, there’s Bella Alarie, her arm stretched up, swatting the attempt away.

Alarie showed some great recognition on this play. She was initially matched up on Kiah Stokes, but once the initial rebound attempt ends with a basketball spurting out onto the floor, she goes after it. Stokes picks it up and shovels it over to Jones, and Alarie is able to think on her feet here, seamlessly leaving Stokes — who is heading for the perimeter — to swing around to Jones. Quick thinking leads to the blocked shot.

What about when Alarie’s guarding in a different scenario? For instance, maybe when a player is driving to the basket?

On this play, the Mercury circle the ball around the perimeter to Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Allisha Gray closes out on Walker-Kimbrough way too hard, giving SWK a pretty open path to the basket. But as she drives, Alarie twists around off of the player she’d been guarding, and when Walker-Kimbrough gets maybe just a tad too under the basket before taking her shot, Alarie is there to do what she does best: get her arms up and find the basketball. Another good recognition play by the rookie.

Are there any other scenarios where Alarie showed off these instincts? Glad you asked:

Here, the Sky get Cheyenne Parker moving into the post, where she’s matched up one-on-one with Alarie. Parker’s a pretty good post player — Synergy had her in the 72nd percentile in points per possession on post up plays last season — but Alarie’s able to stick with her and bump her when she gets into her shooting motion. With no space for Parker to get an easy lookup, she’s forced to just hope she can use her good touch to get this ball to fall into the basket around Alarie, but someone has different plans.

You can really feel this block in a way you couldn’t feel the others. This isn’t an instinct block. It’s a power block. If real life had the rumble feature that video game controllers have, things would be shaking right now. Alarie swats that ball away like it’s an internet troll and she’s someone with a knack for blocking internet trolls.

This is what makes Alarie so dangerous for opposing teams moving forward: she has this great blend of defensive instinct, size, and power. She can make big plays on that end of the floor, and she doesn’t always need to be in a great position to make them, as we saw in that first video. Alarie gives Dallas a threat inside to discourage opposing teams.

And sure, without some big steps offensively, you won’t be able to get away with playing Alarie big minutes. She has to knock down some open looks. She’s scoring 0.333 points per possessions on spot up looks. But she does rank in the 78th percentile on her (very limited) possessions as a pick-and-roll roller, so you can see the makings of a solid offensive player there.

When that offensive game does start to come in, Alarie will be in a great position, because she’s already figuring out the part of the game that many think is more difficult for young players to adapt to: defense.

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