A basketball team with no point guard is a plane in the air and an unlicensed pilot in the cockpit.
It’s a kindergarten class led by a 23-year-old substitute teacher who describes themselves as “laid-back, easygoing, chill.”
It’s “How to Get Away With Murder” sans Viola Davis.
It’s unbridled chaos.
But a basketball team with a point guard and a plan? Beyoncé at Coachella 2018. Poetry in motion. Music to the eyes.
The Seattle Storm won the 2020 WNBA Finals on Tuesday evening, completing a sweep of the Las Vegas Aces. Seattle won for a variety of reasons. Above all, Seattle won because it had a capable point guard where Las Vegas did not.
The league is dominated by frontcourt stars. A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, and Candace Parker finished atop the MVP table in 2020. Before the playoffs commenced, I argued that the four or five best players in the league this year were forwards and centers. Versatile two-way bigs appear to be the hottest commodity in hoops.
Well, top tier guards are here to tell you they’re not obsolete. Playoff basketball is a different animal. A few pairs of steady hands at the controls are a near requirement for success.
The true story of the 2020 WNBA Finals wasn’t just A Tale of Two Point Guards. It was a tale of guards, period. Seattle’s guard play was exceptional, a clinic in just about every way. The Aces guard play was spotty at best, and virtually non-existent at worst. That’s how this series was decided.
About to turn 40 in less than ten days, Sue Bird is still steady as Simone Biles on the balance beam. That’s all Seattle needed to make the whole operation sing. It’s not a quadratic equation. Or maybe it is. I can’t remember what a quadratic equation is. The point is, Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg wasn’t looking for lofty point totals, killer crossovers, or MVP level play from his 1. He just needed someone to get Seattle’s best players the ball, make calm, safe reads, and take jumpers when open. Bird has been doing that all her life.
The Storm were remarkably comfortable in this series. They kicked off their slippers, reclined, and reached for the popcorn. Everything came easily. Seattle executed its sets with precision, tossed the basketball from side-to-side, and played like the team with the best Net Rating in the league.
For the Aces, this series was a slog. Nothing came easily, namely for Wilson, who carried Las Vegas to the finish line and wasn’t rewarded for her efforts. Las Vegas’s group of guards – Danielle Robinson, Jackie Young, Kayla McBride, Lindsay Allen, and Sugar Rodgers – were unable to get Wilson the ball with any regularity. Wilson scored 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the first quarter of Game 3 and only received six more shot attempts over the final 30 minutes. That was a common theme for Las Vegas throughout the playoffs.
The Aces ceiling dipped significantly the minute Kelsey Plum injured her left Achilles tendon prior to the start of the regular season. The impact Dearica Hamby’s absence had cannot be overstated, but Las Vegas was swept because it lacked a floor general. Combine that with overall fatigue from an incomprehensibly grueling run and what remains is a crumbling Jenga tower. The foundation was faulty.
Seattle tallied more assists in all three games, securing an 86 to 60 series advantage. It wasn’t just Bird.
Jewell Loyd dished four assists in each game against Las Vegas, exhibiting the type of versatility that makes her one of the best players in the WNBA. She’s a complete player, everything you could ask for in a guard. The floor opens up in mesmerizing ways when your 2-guard can pass the rock and shoot it.
Nowhere was Seattle’s advantage at the guard position more overt than in transition. The Storm slotted players like Jordin Canada into the lineup without suffering a serious dip in production. Las Vegas didn’t enjoy similar luxuries with its own bench.
I mean, come on. That’s an absurdly precise pass from Loyd that makes Stewart’s life incredibly easy. The Finals MVP simply had to run the floor, curl off screens, and extend her mitts. Time-after-time the ball was placed perfectly in Stewart’s shooting pocket, allowing her to finish possessions doing what she does best.
Of course, Loyd’s scoring is a major key, too, but you already know all that. I’m not here to retread exhausted waters.
Guard play isn’t just about offense. One way in which folks thought Las Vegas would be able to expose Seattle was by attacking Bird on defense. No dice. Bird wasn’t bad, but the Aces guards were incapable of testing her regardless.
Las Vegas didn’t punish switches or enter the ball into the post when opportunities presented themselves. Loyd and Alysha Clark sealed every gap on the perimeter, and the Aces were unable to create angles to feed Wilson with any consistency. Sometimes, the Storm didn’t even have to work very hard to score. Las Vegas gifted Seattle too many easy points with sloppy unforced errors from guards.
Stewart and Bird receive the majority of credit for making the Storm such a joy to watch, but that’s a gross oversimplification. It’s way deeper than that. Basically, everyone on Seattle’s roster can pass. Even the non-guards often play like guards. Shooting guards can run point. The whole squad is satisfied as a result.
Everything runs smoothly when your best players get the ball right where they want it.
In that vein, superior guard play won Seattle the 2020 WNBA Finals.