Seattle Storm 2018 Player Review: Alysha Clark

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 12.43.58 PMNo Seattle Storm player provided more versatility than Alysha Clark, a 5’11” forward who can guard four positions and score from all three levels. Under Dan Hughes, Clark finally maximized her potential in the WNBA.

 

Alysha Clark By the Numbers

  • 7.4 PPG
  • 3.5 RPG
  • 1.9 APG
  • 1.0 SPG
  • .480 FG%
  • .392 3P%
  • .599 TS%
  • .564 eFG%
  • 111.9 ORtg
  • 98.9 DRtg
  • 2.5 WS

 

Adapt and Survive

Without diving too deeply into overused cliches and platitudes, Clark is an example of perseverance paying off.

In an interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe immediately after winning the WNBA Finals, Clark recounted how she had struggled to find her role in the league. At one point, she wondered whether she’d have any long-term future in Seattle.

The Storm announced in May 2018 they had signed Clark to a multi-year extension, providing her with well-earned security. A few months later, she was celebrating a WNBA championship she had a critical role in delivering.

That moment with Rowe was the culmination of years of hard work and Clark completely altering her game to essentially survive in the WNBA.

Clark led Division I in scoring in her two years with Middle Tennessee, averaging 27.5 points in 2008-09 and 28.3 points in 2009-10. She also averaged a double-double as a senior, collecting 11.6 rebounds per game. Oh, and she shot 61.1 percent from the field over two seasons.

Those impressive numbers were only enough to make Clark a second-round pick in the 2010 draft. She then failed to make the San Antonio Silver Stars’ roster coming out of training camp in 2010 and then again 2011 before signing with the Storm in March 2012.

In college, Clark could get by with being a sub-6-foot post scorer. That wasn’t going to work in the WNBA—at least not as her primary source of offense. She explained to espnW.com’s Mechelle Voepel how she basically had to start from the ground up in order to better suit the WNBA:

“I felt like I was back in middle school again learning how to play basketball. I’d never been an outside shooter, so I had to work with shooting coaches on that, learn how to set up my defender and get by them. I had confidence as a post player. I knew I could score on anybody, it didn’t matter who or how tall. To be at the guard and not know, I lost my confidence. I had to work to rebuild that.”

Although Clark still possesses the ability to score inside, she has become much more of a shooter. According to Basketball Reference, 42.8 percent of her field-goal attempts in 2018 were three-pointers, which was only slightly higher than her career average (40.6 percent). Her 12.6 percent usage rate was also a career low. Less of the offense flowed through Clark, forcing her to make the most of her limited touches.

The Storm seemingly found the best way to utilize Clark as a scorer.

Her 111.9 offensive rating was a career high, far surpassing her previous best (106.0), per WNBA.com. She was a good enough long-range shooter (.392 three-point percentage) that opposing teams had to respect the threat she posed out there. And she remained the hyper-efficient scorer in the paint from her Middle Tennessee days, thus making her even tougher to defend. According to Synergy Sports, Clark shot 65.8 percent around the basket and 71.4 percent on post-ups.

When she’s on the floor, Clark is almost never the Storm’s primary or even secondary scoring option. But that is more about the depth of talent at Seattle’s disposal than an indictment of Clark.

The 31-year-old is rightfully praised for her defense. The value she brings on offense is just as useful to her team and arguably flies under the radar.

 

Numbers Never Lie (Except When They Do)

Shortly after his hiring, Hughes gave an interview to High Post Hoops’ Howard Megdal and singled out how vital Clark would be for the Storm’s defense in 2018:

“If you’re gonna take on a respect for the defensive end and a respect for the rebounding, then I think it’s gotta encompass a little bit of the decisions you make to add to the team. I think it’s gotta encompass a little bit of focus and buy-in. Alysha Clark is very important to me, because I kind of need…she is the type of defender that I want to influence her teammates to be, and I want to add some of the pieces to this group. Because if you want true consistency in professional basketball—and I’d include the NBA—you’ve got to have buy-in.”

The Storm finished ninth in defensive rating (104.7) in 2017, unsurprisingly falling well short of expectations and going 15-19. Hughes rightfully highlighted defense as a major area of concern heading into 2018.

In his first year, Seattle climbed to third in defensive rating (98.8), and Clark is a big reason why.

She’s a perfect example how the stats only go so far toward portraying a player’s true impact on the floor.

According to Synergy Sports, Clark allowed 0.969 points per possession on defense, putting her in the 21st percentile. She was particularly bad in spot-up opportunities, where she allowed 1.329 points per possession. Opposing players scored 51.2 percent of the time and averaged 51.3 percent on their spot-up shots.

Going off of those advanced metrics, one would assume Clark was a below-average defender and an anchor weighing down the team. That’s why context is key when evaluating her contributions.

Hughes often matched Clark up against the opponent’s best or second-best scoring option. In a playoff elimination game, she had the bad luck of shadowing Diana Taurasi. The Storm are playing the Atlanta Dream? You better believe Clark is guarding Angel McCoughtry. And she’s drawing Chelsea Gray when Seattle is facing off with the Los Angeles Sparks.

You get the picture.

No matter how great a player may be at defending, her individual numbers will look bad when she’s constantly having to trail elite scorers around the court.

There’s something to be said for the difficulty of having to change assignments as well. Clark’s defensive duties were pretty fluid over the course of a game, which didn’t make her life any easier.

Watching Clark defend in 2017 was an adventure. She was clearly working hard, yet it was sometimes unclear what exactly she was doing.Alysha Clark Defense

Hughes took a more proactive role with Clark. Ask Kristi Toliver how that worked out.

Alysha Clark Defense 2

Clark finished with a 98.9 defensive rating, significantly better than 2017 (103.8) and earned a career-high 1.2 defensive win shares.

The fact Hughes trusted her against the likes of Taurasi, McCoughtry and Gray spoke volumes as to how highly he viewed her skills. To bring this full circle and rely on a cliche, that says more about Clark than anything you’ll find on Synergy.

 

2019 Outlook

Expect more of the same from Clark and she might even be better considering she battled a minor hamstring strain last season.

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