The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, September 23, 2020

An Alysha Clark appraisal — Hear from Clark after her game-winner — Must-click women's basketball links

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 6: Alysha Clark #32 of the Seattle Storm plays defense against the Minnesota Lynx on September 6, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

An Alysha Clark appraisal

Tuesday night’s game-winner by Alysha Clark — a fairly representative moment in the career she’s had, thinking through and then timing/outsmarting a group of taller women around her to grab a rebound and score a vital, in this case game-deciding, basket — is useful for another reason: it gives me an excuse to remind you all that she is probably, even now, still underrated.

This is a silly game, at some level, to play. Are players and teams underrated when pointed out as such? Don’t they become properly rated in that exact moment? Or maybe even overrated?

Generally, yes. Not so with Alysha Clark.

With the 2020 campaign she just had, simply accepting her as a key, ancillary, winning player who supports the most vital Storm contributors, like Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, is to miss that she just posted one of the elite seasons in recent memory. She’s contributing, collectively, at a level that the league’s best players are, though the shape of her contributions differ from the company she’s keeping.

A few examples of what I mean here: she’s lauded for her defense, was rightly talked up as a potential Defensive Player of the Year, but she led the WNBA in True Shooting Percentage in 2020, and by a fairly large margin. She expressed surprise to me Tuesday night when I mentioned that fact, some significant proof that there is a gap between reputation and accomplishment when the player herself has not been alerted to it.

Here are the leaders in win shares for 2020. Clark finished fifth. The only players ahead of her: Courtney Vandersloot, A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier. The four behind her: DeWanna Bonner, Angel McCoughtry, Candace Parker and Alyssa Thomas. Also trailing her: all other players.

But consider that group of eight I mentioned, all rightly in the discussion for awards like MVP, and think about whether Clark is discussed in the same way. It is obvious to me she is not.

It doesn’t really matter how you measure, there’s no case against Alysha Clark as one of the best, if not the best, players in this 2020 season. Want to go by net rating? Among those who played at least 20 minutes per game for at least 20 games, Clark is tops.

So what is a reasonable appraisal of Alysha Clark? Well, she was on my all-WNBA first team ballot, and I don’t think there’s much argument against her placement there. At the 60% or so true shooting mark she’s typically reached in most seasons, she’s one of the top 25 in the league in overall value. Was this year a new level for her, at almost 70 percent? Or was it a career year?

The comp I think about what Nneka Ogwumike’s 2016. Her career true shooting percentage is 61.7, and that makes her a perennial all star and future Hall of Famer. In 2016? It was 73.7, the best single-season mark of any WNBA player ever, and it meant she was the MVP.

And here’s why it matters: Clark, 33 in July, hits free agency this winter. The Storm will have to give Natasha Howard, also a free agent, big money to keep her. Jewell Loyd’s contract only runs through 2021, and she’ll likely command the max when that ends. Jordin Canada will need to get paid after 2021. Even cost-saving measures like the criminally underpaid deal Sami Whitcomb signed ends after 2020.

Whether all of us properly value Alysha Clark isn’t, ultimately, going to matter as much as whether another team does so, and throws a full max deal at her this winter. And then Clark, who has played her whole career in Seattle and thrived in their system, may have a big decision to make. So, too, will the Storm, who may need to decide what their pecking order is.

That might mean investing big in Loyd, Howard and Canada, keeping enough room to pay Bird as long as she wants to play, which could lead to some salary cap stress and, perhaps, Alysha Clark playing elsewhere.

That could cost the Storm their most underrated player, and some victories. It certainly would have meant an extra five minutes of wear and tear, and possibly a loss, last night.

This week in women’s basketball

You’re going to want to read this Katie Davidson deep dive into how the Minnesota Lynx overcame the Sylvia Fowles injury.

Zac Boyer counts down the 25 most intriguing players in women’s college basketball.

Learn all about Damiris Dantas’ path.

The great Dorothy J. Gentry on Candace Parker.

She also went in-depth on A’ja Wilson.

Here’s my piece on A’ja Wilson, including a conversation with Dawn Staley, on the day she was named MVP.

Mike Prada went in-depth on Las Vagas’ strategy.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo caught up with DeWanna Bonner.

Master Tesfatsion is must-listen on his essay concerning the WNBA and NBA work stoppages.

Kayla McBride shares her mental health journey.

Sean Hurd details those of A’ja Wilson, Natalie Achonwa and others.

The latest Chasing Perfection podcast is live.

This list of best and worst offenses/defenses from Jacob Mox is fascinating.

Jordan Ligons joined The Ringer NBA Show to discuss the W.

Erica L. Ayala writes about Crystal Dangerfield’s rise.

And Alexa Philippou shows the UConn influence on how she’s arrived at this point.

Here’s Jenni Carlson on a women’s sports trailblazer at Oklahoma.

Netflix and Dawn.

Pepper Persley’s latest podcast is with Kelsey Plum.

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Five at The IX: Alysha Clark, Seattle Storm

I caught up with Alysha, along with other WNBA media, following her game-winning shot. Listen in by clicking on Alysha here.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.