The Seattle Storm go into the WNBA season with visions of a deep playoff run, and it would appear they have assembled a lineup that could do just that.
Record last season: 16-18
Third in the Western Conference, Lost to Atlanta in first round of the playoffs
Projected Starters/ Potential Subs:
Sue Bird/Sami Whitcomb/Alexis Peterson
Jewell Loyd/Noelle Quinn
Alysha Clark/Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
Breanna Stewart/Ramu Tokashiki
Crystal Langhorne/Carolyn Swords/Lanay Montgomery
Expectations are high in Seattle this year. So high, it is easy to forget the Seattle Storm only went 16-18 last year, and only went 7-9 in conference.
Still, there is no getting around the fact that this is a very important WNBA season in Seattle. They will be hosting the All-Star game in July, a game that could feature three Storm players if it all works out; ageless Sue Bird and youngsters Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart.
Bird will be celebrated throughout the season for her historical career as it begins to head toward the end (not to say this will be or should be her final season!), and she has earned all the accolades. She is still one of the best point guards in the WNBA, and remains one of the most clutch shooters ever. She has embraced the role of team leader for the younger players, and there may be no vet better suited for a young team in the league today, now that Tamika Catchings has retired.
But make no mistake about it, this needs to be Loyd and Stewart’s team now, and the fortunes of the season will rise and fall with their performances.
Loyd enters her third year with the Storm, and is coming off a year that saw a dramatic increase in her performance. Her scoring went from 10.7 points per game as a rookie to 16.5 per game last year. The 2015 Rookie of the Year, she elevated in 2016 to second team All-WNBA status, and who knows the lofty heights she can raise her game to this year?
Stewart was last season’s Rookie of the Year, when she scored 18.3 points and pulled down 9.3 rebounds per game. This was while frequently playing out of position at the center spot, being physically and aggressively defended by bigger and more experienced players. If Loyd elevated her game last year, how high is the ceiling for Stewart?
Even the Storm’s few offseason moves seemed designed to put players alongside Loyd and Stewart to help them succeed.
Start with the acquisition of center Carolyn Swords from the New York Liberty. A legit 6-foot-6 center that defends with strength and sets picks with enthusiasm, Swords will be a bit of an enforcer, allowing the slender Stewart to not be handled so physically by other teams that don’t have the quickness or length to defend her inside-outside game. Crystal Langhorne will most likely remain the starting center due to her skills on both ends of the floor, but Swords will be key to helping both Stewart and Langhorne stay out of foul trouble.
The other acquisition to keep an eye on is guard Sami Whitcomb, who combines two traits the Storm Crazies love; she played for the University of Washington, and in Australia. Lightning quick and fast on the release, she could be very good fit as part of a guard rotation with Bird and Loyd. Being able to give both of those two a little more rest could be key to a late playoff run for the Storm, not to mention her defensive abilities off the bench will help a team that has a nice amount of offense off the bench but not a great defensive mix.
Alysha Clark should complete the starting lineup, as the former post player in college has developed into a very solid, do everything small forward in the WNBA. With offensive dynamos like Bird, Loyd, and Stewart, you need people to do the little things. Clark does all of that willingly, is a good defender and hustles all the time.
In addition to Swords and Whitcomb, the bench will feature Ramu Tokashiki, an extremely talented forward, who struggles with consistency. For her to step up to the next level she needs to harness that ability and become a controlled, dependable night in and night out performer.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is a dependable long range shooter, but I am sure head coach Jenny Boucek would like to see something beyond just that shooting ability though. Noelle Quinn continues to be a steady backup guard, and her presence will allow rookie Alexis Peterson to go through her growing pains more in practice than in games. Fellow rookie Lanay Montgomery will have time to learn behind posts Langhorne and Swords, and be able to give some additional rest to Stewart as well.
Boucek will have more pressure on her to succeed than ever before in Seattle. Former champions with Bird and Lauren Jackson, management and the fans desperately want another title run before Bird rides off into the sunset.
More WNBA: Connecticut Sun 2017 Season Preview
On the men’s side, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA title with their “big three” of Lebron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving; will a “Big Three” of Bird, Loyd and Stewart be enough to compete for a WNBA title? We know that the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks return their own stalwart lineups, but if they remain healthy, especially Bird and Stewart who missed preseason time with injuries, the potential is there for a very, very enjoyable summer in Seattle.