Seattle Storm 2017 Preview Series: Where Does Carolyn Swords Fit in the Rotation?

The Seattle Storm didn’t match the Washington Mystics’ level of aggression this offseason in terms of improving the roster, but the front office sent a message with the acquisition of Carolyn Swords.

The Storm sent the sixth and 18th overall selections to the Mystics in January, receiving Swords and the 15th overall pick.

The 27-year-old addressed what was a glaring need for Seattle. Last year, the Storm often played 6’2″ Crystal Langhorne alongside 6’4″ Breanna Stewart, which left the rookie forward exposed against bigger frontcourt opponents.

Head coach Jenny Boucek said taking some of the pressure off Stewart was a key factor in trading for Swords, per the Seattle TimesPercy Allen:

Stewie had to bang (centers) all season long and did a valiant effort. She did a great job, but it wears her down. It’s not ideal for Stewie. That’s another reason why this makes sense for us to bring somebody that can really bang with the big bigs that we have in this league. Some of them are really dominant players. We’d like to get Stewie out of having to do that all the time.

The Storm ranked 10th in rebounding rate (48.4 percent) and opponent rebounding rate (51.6 percent). In addition, Seattle’s 121 blocks as a team were eighth-most in the league.

Swords has never been a high-volume scorer, but she has averaged 9.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

Considering they essentially surrendered the sixth overall pick to get Swords, the Storm view her as a key part of their 2017 rotation. The question, however, is how Boucek plans to use her in the frontcourt and what it means for Langhorne.

Stewart’s arrival resulted in a drop in Langhorne’s scoring. She averaged 9.5 points a game in 2016—her lowest since her rookie year in 4.8. She shot a career-high 63 percent from the field, though, and her 105.6 offensive rating was third-best on the team, per WNBA.com, so it’s not as if she wasn’t effective when she was in position with the ball under the basket.

While Langhorne helped the Storm on the offensive end, she was a liability defensively.

According to Synergy Sports, she allowed 1.203 points per possession in post-up situations (77th in the WNBA). Opposing shooters also made 62.5 percent of their shots in the post when matched up against Langhorne (83rd). In non-post-up situations around the basket, she was only slightly better, giving up 1.105 points per possession.

In comparison, Swords allowed 0.729 points per possession (15th) and a 38.6 opponent field-goal percentage (24th) in post-ups. She’s exactly the kind of player Seattle needed to add as a foil for Langhorne.

When figuring out how to split Swords’ and Langhorne’s minutes, the simple solution would be starting Swords alongside Stewart and bringing Langhorne off the bench. In reality, it may not be that easy.

Langhorne hasn’t come off the bench for a regular-season game since the 2009 season, and she has made 101 starts in her three years in Seattle. The 30-year-old is playing under the core player designation as well, so she may be hoping to parlay a strong 2017 season into a healthy payday next offseason.

If Boucek needs a selling point to entice Langhorne to settle for a reserve role, then she should look no further than the Memphis Grizzlies.

Entering the 2016-17 season, Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale faced a difficult decision with Zach Randolph. Randolph is one of the players synonymous with the “Grit-‘N’-Grind” era and beloved in Memphis.

Time waits for no man, though, and Randolph is no longer the player he was five years ago. It was in the Grizzlies’ best interest to phase him out of the starting five in favor of a younger player like JaMychal Green, which would help the team embrace a faster tempo.

The seemingly difficult part for Fizdale was convincing Randolph to accept a lesser role in the final year of his contract.

The first-year head coach found the perfect way to warm the veteran on the switch, per Michael Wallace of Grind City Media:

He’s been incredible about the whole situation. And like I told him, ‘Most likely, no one is going to pay you to be a starter from here on out. So let’s audition you for what you can be for the rest of your career.’ And it really clicked with him. We’re going to go after Sixth Man of the Year. I want to highlight the hell out of him in that second unit.

Randolph has played mostly with Memphis’ second unit to great success. He’s scoring 14.3 points a night, and his per-36 scoring average (21.1) is his highest since 2008-09, per Basketball-Reference.com.

Langhorne could have the same impact on the Storm, becoming an effective weapon off the bench. While her per-game numbers would diminish even further, her efficiency would at least stay the same and potentially improve since she’d be seeing weaker opposition more frequently. She wouldn’t have to share the paint with Stewart as much, either, thus increasing her number of touches under the basket when she’s on the floor.

Utilizing Langhorne as a sixth woman would kill two birds with one stone.

The Storm were the second-slowest team in the league in 2016 (84.6 possessions per game) a year after tying for last with the Los Angeles Sparks (81.6 possessions per game). If that trend continues, having a strong inside defense will be imperative for the team to take a step forward in 2017. Starting Swords over Langhorne would make Seattle a better defensive team.

In addition, it would solve what was another major issue for the Storm last year: bench scoring. Seattle was the most top-heavy team in the league, with Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd ranking first, fifth and sixth, respectively, in minutes. Having an experienced post scorer like Langhorne would be a luxury the Storm didn’t enjoy in 2016.

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