Seattle Storm 2017 Preview Series: How Big a Jump will the 2015 Draft Class Take in Year 3?

Prior to the selection of Breanna Stewart first overall in 2016, the 2015 draft laid the groundwork for the Seattle Storm’s rebuild. With Jewell Loyd and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis entering their third years, the duo may finally be poised to reach their potential and take the Storm to the next stage in their overall development.

Whereas Stewart immediately showed herself to be one of the WNBA’s best frontcourt players in her first season, Loyd’s gains have been more gradual.

Loyd won Rookie of the Year in 2015 after averaging 10.7 points and 1.9 assists a game. With more playing time in 2016, her scoring average climbed to 16.5 points per game, and her assists nearly doubled (3.4 per game). She earned second-team All-WNBA honors as well.

Loyd remained a spotty long-range shooter. She shot 30.3 percent from three-point territory, which was at least a significant upgrade from 2015 (20.8 percent). She also turned the ball over 2.2 times per game—tied for fifth-most among players with fewer than 3.5 assists per game.

Admittedly, criticizing Loyd’s 2016 season is like searching for a problem in need of a solution. At the same time, Loyd’s ceiling is there for all to see. When Sue Bird decides to step away from the game, the transition to Loyd as Seattle’s primary ball-handler and playmaker should be rather seamless.

Still, Loyd will have big shoes to fill. Bird is one of the most legendary players in WNBA history. She’s a two-time league champion and nine-time All-Star, and for over a decade, she has been a bellwether for the Storm.

In 2017, it would be nice to see Loyd’s assist-to-turnover ratio climb more toward 2.0 rather than 1.5 if the Storm do in fact envision her as their point guard of the future. Should she instead be a James Harden-like playmaker who’s primarily a 2-guard, then she’ll need to continue improving as a three-point shooter.

Her 104.7 defensive rating was also second-worst on the team and resulted in her being the only Storm starter with a negative net rating. According to Synergy Sports, Loyd rated below average defensively, allowing 0.937 points per possession.

She was especially bad on the perimeter, with opposing shooters making 43.5 percent of their attempts from three-point range. She also ranked second-to-last in points allowed on open catch-and-shoot opportunities (74) and 106th in points per possession (1.609). To a certain extent, that speaks to an inability to defend off the ball, which would make the Harden comparison even more apt.

At present, Loyd is one of the top young guards in the WNBA. The 2017 will give a better indication, however, whether she can become a Bird-level superstar.

Of course, Loyd has far less to prove in 2017 than Mosqueda-Lewis, who fully embraced her three-point specialist role in 2016 to mixed returns.

Mosqueda-Lewis left Connecticut as the NCAA’s all-time leader in made threes (398), which made her 28.1 three-point percentage in 2015 the wrong kind of surprising. A cursory glance at her 2016 numbers would point to a reason for optimism. She finished 15th in three-point percentage (35.4).

That number is skewed by a hot July in which she made 15 of her 33 attempts. Take that month away, and her three-point percentage (30.3) would’ve tied Loyd for 31st.

In order for Mosqueda-Lewis to continue growing, she’ll either have to add a different dimension to her offense or become an even better spot-up shooter.

In most cases, a 35.4 percent clip from beyond the arc is a reasonable rate. The number is a little less than tolerable when three-pointers account for 65.6 percent of a player’s total field-goal attempts—as was the case for Mosqueda-Lewis in 2016.

Coupled with Mosqueda-Lewis’ solid but unspectacular three-point percentage is the fact her shooting efficiency was limited almost exclusively to spot-up opportunities, and even then, she was merely pretty good rather than excellent.

Mosqueda-Lewis shot 37.7 percent with a 54.9 adjusted field-goal percentage in spot-up situations, according to Synergy Sports. Her 0.986 points per possession ranked in the 62nd percentile on the site.

When on the move, Mosqueda-Lewis struggled. She had a 42.9 adjusted field-goal percentage coming off screens, and a 47.5 percent adjusted field-goal percentage in transition.

Mosqueda-Lewis’ record-breaking college career may have raised the bar too high for her WNBA career. At Connecticut, she played with a number of marquee stars, including Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley. Those Huskies teams were loaded, and all of that talent both helped to accentuate the best aspects of Mosqueda-Lewis’ best game while covering for her weaknesses. She had plenty of open catch-and-shoot opportunities she almost certainly wouldn’t have been afforded on a weaker team.

It’s not as if the concerns about Mosqueda-Lewis’ WNBA future are a new development.

Some may have expected her to evolve as a player as she entered and gained experience in the WNBA. At the very least, she’d be a situational scorer from the three-point line.

Instead, Mosqueda-Lewis remains a one-dimensional player where her one dimension isn’t all that great to begin with.

Should she remain an ineffective defender and rebounder, Mosqueda-Lewis can still be a valuable piece for Seattle by virtue of her three-point shooting. But in order for that to happen, she must be an elite spot-up shooter or become more consistent coming off screens.

Another disappointing season in the Pacific Northwest would raise major questions as to whether Mosqueda-Lewis can even be a productive role player for the Storm going forward.

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