Seattle Storm Preview Series: Will the Bench Be Any Better in 2017?

In Ocean’s Eleven, Matt Damon’s character struggles to find an apt metaphor to describe another character’s legal history. Ultimately, he settles with, “Well, it’s long.”

After attempting to devise numerous ways to describe how the Seattle Storm’s bench performed in 2016, the only thing I could come up with was, “Well, it was bad.”

According to WNBA.com, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was the only bench regular to have a positive net rating. In particular, the offense became a black hole when Jenny Boucek brought on her second unit.

StartersBench

The Storm’s playoff loss to the Atlanta Dream encapsulated the problem.

Only eight players saw the floor in the 94-85 defeat, and the trio of Mosqueda-Lewis, Ramu Tokashiki and Noelle Quinn combined to shoot 4-of-15 from the floor, scoring 15 points. Granted, the Dream only got seven points off the bench, but Angel McCoughtry went off for 37 points, more than offsetting that problem.

Looking at last year’s numbers creates a Schrödinger’s cat situation. Did Boucek rely on her starters so heavily—Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd ranked in the top eight in minutes per game—because she lacked confidence in the rest of the roster? Or was Boucek inflexible to the extent it came to the detriment of Seattle’s reserves, thus hurting the team as a whole—a la Tom Thibodeau in his final years with the Chicago Bulls?

History would seemingly favor the former. In Boucek’s two-and-a-half years in charge of the Sacramento Monarchs, only one player averaged 30-plus minutes a game (Nicole Powell in 2009). And in Boucek’s first year in Seattle, Bird was the Storm’s leader in minutes but didn’t crack the 30-minute plateau, averaging 28.6 minutes a night.

Having Stewart, Bird and Loyd play 30 minutes a night isn’t sustainable if the Storm want to make the step from playoff contender to title contender. Expecting that of Bird is particularly unrealistic. Not only did she turn 36 in October, the team confirmed she had her left knee scoped, with no timetable for her return.

The Storm haven’t made significant changes in the offseason, but general manager Alisha Valavanis executed the kind of incremental moves that are necessary for Seattle to build on last year’s progress.

The Carolyn Swords trade is the Storm’s most notable acquisition.

Boucek didn’t elaborate too much on where Swords fits in the rotation but said her presence gives Seattle some much-needed roster flexibility, per the Seattle TimesPercy Allen:

It’s a different look than we’ve had. We feel like it’s going to help us against certain teams and certain matchups. And also to give teams different looks. Stewie floating around at different positions helps us. Her versatility is something that we want to maximize. So the more different looks we can give maximizes her talents and that really helps our team.

Having Swords could be big for the Storm because she not only provides size for the Storm but also opens the possibility of Crystal Langhorne coming off the bench. Langhorne was an efficient scorer last year, and that efficiency would surely climb when she’s facing opposing team’s second units.

Even if Langhorne starts in favor of Swords, Swords will be an upgrade at center over Krystal Thomas, who signed with the Washington Mystics.

And despite sending their first-round pick to the Mystics as part of the Swords deal, Seattle found nice value in the 2017 draft, selecting Alexis Peterson with the 15th overall pick.

Peterson led the Orange with 23.4 points a game and shot 36.9 percent from beyond the arc in her final year. The Storm led the league with 244 made three-pointers, and adding Peterson should ensure that remains a strength of their offense.

Peterson was also 11th in the country in assists, averaging seven a game.

“Alexis is a true point guard—she’s a strong playmaker and solid scoring guard that will fit well in Jenny Boucek’s system,” Valavanis said of the second-round pick on draft night, per the team’s official site.

Quinn worked out with the first team in training camp earlier this month, so she’ll likely partner alongside Loyd in the backcourt. Quinn was 1-of-12 from three-point range in her 20 games with the Storm but a 1.70 assist-to-turnover ratio.

When Boucek wants a point guard who can offer more of a perimeter threat, she can at least call upon Peterson off the bench—a luxury the Storm didn’t have last year.

And as Peterson gains more experience, she could supplant Quinn in the pecking order.

It’s not as if Seattle went from being the most top-heavy team in the WNBA to one of the deepest in the space of one offseason. A breakout from Mosqueda-Lewis, Tokashiki, Quinn or Jenna O’Hea, and the Storm are one injury away from being in serious trouble.

But with the continued expected improvement of Loyd and Stewart—coupled with the arrivals of Swords and Peterson—make the team better than when it opened the 2016 season.

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