The Seattle Storm wrapped up their first weekend of the 2017 WNBA season, splitting their two games. They lost 78-68 to the Los Angeles Sparks Saturday and rebounded with an 87-82 victory over the Indiana Fever Sunday.
Going 1-1 wasn’t a bad outcome for Seattle since the Storm were without Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart against the Sparks and Bird didn’t play against the Fever. Granted, Los Angeles didn’t have the services of Candace Parker, Jantel Lavender or Essence Carson, so the Sparks weren’t exactly at full strength, either.
If anything, the opening weekend offered a strong argument as to why Bird may be the team’s most valuable player. In her absence, the Storm turned the ball over 23 times against Los Angeles and 20 times against the Fever. Seattle averaged the third-most turnovers (14.4 per game) in the league last year, so it wasn’t a surprise Bird’s injury coincided with a spike in that category.
Still, the two games are another reminder as to how important Bird is to the Storm and how the team needs to begin working on a succession plan—if it hasn’t already.
By virtue of having Stewart, Crystal Langhorne and Jewell Loyd—all of whom can salvage a poor possession with their individual scoring—the Storm can survive for stretches offensively without an identifiable point guard. But not having a point guard can also lead to possessions like this one from the first quarter of the Fever game. Everybody is kind of standing around waiting for something to happen:
In the fourth quarter, the Storm also went over three minutes without making a field goal. During the stretch, the Fever turned a 76-69 deficit into a 77-76 lead. During such a critical juncture of the game, an experienced floor general such as Bird could’ve been a calming influence.
Without Bird on the floor, Storm fans were also treated to the full Jewell Loyd experience.
We’re talking smooth jumpers:
We’re talking making layups through contact:
We’re talking bad turnovers:
We’re talking bad isolation ball:
There’s no question Loyd is a dynamic scorer, and if her first two games are any indication, she’s en route to her best season in the league. Loyd scored 25 and 27 points against the Sparks and Fever, and more importantly, she connected on half of her three-point attempts (5-of-10). As a fan, you accept the occasional attempted dribble drive into nothing—such as above—because the good far often outweighs the bad.
Storm fans are eager to see Stewart and Loyd forge a partnership similar to the combination of Bird and Lauren Jackson, who helped the franchise win two WNBA titles.
It’s important to remember, though, that Loyd isn’t exactly an heir apparent to Bird, and it goes beyond the fact Bird is one of the most legendary guards in league history—leaving a legacy that’s almost impossible to match. Bird and Loyd are two different players stylistically. The fact Loyd looks up to Kobe Bryant says a lot about the player she is and wants to become.
Loyd isn’t the type of guard who should run the offense and regularly look to set up her teammates to score. Through her first two years, Loyd averaged 3.3 assists and 2.0 turnovers per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com, and the Storm’s opening two games further encapsulated her limitations as a playmaker. Without Bird to offer support, Loyd scored in high volumes but also turned the ball over 12 times while picking up seven assists.
Having Bird back will eventually take the burden off Loyd to facilitate so much of the Storm’s offensive game plan. But the longer-term concern of how to replace Bird remains. Noelle Quinn likely won’t be the answer, and it’s far too early to say whether Alexis Peterson will be able to fill the void.
At the very least, Loyd can in all likelihood be eliminated as the franchise’s point guard of the future.
And for as much progress as the Storm should make in 2017, Bird’s injury illustrated how little it would take for things to go horribly wrong this season in the Pacific Northwest.