A big question around the Seattle Storm this season was whether they could succeed when any combination of Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart have an off night.
Last Friday against the New York Liberty, the trio combined to shoot 10-of-33 from the field, and 18 of their 45 collective points came from the charity stripe. Two days later against the Indiana Fever, they were more efficient (12-of-26) but scored 31 points.
Both of those games ended in victory for Seattle, in large part because of contributions they received from unlikely sources.
Sami Whitcomb came off the bench to drop 22 points on the Liberty, while Alysha Clark made her first nine field goals—a team record—en route to a 22-point day against the Fever.
Whitcomb’s big night was particularly surprising. While she had established herself as an adept sharpshooter in Australia’s WNBL and enjoyed a strong preseason, the former Washington Husky played about nine-and-a-half minutes prior to Friday’s outburst.
Whitcomb remains so much of an afterthought neither WNBA nor the Storm’s official websites bothered to update her stats by Memorial Day.
It was a joy to watch Whitcomb’s confidence grow as each of her six three-pointers hit the twine. By the time the Storm up a point inside the final minute, she was iso’ing on Tina Charles and spotting up from about three feet beyond the three-point line.
Because of Whitcomb’s big night, opposing teams will have to make her a part of their defensive game plan—at least for the time being. Because of her range and quick release, leaving her open for a few seconds is tempting fate.
And even if she’s not directly contributing to Seattle’s offense, following each of her movements as she attempts to get free can be a tiring exercise. Not to mention Whitcomb’s presence forces another defender away from the paint, creating space inside for Stewart, Clark and Crystal Langhorne.
Speaking of Clark, she finally registered her first three-pointer of the year, hitting from deep in the first quarter against the Fever.
Clark also displayed the offensive efficiency inside that has been an underrated part of her game over the last few years.
Since she entered the league in 2012, 42.4 percent of Clark’s field-goal attempts have come from three-point territory, and she has shot 34.5 percent from that range.
Clark will continue to be primarily a spot-up shooter, but her Fever performance showed why Seattle should consider using her more in post-up situations.
Granted, Indiana isn’t the best opponent by which to measure a player’s post prowess. The Fever are allowing the third-most points per possession (1.065) in post-up situations, per Synergy Sports.
Clark’s effort was far from an aberration. During her first three seasons in the WNBA, she shot 42.4 percent in the post. But between 2015 and 2016, her shooting percentage was a robust 73.1 percent.
While nobody will confuse Clark for the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon, she flashed a nice array of moves around the basket and the ability to score with both hands.
The Storm’s title hopes rest largely on the shoulders of Bird, Loyd and Stewart, but it’s important to have role players such as Clark and Whitcomb step up during the regular season. Last year, two games separated the eighth-seeded Phoenix Mercury from the fourth-seeded Chicago Sky. Every regular season game is important for the Storm as they look to at least avoid the first round of the playoffs again.
Without Whitcomb’s hot shooting, the Storm would’ve likely lost to the Liberty. The fact Seattle prevailed could carry more significance once everything shakes out at the end of the year.