Why did the Seattle Storm trade for Carolyn Swords again?
We’re not entering proof-of-life territory with the veteran center yet, but it has undoubtedly been surprising how little she has factored into the Storm’s 5-2 start considering she was the team’s biggest offseason acquisition.
In theory, she was supposed to give the Storm the rim protector they lacked last year. Seattle was ninth last year in opponent points per possession in post-ups, per Synergy, and eighth in opponent field-goal percentage in the post. With Swords on the roster, Breanna Stewart wouldn’t have to play inside so frequently, thus freeing her up to operate as more of a point forward while simultaneously sparing her some of the physicality she encounters closer to the basket.
“Stewie had to bang (centers) all season long and did a valiant effort,” Boucek said in January, per the Seattle Times‘ Percy Allen. “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.”
I even posited a scenario in which Swords would possibly bump Crystal Langhorne to a reserve role not dissimilar to Zach Randolph’s with the Memphis Grizzlies this year.
In effect, Swords has done none of that.
She’s averaging 9.7 minutes a night—her fewest since her rookie year and third-fewest on the team.
Nobody expected Swords to arrive in Seattle and become Sylvia Fowles, but she started 34 games for the New York Liberty last season. According to Synergy Sports, Swords ranked 27th in opponent PPP around the basket and 21st in post-ups.
More confounding than the fact Boucek simply isn’t playing Swords is the fact she isn’t utilizing the 6’6″ center in situations that would seemingly deem her presence necessary.
As Tina Charles went 12-of-25 and scored 28 points against the Storm on May 26, Swords played a total of 6:10. When Fowles dropped 26 points in the Minnesota Lynx’s 100-77 victory June 3, Swords was on the floor for 15:05. While that’s her second-highest total of the season, it’s still below her season average for the Liberty in 2016 (17.5 MPG).
To a certain extent, it’s fair to question why Boucek needs to mess with a good thing at the moment.
Langhorne is averaging 18.1 points per 36 minutes—second-best of her career—and leads the league in field-goal percentage—66.7 percent. The Storm are also third in offensive rating (107.4) and fourth in defensive rating (103.7).
To say Seattle is purely relying on smoke and mirrors to have the WNBA’s third-best record would be unfair. However, there could be a leveling-off ahead.
Three of the Storm’s five wins have come against the Indiana Fever and San Antonio Stars, who are 3-5 and 0-8 respectively. And while the victories over the Liberty and Washington Mystics look great, one could nitpick and find poke holes in each of the wins. Sami Whitcomb caught fire against New York, giving the Storm an unexpected boost, while Seattle encountered a Washington team that was playing its second road game in three nights and still working the kinks out following a busy offseason.
All of that is to say the road isn’t going to get any easier for the Storm. Especially with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis out indefinitely with a knee injury, Ramu Tokashiki can’t be the only frontcourt player who consistently sees 15-plus minutes a night. Stewart still doesn’t look to be fully recovered from the knee injury that delayed her 2016 debut. And Langhorne is likely to fall back to earth a little bit since she has never shot higher than 63.0 percent for a season.
Not to mention Langhorne is often outmatched in the paint when she goes against elite post scorers. Fowles put on a clinic against her in the Lynx’s win.
Sure, Fowles is a matchup nightmare for almost anybody in the league and playing at an MVP-type level. If the Storm are to make a deep postseason run, they’ll likely encounter one or more of Fowles, Elena Delle Donne or Brittney Griner, all of whom are among the WNBA’s best offensive players in the post.
It’s crazy to think that in that situation the Storm could have on the bench a 6’6″ center who has averaged 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes over her career and opt instead to stick with Stewart and Langhorne inside.