Who Should the Seattle Storm Target in WNBA Free Agency?

Silicon Valley
When you’re trying to evaluate all of the Storm’s options this offseason

It’s pretty clear the Seattle Storm need reinforcements after a second straight first-round playoff exit. The trouble is how to go about making the necessary improvements.

The Storm lack any real trade assets. Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird are untouchable, and the same is probably true of Jewell Loyd. Trading the likes of Alysha Clark, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Ramu Tokashiki and Sami Whitcomb would be counterproductive as well, since doing so would create another void to fill in the roster.

Crystal Langhorne is headed for free agency as well, which complicates matters.

Aside from the WNBA draft, free agency is likely to be the easiest way for head coach Dan Hughes and general manager Alisha Valavanis to address the team’s weaknesses.

Because of the WNBA’s intense secrecy about player contracts, it’s tough to get a read on exactly who’s hitting free agency this spring. And it’s basically anybody’s guess as to how much each team has to spend, since information about team payrolls is just as elusive.

As a result, gauging the most realistic prospective signings for the Storm is difficult. Imagine heading into the summer unaware of whether your favorite NBA team actually had any salary cap space to improve the team.

So we’ll leave money aside and look solely at whether a player is likely to leave her current team and if she’d be a fit with Seattle’s current roster.

The Summitt’s Howard Megdal was helpful enough to rank the best restricted and unrestricted free agents in 2018, which largely serves as the basis for the groups of players below.

 

‘Speak it into Existence’ Category

—Tina Charles

Let’s be honest. There’s little reason to think Tina Charles would leave the New York Liberty to sign with the Storm, even with Katie Smith replacing Bill Laimbeer as head coach.

The Liberty reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015 and were a top-four seed in each of the last two years. Smith may be new to the head-coaching ranks, but she should continue the success Laimbeer started. She has also spent years on the Liberty’s staff as an assistant, so she’ll already have built relationships with all of the players.

Were the 29-year-old Charles to spurn the Liberty, she’s probably not signing with a team hasn’t had a winning record since 2011 anyway.

Still, the Storm would be foolish not to at least explore whether Charles would want to play alongside Stewart in the frontcourt. The worst thing she could do is say no.

 

Unlikely Restricted Free-Agent Category

—Stefanie Dolson, Alyssa Thomas, Kayla McBride, Odyssey Sims

The odds of signing Stefanie Dolson are about as strong as landing Charles. The 26-year-old was the biggest piece the Chicago Sky added from the Elena Delle Donne trade, so it would be shocking if the Sky were willing to lose their best player for a second offseason in a row.

And it’s not like Dolson had a disappointing 2017 season with Chicago. She averaged career highs in points (14.5) and rebounds (5.8) and shot 43.7 percent from beyond the arc despite attempting more three-pointers (71) than she had in her previous three seasons combined (54).

The only way the Storm could acquire Dolson is probably through a trade, which could be interesting if Seattle was willing to make Loyd available.

Alyssa Thomas was basically a jack of all trades in 2017, and her first All-Star appearance was well deserved. She averaged 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Thomas struggled defensively, though, with her 0.957 defensive points per possession putting her in the 26th percentile.

Were it not for Thomas’ breakout last year, the Storm might have had a shot at signing her.

It remains to be seen how Laimbeer will have the Aces line up when they start the 2018 season, and his opinion of certain players may differ from those of the previous regime. But it’s safe to say the Aces will look to retain Kayla McBride.

In terms of raw numbers, McBride had a somewhat underwhelming 2017. She played nearly three more minutes a game than she had in 2016, yet her scoring average dropped from 17.1 to 15.4. She also shot just 31.0 percent from three-point range, which was a slight improvement from 2016 but noticeably below her 39.6 percent clip as a rookie in 2014.

According to Synergy Sports, though, McBride ranked in the 71st percentile in offensive points per possession (0.943) and in the 61st percentile in defensive points per possession (0.850). That kind of balance isn’t easy to find.

Odyssey Sims is the most attainable of the four players listed, which is to say the Storm likely have no shot of signing her. The Los Angeles Sparks have little reason to let an experienced guard such as Sims leave as they pursue a fourth WNBA title.

Sims saw her minutes drop to a career-low 24.3 in 2017, but she remained an efficient player when she was on the floor. The 25-year-old is also the exact type of guard the Storm need to play off Loyd and possibly be the long-term replacement for Sue Bird. Sims’ 5.2 assists per 36 minutes were the highest of her career, while she turned the ball over just 2.1 times per 36 minutes, which were a career best as well, according to Basketball Reference.

This is where it’d be really helpful to know what kind of money the Storm were able to spend. The reason restricted free agents sign with new teams is almost always because of money, so that may or may not be an advantage for the Storm if they are targeting any one of these four players.

 

Let’s Get Serious Category

—Amber Harris

Amber Harris is also a restricted free agent, but, unlike Dolson, the Sky may not be all that eager to re-sign her. They already have a logjam in the frontcourt, and they’re likely to use one of their two lottery picks to select another forward.

Signing Harris isn’t the kind of move that would energize the fanbase in the Pacific Northwest. She has averaged just 8.5 minutes per game in her four WNBA seasons and never finished with a PER higher than 14.4, according to Basketball Reference.

The 29-year-old would at least give Hughes another option to protect the paint. Harris blocked 2.0 shots per 36 minutes, and she was second on the team in defensive rebound percentage after excluding the seldom-used Adut Bulgak, who appeared in only five games.

Harris certainly shouldn’t be a primary target for the Storm, but she’d add depth to the frontcourt.

 

—Sydney Colson

Like Harris, Sydney Colson is a restricted free agent, and like Harris, she may be viewed as expendable by her current team. Letting Colson walk this offseason would alleviate the bottleneck of guards on the Las Vegas roster.

It would be somewhat unfair to judge Colson solely on her 2017 performance. Vickie Johnson’s handling of the San Antonio Stars’ backcourt was puzzling at times, and Colson had to adjust to an even more limited role with the addition of Kelsey Plum.

Noelle Quinn is a free agent, so the Storm may be in need of a point guard to run the second unit when Bird and Loyd are off the floor. Plus, things didn’t run very smoothly when Quinn was leading the offense, so Seattle might be better off going in a different direction.

The fact Colson has averaged 5.8 assists but 3.2 turnovers per 36 minutes over her WNBA career is concerning. She may be able to cut down on the turnovers in Seattle since she’d be surrounded by a better supporting cast than she had in San Antonio.

 

—Jessica Breland

Jessica Breland is an unrestricted free agent, and having already delved into the Sky’s frontcourt situation, there would seem to be an opportunity for the Storm to sign the 29-year-old.

Breland would be a more defensive alternative to Langhorne if the Storm wanted to shift gears a bit at the 4.

Former head coach Jenny Boucek said last year how acquiring Carolyn Swords was supposed to take some of the physical burden off Stewart to match up with opposing centers all game.

Swords didn’t really achieve that goal, but Breland could. According to WNBA.com, she was eighth in rebounds (10.3) and second in blocks (2.8) per 40 minutes.

Breland also averaged 1.6 assists in her 24.5 minutes on the floor for the Sky in 2017, so she could make up for her lack of scoring by helping facilitate scoring opportunities for her teammates.

The Storm would, however, risk clogging up the paint for Stewart to post up and for Loyd to make her drives to the basket by lining Breland up at center. Langhorne can at least consistently knock down mid-range jumpers, which helps pull the defense away from the paint to allow Stewart and Loyd more freedom close to the hoop.

 

—Courtney Paris

If Breland is Plan A for the Storm, then Courtney Paris would be Plan B. Breland and Paris aren’t carbon copies of one another, but each would signal a desire by the Storm to add size and strength to the frontcourt.

Paris would have a higher offensive ceiling than Breland. She averaged 11.1 points and 1.6 assists per 36 minutes for the Dallas Wings in 2017.

The 30-year-old is also a consistent rebounder, boasting a 20.2 percent rebounding rate over her WNBA. Paris’ 15.9 rebounding percentage was a career low last year, but much of that is likely attributable to the knee injury that limited her to 20 games.

Paris has struggled to defend the paint in recent years, which is far more concerning given Seattle’s inability to stop Sylvia Fowles last year. Again, the knee injury was partly to blame for her allowing opponents to shoot 63.2 percent on post-ups, but she wasn’t much better in 2016, either, when opposing players shot 61.3 percent on post-ups when matched up with Paris.

The danger with signing Paris in the hope she improves the Storm’s post defense is the same risk Seattle took by trading for Swords: It’s merely a Band-Aid for a problem that requires major surgery.

 

—Kia Vaughn

See Paris, Courtney

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