The 2018 WNBA Season is a Make-or-Break Year for Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis

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Having her name misspelled on a Storm broadcast was maybe only the third-worst thing to happen to Mosqueda-Lewis during the 2017 season

It’s probably not a stretch to say Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’ Seattle Storm career hinges on the 2018 season.

She’s coming off what was arguably her worst season in a generally underwhelming WNBA career to date. Mosqueda-Lewis averaged a career-low 11.1 minutes per game, which then led to her scoring a career-low 4.6 points per game. She also shot just 29.4 percent from three-point range.

Compounding matters, Mosqueda-Lewis had her knee scoped last June, so she missed all of June and didn’t return until Seattle’s 83-79 loss to the Connecticut Sun on July 12.

According to The Summitt’s WNBA salary database, Mosqueda-Lewis will make a little over $63,000 in 2018 before she becomes a restricted free agent. Generally, restricted free agents stay with their current teams, who have the right of first refusal on any contract offer.

Seattle, however, may not be so keen on re-signing Mosqueda-Lewis if she doesn’t show noticeable improvement in 2018.

When you put her production in perspective, Mosqueda-Lewis’ numbers leave a lot to be desired. Over her first three years, she’s averaging 15.8 points per 36 minutes but shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 32.0 percent from beyond the arc. Her game has been limited largely to her shooting, as she’s grabbing 2.8 rebounds and dishing out 2.0 assists per 36 minutes.

Mosqueda-Lewis can be a useful player for the Storm even if her role is explicitly that of a three-point specialist. Seattle attempted the third-most three-pointers in the WNBA a year ago (20.0), and that trend is likely to continue. During Dan Hughes’ 11 years as their head coach, the San Antonio Stars were in the top three in three-point attempts on six occasions.

Plus, the Storm need floor-spacers to help free up the paint for Breanna Stewart to score inside and for Jewell Loyd to drive to the basket.

But the Storm’s decision to re-sign Sami Whitcomb, which the team confirmed Thursday, adds a little more pressure for Mosqueda-Lewis. Although Whitcomb is five years older, Seattle may decide she and Mosqueda-Lewis have redundant skill sets and that the money and roster spot that would’ve been allocated to Mosqueda-Lewis would be of better use on somebody else.

Based on her service time, Whitcomb’s extension will probably cost less than the price to re-sign Mosqueda-Lewis.

Taking all of that into account, a coaching change couldn’t have been better timed for the 2015 first-round pick.

During her nearly three seasons in charge, an inability to identify and maximize talented role players was one of Jenny Boucek’s biggest failings.

In July 2015, Seattle traded Renee Montgomery to the Minnesota Lynx. Fast forward to the present, and the Atlanta Dream are justifiably treating Montgomery as a major free-agent signing.

During the 2016 season, Krystal Thomas played a total of 177 minutes for the Storm and appeared in 19 games. Thomas is coming off a 2017 campaign in which she started 30 games for the Washington Mystics and averaged 7.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.

Look at the Storm’s current roster and ask yourself how many players either exceeded expectations or made significant strides on the court. It’s not really a long list.

The Summitt’s Howard Megdal spoke to an anonymous Storm player last July who highlighted that problem and called Seattle “the Portland Trail Blazers of the WNBA.”

I’d contend Mosqueda-Lewis was the player who made that comment. Her time with the team overlapped Montgomery and Thomas’ tenures, so she saw those players firsthand in Seattle. It might not be a coincidence, either, that Mosqueda-Lewis’ playing time cratered after Megdal’s report.

She didn’t play a minute in the Storm’s 16-point win over the Dallas Wings on July 28, and she was absent in the team’s 11-point loss to the Minnesota Lynx two days later. Mosqueda-Lewis then played 13 combined minutes in defeats to the Wings and Stars on Aug. 4 and 5.

Speaking to the Seattle TimesPercy Allen last July, Boucek offered a pretty broad response as to Mosqueda-Lewis’ limited playing time.

“She hasn’t gotten her pop back for whatever reason,” Boucek said. “So she’s not caught up with the speed of the game yet.”

One could reasonably counter that Mosqueda-Lewis would more easily catch up to the speed of the game by actually playing in the games themselves.

Mosqueda-Lewis scored a season-high 15 points in Seattle’s collapse to the Connecticut Sun on Aug. 8, which proved to be Boucek’s final game. Her college coach, Geno Auriemma, was interviewed during the Sun’s broadcast and spoke about Mosqueda-Lewis’ difficulties in the WNBA.

“We had dinner last night, and she was so quiet,” Auriemma said. “You could see that she’s grown up, she’s more mature. She’s getting kind of humbled a little bit, because she’s used to being the star on the team, and now she’s a role player.”

No member of the Storm would benefit more from a clean slate than Mosqueda-Lewis. Boucek either didn’t trust her to play significant minutes or didn’t know how to get the most out of her. Now, Mosqueda-Lewis can start fresh with Hughes.

Overall, it’s far too early to call Mosqueda-Lewis or label her a draft bust.

Her collegiate record largely speaks for itself. She left Connecticut as the Division I leader in career three-pointers—a record that has since fallen to Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell. Sure, playing for loaded Huskies teams helped, but she didn’t hit 398 three-pointers just because she had a strong supporting cast.

And despite the fact she shot an unremarkable 32.5 percent from the perimeter in her first two years, she was efficient in the right situations. Mosqueda-Lewis owned a 54.4 adjusted field-goal percentage on spot-up shots as a rookie. Her adjusted field-goal percentage on catch and shoots was 44.7 percent as well. Her spot-up percentage climbed slightly in 2016 (54.9), while she saw a big jump on catch and shoot (59.2).

Mosqueda-Lewis’ knee injury could be partly to blame for her regression in 2017. Not to mention, being so far down the pecking order can wreck a player’s confidence, especially for a player who achieved as much as Mosqueda-Lewis did at Connecticut.

Beyond simply giving her more playing time and running sets to get her open on the perimeter, Hughes should work specifically with Mosqueda-Lewis on improving her shooting coming off picks. Her efficiency falls significantly when she’s on the move. According to Synergy Sports, Mosqueda-Lewis is a 33.3 shooter off screens.

Off-ball screens are an obvious way to create open jumpers for Mosqueda-Lewis, so Hughes will need to be able to count on her capitalizing on those opportunities.

Mosqueda-Lewis has a lot to prove in 2018, and she’ll be out of excuses if she stays healthy yet fails register much of an impact in Seattle. If that happens, she could very well be calling another city home this time next year.

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