After an uneventful opening day of WNBA free agency, the Seattle Storm made what’s likely to be their biggest offseason splash Saturday, signing Courtney Paris to what they called a “multi-year deal.”
“Courtney brings a presence inside that we have been eager to add to the roster,” Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis said in the team’s press release. “Her ability to rebound the basketball is a great strength. We are thrilled to welcome her to Seattle!”
The move felt especially satisfying after Seattle was almost completely inactive Thursday, while a number of teams throughout the WNBA teased the arrival of their newest signings. The Storm confirmed they re-signed Sami Whitcomb, but that was largely a formality since Whitcomb was a reserve player, giving Seattle exclusive negotiating rights.
Thursday kind of felt like when you hear your friends got to open a present or two the day before Christmas. Sure, you still got your Christmas presents, but it’s not fair that your friends got to spend an extra day having fun.
Waiting an extra day for the Storm to sign Paris was more than worth it, though.
As I laid out in my overview for free agency, the Storm weren’t going to land the kind of player who could single-handedly make them WNBA title favorites. The New York Liberty used the core player designation on Tina Charles, while Stefanie Dolson, Alyssa Thomas, Kayla McBride and Odyssey Sims are all restricted free agents.
Paris was among the best players Seattle could sign who would also address a big need within the team.
But let’s start with the negatives.
Paris started just eight games last season—her fewest since 2013—and made 20 total appearances after suffering a knee injury last May. She averaged 4.2 points and 3.7 rebounds, and according to Basketball Reference, her PER (13.0) and win shares per 48 minutes (.086) were both career lows.
The knee injury adds a bit of a variable for Paris in 2018.
She has been solid for Turkish side Hatay, averaging 13.8 points and 15.1 rebounds in 15 league games. That provides a source of optimism for the WNBA season.
Paris’ defense has slipped a bit over the last two seasons as well, which could be worrisome given the Storm’s issues defending elite post players.
According to Synergy Sports, Paris ranked in the second percentile in defensive points per possession (1.241) in 2017. She allowed opponents to shoot 63.2 percent on post ups, and opponents had a 55.2 adjusted field-goal percentage on jumpers when matched up against Paris.
Even if we chalk up those problems to Paris’ knee injury—a reasonable explanation—the 2016 season was largely more of the same. Opponents made 61.3 percent of their post-up attempts and 50 percent of their shots around the basket. Paris, however, did limit shooters to 35.4 percent on jumpers, which would point more to what was likely limited mobility in 2017 after the knee injury.
Go back a little further, and Paris enjoyed a few seasons when she as among the WNBA’s elite defenders. She held opponents to a 28.9 field-goal percentage overall in 2015 and ranked in the 94th percentile in defensive points per possession (0.643). Two years prior, opposing shooters hit just 28.3 percent of their attempts when matched up against Paris, and her 0.558 defensive points per possession put her in the 98th percentile.
As much as the Storm envision Paris taking some of the pressure off Breanna Stewart inside, the presence of Stewart could help Paris return to her 2013 and 2015 self. Glory Johnson is a skilled forward, but she isn’t the defender Stewart is. Therefore, Paris won’t need to shoulder as much defensive responsibility as she did in Dallas.
Having examined the possible pitfalls to this signing, Paris will undoubtedly help Seattle in one area: rebounding.
It’s not a stretch to say Paris has been a historically great rebounder in the WNBA. She’s averaging just 6.1 rebounds over her career, but her 20.2 percent rebounding rate is second all time behind Cheryl Ford (20.5 percent), per Basketball Reference.
Last year, only the Indiana Fever averaged fewer rebounds per game than Seattle (31.0), and the Storm were next to last in total rebound percentage (47.5).
Stewart led the team with 8.7 rebounds per game, and Crystal Langhorne was second with 6.1 boards. Move down, and Alysha Clark (4.2) and Jewell Loyd (3.2) were third and fourth in rebounder, which was a reason for concern. That’s not a knock on either Clark or Loyd—neither or whom should be expected to be the team’s third or fourth-best rebounder. That’s just laying out how bad things were for the team in that area.
Suddenly, the Storm could be a force on the glass. Stewart was sixth in the WNBA in rebounding a year ago, and now Seattle has a player who is one of the league’s best rebounders ever when she’s on the floor. At the very least, the Storm should be able to cut down on the second-chance opportunities for Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner and Jonquel Jones.
In general, the signing of Paris feels especially satisfying after the 2017 offseason.
This time last year, the Storm had sent the sixth overall pick to the Washington Mystics for Carolyn Swords, and the two teams swapped second-rounders. At the time, it felt like an overpay and a bit of a panic move. Swords had been an underrated rim protector for the New York Liberty, but she didn’t have a ton of upside.
She proceeded to have a disappointing 2017 season before signing with the Las Vegas Aces on Thursday. It was a smart move for Swords, as she reunites with former coach Bill Laimbeer. And nobody should be surprised if Swords experiences the post-Boucek bump Renee Montgomery and Krystal Thomas enjoyed once they left the Storm.
But the fact of the matter is, Alexis Peterson is all the Storm have to show from a trade that was supposed to elevate them into the top half of the WNBA.
By signing Paris, the Storm aren’t making that same mistake.
Sure, there’s some risk involved. Paris turned 30, so she’s likely trending downward in her career arc, and there’s the aforementioned knee injury. But if this acquisition doesn’t work out, Seattle won’t have cost itself too much down the road.
The Storm still have the fifth overall pick in the WNBA draft, too, to select a point guard, though I’d argue Teaira McCowan, Maria Vadeeva or Stephanie Mavunga shouldn’t be completely ruled out, either.
With Paris in the fold, Seattle doesn’t immediately leap ahead of the Minnesota Lynx or Los Angeles Sparks. A top-four challenge becomes much more realistic, though, which is the most the Storm could’ve hoped to achieve in free agency.