Although the 2018 WNBA season is still months away, the league’s official schedule release Thursday means fans can start clearing their calendars for the campaign ahead.
The season will begin May 20 against the Phoenix Mercury and wrap up Aug. 19 against the Dallas Wings.
Finally getting to see the full regular-season schedule adds adds a little bit more excitement to the Seattle Storm’s offseason. It’s another sign WNBA basketball is on the horizon.
The schedule release comes as the Storm have reshaped the roster somewhat over the last week. Seattle signed Courtney Paris and Aleksandra Crvendakic and re-signed Noelle Quinn and Sami Whitcomb. They also acquired Natasha Howard from the Minnesota Lynx and announced Ramu Tokashiki will sit out the 2018 season.
After a disappointing 2017 season, the front office and head coach Dan Hughes clearly have big goals in the year ahead.
Looking at the schedule, these five games should collectively prove to be a great indicator as to what the Storm can achieve in 2018.
June 2: at Dallas Wings
The Wings overachieved last year and finished a game better than the Storm. Dallas could very easily open up an even bigger gulf in 2018.
The Wings already had All-WNBA first-team guard Skylar Diggins-Smith and the reigning Rookie of the Year Allisha Gray. Now, they have Liz Cambage back in the fold after the 26-year-old center announced she’s ready to return to the WNBA.
The impact Cambage will have shouldn’t be understated. She was an All-Star in her first season in the league and averaged 13.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks between the 2011 and 2013 campaigns. This past year in Australia, Cambage finished second in the WNBL MVP voting in 2017-18 after posting 23.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
Basically, Cambage is the exact kind of center who has given the Storm fits the last few years, and she joins a team that already had a bright future ahead.
As much progress as the Storm have seemingly made in the offseason, they may still be looking up at the Wings in the standings by season’s end.
June 12: vs. Chicago Sky; June 19: vs. Las Vegas Aces
These games may not seem all that important in the grand scheme of things.
The Chicago Sky are finally getting Alaina Coates, but they lost Jessica Breland to free agency and Cappie Pondexter remains unsigned. Chicago is probably in store for another rebuilding year in 2018.
Likewise, the Aces haven’t made significant upgrades to a team that went 8-26 in 2017. Tamera Young and Carolyn Swords bring some experience, but they aren’t major difference-makers. The same applies to Kelsey Bone. Head coach Bill Laimbeer also told The Summitt’s Howard Megdal that Moriah Jefferson is probably going to be out for the first three weeks of the season.
In short, neither the Sky nor the Aces should seriously challenge the Storm for a top-four place in 2018.
But beating teams in the bottom half of the league is extremely important for Seattle, because dropping these games puts even more pressure on the Storm to topple the WNBA’s best.
Last year, the Storm went 1-2 against the Atlanta Dream and 2-1 against each of the Sky, Indiana Fever and San Antonio Stars. None of those teams won more than 12 games in 2017.
Picking up just two more wins against the four would’ve meant climbing from eighth to seventh in the standings, thus setting up a more winnable first-round matchup against the Washington Mystics in the playoffs.
It doesn’t seem like asking too much of the Storm to earn a season sweep against one or two of the WNBA’s worst teams.
Losing to one or both of the Sky and Aces—especially in June—wouldn’t completely derail the Storm’s 2018 season, but they’d be the kind of losses that could prove to be big missed opportunities when everything shakes out.
June 26: at Minnesota Lynx
Last year, the Storm started 5-1—a stretch that included victories over the Washington Mystics and New York Liberty. Then came a matchup with the Minnesota Lynx that proved to be a rude awakening.
Seattle lost 100-77 at home. The defeat was a sobering assessment of how far the team needed to go to truly reach a level where it could seriously challenge for a WNBA title. Sylvia Fowles scored 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting, while Stewart and Loyd combined to shoot 9-of-26 from the field.
The Storm’s first meeting with the Lynx in 2018 should be another barometer for the team.
Particular attention should be paid to how Hughes attempts to neutralize Fowles inside. I still have nightmares about how the 2017 MVP bossed Stewart under the basket when the two teams played a second time last July.
Much of that is simply down to experience. Fowles was in her 10th season and playing the best basketball of her career, whereas Stewart was in just her second season.
The addition of Paris should help Stewart and Crystal Langhorne inside, but she’s not some sort of magical elixir that suddenly cures all of Seattle’s ills. Paris may not even be matched up against Fowles for long stretches if she’s a member of the second unit.
Generally speaking, the Lynx have set the bar in the WNBA. Even early into the season, it could be a worrying sign if the Storm once again fall flat on their faces against Minnesota in the first matchup.
July 20: at Connecticut Sun
The Storm lost all three of their games against the Connecticut Sun, and the last one was notable for being Jenny Boucek’s last game as the head coach. Connecticut outscored Seattle 33-9 in the final quarter, as Boucek appeared to be bereft of ideas to stem the tide.
With the Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks still looking to be the two best teams in the WNBA, the Sun and Storm will hope to be among those fighting for the third and fourth seeds, which means a first-round bye in the postseason.
Connecticut finished fourth in 2017, with Seattle claiming the final playoff spot. The difference between the two teams wasn’t that significant, though. Had the Storm swept the Sun, the two teams would’ve finished with identical records in the regular season.
The signing of Paris may pay the highest dividends against the Sun. Jonquel Jones led the WNBA in rebounding in 2017 (11.9 per game) and collected 36 boards—including 12 on the offensive end—against Seattle.
Paris’ 20.2 percent total rebound rate ranks second all time behind Cheryl Ford, and she’s basically tied with Yolanda Griffith for first in offensive rebound rate (14.6 percent). If Paris can limit Jones’ impact on the glass, then that would put the Storm in a great position to come out on top.
Each of the three meetings between Connecticut and Seattle will be important, but their July 20 should have the biggest impact on the standings.