As she approaches her second season in the WNBA, Alexis Peterson appears to be no closer to earning a regular role for the Seattle Storm.
Peterson remained on the fringe of the Storm’s rotation as a rookie in 2017. She appeared in just half of the team’s regular-season games and played a total of 121 minutes.
It’s easy to blame Peterson’s lack of playing time largely on former head coach Jenny Boucek. Boucek leaned heavily on her starters and struggled to develop the talent at her disposal beyond Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. But Peterson’s duties didn’t drastically increase after Seattle fired Boucek and made Gary Kloppenburg the interim head coach.
Under Boucek, Peterson averaged 6.5 minutes in 10 appearances. Under Kloppenburg, she averaged 8.0 minutes per game, though she was a healthy scratch in only one of the Storm’s final eight games. In both cases, Peterson was the fourth guard option.
Also in Boucek’s defense, Peterson didn’t make the most of the limited opportunities she received. She shot 29.5 percent from the field and was 3-of-12 from beyond the arc, and she had 14 assists to 13 turnovers. Peterson was last on the team in net rating (minus-15.4).
Compare Peterson’s rookie year to that of Sami Whitcomb. Whitcomb was 28 years old and not even a lock to make the Storm’s final roster, so she was seemingly at a bigger disadvantage heading into 2017 than Peterson.
Whitcomb played her way into Boucek’s circle of regulars by scoring 22 points off the bench in a win over the New York Liberty on May 26 and following up with nine points as the Storm defeated the Indiana Fever in their next game.
Granted, it’s probably a stretch to say one breakout performance—like Whitcomb had against the Liberty—single-handedly made the difference between irrelevance and a productive rookie campaign for Peterson. And unlike Whitcomb, Peterson’s size (5’7″) limits her usage. When you’re strictly a point guard on a team with Sue Bird, Noelle Quinn and Jewell Loyd, playing time might be hard to find.
And therein lies the problem for Peterson as she approaches Year 2. Not only do Bird, Quinn and Loyd return, but the Storm are almost certainly going to select a point guard in the first round of the WNBA draft. Seattle bolstered its frontcourt with the signing of Courtney Paris and acquisition of Natasha Howard, so adding another forward wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense unless A’ja Wilson somehow fell to the No. 5 pick, which is never going to happen.
The Storm’s 2018 point guard rotation will likely have Bird as the starter, Jordin Canada/Lexie Brown as the first option off the bench and Quinn as a rover who can switch between the 1 and 2. The Storm wouldn’t have re-signed Quinn this offseason only to have her ride the pine.
That basically leaves Peterson right back where she was last year and possibly even step or two behind.
Generally speaking, the second round of the WNBA draft doesn’t provide a team with immediate returns but can yield strong results over time. Between 2010 and 2013, at least one second-round pick went on to make an All-Star team, which is pretty impressive considering how top-heavy the WNBA draft is.
Even if it’s not an All-Star-level talent, smart front offices can identify value beyond the first round.
Carolyn Swords, Karima Christmas-Kelly, Alysha Clark and Sydney Colson also slipped out of the second round. None of those players is a major difference-maker, but they’ve enjoyed solid careers to this point.
Based on her career at Syracuse, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to say Peterson could fall into that latter group. She averaged 23.4 points and 7.0 assists and was the ACC Player of the Year as a senior in 2016-17. She was a 34.7 percent career shooter from three-point range over four years.
Coincidentally, Peterson first had to take a back seat for the Orange before playing a starring role. She averaged 12.3 minutes on the floor and made one start as a freshman in 2013-14.
“I feel like I’m back as a freshman,” Peterson said in an interview last August with Lindsay Kramer of Syracuse.com. “The story is still the same. I know how that turned out.”
According to Kramer, Peterson had a rude awakening when she entered the WNBA and “was taken aback by the pace and small windows available to read plays.”
Given that, one could argue Peterson might be better off on the bench, where she faces less scrutiny and thus has an easier time adjusting to the league. At the same time, there’s no substitute for experience. Learning from a legendary point guard such as Bird and working against Loyd in practice only aids Peterson’s development to a certain extent.
Perhaps the Storm are content to keep Peterson on the periphery for the time being before elevating her in 2019 or 2020. If that’s the case, a door could open down the line.
For a team that’s built around a pair of young stars and probably at least another year or two from true title contention, the Storm’s point guards are relatively old. Bird is 37 and entering her 16th season in the WNBA. She’s third all time in minutes played (15,350) and will move into first place if she stays healthy in 2018. Quinn, meanwhile, turned 33 in January.
Loyd, Peterson and Canada/Brown could be the future of Seattle’s backcourt. But the Storm’s recent track record wouldn’t indicate they have those kind of long-term plans in place for Peterson. Going back the past five years, here’s whom the team selected beyond the first round: Peterson, Lanay Montgomery, Lexi Eaton Rydalch, Vicky McIntyre, Nneka Enemkpali, Michelle Plouffe, Mikaela Ruef, Chelsea Poppens and Jasmine James. Peterson is the only one still with the team after the Storm released Montgomery last Friday.
It’s far too early to write off Peterson as becoming a key contributor for the Storm at some point in the future, but the 2018 campaign is shaping up to be another year where she’s relegated to the sideline for most of the year.