The college basketball season is over, which means the WNBA season is inching ever closer. The Seattle Storm tip off the 2018 campaign May 20 against the Phoenix Mercury.
Before that, the Storm figure to make their last big moves of the offseason when they head to New York City for the 2018 WNBA draft on April 12.
This year’s draft is particularly important for the Storm because they’re unlikely to have a first-round pick this good for the foreseeable future. Finishing eighth in the WNBA was disappointing, but at least Seattle has the opportunity to add an impact player who could be one of the last pieces of the puzzle in the road to a third WNBA title.
Rather than breaking down all of the top names in the 2018 draft, let’s analyze the biggest questions facing the Storm a week from now.
It’s Going to be Jordin Canada, Isn’t It?
All signs point to the Storm selecting Jordin Canada with the fifth overall pick.
The Storm re-signed Noelle Quinn and have 2017 second-round pick Alexis Peterson back for this season, but they’re without a viable succession plan for when Sue Bird retires. Perhaps the 22-year-old Peterson could fill that void, but that’s expecting a lot of from a second-rounder.
As a result, Canada is the most logical pick for Seattle.
Over her four years at UCLA, Canada averaged 15.7 points and 6.1 assists per game, and her turnovers declined across each season. After turning the ball over 3.5 times a game as a freshman, she was down to 2.5 turnovers per game as a senior.
Canada also stepped up in the NCAA tournament, averaging 19.0 points and 8.0 assists in the Bruins’ four games.
Canada’s contributions aren’t limited to just offense, either. She was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and was 10th in the country in steal rate (4.6 percent), according to Her Hoop Stats.
As much as the Storm need a playmaker like Canada, her defense would be just as valuable for Seattle. The Storm were eighth in the WNBA in steals (6.5) and ninth in defensive rating (104.7). According to Synergy Sports, Seattle also allowed 1.094 points per possession on three-pointers, which was 11th.
If the Storm are committed to selecting a point guard in the first round, then Kelsey Mitchell and Lexie Brown are the only other worthwhile options.
Mitchell is likely a nonstarter, though, because she’s bound to fall off the board before the fifth pick. The Ohio State Buckeyes star averaged 24.5 points and 4.0 assists in four seasons and is the NCAA’s all-time three-point leader among women’s players (497 made threes).
In addition to her availability, one questions whether Mitchell is the right kind of fit next to Jewell Loyd. Their playing styles are kind of similar on offense, and putting them together on defense wouldn’t solve the Storm’s issues in that regard, either.
Brown, on the other hand, is more of a traditional point guard compared to Mitchell, and she’s almost certainly still going to be there for the Storm when their pick comes around.
Brown averaged 19.4 points and 4.4 assists in her senior year for the Duke Blue Devils. She also shot 37.1 percent from three-point territory and is a superior shooter to Canada.
According to Her Hoops Stats, Canada had a .537 true shooting percentage and .489 effective field-goal percentage 2017-18. Brown came in at .581 and .536, respectively, in those two categories.
In terms of their resumes, the gap between Canada and Brown is negligible, and either player would be a sensible selection. Canada is probably the preferable option given the rest of the Storm roster. Three-point shooting shouldn’t be a priority on a team that already has Loyd, Bird, Breanna Stewart, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Sami Whitcomb.
Does Azura Stevens’ Decision to Enter the Draft Change the Storm’s First-Round Calculus?
Of course, the Storm could spring a surprise and go in a completely different direction, especially with Azura Stevens forgoing her senior year and entering the WNBA. Stevens is projected to be selected in the first four picks, but her addition means somebody else gets bumped out of the top four—most likely Diamond DeShields or Gabby Williams.
That then raises the question whether DeShields or Williams would be better for the Storm than Canada or Brown.
DeShields averaged 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 2016-17 for the Tennessee Volunteers before leaving the school and playing in Europe. In 23 games for Turkish side Cukurova, DeShields is averaging 16.5 points, 5.7 rebounds 3.2 assists. Her three-point percentage (.259) is somewhat concerning, but she’s so versatile that that isn’t a major issue.
Likewise, Williams offers little value as a shooter but excels in a number of other areas. How’s this for balance: According to Her Hoops Stats, Williams was 66th in true shooting percentage (.621), 57th in effective field-goal percentage (.605), 265th in total rebounding rate (15.3 percent), 134th in assist rate (28.8 percent) and 74th in steal rate (3.3 percent).
Individually, none of those numbers necessarily jumps out. Put it all together and you have one of the most complete players in this year’s draft class.
In a vacuum, Williams or DeShields would be an upgrade for Seattle. And generally speaking, teams should prioritize value over need. People don’t put each pick into its proper context when they look back at the overall results of a draft.
At the time, Amanda Zahui B. was the obvious choice for the Tulsa Shock at No. 2 in 2015. Now, they look foolish for taking Zahui B. over Elizabeth Williams, who went fourth overall to the Atlanta Dream. Imagine what the Las Vegas Aces would look like—and by extension the Connecticut Sun—if they had taken Jonquel Jones second overall in 2016.
If the Storm like DeShields or Williams enough, then they shouldn’t hesitate the select either with the fifth pick. Build the most talented roster possible and worry about fit later.
The beauty of Canada or Brown, though, is each player simultaneously addresses a need for the Storm while possessing the potential to become a key contributor over the long term.
Were Seattle to take DeShields or Williams, it could signal a busier draft day than many expect for the Storm, which leads to the final question.
Do the Storm Trade Back into the Second Round?
The Storm don’t have much in the way of trade assets, unless they were willing to give up Jewell Loyd or Crystal Langhorne. And Seattle has very good reasons for wanting to keep both players—Jewell Loyd bobblehead night would be pretty awkward.
Adding DeShields or Williams would give general manager Alisha Valavanis a little more flexibility if she wanted to swing another trade after acquiring Natasha Howard from the Minnesota Lynx.
As part of the deal, Seattle sent its 2018 second-round pick to Minnesota and agreed to a pick swap in the first round of the 2019 draft.
Should Valavanis want to get back into the second round, selecting DeShields or Williams could make it easier for that to happen. Going that route would enable the Storm to make Alysha Clark available in trades, since DeShields or Williams would essentially be her replacement in another year or two.
Speaking on the Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast last October, head coach Dan Hughes said he envisions Clark as one of the Storm’s most important players. Hughes believes getting Clark to buy in defensively could have a domino effect for the rest of the team.
Despite that, a young core of Stewart, Loyd and Williams/DeShields may be too tantalizing to pass up, even with the cost of jettisoning Clark.
Mosqueda-Lewis could become a trade chip as well, though Seattle would be selling low after the underwhelming start to her WNBA career. Clark alone may be able to net a second-rounder, but the Storm would likely have to add something else if Mosqueda-Lewis was the biggest name going the other direction. Given the cost for Howard, Mosqueda-Lewis plus draft considerations would probably be the price for a second-rounder.
Of course, selecting DeShields/Williams isn’t a prerequisite to acquiring a second-round pick. One of Quinn or Peterson could be expendable with another point guard joining the ranks, and teams would almost certainly be interested in adding Peterson.
Regardless of what the Storm do in the first round, this year’s draft class is deep enough to at least warrant considering the idea of getting back a second-round pick. Stephanie Mavunga, Mercedes Russell, Tyler Scaife, Jaime Nared, Katelynn Flaherty and Shakayla Thomas are among the players who could slip into the second round, and any one of them could figure into the Storm’s rotation based on what the team does in the first round.
With that said, the fact Valavanis traded out of the second round may indicate she and Seattle’s front office aren’t blown away by the players who are likely to fall between the 13th and 24th picks. Valavanis may be content to sweat the fifth pick and then kick her feet up until the third round next Thursday.