It was always going to be Jordin Canada.
The Seattle Storm could’ve overpaid to move up to the second overall pick in the 2018 WNBA draft to take Kelsey Mitchell. They could’ve traded out of the first round for the second year in a row in pursuit of a proven veteran. They could’ve selected Azura Stevens after the Chicago Sky selected Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams with back-to-back picks.
Instead, Seattle did what pretty much everyone expected and picked Canada fifth overall, and it generally fits with the rest of the Storm’s offseason.
After a disappointing 2017, general manager Alisha Valavanis could’ve opted for radical changes: hiring a young, unproven head coach, trading Crystal Langhorne or Jewell Loyd, making the fifth pick available, doing whatever it took to execute a sign-and-trade for Tina Charles.
Instead, Valavanis and the Storm chose an incremental approach. They hired Dan Hughes, who has coached in the WNBA for 16 seasons. They signed Courtney Paris and agreed to a sign-and-trade for Natasha Howard—neither of whom is likely to start but will play key roles nonetheless. The selection of Canada was an extension of that plan.
Some were surprised to see Stevens slip out of the top four, and she may have momentarily forced the Storm to seriously consider passing on Canada.
Stevens’ per-game numbers from her junior season don’t jump off the page (14.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.7 APG), and she shot 9-of-51 from beyond the arc. But the Connecticut Huskies star was 38th nationally in both true shooting (.640) and effective field-goal percentage (.618), according to Her Hoops Stats. She was also 25th in offensive rebounding rate (16.4 percent), 41st in total rebounding rate (19.5 percent) and 37th in block rate (9.7 percent).
Of course, the Storm return Langhorne and Breanna Stewart and added a pair of frontcourt players in Paris and Howard. Still, some wondered whether the Storm would select Stevens and sort the rest out later. But Canada was the right call, and it’s hard to see a situation where that wasn’t the case.
Point guard was by far Seattle’s biggest need coming into the draft. The team re-signed Noelle Quinn, but she turned 33 in January and has never finished with an offensive rating higher than 99.4, according to WNBA.com. And after three years, Loyd doesn’t look suited to run an offense in the WNBA. She’s far better at 2-guard, where she can focus more on her scoring.
As a team, the Storm finished with the third best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.41) in 2017, according to WNBA.com.
Sue Bird is responsible for a lot of that. Among all WNBA players who appeared in at least 20 games, Bird was fourth in AST/TO ratio (3.20). Despite the fact she was 36, she had the third-highest assist rate (35.9 percent) of her career in 2017, per Basketball Reference.
Of course, the problems with relying so heavily on Bird are twofold: She can’t play forever, and the Storm were a mess when she wasn’t running the offense. The rest of the Storm had a 1.15 AST/TO ratio. That may not seem like a significant contrast from the team’s overall number, but 1.15 assists for every turnover would’ve ranked fourth-worst in the WNBA.
Canada addresses both issues. She’s a much better heir apparent to Bird than Loyd, and she gives the Storm a dynamic playmaker off the bench until Bird retires.
In her senior year at UCLA, Canada averaged 17.0 points and 7.1 assists, and she shot 38.6 percent from the perimeter. The Bruins star was one of the country’s best distributors, as her 40.2 percent assist rate ranked 10th, per Her Hoops Stats. And factoring in how frequently she handled the ball, her 10.4 percent turnover rate (617th) was impressive.
Considering how much she’ll be sharing the court with Stewart and Loyd down the line, whether or not Canada becomes a high-volume scorer may not be of vital importance for the Storm. The potential is there nonetheless.
According to Synergy Sports, Canada was in the 90th percentile in isolation points per possession (1.054) and 91st in spot-up PPP (1.086). She had a .591 adjusted field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoot opportunities and a .656 adjusted field-goal percentage on what Synergy identified as “no dribble jumpers.” While her height (5’6″) presents obvious concerns, Canada still shot 57.8 percent around the basket, so she can finish inside.
Generally speaking, Canada can create her own shot or score off the ball, and either will be a valuable trait given the situation. If she’s playing alongside Stewart and Loyd, the team may need Canada to float around the three-point line as a scoring option when the defense collapses inside to guard Loyd’s drives or tries to double Stewart. When Canada’s leading the second unit, her ability to score on her own is a massive bonus.
Quinn’s contributions shouldn’t be overlooked, as she averaged 6.3 assists per 36 minutes, according to Basketball Reference. Moving her to 2-guard permanently to accommodate Canada may not be a bad idea, though.
Quinn shot 38.5 percent from three-point range, with 62.9 percent of her field-goal attempts coming from beyond the arc. In addition, she had a .611 adjusted field-goal percentage on catch and shoots and a .575 adjusted field-goal percentage on spot-up shots.
Perhaps Quinn’s 2017 season is a bit of an outlier, since she’s a career 32.5 percent shooter from three-point range. In that case, the Storm would still have plenty of players who can space the floor. But turning Quinn into a three-point specialist rather than the backup point guard would add something to Seattle’s offense the team didn’t have last season.
The Storm didn’t need to overthink the 2018 draft. Selecting Canada was the safe, obvious move. Yeah, it kind of removed a lot of drama from the draft, but going the safe, obvious route has worked out pretty well with Loyd and Stewart. And Canada’s arrival is concludes an offseason in which the Storm haven’t overtaken the Los Angeles Sparks or Minnesota Lynx but look much better suited to challenge for a top-four seed.
There may come a time when Valavanis is forced to make difficult decisions about the team’s future and contemplate moving somebody who was previously part of Seattle’s long-term plans. That moment hasn’t arrived yet, and with the trio of Canada, Stewart and Loyd, the franchise has a foundation around which it can build a roster strong enough to collect a third WNBA title.