The Seattle Storm moved to 3-1 on the weekend with wins over the Chicago Sky and Las Vegas Aces.
Seattle outscored Chicago 25-14 in the fourth quarter Friday night to force overtime and eventually prevail 95-91. The Storm’s game against the Aces was the direct inverse, as they found themselves trying to protect a late lead against a surging Vegas squad. The Storm held on for a 105-98 victory despite giving up 63 points in the second half.
Let’s not beat around the bush and look back at a good weekend for the Storm.
The Games in GIFs
Natasha Howard is tied for second in the WNBA in blocks (2.5 per game). Her shot-blocking generally isn’t a result of her being stationary and using her 6’2″ frame and long reach to turn shots away. Instead, she’s relying on her athleticism and intelligence to react quickly to how the play is unfolding.
Regardless of how this season shakes out, Howard’s block on Diamond DeShields in the final seconds of regulation Friday night will be one of Seattle’s best plays of the season.
- Sticking with Howard, there isn’t a whole lot else that needs to be said about her contributions. She had 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in the win over the Sky and followed up with 21 points, five rebounds and two blocks before fouling out against the Aces. A strong argument could be made Howard has been the team’s second-most valuable player through four games behind Jewell Loyd.
I’ll be the first to admit to having reservations about the sign-and-trade the Storm executed to get Howard from the Minnesota Lynx. A first-round pick swap is always somewhat risky when involving a team like the Lynx, who are generally picking toward the end of the first round. But Howard is more than justifying the outlay so far, and you have to wonder how much Minnesota regrets letting Howard get away, given how much depth appears to be an issue for the team.
- Loyd continued her hot start this past weekend, pouring in 29 and 20 points, respectively, on Chicago and Las Vegas. Her scoring isn’t the only reason to get excited. Loyd was once again a dogged presence on the boards against the Sky, grabbing eight rebounds including five on the offensive glass. She then dished out nine assists with only two turnovers against the Aces.
Loyd’s defense remains a problem. Her 103.7 defensive rating is fourth-worst on the team, and she’s allowing opponents to shoot 55.6 percent in the pick and roll, according to Synergy Sports.
But you are happy to balance Loyd’s excellent offense against her still developing defense when she’s doing so much more compared to the past three years to help the team.
- Breanna Stewart is looking more like her usual self—not that there was any cause for serious concern before. Stewart had 31 points on 11-of-28 shooting in Seattle’s two games against the Phoenix Mercury to open the campaign. This weekend, she scored 51 points on 18-of-38 shooting.
Stewart has yet to get her touch from beyond the arc. She’s shooting 20.0 percent from three-point range, which is less than ideal. The fact Stewart is finding ways to score despite her struggles from long range are encouraging.
- Without looking, who has the highest net rating on the Storm? Maybe you already know. For those who don’t, it’s Courtney Paris (22.7).
Paris is basically doing exactly what the Storm hoped Carolyn Swords would in 2017. Paris is averaging just 13.8 minutes per game, but she’s impacting the game in a big way when she’s on the court. She has been exactly as advertised on the boards, averaging 14.5 rebounds per 40 minutes and boasts a 23.0 percent rebounding rate—including a ridiculous 38.3 percent defensive rebounding rate.
Paris hasn’t given the Storm much on offense—10 total points in four games—nor is she expected to. The Aces game showed, though she can be an effective weapon in the Storm’s offensive scheme. Paris isn’t easy to move inside. That can buy Seattle time to set up its offense or get somebody free, and Paris has the combination of vision and passing ability to find a cutter running toward the basket.
That’s not going to work in heavy doses, especially when Paris is matched up with an All-Star center, but it’s another useful wrinkle in the Storm’s offense.
- As a long-time denizen of Mosqueda-Lewis Island, it was nice seeing Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis explode for 10 points in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win. She finished with 13 points and hit all three of her attempts from the perimeter. Mosqueda-Lewis was mostly anonymous in Seattle’s first three games. Maybe Sunday represents something of a turning point to where she can be a more effective scorer off the bench.
- As noted already, the Storm erased what was an 11-point deficit entering the fourth quarter against the Sky. Seattle’s comeback wasn’t really due to great shooting but rather an aggressive offensive approach that led to success close to the basket.
Although the Storm kind of stumbled toward the finish line against the Aces, they’ve outscored their opponents 104-84 in the fourth quarter so far this year. That’s the kind of closing ability you’d expect to see from a team with aspirations of a playoff run.
- It’s hard to imagine a worse start for Crystal Langhorne. She had four points in nine-and-a-half minutes against the Sky and missed Sunday’s game with a rib injury.
The rib injury could help explain why she has scored 10 points and pulled down five rebounds in 40 minutes on the floor in 2018. The longer she’s out of action, though, the harder it might be for the 11th-year forward to reclaim a big role in Seattle’s rotation. Paris is the clear No. 2 option at center, and Howard is doing nothing to warrant her removal from the starting lineup.
- It would be a stretch to say the Storm’s 3-1 start is purely smoke and mirrors, but a course correction could in store—similar to the start of last year—if Seattle’s defense doesn’t improve. The Storm are allowing 86.8 points per game, second-worst in the WNBA, and they’re third from bottom in defensive rating (103.3).
Chicago shot 49.3 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three-point range Friday, and Las Vegas was even better Sunday (50.7 field-goal percentage, 50.0 three-point percentage).
Maintaining a top-four push will be extremely difficult if the Storm are unable to put together even a league-average defense.
Back-to-back wins have the Storm tied with the Los Angeles Sparks for third in the WNBA standings, but head coach Dan Hughes and his staff have areas they need to address—namely the defense—before Seattle can rightfully consider itself a top-four challenger.