While the WNBA offseason is far from over, the biggest dominoes appear to have fallen ahead of the draft in April.
Once again, the Storm have opted for a more subdued approach, an understandable strategy with Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird back from season-ending injuries. In addition, Seattle had few roster spots available, with Courtney Paris, Blake Dietrick and Shavonte Zellous the team’s only free agents.
Let’s take a look at what has happened so far and what general manager Alisha Valavanis might still have up her sleeve.
Tuck and Cover
Morgan Tuck is the Storm’s only outside addition, having come over from the Connecticut Sun in a sign-and-trade. Seattle swapped first-round picks in 2020, so the Storm now have the No. 11 selection.
“We are thrilled to welcome Morgan to Seattle Storm basketball,” Valavanis said in the team’s press release. “Morgan is an elite competitor with a championship pedigree. She adds a versatility that we believe will complement our team and our style of play.”
It was a similar move to the acquisition of Natasha Howard in 2018. The Sun either couldn’t afford to sign Tuck or simply didn’t want to match Seattle’s offer. According to High Post Hoops, Tuck will make $115,000 over each of the next two years.
With Paris coming off the books, the Storm needed to solidify its frontcourt through the draft or free agency. And with Mercedes Russell presumably the backup center, it made sense to target somebody who’s more comfortable at the 4. Perhaps Seattle also envisions Tuck taking some of Stewart’s minutes at power forward to open the regular season as Stewie eases her way back following her ruptured Achilles.
Tuck is coming off a somewhat disappointing 2019 campaign. Her 352 minutes were a career low (more than 100 fewer than 2018), and she had a minus-5.6 net rating, per WNBA.com. She shot 38.8 percent from the field and had more turnovers (30) than assists (28).
The 25-year-old should benefit from her new surroundings, though. Whether she’s sharing the floor with some of the starters or playing with the second unit, Tuck will not only be playing off the ball a lot but also likely hovering around the perimeter.
That would suit her well. According to Synergy Sports, Tuck had a .579 adjusted field-goal percentage on spot-up shots and a .549 adjusted field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoots. It was the same story somewhat in 2018 (.556 aFG% on spot-ups and a .441 aFG% on catch-and-shoots).
Seattle’s offense under Dan Hughes is a stylistic fit for Tuck too.
According to WNBA.com, the Storm got 12.3 percent of their points from the mid-range in 2018, second-fewest in the league. That figure climbed up to 14.6 percent (eighth in the WNBA) in 2019 without Bird and Stewart to help spread the floor.
Tuck is a player built for the modern game in that she’s pretty efficient close to the basket and from beyond the arc; it’s the space in between that’s the problem. She shot 5-of-15 in the mid-range and 8-of-30 between five and 19 feet in 2019, per WNBA.com. Compare that to 18-of-33 in the restricted area and 15-of-41 on above-the-break three-pointers.
With such a deep well of scorers, the Storm should be able to accentuate the best parts of Tuck’s offensive skill set.
And this is to say nothing of the value Tuck will bring on defense. She has been worth 1.8 defensive win shares over her career, per Basketball Reference, which isn’t bad considering her limited role in Connecticut. And she was in the 70th percentile in defensive points per possession (0.865) on spot-up jumpers, according to Synergy. She was in the 89th percentile (0.681) in that category in 2018.
Tuck can be an alternative to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis when Hughes wants a more defensive-minded forward who can rotate between the 3 and 4.
Expecting Tuck to have a Howard-like breakout with Seattle is unfair. But it’s easy to see why the Storm identified her as their primary target this offseason.
Taking Care of Business
Stewart was entering the final year of her rookie contract, so there was no threat of her leaving this winter. Seattle went ahead and gave her a two-year max contract. The 2018 MVP will make $185,000 in 2019 and $190,500 in 2020, per High Post Hoops.
“Stewie is a special player, a competitor at the most elite level and that was evident, once again, as she worked relentlessly to return to the court,” Valavanis said upon announcing the move. “The Storm franchise, the fans and the entire city are excited for Stewie’s return this season.”
The deal itself isn’t necessarily that interesting; the consequences it could have going forward is carry far more weight.
Valavanis and Hughes will have to make some tough decisions next offseason. Bird, Mosqueda-Lewis, Howard, Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb all hit free agency. Assuming retirement is a possibility for Bird, re-signing the remaining four will still be tough because Howard will command a max contract and the other three will be in line for pay raises.
Beyond insuring the Storm are under the cap for 2021, they have nobody signed for 2022 aside from Ezi Magbegor. It’s safe to bet the team will want to re-sign Stewart and Jordin Canada, but the trio of Tuck, Mercedes Russell and Jewell Loyd will be much trickier. Especially after this offseason in the WNBA, nothing can be taken for granted.
Seattle has been fortunate to have its best player (Stewart) on a rookie contract as they completed their rebuild and won a championship. The Storm also had a number of key players (Whitcomb, Clark, Mosqueda-Lewis, Canada and Russell) on team-friendly deals that kept the payroll down.
Starting in 2021, Valavanis will have to begin dealing with the harsh realities of the WNBA salary cap.
Is Valavanis Done Until the Draft?
The Storm entered this offseason with a glaring void they’ve yet to address: backup point guard.
Although Bird is healthy, she turned 39 in October. Even if she avoids another injury, Seattle is going to manage her workload, which will include giving her the occasional night off. When that happens, Canada will be the only point guard available to Hughes.
We saw how that worked out last year. The Storm went from second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.58) in 2018 to 10th (1.13) in 2019. Part of that obviously had to do with Bird’s absence, but the team basically didn’t have a distributor on the floor when Canada rested.
Valavanis has plenty of time to evaluate the team’s available options in free agency. What the team doesn’t have is cap space. The Storm are just $47,300 under the cap for 2020, which leads to two questions.
That figure assumes a $57,000 cap hold for Ezi Magbegor, so do the Storm expect the 20-year-old to stay overseas for one more year? Magbegor is averaging 13.0 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Melbourne Boomers in the WNBL. She just won the league’s Australian Youth Player of the Year award. Magbegor would obviously face a learning curve in the WNBA, but she appears ready to make the jump. Valavanis said on draft night a year ago the plan was to bring Magbegor over in 2020.
If the Australian forward will have a roster spot, do the Storm plan to offload somebody else? Crystal Langhorne would be an obvious candidate. Seattle’s frontcourt is getting crowded with Tuck (and maybe Magbegor) coming aboard, and Langhorne is an experienced big who would presumably be valued by teams with playoff ambitions.
Absent a trade, the 33-year-old’s $105,000 salary isn’t fully guaranteed, per High Post Hoops. Valavanis has an easy lever to pull if she wanted to create some much-needed flexibility to augment the squad.