Three days after beating the Las Vegas Aces 97-83 in their 2021 WNBA season opener, the Seattle Storm will be back in action against the 2020 runners-up.
The curtain-raiser couldn’t have gone much better after a shaky start for Seattle. Early into the first quarter it appeared as if the Storm would struggle to handle Las Vegas’ frontcourt combination of A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage. While Wilson ultimately finished with 24 points, her efforts proved to be futile as Seattle buried the Aces under a barrage of three-pointers.
As great as the defending WNBA champions looked, fans would be wise to recall the team’s start to the 2018 season. The Storm fell to the Phoenix Mercury in their opener before earning a 16-point win three days later en route to standing tall at the end of the year.
Saturday was a reminder of why Seattle could potentially lift another title despite losing Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark in the offseason. The discourse could shift a bit if the Aces bounce back with a comprehensive win Tuesday. Here are some storylines to watch.
The Liz Stopper
Until Mercedes Russell is available again, head coach Dan Hughes will have to work around a lack of size in his squad. Take Russell out of the mix, and the team only has two players (Breanna Stewart and Ezi Magbegor) who are taller than 6’3″. That makes it difficult to keep both on the court for long stretches because you risk creating scenarios where Katie Lou Samuelson (6’3″) is the biggest player on the court.
However, the Storm were markedly better against the Aces when Magbegor matched up with Cambage inside, so she might have to get more than the 14:10 she played on Saturday.
Magbegor’s seven points, four rebounds and two blocks don’t fully convey the impact she made. Per WNBA.com, Seattle had a 57.1 defensive rating and a 76.2 net rating with her on the floor. Cambage struggled to deal with the 21-year-old’s size inside.
Magbegor is also more athletic than a 36-year-old Candice Dupree. Although the three-pointer she hit in the first quarter probably isn’t emblematic of anything bigger, the 2020 first-round pick forced Cambage to be more active in half-court sets and keep up in transition.
With a few days to plan, perhaps Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer will devise a plan to get Cambage more involved in the offense when Magbegor is on the court. But if the Storm are once again able to mitigate the three-time All-Star’s impact, it could be a second win in a row to open the season.
Jewell Loyd Doing Jewell Loyd Things
Stewart grabbed the headlines and claimed the coveted Craftsman Plumbing Draining Buckets Play of the Game. The 2018 MVP had one of the more casual 28-point, 13-rebound performances you can possibly see.
But Saturday’s victory was also a showcase of how much Jewell Loyd has rounded out her game since arriving in the WNBA in 2015. The two-time All-Star had 22 points, six assists, four rebounds and one steal. She shot 9-of-16 from the floor and 2-of-6 from three-point range.
On defense, Hughes tasked Loyd with shadowing Chelsea Gray. The Aces guard went 3-of-8 for seven points and had three assists to three turnovers.
Because she shares a team with Stewart and Sue Bird, Loyd’s work can occasionally be overshadowed. Sure she’s a marquee star and lumped in with Stewie and Sue as part of Seattle’s Big Three. But this is a player who could garner All-WNBA and All-Defensive team hype this season.
One frustrating aspect of Loyd’s game is her propensity to follow up a monster game with a forgettable showing, and that has undoubtedly played a role in her failing to get recognized come awards time. Tuesday’s game could set the tone for her 2021 campaign.
Despite having little time to work with her new team after arriving from Spain, Samuelson got the start ahead of Stephanie Talbot. Not surprisingly, Samuelson was a bit of a passenger Saturday, scoring five points on three shots. Her six rebounds did at least help Seattle earn a 44-33 overall edge on the boards.
Still, Stephanie Talbot arguably outplayed Samuelson. The Australian international logged 17:01 minutes and finished with six points, four rebounds, and one assist.
As much as people rightfully focused on how much defensive skill the Storm lost, their long-range shooting arsenal took a major hit, too, as the offseason unfolded. Clark hit a WNBA-best 52.2 percent of her threes. Sami Whitcomb had a career-high 38.1 percent clip. And while she only launched 20 attempts, opposing teams had to respect Howard’s ability from deep.
The Storm need new shooters to step up, and Talbot could fill that void.
- All four of Jordin Canada’s shots came from inside the paint, which isn’t great in terms of gauging whether she has expanded her offensive repertoire. But she did dish out six assists with only one turnover. When the Storm are collectively shooting as well as they did Saturday, it’s not a necessity for Canada to be much of a long-range threat. Facilitating the offense while keeping turnovers to a minimum becomes her top priority.
- Dupree was 3-of-11 from the field through the first half. She offset that slightly with a 16.7 percent offensive rebounding rate, per WNBA.com, and the Aces are a bit of an outlier in terms of having a Cambage/Wilson frontcourt partnership. Hughes might nonetheless have a difficult decision to make once Russell returns if Dupree struggles this badly offensively.
- Talbot, Magbegor and Canada combined for 19 points off the bench. That’s encouraging output considering Seattle isn’t quite at full strength yet.
- Kiana Williams played 3:12 in her WNBA debut. Bird exited in the second half with what initially seemed like a serious knee injury, only to return shortly thereafter. Considering this is only Game 2, Hughes might give Williams a more extended look to manage Bird’s minutes.