Beyond a few procedural moves and applying the core designation to Jewell Loyd, it has been a tame offseason for the Seattle Storm so far. That might be about to change.
The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings reported free-agent big Stefanie Dolson is down to two finalists: the Storm and the New York Liberty. Beyond potentially adding the two-time All-Star, Seattle’s pursuit of Dolson could send a big message about what the team plans to do with Mercedes Russell.
Russell is a restricted free agent, which allows the Storm to match any offer sheet she receives. That doesn’t guarantee she’ll be back, though. Seattle’s front office may have a firm dollar figure in mind for the 2018 second-round pick. Should another team meet or exceed that amount, then the franchise could be prepared to lose a center who has been a key cog over the last few years.
Those are the sacrifices one has to make when your two best players are free agents and only five players are under contract. You can’t keep everybody.
It’s one thing for general manager Talisa Rhea to explore the center market and speak with free agents. That negotiations with Dolson have reportedly reached a point to where she might sign with the Storm arguably shows their hand when it comes to Russell. It’s doubtful Seattle can get both because they play the same position and the numbers probably won’t be compatible with the salary cap.
By adding Dolson, the offense would be returning a little more to 2018-20, when the presence of Natasha Howard meant Seattle could plausibly play five out for stretches.
Dolson isn’t a high-volume three-point shooter, averaging 2.1 attempts per game in her five years with the Chicago Sky, but she’s a 38.1 percent career shooter from beyond the arc.
Dolson would also fit seamlessly into the pick-and-roll game, which has been a strength of Russell’s. According to Synergy Sports, she averaged 1.234 points per possession as the roller, putting her in the 89th percentile of the WNBA. And because of the threat she poses as a shooter, opposing defenses have to be wary of her spotting up from deep rather than cutting to the basket.
That hasn’t been a tool in Russell’s arsenal considering she has yet to even attempt a three-pointer.
Replacing Russell with Dolson would mean sacrificing in other areas.
The Storm weren’t an elite rebounding team, averaging the fifth-most boards (35.6) in the WNBA. Dolson may not help improve that number since she hasn’t crashed the glass quite like Russell to this point in her career. Here’s how they compare in rebounding percentages from 2021 and over their entire runs:
- 2021: 3.9 ORB%, 16.0 DRB%, 10.0 TRB%
- Career: 5.6 ORB%, 18.0 DRB%, 12.0 TRB%
- 2021: 8.0 ORB%, 20.4 DRB%, 14.4 TRB%
- Career: 9.0 ORB%, 19.6 DRB%, 14.3 TRB%
The team defense might be a little worse, too.
Dolson blocked 0.8 shots per game in 2021, double that of Russell (0.4), but she isn’t an elite rim protector. Per Synergy, opposing shooters sank 48 percent of their post-ups when matched up against the 6’5″ center. Russell, meanwhile, allowed a 51.6 opponent field-goal percentage on post-ups. Any advantage Dolson can claim as a superior interior defender is marginal.
More importantly, offenses would likely be able to exploit her away from the basket in a way they couldn’t with Russell, though. Dolson had a 50.0 adjusted field-goal percentage when defending jumpers, per Synergy. Russell allowed only a 34.5 adjusted field-goal percentage. She’s a bit of an outlier in that she has the frame of a traditional center (6’6″) but the athleticism to stick with smaller guards and forwards in defensive switches.
In a perfect world, Russell is once again slotting into the Storm’s frontcourt. Her inability to space the floor hasn’t hindered the Storm’s offense too much. Seattle was first in offensive rating in 2020 and fourth in 2021, per WNBA.com. Her defensive switchability is invaluable as well, and it’s something Dolson doesn’t bring to the table.
If you resign yourself to losing Russell, however, then Dolson is one of the better replacements available among the centers who could realistically join Seattle. Plus, we saw in 2021 she can contribute positively to a championship team.