Crystal Langhorne had to fall so the Seattle Storm could rise.
Langhorne opened as the Storm’s starting center in 2018 but quickly lost her job to Natasha Howard. Howard proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle for the Storm en route to winning the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Langhorne, meanwhile, never adapted to her bench role and finished with the worst statistical season of her WNBA career.
Give Storm head coach Dan Hughes credit for wasting little time demoting a veteran who made 135 starts for Seattle over four years. He recognized the team wasn’t going to win a title if it continued using Langhorne as the first option at center.
Far too often the Storm got exposed against elite centers in 2017 as Langhorne was completely overmatched. She’s an underrated defender, but she’s always going to be at a disadvantage when she’s guarding Brittney Griner, Sylvia Fowles, Tina Charles, etc.
Sami Whitcomb came from out of nowhere to become a role player for the Storm in her rookie year in 2017. She signed a multi-year extension with Seattle in February and experienced a somewhat up and down sophomore season in the WNBA.
However, Whitcomb raised her game in the postseason, earning plenty of plaudits in the process.
Sami Whitcomb By the Numbers
Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect the typical Year 2 jump from Whitcomb when she wasn’t a typical second-year player. Whitcomb was 29 when the 2018 season tipped off, an age where players have not only hit their ceilings but generally start falling off a bit.
The Seattle Storm selected Jordin Canada with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft, with the UCLA Bruins star poised to be Sue Bird’s long-term successor. Canada proceeded to have an uneven rookie season but flashed plenty of potential as the backup point guard.
Jordin Canada By the Numbers
The Defense Never Rests
Defense was Canada’s forte when she left UCLA. She was the 2018 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time honoree on the Pac-12’s All-Defensive team. According to Her Hoops Stats, Canada also ranked 10th in steals per game (3.3) and 17th in steal rate (5.6 percent) in 2017-18.
Canada’s defensive prowess immediately translated to the WNBA.
Mercedes Russell’s rookie season got off to an inauspicious start. The 2018 second-round pick didn’t make it out of training camp for the New York Liberty. The Liberty signed her back but then released her again after two games to make room for Kia Vaughn.
But Russell’s year ended with a WNBA championship, so she had the last laugh.
Mercedes Russell By the Numbers
Crashing the Boards
Rebounding was Russell’s biggest area of strength in 2018, which isn’t all that surprising based on her senior year at Tennessee. During the 2017-18 season, she ranked in the top 11th percentile in total rebounding rate (14.3 percent), per Her Hoops Stats. She was also in the top 10 percent in offensive rebounding rate (11.1 percent) and top 16 percent in defensive rebounding rate (17.2 percent).
In terms of her individual performance, the 2018 season was a year to forget for Noelle Quinn. But winning the first WNBA title of her career made all of the sacrifices worth it.
Noelle Quinn By the Numbers
Break in Case of Emergency
When the Seattle Storm re-signed Quinn in February, her role on the team was pretty clear even though the team was two months away from selecting Jordin Canada in the 2018 draft.
“Noelle brings a veteran leadership presence to our team that is invaluable,” Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis said in the team’s press release. “Her experience in the WNBA, leadership on the court and basketball IQ will continue to be a resource for our team.”
Whether Valavanis knew at that point Canada was the preferred target, Seattle wasn’t going to settle on Quinn as the backup point guard behind Sue Bird.
What do you get the team that has everything? Seattle Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis and head coach Dan Hughes are about to find out as they look to build on a 2018 season in which the Storm were WNBA champions for the third time.
Incremental change was the theme of the 2018 offseason.
Valavanis didn’t panic after a season in which Seattle finished eighth and fired its head coach in the middle of the year.
The Storm could’ve taken a chance on a young first-year head coach. Instead, they hired Hughes, one of the most experienced coaches in WNBA history.
And rather than shaking up the roster, Valavanis signed eight-year veteran Courtney Paris and acquired Natasha Howard in a sign-and-trade with the Minnesota Lynx. Howard was a revelation in her first year with the team and the missing piece of the proverbial puzzle, but it didn’t look like Seattle got demonstrably better ahead of the 2018 campaign.
The Seattle Storm are going to the 2018 WNBA Finals.
Seattle defeated the Phoenix Mercury 94-84 in Game 5 of the WNBA semifinals, outscoring the Mercury 35-21 in the fourth quarter, on Tuesday night in KeyArena.
Per usual, Breanna Stewart led the way with 28 points and seven rebounds. For long stretches, Stewart was single-handedly keeping the Storm afloat on offense as the team struggled with Phoenix’s suffocating defense.
Sue Bird was the big star, though, finishing with 22 points, including 14 in the final frame. Bird gave the Storm a 79-76 lead with 4:01 remaining, and her three-pointer with 2:51 left to put Seattle ahead by eight was essentially the death blow for the Mercury.
Diana Taurasi—who ICYMI was unbeaten in winner-take-all elimination games—had 17 points, while Brittney Griner posted 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists.