The Seattle Storm earned their first win of the 2018 season Wednesday night against the Phoenix Mercury, beating the Mercury 87-71 on the road.
Jewell Loyd was the game’s leading scorer, dropping 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting. She was also a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe. Loyd’s big night helped offset an uneven performance from Breanna Stewart, who narrowly missed out on a double-double (nine points, 11 rebounds) but had four turnovers and shot 3-of-12.
Defensively, the Storm did well to limit Phoenix’s supporting cast. Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi had 18 and 23 points, respectively, but DeWanna Bonner (nine points) was the team’s next-highest scorer.
Let’s get to the breakdown of the game
The Game in a GIF
Although this was only the Storm’s first bucket of the night, it set the tone for the rest of the game. Loyd was feeling it from mid-range, and that left Griner largely ineffective on defense.
Here are Loyd’s shotcharts from Seattle’s first two games. Sunday’s loss is on the left and Wednesday’s win is on the right:
No player had more trouble combating Griner’s presence inside than Loyd. She was unable to drive to the basket with any success, and she settled for a lot of bad shots as a result. On Wednesday, Loyd focused much more on her mid-range game and let that open up the rest of her offense.
Loyd can make you want to pull your hair out at times, but Wednesday night was another example of why she can be one of the WNBA’s best scorers at her peak.
Loyd has grabbed 11 rebounds, including five offensive boards through the Storm’s first two games. She’s been very aggressive about crashing the glass, which isn’t something you’d say about her first three years. She was averaging 3.4 rebounds over her career entering 2018.
Loyd got off to a hot start in 2017 before leveling off a bit later in the year, so fans should keep their excitement in check for the time being. But rebounding isn’t something that generally lends itself to hot nights and cold nights. If Loyd can become a more consistent presence on the glass and thus a more complete player, then she takes another step toward earning her first All-Star trip.
Alysha Clark shot 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, making her 4-of-5 on three-pointers to start the year. That’s not really cause for celebration, but Clark was a 32.8 percent three-point shooter in 2017 after hitting 38.7 percent of her attempts in 2016. Getting her three-point shooting back to its 2016 level would be a big luxury for Seattle.
Head coach Dan Hughes inserted Natasha Howard into the starting lineup over Crystal Langhorne, and it worked extremely well. At 6’2″, Howard gave seven inches to Griner, but her length and athleticism helped cause problems for Griner close to the basket.
As the Storm, you’re happy to see Griner scoring 18 points after she put 29 on you Sunday. Howard succeeded in using her reach to deny Griner the ball. Not only did Griner attempt two fewer shots Wednesday compared to Sunday, but she also shot just three free throws, down from 10 in Seattle’s opener.
Howard impacted the game more than any player not named Jewell Loyd.
Sami Whitcomb made her 2018 debut and played over eight minutes in the win. She was 2-of-3 from beyond the arc in her brief time on the court. Based on Seattle’s first two games, Whitcomb will have a smaller role on the Storm than she did in 2018. Still, Whitcomb can be a player opposing teams have to account for based on her quick trigger.
The Storm outscored the Mercury 25-14 in the fourth quarter. Phoenix closed the gap to five points entering the final frame, and it looked like Seattle was on the ropes. Camille Little made it a three-point game with 9:13 left in the fourth. The Storm proceeded to go on a 10-2 run, which provided them with a much-needed cushion. It was a great response on the road at a critical juncture.
On a night where so much of the offense was working, Stewart’s line stands out. Of course, there’s no reason to panic. Taking a more critical look, Stewart’s eight turnovers and 35 minutes per game are two negatives through two games.
It’s tough to critique much from the Storm’s performance, since Seattle was so strong across the board. Crystal Langhorne had a game to forget, though. She was the only Storm player to finish with a negative net rating (minus-6.4), and she attempted only one shot. While Langhorne made the shot, she didn’t exactly look entirely confident taking it.
Last year, I advocated for Langhorne to come off the bench for the Storm, with Carolyn Swords occupying the starting spot at center. That may be happening now, with Howard supplanting Langhorne with the first team.
The assumption was that Langhorne’s efficiency would carry over were she to be a reserve forward. That line of thinking doesn’t account for the adjustment Langhorne would make having to come off the bench. She’d have less touches during the game, and it alters her entire pregame preparations.
Hughes may put Langhorne back into the starting five now that Griner and the Mercury are out of the way for the time being. Should Langhorne continue to be the backup to Howard, how quickly she acclimates herself to her new role will be something to watch.
Sunday’s win was a complete performance. The Mercury were excellent in their first two games, and Seattle beat them at both ends of the court. It was as dominating an effort as you’re going to see the Storm have against a Phoenix team with everybody healthy. The key is maintaining that momentum against an improved Chicago Sky and a Las Vegas Aces squad that should be at full capacity this weekend.
The Seattle Storm opened their 2018 WNBA season with an 87-82 defeat to the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday night in a game that offered reasons for optimism while also serving as a reminder of the team’s flaws.
Breanna Stewart filled up the stat sheet with 22 points, 15 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks. Jordin Canada had a nice WNBA debut, finishing with nine points, one assist and four steals. Jewell Loyd struggled to get going, though, shooting 3-of-11 from the field to score 10 points.
The Storm had an opportunity to force overtime late in the fourth quarter. They inbounded the ball down 85-82 with 3.2 seconds remaining in regulation, but Stewart stepped out of bounds to give the ball back to Phoenix and extinguish any comeback attempt.
Where do you realistically set expectations for a team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances but still hasn’t had a winning season since 2011?
“It’s time to start winning,” Breanna Stewart said during the Storm’s media day, per the Seattle Times‘ Percy Allen. “I don’t want to come off as crass or cocky or anything like that, but losing sucks. It does. That’s just how I feel about it. And, no, I won’t ever get used to it. I can’t. That’s not how I’m wired.”
The Storm certainly intimated as much, too, when they hired Dan Hughes. They could’ve opted for a first-year head coach who would need a few seasons to grow into the role. Instead, Seattle chose a 16-year veteran who has the third-most wins (237) of any coach in WNBA history.
It’s not a title-or-bust kind of season for the Storm, but 18-20 wins are probably the minimum requirement to avoid another disappointing campaign.
A little over eight months after their 2017 season ended at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury, the Seattle Storm will open their 2018 campaign at home May 20 against Phoenix.
Before that, the Storm and Mercury will meet twice for a pair of preseason games in May.
To some extent, Seattle’s disappointing first-round playoff exit may benefit the team this year. The Storm could be the biggest post-hype sleeper in the WNBA.
Mechelle Voepel of espnW.com and Brian Martin of WNBA.com both listed Seattle at No. 5 in their preseason power rankings in 2017. Expectations were high, and the Storm got fans even more excited with a 4-1 start to the regular season. Then came a humbling 100-77 defeat to the Minnesota Lynx at KeyArena, and things were never the same for Seattle.
No WNBA team may face more pressure to upgrade this offseason than the Seattle Storm. There are no more excuses should the Storm fail to at least earn a home game in the opening round of the playoffs.
Heading into the 2017 campaign, both espnW.com’s Mechelle Voepel and WNBA.com’s Brian Martin ranked Seattle fifth in their preseason power rankings.
But the 2017 season was nothing short of a disaster. Firing Jenny Boucek in the middle of the year provided momentary relief, but it couldn’t prevent the seemingly inevitable first-round exit—this time at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury.
It was a fitting coda to a disappointing year. Brittney Griner had 23 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, while the Storm scored 19 points outside of their big three (Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird). All season long, Seattle struggled to guard elite post scorers, and the team’s lack of depth behind Stewart, Loyd and Bird was glaring.
More of the same in 2018 would mean wasting another year of Stewart and Loyd’s development—as well as what’s left of Bird’s playing career. It shouldn’t be a stretch to say general manager/team president Alisha Valavanis should also be out of a job. At some point, the front office has to point to more than just selecting Loyd and Stewart first overall in 2015 and 2016.
The Seattle Storm will be counting on improvement from Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd in order to become a top-four contender in the WNBA in 2018. However, no player will be a better indicator of the Storm’s progress than Alysha Clark.
Were basketball a three-player game, the Storm could stack up with almost any team in the WNBA. Stewart, Loyd and Sue Bird aren’t the league’s best trio, but there are few better. Look beyond that three and things get a little more dicey.
If you’re gonna take on a respect for the defensive end and a respect for the rebounding, then I think it’s gotta encompass a little bit of the decisions you make to add to the team. I think it’s gotta encompass a little bit of focus and buy-in. Alysha Clark is very important to me, because I kind of need…she is the type of defender that I want to influence her teammates to be, and I want to add some of the pieces to this group. Because if you want true consistency in professional basketball—and I’d include the NBA—you’ve got to have buy-in.
The Seattle Storm’s hopes of turning things around in the second half of the season may rest largely on the decision-making of Alisha Valavanis.
The 2017 season hasn’t gone according to plan at all for Seattle. The Storm are ninth in the WNBA with a 9-12 record, and many of the team’s biggest problems from last year have carried over to this season.
Still, few expected Thursday’s bombshell from The Summitt’s Howard Megdal that cast serious doubt on Jenny Boucek’s future with the team.
A vote of confidence from ownership and the front office is often an empty gesture that is eventually undercut by the team’s actions at a later point. With that said, Valavanis didn’t even bother to offer the bare minimum regarding whether management was behind Boucek.
“I would say that I am working closely with our head coach on how we can recalibrate, how we can do everything possible to make a playoff run,” she said to Megdal. “That’s how I feel, and that’s where we’re at. I’m actively working with Jenny to see if we can make any adjustments to calibrate this for a playoff run, which has been set as a very clear goal.”
Short of having security physically carry Boucek out of the office, it’s hard to imagine a more damning response from Valavanis. Continue reading →