PG: Sue Bird/Blake Dietrick
SG: Jewell Loyd/Monica Wright
SF: Alysha Clark/Jenna O’Hea/Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
PF: Breanna Stewart/Ramu Tokashiki
C: Crystal Langhorne/Abby Bishop/Markeisha Gatling
Dietrick beat out Tiffany Bias as Bird’s backup, a final cut made minutes before publication.
Significant additions: Stewart, obviously, the latest player offered up as the saviour of the WNBA. They’ll also be seeing Wright in a Storm uniform for the first time, after adding her in a trade last season while she was injured.
Significant losses: Basically nothing, but from a bad team.
Y’know what’s good about being terrible? The US sports system tries to help you out. And sometimes you fall ass-backwards into a superstar or two. Jewell Loyd was the first significant piece of the Storm rebuild last year, after she declared early and made the 2015 draft a much happier event for Seattle. A year later and another #1 pick offered up Breanna Stewart, the latest virtual can’t-miss star to emerge from the University of Connecticut. Just like when Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird arrived in consecutive drafts over a decade earlier, the Storm now have key building blocks in place for their team to form around. The only question is how long it’s going to take for everything to fall into place.
It’s possible that it might take Stewart a little while to fit into the pro game. She’s a little like Elena Delle Donne in her ability to score from inside and out, and her surprising fluidity for someone of her size. She doesn’t quite have the handle of Delle Donne, but based on college performance she’s significantly more prepared to help on the defensive end than Delle Donne was when she turned pro. She’ll have an immediate and significant impact, even while Jenny Boucek and the Storm are working out exactly how best to use her. Loyd took a while to settle as a rookie, and still needs to work on her outside shot so that teams stop sagging way off her to combat her speed and athleticism. But after a strong European season under a bright spotlight with Galatasaray, she should be ready to flourish in her second year. The defensive attention Stewart will draw can only help Loyd.
Elsewhere there’s not much turnaround from the team that went 10-24 last season, which means they’re hoping for internal development more than anything else. Japanese forward Ramu Tokashiki showed some flashes last year, while still learning how to play at this level. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was disappointingly invisible for much of the season, but late in the year started to break into the rotation and showed there could be hope for her as more than a spot up shooter who can’t defend. Monica Wright always looked like a capable player in Minnesota when she got the chance behind their stars, and could have the opportunity to impress with more playing time in Seattle.
Meanwhile the vets are still there to lead the way and help the kids out. Sue Bird’s at the point as ever, a little slower and likely to take occasional game off to rest, but still the consummate game manager and potentially deadly from outside. Crystal Langhorne’s one of the more skilled interior scorers in the game, and can carry the offense for stretches. And in Alysha Clark and Jenna O’Hea they have two solid wings who can make smart plays and hit shots. Despite the poor results for much of last season, you can see why they wanted to keep most of this roster intact.
Best Case Scenario
In a perfect world, Stewart’s an instant superstar and the rebuild goes into immediate overdrive, with Loyd as a high-quality second option and everyone else filling their roles. Outside of something quite that drastic, making their way up from a bad team to a decent one would be a good first step in Stewart’s rookie year. Their rebuild is much further along than San Antonio’s thanks to far better lottery luck, but the primary goals are the same – progress and development, with the youngsters learning how to perform.
Worst Case Scenario
Stewart takes time to adapt to the pros, and the game gets increasingly difficult for Loyd while she continues to struggle with her jump shot. Bird falls off another step, or suffers through more injury issues. The defense continues to be hurt by the lack of a true center, which forces Stewart or Langhorne to defend opposing 5s. But even then, all that would be likely to result in is another trip to the lottery and another young piece for their future. It wouldn’t all be bad.
Things are looking up in Seattle, as they tend to when the lottery hands you a player who’s likely to be close to the elite group from her very first season. Even if the Storm aren’t that great this year, the shoots of revival are likely to be pushing through. Now they’re just working out who’s going to be joining Stewart and Loyd as parts of their future core.