Season Preview 2011: Seattle Storm

The Storm is back with a vengeance in 2011 with the hopes of repeating as WNBA champions
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images

Season Outlook

How exactly does a team follow up a championship season? The answer’s simple: win again. When the Storm’s 2011 season tips off on June 4 against the Mercury (12 ET on ABC), they will look to be the league’s repeat champions for the first time since the 2001 and 2002 Los Angeles Sparks. Locking up the same starting five from last year’s win is a big step in doing just that.

Sue Bird, Camille Little, Tanisha Wright, Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson are all familiar faces returning to the court for the Storm this summer, but one glance at the bench would show a few new faces in the mix as well. With Svetlana Abrosimova, Abby Bishop, Alison Lacey and Jana Vesela all announcing they will not be returning to the Storm this season, the Storm front office was left with a number of voids to fill, be it through free agency, trades or draft picks.

One of the biggest offseason acquisitions came in the form of six-time All-Star Katie Smith, who joins the Storm this season following a three-team trade on April 29 that saw Seattle send first round draft pick Jasmine Thomas to the Washington Mystics and camp invitee Erin Phillips to Indiana.

Smith is not only the obvious first choice coming off the bench, but her experience and ability to assume a starting role can also allow coach Brian Agler to give a player like Sue Bird or Camille Little a lighter workload at points during the season. As Agler showed in 2010, he’s comfortable in doing just that. The 2011 Coach of the Year could have kept his foot on the accelerator and started his top players late in the schedule, but Seattle’s dominance in the West allowed for some energy conservation and it paid obvious dividends by season’s end. With just about a month or so remaining in the season, it wasn't out of the ordinary to see Bird, Cash or Jackson get a few less minutes or earn the night off entirely. Whatever the case with Smith’s place in the lineup, she is comfortable in the notion that she will do whatever it takes to win. She also knows, regardless of whether she starts a game on the hardwood or on the bench, that Coach Agler will play her in whatever situation that best suits the team.

No one ever said it was easy to repeat as WNBA champions, but on paper it would appear as if the Storm are prepared to do just that. It’s a grueling season riddled with the day-to-day soreness and injuries that crop up throughout. Untested roster depth is the perceived Achilles’ heel of the Storm, but if the team comes up healthy heading into the postseason, other teams may be looking to duck and cover.

Frank Della Femina

Player on the Spot

Lauren Jackson’s health was highlighted as the difference maker heading into the beginning of 2010 and, once again, that remains the case in 2011. The reigning MVP posted impressive numbers across the board last season, with 20.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 31 minutes per game en route to the franchise’s second championship. That alone stands as evidence as to what a healthy Jackson can do in this league.

Early in the offseason, Jackson suffered what was labeled as an Achilles’ injury while playing overseas in Russia. While she's expected to make a full recovery by the Storm's first game, evident by her presence in Storm training camp, it is just another unfriendly reminder for Jackson and Seattle fans that this is the sort of thing that can make or break the team. Luckily it happened during the offseason, but had it happened a few months before, the Storm would’ve entered the postseason without its veteran center.

SLAM Magazine’s Ben York shared the same sentiment regarding Jackson’s health in his podcast in early March. Jackson, who embraced a stronger core workout coming off a history of back injuries, have been known to modify her conditioning to address the areas that have been previously weakened. Knowing and not ignoring can be the difference maker in Jackson’s health in 2011, and ultimately may be the single reason behind Seattle’s efforts to repeat at WNBA champions.

Frank Della Femina

Projected Lineup

G.Sue Bird
G.Tanisha Wright
F.Swin Cash
F.Camille Little
C.Lauren Jackson

Players Added

F.Ify Ibekwe
G.Katie Smith
G.Belinda Snell
C.Krystal Thomas

Players Lost

G.Svetlana Abrosimova
F.Abby Bishop
G.Alison Lacey
F.Jana Vesela

2008 Leaders

PPGLauren Jackson21.6
RPGLauren Jackson9.6
APGSue Bird7.7
SPGJackson/Bird (Tie)1.71
BPGLauren Jackson1.43

Team Stats

Points Scored81.8(3rd)
Points Allowed73.9(2nd)
Field-Goal Percentage..445(5th)
Opponents’ FG%.413(1st)