She’s the reigning College Player of the Year that just led the University of Connecticut to another NCAA championship and will likely be selected by the Seattle Storm with the second of back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in the WNBA Draft.
All signs point to this being the fate of Breanna Stewart on Thursday when President Lisa Borders announces the first selection of WNBA Draft 2016 shortly after 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
But it also describes Sue Bird’s path back in 2002, when she was selected by the Storm with the top pick in the draft, one year after Seattle had landed Australian forward Lauren Jackson with the top pick.
In the history of the WNBA Draft, only one team has held the No. 1 overall pick in back-to-back seasons. On Thursday, the Storm will do for a second time what no other team has done once.
Most No. 1 Overall Picks in WNBA Draft History (active teams only)
|Team||No. 1 Picks||Years (Players)|
|Seattle||4||2001 (Jackson), 2002 (Bird),
2015 (Loyd), 2016 (TBD)
|Phoenix||3||2004 (Taurasi), 2007 (Harding),
|Minnesota||2||2006 (Augustus), 2011 (Moore)|
|Los Angeles||2||2008 (Parker), 2012 (N. Ogwumike)|
|Connecticut||2||2010 (Charles), 2014 (C. Ogwumike)|
The first time the Storm held back-to-back No. 1 picks in the draft, they selected two players that would become the foundation of a perennial playoff team that would win two WNBA championships. Jackson became a three-time Most Valuable Player and one of the most versatile forwards the women’s game has ever seen, while Bird established herself as the preeminent point guard in league history.
Just getting one of those players would have transformed any team. Getting both in consecutive drafts accelerated Seattle’s turnaround from the league’s cellar to the league’s champion in just three seasons. If one top pick is the spark to start the fire of a team’s ascension, then a second top pick is like throwing gasoline on that fire and watching the blaze grow stronger and stronger.
The Storm went from 10-24 in 2001, to 17-15 and a playoff berth in 2002, to 18-16 in 2003 and 20-14 in 2004, a season capped off by a 6-2 run through the playoffs and the team’s first title.
After an incredible run in 2010, which saw the Storm go 28-6 in the regular season and a perfect 7-0 in the playoffs to capture their second title, Seattle began a steady decline over the first half of this decade.
With Jackson fighting injuries – she played in just 22 games for the Storm following the 2010 championship, had not played at all since 2012 and just announced her retirement from the game last month – and Bird missing the entire 2013 season while recovering from knee surgery, the foundation of the Storm’s championship teams was fading. After missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade in 2014, it was time for the franchise to rebuild.
Most Consecutive Playoff Appearances, By Team (active teams only)
|Los Angeles Sparks||8||1999-2006|
(as Detroit Shock)
|San Antonio Stars
(as Silver Stars)
|New York Liberty||4||1999-2002|
“You can probably go through every team’s history and there’s going to be unlucky draft years and there’s going to be lucky ones, there’s going to be years where you’re perfectly healthy and then years where you fight the injury bug,” said Bird.
“Every team has these highs and lows and I think for us in Seattle, obviously the franchise started with two highs, which was the back-to-back No. 1 picks and we’ve ridden that as long as we can. Then the injury bug kind of hit, and with that hopefully this is turning the page to the next chapter of these No. 1 picks and the legacy that they can make.”
When the Storm first held consecutive No. 1 picks, they grabbed the versatile big (Jackson) first and followed that up with the playmaking guard (Bird). This time around the script has flipped, with the Storm taking Jewell Loyd with the top pick in 2015 and all but guaranteed to select Breanna Stewart, the 6-4 forward with the versatile skillset later this week.
On a pre-draft conference call with the media, Storm coach Jenny Boucek agreed that it was a near-foregone conclusion what they would be doing with the No. 1 pick.
“Yeah, we’ve actually had some interesting offers,” she said. “We’ll keep taking offers until the last possible minute, but it would take a lot. Take a lot.”
It’s hard to imagine the offer it would take for the Storm to consider trading out of the top spot and not selecting Stewart as their next franchise player. Many have touted Stewart’s skills and see her making an immediate impact at the professional level.
“I think she’s going to be great right away,” said Rebecca Lobo. “She’s the only player who’s had extensive experience playing already with and against pros because of her experience with the National Team. But I think she’s going to make an immediate impact kind of like Elena Delle Donne did her rookie year.”
“Stewie has a serious chance to be one of the best … ever,” said Bird. “It’s just her style of play, her versatility, her ability to do everything on the court, she brings so much to the table. As far as No. 1 picks go, they are very important, so I’m glad we got that pick this year because we’re going to get a good one.”
While Bird sees this pair of top picks as the new foundation of the Storm franchise moving forward, she isn’t quite ready to hang up her sneakers just yet. Having a veteran presence like Bird to mentor these young players will be huge for the Storm as they transition to the next phase of their franchise.
Bird ranks second all-time, and first among active players, in both total assists (2,215) and assists per game (5.4). She has ranked in the top three in assists per game in 11 of her 13 WNBA seasons, finishing in second place a year ago.
With veterans like Bird and last season’s leading scorer Crystal Langhorne, combined with the young talents of Loyd, fellow 2015 All-Rookie selection Ramu Tokashiki and 2015 No. 3 overall pick Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the Storm should be ready to make some noise in the Western Conference very quickly.