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2019 Season Preview: Seattle Storm

The 2019 WNBA season tips off on May 24. WNBA.com will be previewing every team in the league. See below for a breakdown of the Seattle Storm.

2018 Recap

Record: 26-8, 1st in league standings; Won WNBA Finals over Washington (3 games)

Leaders (with league ranking in Top 10): Points: Breanna Stewart (21.8, 2nd), Rebounds: Stewart (8.4, 3rd), Assists: Sue Bird (7.1, 2nd), Steals: Stewart (1.4, 8th), Blocks: Natasha Howard (2.0, 2nd), 3-Point Pct: Bird (44.8%, 3rd)

Team Stats (with league ranking): Offensive Rating: 108.1 (2nd), Defensive Rating: 98.8 (3rd), Net Rating: 9.4 (1st), Rebound Percentage: 51.0 (4th), True Shooting Percentage: 57.2 (2nd), Pace: 80.1 (7th)

Offseason Moves

Free Agency: Re-signed Crystal Langhorne and Mercedes Russell; Signed free agent Shavonte Zellous

Draft: Selected Ezi Magbegor (No. 12), Anriel Howard (No. 24) and Macy Miller (No. 36, waived during training camp)

Injuries: Breanna Stewart will miss the 2019 season (Achilles); Sue Bird is out indefinitely (knee)

Coaching Staff: Head coach Dan Hughes is out indefinitely while in cancer treatment; Gary Kloppenburg will serve as interim head coach during Hughes’ absence; Noelle Quinn joins coaching staff as an assistant coach

Players To Watch

Jewell Loyd

As she enters her fifth WNBA season, Jewell Loyd will no longer be a complementary scoring option for the Storm alongside Breanna Stewart. Loyd averaged 15.5 points per game last season – second on the Storm, 16th in the league – but it was her lowest scoring output since her rookie year. In 2019, Loyd will be Seattle’s primary scoring threat and will need to push her scoring to new heights (she averaged a career-high 17.7 points in 2017) to keep the Storm’s offense going.

Jordin Canada

When the Storm selected Jordin Canada with a first round pick last year, the plan was for Canada to serve as Sue Bird’s backup and absorb as much knowledge, tips and tricks from the 16-year veteran as she could before eventually assuming the starting job once Bird decided it was time to call it a career. Canada averaged 5.7 points and 3.3 assists in 16.5 minutes off the bench for Seattle last season in what was a solid first step. Canada’s development has hit the fast forward button as she will likely assume the starting job to open the season while Bird is sidelined with a knee injury.

Natasha Howard

Natasha Howard gave the Storm everything they could have possibly asked for in her first season in Seattle in 2018. During the regular season, she averaged 13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks (2nd in the WNBA) as she ran away with the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award. She followed that up with an even better postseason run, averaging 15.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 50% shooting from beyond the arc. With Stewart out for the year, can Howard up her game yet again for the Storm?

Mercedes Russell

After playing limited minutes during her rookie season (105 total minutes in the regular season and playoffs combined), the 6-6 center should see an increased role in 2019. In two preseason games, she averaged 11 points and eight rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game.

Crystal Langhorne

The 12-year veteran returns for her sixth season in Seattle after re-signing to a multi-year deal on the opening day of free agency. In addition to leadership and veteran savvy, the Storm will need plenty of on-court production from Langhorne this season, as she is coming off career lows in points, rebounds and minutes last season. However, she is just one season removed from averaging 12.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 64.7% shooting in 2017.

Anriel Howard

With first round pick Ezi Magbegor not joining the Storm until 2020, Howard becomes the rookie to watch for the Storm. Selected with the final pick of the second round, Howard likely would not have seen much time in her rookie season had the Storm stayed healthy. But with injuries to key players, there will be more opportunities for players down the bench to contribute.

Three Questions

Seattle’s three questions all relate to the three key components that will not be with the team for either part of the year or the entire year. The absence of Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Dan Hughes severely impacts Seattle’s title defense, but at the same time, it opens the door for the rest of the roster to step up and fill those roles with increased contributions.

1. How can the Storm fill the void left by Breanna Stewart’s absence?

There is no way for any one player to fulfill the role that Breanna Stewart played for the Storm in their championship run in 2018. It’s not just the top 10 league rankings in points, rebounds, steals and blocks, it’s the confidence the team had in knowing they had the best player on the court whenever No. 30 was in the game.

2. How long will Sue Bird be sidelined and is Jordin Canada ready to assume the starting job in her absence – however long it may be?

Just like there is no making up for the on-court production of Breanna Stewart, there is absolutely no way to make up for the absence of arguably the greatest point guard in WNBA history. Even though Bird will be with the team and helping Canada from the sidelines, there is no way Bird can pass along her depth of knowledge and experience that only comes with playing night in and night out for years at this level.

On Tuesday (May 21), the Storm announced that Bird would undergo arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body in her left knee in the near future and that she will be out indefinitely during the 2019 season.

3. How long will Dan Hughes be away from the team and what impact will his absence have on the franchise??

While this question is posed in a basketball context, it should go without saying the first and only priority is Hughes’ health and well-being. This question is posed assuming his treatment is successful and he is able to make it back to the team this season.

During their run to the title last year, players up and down the roster spoke of the impact that Hughes had upon his arrival prior to the 2018 season. The fact that a team comprised of mostly the same players as they had before he was hired went on to win the championship in his first season is testament to his ability to connect with the team and lead them to greater heights.

Hughes underwent surgery on May 14 to remove a carcinoid tumor in his digestive tract. There is no timetable set for his return with assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg acting as head coach during Hughes’ absence. Prior to the surgery, Hughes did open up Storm training camp and worked with the team prior to the preseason tipping off.