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2020 WNBA Team Preview: Seattle Storm

The 2020 WNBA season is set to be the most unique in the league’s 24-year history. Teams have arrived at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL to begin training camp for a 22-game season with all games played at a single site without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bubble is set and the season is set to tip off on July 25. In the lead up to the season, will break down each team in the league, continuing with the Seattle Storm.

2019 Season Recap

  • 18-16, 3rd in West, 6th in League
  • Eliminated in Second Round by Los Angeles

Off-Season Moves

  • Draft: No. 11 Kitjia Laksa (will not join the team until 2021); No. 19 Joyner Holmes (waived); No. 31 Haley Gorecki (waived)
  • Trades: Acquired Morgan Tuck and the No. 11 pick in the 2020 Draft from Connecticut in exchange for the No. 7 pick in the 2020 Draft; Acquired a 2021 second round pick from Connecticut in exchange for Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
  • Players Added: Signed Epiphanny Prince as a free agent
  • Players Lost: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis traded to Connecticut; Blake Dietrick signed with Atlanta as a free agent; Courtney Paris retired; Shavonte Zellous remains an unsigned free agent
  • Returning Players: Re-signed Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart; Jordin Canada, Alysha Clark, Natasha Howard, Crystal Langhorne, Jewell Loyd, Ezi Magbegor, Mercedes Russell and Sami Whitcomb remain under contract

Who’s at IMG Academy

Between free agency, trades, the draft and players choosing not to participate in the season due to health concerns, the teams that take the court in 2020 may look a lot different than they did in 2019. Here’s a look at some of the key players that will represent the Storm in 2020.

Breanna Stewart

  • 2018 Stats (DNP 2019, Achilles): 34 GP, 31.6 MPG, 21.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 52.9 FG%, 41.5 3P%
  • The 2018 regular season and Finals MVP is back after missing the entire 2019 season with a torn Achilles. She returned to the court with USA Basketball in late 2019 and early 2020 and looked good in her four appearances as she averaged 9.0 points, 3.8 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game. With a healthy Stewart back in the mix, the Storm become instant title contenders. 

Sue Bird

  • 2018 Stats (DNP 2019, Knee): 31 GP, 26.2 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 7.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 46.6 FG%, 44.8 3P%
  • The WNBA’s all-time leader in games played and assists is back in uniform after missing the entire 2019 with a knee injury that required surgery. Bird may be the oldest player in the WNBA at 39, but she is still going strong; in 2018, she posted career highs in assists (7.1 per game) and 3-point percentage (44.8%, 3rd in WNBA).

Natasha Howard

  • 2019 Stats: 34 GP, 31.4 MPG, 18.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 43.9 FG%, 30.9 3P%
  • Howard won Most Improved Player in 2018 during her first season in Seattle. She followed that up by making a leap to MVP candidate as she took full advantage of the extra opportunities that opened up in Stewart’s absence. Howard finished fifth in MVP voting, earned All-WNBA First Team honors and was named Defensive Player of the Year last season as she led the Storm to the playoffs despite the team missing two stars.

Jewell Loyd

  • 2019 Stats: 27 GP, 25.4 MPG, 12.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 39.1 FG%, 33.7 3P%, 92.8 FT%
  • Loyd had an up-and-down 2019 season as nagging injuries limited her to 27 games and she fell short of her normal production – her scoring and assists were at their lowest marks since her rookie season in 2015. As she enters her sixth season – all with the Storm – Loyd will look to get back to her usual self in terms of creating shots for herself and her teammates.

Jordin Canada

  • 2019 Stats: 30 GP, 28.8 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.3 SPG, 38.8 FG%
  • When the Storm drafted Canada in 2018, she was seen as the point guard of the future after learning the ropes from Sue Bird for a few seasons. Well that timeline got sped up real fast with Bird being out for all of 2019 and Canada assuming the responsibility of being the team’s starting point guard in her second season. She performed admirably in the new role, finishing fifth in the league in assists per game and first in steals per game.

Epiphanny Prince

  • 2019 Stats (Las Vegas): 3 GP, 9.4 MPG, 4.3 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.3 SPG, 1.0 3PM, 50.0 FG%, 42.9 3P%
  • The Storm added Prince as a free agent in the offseason. The 10-year WNBA veteran has averaged 13.2 points, 2.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game during her career, while shooting 37.3 percent from beyond the arc.
BRADENTON – JULY 15: Natasha Howard #6 and Jordin Canada #21 of the Seattle Storm poses for a portrait during Media Day on July 15, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Three Questions

1. Does the return of Stewart and Bird make Seattle title favorites?

It does to the 16 media members that voted in the AP Preseason Power Poll as Seattle was a unanimous choice for the top spot in the rankings.

“I’m not surprised, I say that because we have a full roster,” Bird told the AP in a phone interview. “That gives us an advantage. We have a lot of people returning and a lot of players got valuable experience last year when Stewie and I were out.”

The Storm never truly defended their 2018 title as two of their top players never suited up in 2019. With Stewart recovered from her torn Achilles and Bird back after missing last season with the knee injury, the Storm will look a lot like the team that dominated in 2018 on their way to the franchise’s third championship (26-8 regular season, 6-2 postseason).

What’s most encouraging for the Storm is that they are coming off an 18-16 season and a playoff berth in 2019 despite those two stars missing the entire season. Now they get to add the 2018 regular season and Finals MVP as well as arguably the greatest point guard in league history back into the lineup.

2. How will Stewart and Bird’s return effect the rest of the roster?

With Stewart and Bird out last year, it gave Natasha Howard and Jordin Canada an opportunity to assume larger roles with the Storm as they each gathered invaluable experience. Howard had an outstanding season that saw her elevate her status in the league with All-WNBA First Team and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Canada saw tremendous growth in her second season as she assumed the starting point guard duties with Bird sidelined. But from that sideline, Bird was still able to mentor and help Canada throughout the year.

And it trickles down from the top; with two starters out, that means everyone’s playing time increases in order to help fill the void. Similar to Canada, Mercedes Russell made big strides in her second season as her minutes increased five times from her rookie season in 2018. Sami Whitcomb’s minutes more than doubled and so did her production as she averaged a career-best 7.2 points and 2.4 assists per game.

3. How much will Dan Hughes’ absence from the sideline impact the team?

The Storm began last season without Coach Hughes as he recovered from cancer surgery. Long-time assistant Gary Kloppenburg stepped into the role and filled in admirably, and he’ll be asked to do so for the entire season in 2020 as Hughes will not join the team in Florida. According to the Storm, following a medical assessment by the league and in consultation with his primary physician, it was determined that Hughes could be at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

“Klopp is a veteran coach in this league and within our organization. His defensive background as well as his presence as a seasoned head coach position us well to compete for a championship,” said Storm CEO and General Manager Alisha Valavanis.

While Kloppenburg will focus on the defense, the Storm has also promoted former Storm guard Noelle Quinn to associate head coach to lead the team’s offense. Quinn joined the Storm coaching staff last season after her 12-year playing career came to a close.

If any team is equipped to handle a coaching change, it is the Storm. With Bird entering her 17th season, she is essentially another coach on the floor running the point. In addition, the Storm have brought back much of their roster from last year, so there will not be any major new pieces to work into the mix. This is a team that knows how to play together and do so at a high level as evidenced by their 2018 dominance.