Over the final 12 days of 2018, each day we will look back at the year that was for a WNBA team, reminiscing over some of the best moments from the past year and looking ahead to the upcoming year as well. Up next is the Seattle Storm, the 2018 WNBA champions.
Record: 26-8, an 11-win improvement from 2017
Finish: 1st in Western Conference, 1st overall
Postseason: Won WNBA Finals
Awards: Breanna Stewart, Most Valuable Player, All-WNBA First Team; Natasha Howard, Most Improved Player, All-Defensive First Team; Sue Bird, Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award
Leaders: Points (Breanna Stewart, 21.8); Rebounds (Stewart, 8.4); Assists (Sue Bird, 7.1); Steals (Stewart, 1.4); Blocks (Natasha Howard, 2.0); 3-Pointers (Jewell Loyd, 2.0)
Key Offseason Questions
Can this Storm team successfully defend the title?
The Storm won their third title in their third trip to the Finals. While they have a 100% series win percentage in the Finals, there is one drawback to that stat. The Storm have never been in a position to successfully defend their title.
After winning their first championships in 2004, the Storm finished with the same record (20-14) and playoff position (No. 2 seed in West) in 2005. But after winning their opening playoff game, the Storm dropped the next two to Houston and were bounced in the first round.
After winning their second championship in 2010 and finishing the season with a franchise-best 28-6 record, the Storm dropped to 21-13 in 2011 and were once again knocked out in the opening round, this time by Phoenix in three games.
The Storm will enter the 2019 season with a target on their back and get the best effort from every team on every night as opponents look to test themselves against the defending champs. Navigating the regular season and finishing near the top of the standings again will be key to Seattle getting back to the Finals and defending its title.
With the competitive landscape across the league improving season after season, successfully defending the championship has only grown more difficult. In fact, no team has done it in 16 years. The last team to win back-to-back WNBA titles was the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002. Breanna Stewart had just turned eight years old the last time it happened. But Stewart may be the catalyst to break the current cycle as she has plenty of experience in winning consecutive championships after winning four straight in college. Can she help the Storm become the first team to defend the title in over a decade-and-a-half?
How much longer will Sue Bird play?
Much was made last season about Bird being the oldest player in the WNBA; she even broke out some custom Grandma kicks during the WNBA Finals. But despite having played more games and more minutes than any player in league history, the 37-year-old point guard is showing now signs of slowing down.
With an improved diet and conditioning, Bird’s body has held up well to the rigors of the season, and mentally there’s no player better at orchestrating a team. It helps to be surrounded by so much young talent, just look at Bird’s assist numbers. She’s posted career-bests in each of the last two seasons (6.6 per game in 2017 and 7.1 in 2018). And as she’s done her entire career and showed again during the playoffs, she’s willing and able to call her own number and deliver a bucket when her team needs it most.
But as the saying goes, Father Time is undefeated, so eventually Bird is going to slow down and decide to call it a career. In last year’s draft, the Storm selected her heir apparent in Jordin Canada. Last season, the rookie guard showed great flashes and was a solid contributor off the bench and has the perfect mentor to learn from for when she eventually takes the reins.
Best On-Court Moment
Winning the 2018 WNBA title
There’s only one way to start this list and it’s the obvious pick of Seattle winning the 2018 WNBA championship with a sweep of the Washington Mystics. At the beginning of each season, every team sets out on the journey to try to win the championship, but only one team can win their final game of the season.
After finishing with the league’s top regular season record, the Storm entered the playoffs as the No. 1 overall seed and prevailed in a tough semifinal series with Phoenix to punch their ticket to the Finals in a winner-take-all Game 5. In the championship series, the Storm held homecourt in the first two games, and unlike in the semifinals, they were able to win on the road as they completed the sweep with a 16-point win in Game 3.
It was title No. 3 for the franchise and for Bird, but it was the first for most of the squad (Natasha Howard won the 2016 title with Minnesota), including head coach Dan Hughes, who joined the Storm in Oct. 2017 after a one-year hiatus from the WNBA. The two-time Coach of the Year has coached more WNBA games than any coach in league history, but the championship had eluded him in his previous stops in Charlotte, Cleveland and San Antonio. He took over a talented Seattle team and pushed all the right buttons to lead them to the championship and was finally able to hoist the trophy with his players.
Whether it was team records, league records or reaching important benchmarks, the milestones came fast and furious for the Storm this season. Here’s a quick rundown:
– passed Tina Thompson (16,089) for most minutes played in WNBA history: 16,173
– passed DeLisha Milton-Jones (499) for most games played in WNBA history: 508
– passed Tamika Catchings (10) for most All-Star selections: 11
– passed Tamika Catchings (197) for most All-Star minutes played: 211
– passed Lauren Jackson (6,007) for most points in Storm franchise history: 6,154
– passed Becky Hammon (829) for 3rd most 3-pointers made in WNBA history: 855
– passed Jia Perkins (635) for 5th most steals in WNBA history: 652
– became 8th player in WNBA history to eclipse 6,000 points; has grown to nine players since
– only player in league history with 6,000 points and 2,000 assists
– broke Lauren Jackson’s (739 in 2007) franchise record for points in a single season: 742
– broke Lauren Jackson’s (258 in 2007) franchise record for field goals made in a single season: 270
– broke her own single-season record (21 in 2017) for 20+ point games in a season: 22
– became 4th-fastest and 2nd-youngest player in WNBA history to reach 2,000 points
– broke WNBA record (16, Phoenix in 2007) for most 3-pointers in a single game: 17
– broke WNBA record (283, Phoenix in 2007) for most 3-pointers in a single season: 307
Highlight Reel Plays
The Storm had plenty of highlight plays throughout the year, but two of the biggest can be seen in this year’s top 10 plays of the regular season as Natasha Howard shows off her defensive prowess and Sue Bird proves that she has eyes in the back of her head.
Best Off-Court Moment
After winning the title on the road, the Storm headed back to Seattle to celebrate with their fans through the streets of Downtown Seattle before having a rally back at KeyArena.
End Of Season Honors
The Storm’s dominant regular season led to a slew of end of season honors, including the most prestigious individual award with Breanna Stewart being named Most Valuable Player in her third WNBA season. She is the second Storm player to win the award (Lauren Jackson is a three-time winner) after she finished in the top 10 in points (2nd, 21.8), rebounds (3rd, 8.4), blocks (7th, 1.44), steals (8th, 1.35), field goal percentage (10th, 52.9) and 3-point percentage (8th, 41.5).
Stewart was also named to the All-WNBA First Team for the first time in her career and was awarded Finals MVP after the Storm’s run to the championship. She became the sixth player to win both regular season and Finals MVP in the same season.
But Stewart wasn’t the only one that earned some hardware in 2018. Natasha Howard, who joined the Storm during the offseason in a trade with Minnesota, would earn Most Improved Player honors after posting career-best numbers across the board. Howard was also named to the All-Defensive First Team as she anchored the Storm defense, which finished third in the league with a 98.7 defensive rating.
For the second straight season and third time in her career, Sue Bird won the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award, which recognizes the player who exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court, including ethical behavior, fair play and integrity.
Bird Joins Denver Nuggets Front Office
This offseason there have been a number of WNBA stars to take on new jobs around the NBA. There’s Kristi Toliver joining the Washington Wizards coaching staff as an assistant with player development; there is Candace Parker joining Turner Sports as an NBA commentator and analyst; and Sue Bird joining the Denver Nuggets front office as a basketball operations associate.
The apprenticeship will allow the 11-time WNBA All-Star to develop her off-the-court skills in basketball operations while offering the Nuggets a unique perspective as an active player working in the front office.
GIF of the Year
Untucked Kyrie, Hoodie Melo, Headband LeBron, Playoff Rondo … and Masked Bird.
Thanks to an inadvertent elbow from teammate Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird broke her nose for the fifth time during Game 4 of the semifinal series with Phoenix. While she was unable to return to that game, which the Storm lost to set up a winner-take-all Game 5, Bird not only vowed to play in Game 5, but she dominated down the stretch.
The masked point guard drained four 3-pointers in the final six minutes of the game as she scored 14 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Storm to a 94-84 win and a trip to the WNBA Finals. Bird wore the mask throughout the Finals as the Storm swept the Mystics to improve to 4-0 with Masked Bird.
New Year’s Resolution
Listen to this advice from Sue Bird, who discussed her journey back to the Finals prior to Game 1.
After a six-year gap between title No. 1 and No. 2 and an eight-year gap between title No. 2 and title No. 3, the Storm can’t expect to waltz back to the Finals in 2019. They will need to put in the same level of effort and discipline – or perhaps more – as they did in 2018 if they want to have a shot at defending their title.