One of the most intriguing teams through the first quarter of the historic 20th WNBA season is the Seattle Storm. Though their 6-9 record doesn’t scream contender and they’d be on the outside looking in if the playoffs were to start today, they have two of the top young prospects in the league right now.
First, there’s Breanna Stewart. The four-time NCAA champion and 2016 No. 1 pick has picked up right where she left off in her storied days at UConn. She’s the clear front-runner for the Rookie of the Year Award, but while Stewie has grabbed the headlines this season, her teammate Jewell Loyd is right there with her as a matchup nightmare each night.
Like Stewart, Loyd is a first overall pick and had a stellar collegiate career. Also, like the already anointed Connecticut star, Loyd made an immediate impact on a struggling Storm squad.
Seattle will certainly be quick to forget 2014 and ’15 thanks to their combined 22-46 record, but the improved play of Loyd is one reason 2016 could be a season the franchise looks back on as a turning point.
The clearest improvement Loyd has made to her game is in the scoring department. Although the 22-year-old did win Rookie of the Year last season, her 10.7 points per game weren’t nearly productive enough to announce her as a legitimate scoring threat.
This season, she’s seen that points per game average balloon to 16.6, the second-highest mark on the Storm, and ninth most in the WNBA as a whole. In a terrific three years at Notre Dame, Loyd averaged 17.0 points per game, so it was just a matter of time before she saw that kind of production translate to the pros. It looks like that time is now.
In a 95-81 win over the Diana Tarausi-ledPhoenix Mercury on June 3, Loyd’s career-high 32 points not only propelled her into the conversation of one of the top guards in the league, it also perfectly encapsulated the elite athleticism that Loyd possesses on the floor.
First, was an tip-in where Loyd contorted her body for the tough finish around Brittney Griner, one of the best blocking bigs in the game today.
The second is likely the play of the WNBA season thus far, and something that Storm fans could have on a running loop in their dreams at night.
Here are the top picks in the last two drafts running the break to idyllic perfection. Loyd accelerates away from the Mercury defenders, finds an on-pace Stewart with a crafty lob, who then returns the favor to Loyd for the acrobatic one-hand finish. Another look at the first of what likely will be a lengthy highlight reel from these two when it’s all said and done.
These are only a few of the plethora of top plays that Loyd has made this season. In addition to her career-high 16.6 points, she’s also dishing out a career-high 2.9 assists and snatching 3.9 rebounds per game.
There’s a lot of season left to play in Seattle and the reigning Rookie of the Year is intent on making the most of it. Loyd, along with Stewart and the ageless-wonder that is Sue Bird, form an intriguing combination of youthful exuberance and veteran adroitness.
Stewart may be the headliner, and Bird the face, but it’s Loyd that could be the catalyst that takes the Storm to the next level.