The perfect storm is brewing in Seattle. Since 2013, the Storm have missed the WNBA postseason, a rare occurence for a franchise made proud by three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson.
After parlaying those losing seasons into new centerpieces Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, playoff hopes are being revived in Seattle. As recent seasons would indicate, the Storm haven’t been fretting over championship aspirations, entering the season hoping Stewart and Loyd could flourish under the wings of veterans Sue Bird, Noelle Quinn and Crystal Langhorne, the only Storm players with at least eight years of experience.
Fortunately, inexperience hasn’t deterred Seattle in the least. Stewart, fresh from winning Olympic gold, has made an immediate impact both in Seattle and across the league, posting 18.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 35.1 minutes. She’s posted 38 points against playoff-contending Atlanta, sprinkling in duels against Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, and Candace Parker. Stewie hasn’t expedited her growth alone, though, with reigning Rookie of the Year Loyd jumping her scoring average by nearly seven points (10.7 to 17.0) and increasing her three-point efficiency by over 11 percent (20.8 to 31.4).
But the backbone of any postseason run is veteran leadership. Despite such a young roster, Seattle is well-equipped to make some postseason noise. Bird is the only remaining player from Seattle’s title runs in 2004 and 2010, recently aiding Team USA’s run to Olympic Gold in Rio. Since returning from Olympic Break, the 35-year old Bird has averaged 14.8 points, turning in maybe her finest performance this season with 23 points, five assists and two blocks vs. Atlanta on September 4th.
“Since we got back from the break, we’ve been in playoff mode where every game matters, and we’re trying to get in,” Storm coach Jenny Boucek explained after Seattle upended the East-leading New York Liberty. “We’re fighting to get better every game, and seeing where that leads us. We won’t have any regrets. I think this team is really enjoying playing together, and we don’t want the season to end.”
Given Seattle’s 4-2 mark since the break, with victories over New York and L.A., Boucek’s comments may qualify as an understatement. The Storm’s two losses were road defeats to the defending-champion Lynx and fellow playoff hopeful Chicago, led by 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne, the latter by only four points.
“Our players that were here over the break worked really hard,” Boucek continued. “I think they’re the ones that have established another level of grit, confidence and poise that our Olympians (Stewart, Bird) came back and integrated back into. When you have a young nucleus, the veterans you put around them are absolutely crucial. We’re very intentional and mindful of who those vets are. Everyone talks about Sue, and that’s legit, but people don’t talk about Alysha Clark, Krystal Thomas, Noelle Quinn, Jenna O’Hea, Abby Bishop and Crystal Langhorne. If they weren’t who they are, this team wouldn’t be thriving the way it has.”
When asked about the veteran leadership Seattle’s leaned on this season, Stewart echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“I think just coming in and adjusting as quickly as possible,” the rookie forward explained. “This is new to us, night in and night out, having to adapt to a different team, city and venue, and not worrying about the past.”
If Seattle continues its surge, observers will be forced to finally pay attention to the perfect storm brewing in green.