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Season In Review: Seattle Storm

As the end of 2020 draws near, WNBA.com is wrapping up this historic year by reviewing each team’s season. Take a look back at notable contributors and season highlights with the 2020 Season In Review. Next up: Your 2020 WNBA Champion Seattle Storm. 

Overview:

A year that culminated in a WNBA title is a clear mark of success. But building that team from the ground up over the years, particularly through draft picks and assemblage via acquisitions, is what’s perhaps most impressive about Seattle’s accomplishment. Looking at the names that don the Storm’s 2020 roster, it’s hard not to be impressed – Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Alysha Clark, Jordin Canada and Natasha Howard jump to the forefront. Bird and Stewart returned to the hardwood for the first time since the Storm’s 2018 championship, and most of the core from the 2018 team returned in 2020 as well.

Returning the core of a championship team was a luxury no other team had. Combine the Storm’s strong chemistry that’s been only further building since 2018 with a deep bench and they were poised for success from the start. Seattle finished first in assists (21.9), steals (10.0) and +/- rating (11.5). The Storm’s 87.5 PPG ranked second along with the team’s 8.4 3PM and 39.4% shooting from deep. Seattle’s success during the regular season secured them a top-two seed and double-bye to the semifinals. The Storm defeated the Lynx in three games to move on to the Finals where they defeated the Aces, again in just three games, to become the 2020 WNBA Champions.

Seattle’s bench was also a key ingredient to the team’s success.

“Our bench is very mature, and has always been ready to step up if need be,” guard Jewell Loyd said. “We’re lucky we have a solid core group to get it going and then we have players off the bench that can sustain it.

Seattle’s bench tied for first (with Las Vegas) in win percentage at 81.8%. When Bird sat out, Canada and Epiphanny Prince were there to step in. When Stewart and Howard were resting, Mercedes Russell, Ezi Magbegor and Crystal Langhorne held down the frontcourt.

Should much of the core return yet again, the Storm could add another ring to their collection in 2021.

Top Contributors:

Breanna Stewart

Breanna Stewart’s journey over the past two years is nothing short of impressive – albeit stricken with a major injury. After helping Seattle win the title in 2018, she ruptured her Achilles while playing overseas in April of 2019, and was forced to miss the entirety of that WNBA season.

“I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be back to where I was,” Stewart said. “But I wanted to be the best player in the world again. At first, it was all about the get back. I’ve done so much, but I can do so much more. That’s what’s motivating me.”

After suffering such a severe injury, her return went far beyond the expectations of most – and resulted in not only another WNBA title, but a Finals MVP award.

In her first game back on July 25, she dropped 18 points while adding in 8 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 assists. She ranked top-5 in the league for the season in scoring (19.7 PPG) and blocks (1.3 BPG) while leading Seattle in rebounds (8.3 RPG) and steals (T-1; 1.7 SPG). In Game 1 of the WNBA Finals against the Aces, she dropped 37 points and 15 rebounds – all the while she averaged 28.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG and shot 62.75 FG% during the Finals.

“What I’m the most proud of is just the fact that I think I’m better now than I was before,” Stewart said.

Despite the year off between titles, Stewie has only continued to add to her resume in her young career. She also was a member of the WNBA Social Justice Council and actively advocated for voter education and action. Stewart’s efforts ultimately led her to earn the 2020 SI Sportsperson of the Year award, an award that celebrated champions on and off the court.

Jewell Loyd

The Gold Mamba had another strong season and she especially shined in the Finals. Overall, Loyd sat second to Stewie in leading the Storm’s scoring efforts (15.5 PPG) while dishing out 3.2 APG. Her season was highlighted by a pair of 30-point games (35 PTS vs. IND on Aug. 20, 2020 and 30 PTS vs. LVA on Sept. 13, 2020) as well as a liberating game-winner against the Sparks back in September.

Loyd paid tribute to her late friend and mentor Kobe Bryant throughout the season, including wearing her golden Kobe’s which she dubbed “the finishers” after winning the WNBA Finals in the kicks. The guard, who wears No. 24, had the highest +/- of any player during playoffs – the Storm were +16.7 when she was on the floor.

Alysha Clark

Alysha Clark’s efforts may fly under the radar at times. She helps anchor the backcourt and was a unanimous selection to the WNBA All-Defensive First Team. AC, who wraps up her ninth WNBA season, helped the Storm rank second in points allowed per game (76.0). On the offensive end, she was third on the team in scoring, pitching in 10 PPG.

Sue Bird

Sue Bird turned 40 years old just 10 days after winning the title and still got plenty of buckets. Despite only playing in 11 games due to injury, she still averaged 9.8 PPG (4th on team) and 5.2 APG (2nd on team). On October 4, she dished out 16 assists in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.

She followed up that 16-assist showing with a 16-point, 10-assist double-double in Game 2 and eventually added a fourth ring to her collection.

Bird clearly knows what it takes to succeed in this league – particularly in the Storm organization, which drafted her 17 years ago.

“You have to buy in,” she said. “This is something that started probably five years ago. Jenny (Boucek) was our coach. We’d just drafted Jewell (Loyd). We were rebuilding. We talked about this even in 2018. It’s hard. You got to buy in.”

Season Highlights:

Storm Win 2020 WNBA Championship (& Stewie Named Finals MVP)

On October 6, the 2020 WNBA Champion was crowned. Seattle earned their second championship in three years after defeating the Aces, 92-59, in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. The Storm join Minnesota and Houston as the only franchises to win four championships. Seattle also becomes the first team in history to win 11 consecutive WNBA Finals games. (All of which Sue Bird has been a part of.)

Stewart earned her second WNBA Finals MVP after averaging 28.3 PPG on 62.7% shooting and an impressive 65% from deep. The 26-year old also set a WNBA record, scoring more than 20 points for six straight WNBA Finals games. On the defensive end, the 6-4 forward tallied 7.7 RPG and 1.7 BPG.

Stewart was not the only one to impress, though, as the 39-year-old Bird was still able to dish out 11 APG during the finals.

Jewell Loyd Hits Game-Winner at the Buzzer

Loyd’s nickname isn’t the Gold Mamba for nothing. She often comes up clutch down the stretch, and on Sept. 5 Loyd sunk the game-winning basket at the buzzer to lift Seattle past L.A.

The game was tied 82-82 in the final minutes. Clark found Stewart for an easy 2-points, while L.A. answered with four straight free throws. Stewart knocked down another bucket, but L.A. still held a 2-point advantage with less than a second left on the clock – 0.8 seconds to be exact.

The Storm had one last play. Loyd snuck away from her defender and popped to the far corner. Bird, who was inbounding the ball, quickly found Loyd and passed her the rock. Without hesitation, Loyd knocked down the fade-away three-pointer for the win. Seattle triumphed over their rival, 90-89.

Storm Hit WNBA Record-Tying 18 Threes

As if the Storm’s 2020 season wasn’t already impressive enough, the team knocked down 18 three-pointers on Aug. 12, tying a WNBA record (previously set by the Mystics almost a year prior).

Sami Whitcomb led the Storm with a career-high six 3PM. Loyd tallied four 3PM, while Bird knocked down three and Morgan Tuck added two. Clark, Stewart and Canada all added one a piece.

Storm Off To Franchise-Record Start

The Storm began the 2020 season red hot, with an 11-1 record, marking the best start in franchise history. Seattle dominated their first two matchups, before falling to the 2019 WNBA Champions, the Washington Mystics. The team bounced back quickly, taking off on a 9-game winning streak to finish the first half of the 2020 season atop the rankings.