The Seattle Storm have had an overall underwhelming season following their championship run of 2018. With one game to play, the defending champs sit in the 7th seed in the playoff picture and are just one game above the .500 mark. However, Natasha Howard’s play has been a bright spot all year. Howard deserves a lot of credit for keeping this team in the playoff race, but she also deserves something else like an MVP trophy perhaps?
Stepping up without Sue or Stewie
Howard is averaging 17.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists this season, all of which are career highs. She is also averaging a career-high 2.1 steals and has made 31 shots from behind the arc. You guessed it, that’s a career high as well. Assuming she starts on Sunday for the regular season finale against Dallas, Howard will also have a career high in starts with 33.
After stops in Indiana and Minnesota, Howard has really come into her own in her second season with Seattle. So much so that Howard leads her team in nearly every offensive category, including minutes played, points and rebounds. Despite generally being regarded as a defense-first player, Howard has shown that she can drive an offense this year.
No one else on the Storm really comes close in any of Howard’s stats except for minutes played, where Howard is in the lead by just two minutes. Other than that, Howard has been the clear leader of this team, both in numbers and how the offense runs through her.
When Howard isn’t scoring in bunches, she is setting screens or grabbing boards. Many of the pick and roll options for the Storm are based off of the space she creates with picks. The ball is either dumped down low or kicked back out to someone like Sami Whitcomb. Seattle was also able to use Howard in different ways this year, spreading the floor and letting her fire from behind the arc.
Obviously, Howard was not meant to be the engine of this offense. Howard was forced into that role after Seattle lost both Sue Bird, who was recently ruled out for the season, and Breanna Stewart to start the year. Without those threats, Seattle needed Howard to elevate her game. She did just that by averaging more points, rebounds, assists and steals than ever before.
The case for Howard winning MVP
To me, Howard is the clear MVP.
Yes, I’m fully aware that Elena Delle Donne is averaging more points, the same rebounds and assists, and is shooting at a much higher clip. Delle Donne is probably having the better year and is arguably the better player between the two. However, the MVP doesn’t necessarily mean the best player.
MVP stands for “Most Valuable Player,” and when one searches the definition of valuable, they will find the word means, “something of great worth.” In my opinion, Howard has greater “worth” to her team than Delle Donne. The Mystics have seven players averaging 9 points or better, compared to the Storm’s four. Howard means more to her team than Delle Donne does.
That said, Delle Donne is obviously an important component to Washington. They probably wouldn’t be a number one seed without her. Without Howard, though, Seattle is not even a playoff team.
Seattle has nice players around Howard. But there’s no way around the fact that this team revolves around Howard. She is a model of consistency, averaging only 0.8 points more in wins than losses. The role players around Howard have nice nights here and there, but Howard brings it nearly every night.
Natasha Howard knew she was needed to step up for the defending champs this year, and she has more than delivered. Yes, Jordin Canada’s career high in steals and the team breaking the franchise record in steals deserves credit. So does the play of Sami Whitcomb and the coaching of Dan Hughes.
Above all, the reason that Seattle is defending their title in the playoffs is the play of Natasha Howard. From the opening tip this season, Howard has carried this team. If Seattle hopes to defend it’s crown, it will continue to have to rely heavily on Howard. She’s too valuable to this team for them to win any other way and that’s what makes her the 2019 WNBA MVP.