Following a WNBA Championship in 2018, the Seattle Storm looked destined to repeat in 2019. That was, until a string of bad news hit the team before the season even tipped-off. Team leader Sue Bird was going to be out indefinitely – which ended up being the whole season – followed by the loss of MVP Breanna Stewart for the year.
Along with the loss of its two star players, Seattle also missed its head coach Dan Hughes for the first chunk of the season due to Hughes’ diagnosis of cancer. To say this team dealt with adversity is an understatement. The Seattle Storm was the most resilient team in the WNBA this year.
This team overcame these obstacles for a number of reasons. The main one being the elevation of forward and first-team member Natasha Howard. She was by far Seattle’s best player. Howard averaged 18.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, all team highs. She made the All-Star team, along with guard Jewell Loyd.
Howard’s All-Star teammate averaged 12.3 points, 2 assists and 1.3 steals for the year. Jordin Canada provided a defensive spark for the team by leading the league in steals per game (Natasha Howard ranked second). Canada also broke the Seattle record for most steals in a year by one player.
On the offensive side, guard Sami Whitcomb lit it up behind the arc, averaging 7.2 points per game and shooting 34 percent from deep. The 7.2 points are a career high, as well as the amount of three’s she made (68).
Only two other players averaged more than 7 points for Seattle: Mercedes Russell (7.5) and Alysha Clark (9.6). Seattle needed everyone to step up with the loss of it’s two stars. While everyone did step up, the season was still full of uncertainty from the get-go.
STARTING THE SEASON
Seattle started off the season at a mediocre 3-3, not really inspiring. That being said, Natasha Howard sent a message to the rest of the league after the opening night win against Phoenix: “Don’t doubt us.” That statement proved to be true as the Storm won five of their next seven games.
Of those five wins, three came against eventual playoff teams – including the eventual WNBA Champion Washington Mystics. Seattle showed that it wasn’t going to go down easily. It averaged 77.2 points in the wins during that stretch, showing its offensive capabilities. The next three games, all losses, proved to be a different story.
Seattle fell in three straight games at home, breaking the 80 point mark once. The Storm rebounded with winning the next four games, three of which were at home. In the four games, the offense came out to play, averaging 80.25 points. While the team was inconsistent, the Storm was off to an impressive 12-8. While that record might not seem impressive to the naked eye, you have to look deeper to see why their start was impressive.
Seattle was playing without the previously mentioned Bird and Stewart. But it also missed guard Jordin Canada for the first four games. The loss of Hughes at the bench is also important. While interim coach Gary Kloppenburg did a fine job, there’s just a certain chemistry that a head coach has with a team after winning a championship.
After the 12-8 start, Seattle fell into a habit of winning and losing games in streaks. It lost three in a row, then won two and lost two. On August 17th, the Storm sat at 14-13 and a playoff spot was in question. At the bare minimum, a first or second round bye was definitely in question.
HOME STRETCH, PLAYOFFS AND BEYOND
Seattle would stumble into the playoff by going 4-4 in the remaining eight games and end the season with an 18-16 record, which was good enough for a No. 6 seed. That meant a first round elimination game against the Minnesota Lynx, the 2017 WNBA Champions.
Seattle won that game at home 84-74. The second round contest was on the road against the Los Angeles Sparks. LA and Seattle played a tight first quarter, but other than that it was all LA, with the Sparks winning by the final 92-69.
In a season of inconsistencies, the Storm were resilient and made it further and played better than anyone would have thought after the injuries. Besides the injuries already mentioned, they were also down All-Star Jewell Loyd for some time. This Seattle team climbed the mountain in 2018 and was hungry for another climb in 2019. That didn’t come to fruition because the “injury bug” bit the team and bit the team bad.
However, this team – barring any injuries or unforeseen events, of course – is set up to win again in 2020. This is a franchise that knows how to win, and they have a team to do that. With Bird and Stewart returning to lead this team into battle, the WNBA better be on alert for the Seattle Storm in 2020.