The Seattle Storm have been on a tear so far this season, posting a record of 10-2 thus far. There has been no shortage of highlight-worthy plays, whether it’s a no-look pass from Sue Bird, a monster block from Breanna Stewart or that incredible game-winner from Jewell Loyd.
— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) June 5, 2021
Things are looking good for the Storm, especially since they’ve started to address one glaring problem: the play from everyone except those three names had been inconsistent up until Seattle’s latest road trip. Seattle’s trio of stars are some of the most talented in the league, but their teammates’ contributions in the last three games have pushed the Storm to a new level.
The Personnel Merry-Go-Round
The start of the season has been tough for many teams as they deal with players returning to the U.S. late because of their international commitments. Seattle dealt with this as well as veterans Epiphanny Prince and Mercedes Russell were late additions to the roster. Right as they returned, offseason trade acquisition Katie Lou Samuelson left the team to play for USA Basketball in the 3×3 Olympic qualifiers. In addition to current squad members leaving and returning to the Storm throughout the start of this season, Seattle also only had seven players from its 2020 team return this year. This merry-go-round of personnel was bound to create some issues with getting every team member on the same page.
Personnel changes have gone beyond the players as head coach Dan Hughes retired abruptly on May 30, elevating previous assistant coach Noelle Quinn into the head coaching seat.
These changes to Seattle’s crew could be why Seattle’s players outside of the “Big Three” were struggling with consistency, but what separates good teams from great teams is the ability to take adversity in stride.
Stewie, Loyd, and Bird are fantastic players and are understandably the focus for the Storm. But what happens when one or two of them inevitably have a bad game? In Seattle’s first loss of the season to the Las Vegas Aces, Sue Bird wasn’t able to score any points, going 0-of-2 from the field. With Sue successfully shut down by Vegas, no one from the supporting cast was able to pick up the slack. Seattle fans would have hoped that a defensive scheme that focused on Bird would open up opportunities elsewhere, but no player was able to exploit them.
In the latest matchup against the Minnesota Lynx, the starters carved out a big lead, heading into the fourth quarter up 82-53 with 8:32 left on the clock. With the security of the large lead, former coach Dan Hughes let the Big Three rest, and the Storm did not score again in the game. That’s right, over eight minutes without scoring a single point. In that span, the Lynx scored 19 points to come back and make the final score a mere ten-point difference at 82-72. The Storm still got the win, but the momentum was completely lost after the starters left the game. The supporting cast looked disjointed. Teams need to be able to depend on their reserves to close out games whether they are blowouts or not.
In their most recent loss to the Dallas Wings, the bench problems continued. Jewell Loyd had a great game, chipping in 25 points, while Stewie and Bird had 14 and 13 points, respectively. Every other Seattle player scored less than five points. The Storm also had 11 turnovers in that game—two were attributed to Bird, while the other nine were spread amongst players outside of the Big Three.
Through the first nine games of the season, the Storm were struggling mightily outside of Jewell, Sue and Breanna. Seattle is outscored by a large margin if the Big Three aren’t on the floor. The trio of stars also account for 57.7% of Seattle’s scoring and 56.6% of the team’s assists. But the Storm’s supporting cast are starting to turn things around on the road for their five-game stretch against Atlanta, Connecticut and Indiana.
Righting the Ship
Compared to their previous games this season, the Storm looked almost like a different team against the Atlanta Dream, closing out a 95-71 win in their first matchup. The game was close through three quarters and the Storm were only up by eight points heading into the fourth. A flurry of scoring from Stephanie Talbot helped the Storm pull ahead to cement the game. Talbot poured in 13 points in the fourth quarter, hitting shots from everywhere. Seattle had five other players hit double figures during the game, including Mercedes Russell (11 points) and Katie Lou Samuelson (10 points).
In the postgame media session, head coach Noelle Quinn said, “The bench brought great energy—we were able to separate because of them … something we hadn’t had in a couple of games.” Quinn and Talbot both noted that the bench play had been a subject of discussion in their previous practices, and Quinn was happy to see that the reserves contributed 30 points in the win against Atlanta.
The chemistry and support continued in the Storm’s second matchup against the Atlanta Dream. The game was similar to their earlier bout—Atlanta hung around for most of the game before the Storm ran away with it in the fourth quarter, sealing an 86-75 win. Epiphanny Prince had a great performance off the bench, chipping in 11 points.
The Storm then travelled up to Connecticut to take on the Sun, who were playing their first game without MVP-frontrunner Jonquel Jones as she recently left to compete in EuroBasket. It was an impressive performance for Seattle, stealing a 89-66 win on the road. The whole Storm roster pitched in for this one as even rookie Kiana Williams scored her first points in the WNBA. Every single player scored, and all but two players had at least one assist. The ball movement was incredible and the chemistry looked solid.
— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) June 13, 2021
Although their record shows that the Storm can eke out wins with just Stewie, Jewell and Sue controlling the game, the team looks like they are on a completely different level when the other team members are able to contribute to the box score. As the season continues and rest time dwindles, the stars will need help if they want to compete for another title. If the Storm can sustain the strong performances and play that they showed against Atlanta and Connecticut, they will be an even scarier matchup for every team in the league.