Seattle’s Championship Depth

True depth is a luxury few teams in the W have. Sure, we are seeing more talent than ever competing for those 11 or 12 roster spots, and plenty of quality players are being left off rosters. But when it comes to veteran, championship-level experience, that can be a rare find. In Seattle, head coach Noelle Quinn has assembled what appears on paper to be a deadly combination of experience and talent. Melding together a core group who have already achieved greatness with fresh faces who are eager to prove their value, the Storm feel primed to utilize that depth and end this season back on top of the WNBA. 


Standing at the free-throw line while up five, Gabby Williams misses the second of two free throws and gradually walks backwards away from the charity stripe. The opposing team grabs the rebound and heaves the ball in desperation as the buzzer sounds, but it doesn’t matter to Williams and her teammates. An exuberant Williams falls to the floor and is tackled by her teammate Briann January as Sopron Basket win the EuroLeague Championship. Now that they are playing together in the WNBA, the Storm are hoping for an encore of Williams’ and January’s championship heroics. 

“They know we won a championship, and they were watching,” January declares when asked if her new Storm teammates brought up their overseas achievement in anticipation for the 2022 campaign. With EuroLeague being the premier league for basketball players outside of the WNBA, winning a championship with Sopron was no small feat, especially considering they beat a Fenerbahçe Safiport team that was also loaded with WNBA players. 

It’s evident when speaking with Williams and January that the bond they formed overseas runs deep, which is a sight that is sure to excite Storm fans. January, who has announced that this will be her last season playing in the WNBA, knows the unique intangibles that she and Williams bring to the roster: “From the day we got here, they were like, ‘We brought in some dogs!’ Gabby and I, we bring a toughness. We play tough-nose basketball. We are physical. We lock down on defense, but we can also play both sides of the floor, and I think that’s going to let this team do what they do.” 

January lived up to her hype as a defensive juggernaut in the Storm’s game against the Phoenix Mercury on May 11, during which her tenacity guarding Diana Taurasi resulted in the pair earning double technicals after several heated exchanges. This grit and relentlessness on ball pressure is a stat that goes beyond the box score, and it’s clear when watching January on the court that the disruption she causes on defense not only gives her teammates more chances but also prompts them to step up their defensive intensity. 

Williams and January are both privy to the comments that have been made about their games, especially on the defensive end, during their respective careers. The players know their games well and have a hunch as to why they believe they were brought to Seattle. “I think we both do things that other players hate doing! That’s kind of what our job is: to clean up. We’re the ones who are going to get that stop, get that rebound, get physical,” Williams shared.

The term “Swiss Army knife” is commonly used to describe Gabby Williams, as she can bring the ball up one possession and post up the next. Williams, who was voted the EuroLeague Final Four MVP, is playing in the 2022 season after sitting out last WNBA season due to French national team commitments. After winning a bronze medal at the 2021 Olympics during her time away from the WNBA, Williams finally feels that she has a better grasp on who she is as a player: “Of course, being a Swiss Army knife has helped me in a lot of aspects. I’ve got to learn how to handle the ball, learn how to post up, all these things, plus defend. But I’ve never been able to excel at one position, so now that I’ve been able to play the two-three overseas, offensively I just feel so much more confident and comfortable taking those open jumpers.” 

Coach Quinn suggested after Seattle’s loss in Phoenix on May 11 that Gabby’s defense is always stellar, but it has taken her a couple games to get familiar and settled in the offensive schemes the Storm like to run. There’s no pressure or pause in Quinn’s voice though. The Storm know what Williams is capable of and that it’s only a matter of time before her offense starts to flow. “I think she just has to remain aggressive [because]she’s getting her looks from a variety of different ways: off the dribble, posting up, I think she’s best in space,” Quinn remarked. “It’s early, so it’s an adjustment period for her too. But I like the aggressiveness. Hopefully, she will turn the corner in getting more comfortable in our offense.”

 Seattle will also need to work on becoming more comfortable as a team, and the first game of the season provided a great opportunity for the Storm to develop trust and unity. In the first half of their home opener, the Storm went to the break tied with Minnesota at 41. Those first two quarters featured five turnovers, a rebound margin of 25-19 favoring the Lynx, and open shots that were uncharacteristically missed. Having no panic in the locker room, veteran leaders Sue Bird and Jantel Lavender were quick to reassure their teammates that these were first game jitters and remind them to stay the course. In fact, the Storm didn’t feel they had played a bad first half at all, but they knew they had another gear to shift into during the second. After halftime, the Storm promptly found this new gear and were able to secure the win. “Last year was trying to keep one of the Big Three on the court at all times, “ head coach Quinn lamented post game, “but I feel so confident in this group. The balance of our team and our depth is so important.” 

This balance was tested immediately as it was announced May 11 that Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince entered into the league’s health and safety protocols. Additionally, center Mercedes Russell is out with an undisclosed non-basketball injury. With three players absent from the roster, Seattle picked up Raina Perez and Kaela Davis on hardship waivers. On Monday, Prince was cleared to play again, leading to the release of Perez. “We have depth in our second unit, so it helps to not overtax Stewie, Jewell, and Sue. Next women up mentality,” said Quinn. 

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With Russell unavailable, center Ezi Magbegor is one of those players stepping up.  She won a championship overseas with her Australian basketball club, the Melboune Boomers, this offseason. Magbegor, coming off that high, shared,  “I do feel like whenever you win a championship, it brings a little confidence, and I think that’s something that Noelle and the team want me to bring, to be certain of my place on this team.” Moving into the starting lineup to begin 2022,  Magbegor’s place as one of the franchise’s future stars seems certain. 

After seeing limited action in her first two campaigns, Magbegor looks primed for a breakout season. The 6’4” Aussie sensation has been put through a gauntlet of defensive assignments thus far, facing Sylvia Fowles, A’ja Wilson, and Tina Charles in consecutive games. It was during Seattle’s opening night victory, however, when Ezi’s energy on both ends of the floor caught the attention of her head coach. Noelle Quinn described a breakaway steal and fast break by Magbegor as the catalyst for the 34-14 third quarter that helped the Storm cement their first victory of the season. 

After spending the last two seasons learning her role, Ezi knew it was just a matter of time and showcasing her talents to prove the progress she’s made: “That aggression and confidence is something that I’ve been working on, obviously working on my perimeter game as well. Shooting from the outside, I think that’s important for the growth of my game. For me, it’s just confidence. I work on that away from practice just so I’ll be able to take those [big]shots in practice or games.” 

The aforementioned Jantel Lavender was also brought in this offseason to provide frontcourt depth. Lavender, a WNBA All-Star, won a championship in 2016 with the LA Sparks and is yet another player who adds important value beyond the stat line. She has been asked to step up to begin the season due to the absence of Russell. A 10-year veteran, Lavender’s numbers aren’t eye popping thus far, but Noelle Quinn is quick to point out the asset Lavender is to their team: “[Jantel] is the vet, the muscle, the grit that we need. She knows her game and plays within herself, and now we are trying to fit her within our system. ”

It’s no secret that the Storm are in “win-now” mode in 2022. This offseason, they re-signed both Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird to one year deals, and the general consensus is that we might be watching Bird’s swan song in the WNBA. Adding veteran depth and championship-level experience, the Storm believe they have the right pieces to bring the WNBA championship back to Seattle for a fifth time. “Championship mentality is showing up every game trying to win it, so that’s what we are going to do,” January declared. “Hopefully, we can give them [the Storm]what’s needed to get over the hump.” 

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