On paper, the Seattle Storm knew they were title contenders entering this season. Sporting a lineup stacked with All-Stars and veteran playmakers, the Storm have not been shy about their championship aspirations. “Here in Seattle, we are in win-now mode,” assistant coach Ebony Hoffman told Winsidr. “We aren’t win later. We aren’t trying to wait for a draft. We are win right now!” However, the problem for the Storm this season is that their game on the court hasn’t played out exactly how they had envisioned, and their Jekyll-and-Hyde play has made it challenging to identify the root of their inconsistency.
At 7-5, Seattle currently stands at fifth in the standings following a road victory over Dallas. Looking for an example of how up-and-down the Storm’s season has been? Look no further than their last four games, during which they were blown out by Dallas and defeated by Connecticut before soundly defeating Atlanta and narrowly closing out Dallas. The Storm scored a season-low 51 points in their first meeting versus Dallas, and they followed that up by blowing a 13-point lead in their 93-86 loss to the Sun. “This is one of those games [where]it’s hard to pinpoint,” Sue Bird said after their loss to Connecticut. “It’s very similar to previous games. There’s spots [where]we look great and spots where we don’t.”
According to coaches and players, the primary issue hasn’t been inconsistent play from players but rather inconsistency of players in the lineup. Searching for answers after a defeat to Connecticut, 18-year veteran Sue Bird told reporters that she’s never experienced anything similar to this season: “I’m not joking. You know, I’ve had my fair share of experiences in this league: losing players, injuries, this-that. [But] the way covid has pulled people in and out, we find out on game day. These are real reasons. They’re not excuses. Given the push and pull of the first 10 games, again, the word I continue to come back to is encouraged. I’m not stressed. I’m not panicked about those things. We got a little bit of a late start, I guess.”
Below is a table of Storm players that have missed games thus far this season:
|Player Name||Games Missed||Reason|
|Mercedes Russell||8||Undisclosed non-basketball injury|
|Sue Bird||3||Health & safety protocols|
|Ezi Magbegor||3||Health & safety protocols|
|Stephanie Talbot||2||Health & safety protocols|
|Breanna Stewart||2||Health & safety protocols|
|Epiphanny Prince||2||Health & safety protocols|
In a piece by ESPN’s Alexa Philippou, Seattle coach Noelle Quinn spoke about the challenges her team has faced with so many players missing games. The sporadic movement of the Storm’s lineup, often mere hours before tip-off, was not the way they planned on opening the year. “This isn’t ideal, but it’s the time that we’re in,” Quinn said. “We’ve been through it before and know how to adjust to it.”
While roster inconsistency is not an issue specific to the Storm, it’s hard to argue the impact it has had on this team. Sue Bird was candid about how disruptions to the roster have affected their on-court success: “Having our full roster is very encouraging because we can finally start to build,” Bird said after the Storm’s matchup against the Sun. “For all of us, we can get more comfortable out there. I’m sure the coaching staff can plan ahead a little better. Covid’s just been such a B. Hopefully, it doesn’t affect anyone else. But I am encouraged that we can finally start to build with a full roster.”
Remember that we started this by mentioning how Seattle has been reminiscent of Jekyll and Hyde thus far this season? Let’s break down the statistics to confuse you even further about who this team really is 12 games into the year.
First, let’s take a look at what is working well for the Storm. Seattle currently ranks second in defensive rating (94.7), first in steals per game (9.2), and first in blocks per game (5.2). If the team has found consistency in one realm, it’s defense.
The Storm are flourishing on the defensive end behind the rise of Ezi Magbegor, who helped Stewart anchor the defense in the absence of Mercedes Russell. Magbegor is leading the league with 3.0 blocks per game, and the leaps she has taken in every statistical category have positively impacted the Storm.
In 2021, Ezi was used primarily as a reserve to spell Mercedes Russell, but she has taken control of Russell’s spot in the starting lineup this season. Magbegor told Winsidr earlier this season about how she has been working on growing her confidence off the court and expanded her game during her Australian pro season. Magbegor returned to Seattle after winning a title with the Melbourne Boomers and has let that confidence flow into every facet of her game. Compare Ezi’s 2021 stats with what she has produced this season:
|2021 stats||15.2 MPG||6.7 PPG||3.8 RPG||0.8 APG||0.6 SPG||0.9 BPG|
|2022 stats||29.0 MPG||12.1 PPG||6.9 RPG||1.6 APG||1.2 SPG||3.0 BPG|
While Magbegor looks to be an early season contender for Most Improved Player, it doesn’t hurt to play alongside one of the most skilled and versatile players in the world in Breanna Stewart. Stewie ranks in the top 15 in the league in seven statistical categories, including leading the league in points (21.4 PPG) and steals (2.5 SPG).
Stewart and Magbegor have missed a combined five out of 12 possible games for Seattle, however, and there’s no doubt the Storm can be more successful when they have their most dominant defenders and talented scorers on the court simultaneously.
Seattle’s last two games have been striking examples of the impact Stewart and Magbegor have when both are available. During the Storm’s victory over the Dream, Stewie and Ezi combined for 31 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocks, while the rest of the team contributed 41 points, 17 rebounds, and three blocks (it has to be stated that Jewell Loyd recorded 26 of those remaining 41 points). In the Storm’s victory over Dallas, Stewie and Magbegor combined for 45 points, 17 rebounds, and two blocks. The latter game saw the majority of Seattle’s roster scoring points and not only getting involved in the offense but also making huge defensive plays down the stretch to steal the win on the road.
Of course, we also have to look at what has gone bad for Seattle thus far this season. The obvious answer to this is the Storm’s unfortunate string of player absences due to injury and covid, but coach Quinn knows there is still a clear path to a championship if they stay the course. “The thing that I always think about when going through this adversity is I think Chicago was a blueprint,” Quinn lamented after Seattle’s loss to Connecticut. “They won a championship at 16-16. [We are] trying to not look at the record and panic by any means.”
Sure, the Storm are hoping that a healthy roster will allow more synchronicity with their lineups, but is that the solution for what has been a floundering offense? The Storm rank eighth in offensive rating (96.9), seventh in pace, eighth in effective field goal percentage, and 10th in rebounding (32.8 RPG). The Storm are hoping that a healthy roster with Mercedes returning can provide more rebounding, leading to fast-break chances and easier buckets to bring up their field goal percentage (currently 41.7 percent) and scoring (78.2 PPG, good for only ninth in the league).
It’s been challenging to know which Storm team you are going to get on a nightly basis. Will Seattle finally find the consistency and flow they have been missing thus far, or are we in store for a topsy-turvy season in Seattle? “The confidence in our locker room is still there. It hasn’t gone away,” Jewell Loyd told the media on Monday. “Despite the record, despite the losses, our goal is still the same: to win a championship.”