2015 Regular-Season Record: 10-24 (5th in Western Conference)
Postseason: Did Not Qualify
After stubbornly staying the course with an aging and oft-injured core under previous head coach and general manager Brian Agler, the Seattle Storm finally embraced their fate as a rebuilding team in 2015. A franchise that had recently featured such WNBA legends as Tina Thompson, Katie Smith, Lauren Jackson, and Sheryl Swoopes, this year it was all about the youngsters. Sue Bird, now in the twilight of her tremendous career, is the only remaining surefire hall-of-famer on this Storm roster.
In a way, it’s fitting. Bird has played for the Storm ever since being drafted by Seattle in 2002. The 8-time All-Star has generally been regarded as one of the best leaders in the WNBA, so it’s only right that the point guard now gets to pass the torch to the Storm’s next big thing: Notre Dame grad Jewell Loyd. She led all rookies in scoring in 2015 and showed a remarkable knack for both getting to the free throw line and knocking them down; her free throw percentage of 90.7% was good for 7th in the league (2nd– to Elena Delle Donne-among players who attempted at least 100 free throws). Her month-by-month improvement was very noticeable, and by September Loyd had taken over as the Storm’s go-to option on offense. Predictably, this cumulated in the gifted athlete taking home the WNBA’s 2015 Rookie of the Year award, and Loyd projects to be a star in this league sooner rather than later.
Seattle’s rebuilding effort isn’t a one-woman show, though. It’s been given a boost by UConn product Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (who was drafted with a lottery pick acquired in a preseason trade with the Sun) and Japanese import Ramu Tokashiki, both of whom look to be playing alongside Loyd for years to come.
If that’s not enough, they won the lottery again, too…and most of us have a pretty good idea of what they’re going to do with that pick.
Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Storm went through the expected growing pains of a young team in 2015. In particular, they were undersized up front; the 6’2” Crystal Langhorne played most of her minutes as the team’s starting center after the 6’5” Angel Robinson was unable to report to the team due to overseas commitments and the 6’6” Walteia Rolle and 6’7” Vicky McIntyre were both cut during training camp.
As a result, the Storm’s offensive rebounding rate was by far the worst in the league, and they allowed a league-high 1.24 points per shot at the rim to opposing teams. Needless to say, it’s difficult to win many games when you’re constantly being out-muscled in the paint, and Seattle’s 10-24 record was their worst going all the way back to 2001.
Biggest Need Heading into 2016: Experience
After the 2016 draft, the Storm will, in all likelihood, already have the core of their future put together. The key for Jenny Boucek and company will be to continue developing it, while (of course) avoiding any devastating injuries.
A big part of this is surrounding that core with veterans that not only complement their games, but can also lead the way during the growth process. Bird has one year left in her for sure (she wants to play in the Rio Olympics), but her status after that is up in the air; some speculate whether or not she’ll even be with the Storm for the entirety of next season. Langhorne’s status as a free agent is also in question, as she’ll be one of the most coveted players on the market when that phase of the offseason begins in 2016.
Some more players like Alysha Clark would be beneficial. One of the league’s most versatile and underrated players, Clark transformed both her game and her role to keep a spot in the WNBA, and she (along with other veterans like Abby Bishop and Jenna O’Hea) were integral to the Storm’s glut of leadership in 2015.
The problem is that more competitive teams are always looking for the services of such players, and the idea of playing for a team that isn’t likely to win a championship heading into the season isn’t one that will appeal to many.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, playing alongside the future All-Star tandem of Loyd and whoever is drafted at #1 (OK, I’ll just say it: Breanna Stewart) is going to be a lot of fun for those on the Storm’s roster next season. They’re going to need a force in the middle who’s not afraid to throw her weight around, as well as a guard other than Bird to get them the basketball and a defensive-minded wing to take the pressure off them defensively.
Make no mistake about it, though: Seattle is already well ahead of schedule on their way to becoming a WNBA powerhouse again. They’ll already have plenty of superstar potential in 2016…but just how quickly can it be unlocked?