2016 Provided ‘Glimpse of What’s to Come’ for Seattle Storm

Last week in Atlanta, the Storm had the lead for most of the night in its first playoff game since 2013, ultimately falling 94-85 to the Dream. It was a gut-wrenching way to end the season, a first-round defeat that will continue to sting until next summer.

When reflecting on the season, the Storm players admit they missed out on a golden opportunity. Seattle won seven of its final 10 regular-season games and felt confident heading into the playoffs. But the players also noted that getting back to the postseason was their main objective all along.

“Looking back at the year we had, you can’t be upset at it,” Breanna Stewart said. “It sucks to have lost so early like that when we had higher expectations and goals going into the playoffs. But when you look at the bigger picture – getting the franchise back on the right track and having the fan support – you can’t not be happy with that.

“Obviously the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we’re excited for what’s to come. Another year with the team is going to make a big difference.”

Continuity surely played a role in Seattle’s success this year. In 2015, Jenny Boucek started as head coach and half the players on the roster were in their first season with the team. Almost every single one was back for training camp this year, and after the Storm acquired Noelle Quinn and Krystal Thomas a month into the season, the only player remaining that hadn’t previously been on the team was Stewart.

Stewart had a phenomenal rookie season – it was announced Tuesday she finished sixth in the MVP voting – and several of her teammates showed vast improvement. After going 10-24 in 2015, the Storm improved its win total by six and jumped from 11th to 7th in the league standings this year.

According to the numbers, Seattle might have been even better than its record.

Per Basketball-Reference.com, the Storm ranked fifth in offensive rating and fourth in defensive rating. The only other teams in the top five of both categories were top seeds Minnesota and L.A. Seattle went 3-5 in games decided by four points or less, including a home loss to Washington in overtime and a loss at Connecticut on a buzzer-beater. Flip that record to 5-3, and the Storm would have finished tied for fourth.

“I think this year was a little bit of a glimpse of what’s to come,” Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “It’s only the beginning for us. We’re a really young team, and it’s a new group of people that are still trying to get used to each other. I think making the playoffs, and taking off after the Olympic break, shows that Storm fans have a lot to be excited about.”

Seattle finished among the league’s best in assists, three-point shooting and points allowed. After averaging 70.4 points per game in 2015, the Storm scored 80.8 per contest this year as Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird formed the second-highest scoring trio in the league.

Attendance at KeyArena also rose this year. There were a handful of sellouts, including the night of Lauren Jackson’s jersey retirement ceremony, which Mosqueda-Lewis called “one of the coolest moments” of the season.

“Having all of those fans in the Key, and getting a feel for what it was like when she was playing, when Seattle basketball was in its prime, was incredible,” she said.

The demand was so high by the end of the season that the upper bowl at KeyArena was opened for the finale against Chicago. With help from its fans, the Storm won each of its final five home games.

“To see the turnout this year was incredible,” Bird said. “It really reminded me of previous Storm seasons where the fans knew we were headed towards that championship. There was that type of excitement.

“We went through a lot of ups and downs this year, and then came out on the other side and made that push to the playoffs. And that was our goal at the start of the season.”