The 2016 WNBA season is right around the corner, as teams are set to begin their training camps on Sunday. It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the Seattle Storm, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the upcoming season.
Here are the five biggest storylines surrounding the team heading into training camp.
Integrating Breanna Stewart
When asked how Stewart can help the Storm from day one, point guard Sue Bird alluded to her overall versatility on both offense and defense. Stewart, who shot 42.6 percent from three-point range as a senior at UConn, can certainly spread the floor and create driving lanes for teammates. It remains to be seen what position she’ll mainly play, but Stewart said on Thursday that she would feel comfortable out on the wing or in the post. At the defensive end, her ability to guard multiple positions gives Seattle the ability to switch more pick-and-rolls.
Stewart, the No. 1 pick in the draft, led UConn in points, rebounds and blocked shots last season. She was second on the team in assists with four per game. But as Storm head coach Jenny Boucek pointed out Thursday, “We’re not expecting her to do everything. We have a lot of really good pieces here, and I’m excited to see how she fits in with that.”
Sue Bird still going strong
When Bird signed a multi-year deal with the Storm in February, she called Seattle her home, saying the franchise has been incredibly supportive throughout her career. The 35-year-old point guard reiterated those statements at Thursday’s press conference: “I definitely want to finish my career here. That was pretty much the decision in signing my contract. And the fact that I have some talent next to me for the next couple years sounded pretty good too.”
Bird has already accomplished just about everything you can in one basketball career. Her résumé: two WNBA titles, second all-time in assists, ninth all-time in steals, three Olympic gold medals and two titles in overseas competition. She’s averaged double-figure points every year of her WNBA career. She’s third among active players with 13,373 minutes played. But approaching yet another training camp, Bird has shown no sign of retiring any time soon.
Building on stellar rookie campaigns
In 2015, Jewell Loyd became the first player in franchise history to win Rookie of the Year. She was second on the team with 10.7 points per game while shooting 41.1 percent from the field. Loyd didn’t attempt many three-pointers, going just 10-for-48 on the season from deep. Her improvement in year two will be a big factor in the Storm’s success.
Loyd wasn’t the only rookie to make an impact in 2015: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis averaged 5.8 points per game, while Ramu Tokashiki made 16 starts and scored 8.2 points per contest. Tokashiki’s 6.3 plus-minus rating was the best on the team among those who played 350 minutes.
Positional battles within roster
After drafting Stewart and guard Lexi Eaton Rydalch from BYU, Seattle has a roster of 19 heading into training camp. All 12 players from the end of last season are still with the team, and the roster will eventually be trimmed to that same number before opening night. With lots of new faces around and Monica Wright returning from injury, it will be an intriguing battle for the final few spots.
Year two of Jenny Boucek at the helm
The Storm made improvements in a few different areas after Boucek took over as head coach, namely on the defensive end. Seattle’s opponents scored just 7.1 fast break points per game last season, good for second in the WNBA. The Storm also allowed just 30.5 points in the paint on average, the fourth best mark in the league.
Seattle finished four games out of a playoff spot in 2015, and with the new postseason format of the top eight teams qualifying regardless of conference, it will be even more difficult to accomplish that goal this year. Boucek’s team will need to continue making strides in order to become a contender again.