By Seth Dahle
When it comes to the Seattle Storm, one almost immediately thinks back to the team’s ‘Big 3.’ The trio of Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd has certainly made several highlight reels this season with flashy assists, big-time finishes and ankle-breaking crossovers.
But as the WNBA continues to evolve with ever-growing athleticism and skillset, there’s one critical asset separating superstars that hasn’t changed – the ability to put the ball in the hoop on a consistent basis. And for the Storm, it’s not one of the ‘Big 3’ that opponents should look out for. First and foremost – it’s Crystal Langhorne.
Storm fans are highly familiar with the chorus of ‘Trumpets’ by Jason Derulo, a song that plays whenever Langhorne scores a bucket at KeyArena. It’s a cue that always needs to be on-call – simply because Langhorne has been deadly from the field. With a 67.5 percent shooting clip, Langhorne is second in the league behind Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles (68.1 percent), and the two players are on pace to make WNBA single-season history before all is said and done in 2017.
Should Langhorne and Fowles continue their blistering field goal percentages, they will both break the league’s single season field goal mark of 66.8 percent – set by Tamika Raymond (formerly Tamika Williams – a teammate of Bird at UCONN) in 2003 when Raymond played for the Minnesota Lynx.
Don’t be fooled, though – Langhorne isn’t focusing on the record. She’d rather concentrate on staying aggressive and playing within the offense.
“I try not to think about it too much,” said Langhorne. “I just try to focus on taking good shots. I don’t want to think, ‘Oh, I just missed a shot,’ or anything like that. I try to play my game, take whatever comes to me on offense and always be aggressive.”
Langhorne caught national attention when she shot 9-for-9 in on her way to a season-high 20 points in a 90-84 win over Atlanta on July 15. She booked a franchise record for the most makes without a miss, and head coach Jenny Boucek said after the game that Langhorne has a unique ability to assess Seattle’s efficiency on the offensive end – and it all started when she accepted herself as a role player.
“We don’t call many plays for Lang,” said Boucek. “It’s so different than what she’s grown up with, and for her to have the character to accept that, it just warms my heart that she’s getting some reward now for humbling herself and playing whatever role we need her to play. Now it’s coming back around to her. I just think that’s beautiful, and it says a lot about Lang and her character.”
Langhorne’s streak ultimately reached 21 straight makes in a span of four games between July 8-18, just missing Nneka Ogwumike’s league record of 23 set between June 7-14 of 2016.
At 59.6 percent (591-for-992), Langhorne is Seattle’s career leader in field goal percentage, and she’s well above Janell Burse – who is next in line at 48.9 percent (458-for-937).
According to Langhorne, it all comes back to the attention drawn by Seattle’s ‘Big 3.’
“I think that’s why my field goal percentage is so high,” said Langhorne. “So many other players get so much attention, and it allows me to get the ball in really good places or spots to score. Throughout my career, I’ve been pretty efficient, but I feel like now, teams focus on some of our other players. It allows me to score it in good spots on the floor.”
Langhorne’s efficiency on the offensive end comes as no surprise to WNBA coaches and scouts. While playing for the University of Maryland, she set school records for single-season field goal percentage (70.7 in 2006-07) and career field goal percentage (65.2 between 2005-08). Langhorne left Maryland holding three of the top five single-season shooting clip records, and her 70.7 percentage during her junior season currently ranks seventh all-time in NCAA Division I history.
“I actually think I played a different style in college,” said Langhorne. “I didn’t really leave the basket too much. I mean, a lot of my shots are still layups, but I never really shot jumpers in college. For the most part, I just try to be efficient.”
Prior to the start of the 2017 campaign, Langhorne commented on how she had worked on her shooting efficiency. Although it’s hard to improve from a 63 percent shooting clip from last season, which set a franchise record for the Storm, Langhorne has kept her word – moving that number up 4.5 percent.
“I just always work on my shooting, all the time. I’m a little more comfortable this year, too. Even though I shot well last year, I wasn’t as aggressive as shooter. I wanted to be more aggressive this year, because it’s only going to hurt the team if I didn’t shoot the ball.”
Langhorne has done more than just shoot lights out for the Storm. On top of 12.9 points per game (third highest on team), she hauls in 6.3 boards per game, and her 4.9 career defensive rebound per game average sits second all-time behind Lauren Jackson (5.5 average). Langhorne also needs just one more block to notch her 100th for her career.
“As a player, I think one of my strengths has always been to be efficient,” said Langhorne. “It’s a good thing. I don’t have to get a lot of shots in the offense, and I can still be effective. This is my 10th year in the league, and I know what I do well. It was more about playing to my strengths.”
Even when Seattle, as a team, appears to have an “off” night, the Storm can always rely on ‘Lang.’ In Seattle’s three poorest shooting outings of the season (in which the team shot below 40 percent), Langhorne still managed to fire at a 59.1 clip (13-for-22), and according to Boucek, that’s just the type of player she is.
“Lang is who she is,” said Boucek. “Consistency is her middle name. She’s done that since college.”
It’s no surprise that Langhorne has drilled her only two three-point attempts in the last two seasons (1-for-1 in 2016, 2017). One may refer to it as ‘Crystal clear’ vision or ‘Lang’s magic touch.’ Whatever it is, her offensive efficiency and shooting ability could ultimately be the difference maker for Seattle down the stretch as the Storm vies for its 13th playoff appearance.