By Cal Barash-David
A logical person sees ascendance and expects a plateau. After all, life instructs us that growth should level out. In sports especially, ascendance is often meteoric – shining brightly and then coming down to earth, if not flaring out.
But to trace the trajectory of Jewell Loyd’s basketball career requires some suspension of logic. Since she stepped onto the court at Notre Dame as a freshman, Loyd has pushed herself climb to new heights with each passing moment.
Now more than ever, Loyd’s performance on the court deserves recognition, and she is proving that she deserves a spot in the All-Star Game in Seattle July 22nd.
Loyd entered the league with an extensive collection of accolades from her three years at Notre Dame. She was named a two-time consensus All-American, two-time ACC tournament MVP, ACC player of the year and ESPNW National Player of the Year among others in her three-year collegiate career. With these accomplishments came considerable expectations when Loyd was drafted No. 1 overall by the Storm in 2015.
She would not disappoint. Loyd burst onto the scene and averaged 10.7 points, 3.5 boards and 1.9 assists in her rookie campaign for the Storm. She increased her scoring average in every month of her first WNBA season, eventually garnering Rookie of the Year honors by the end of the season – the first Storm player to ever receive the award.
In her second year, Loyd’s scoring ballooned to a 16.5 point per game average – a 5.8 point jump from the year prior – solidifying herself as a problem for the rest of the league.
Now in her third season, Loyd yet improves and impresses. Averaging 16.9 points per game, good for tenth in the league, Loyd is showing that her scoring ability was no stroke of beginner’s luck. Rather, her shooting stroke spells a 42.6 percent clip from the field this year, and she has proven herself as a prolific scorer at the highest level.
When she scores, she scores in bunches, occasionally unleashing offensive onslaughts to push the Storm to victory. Loyd has scored 25 or more points in five contests this year – as many such games as Diana Taurasi, Elena Delle Donne and Maya Moore combined. Loyd has recorded 25-plus points 11 times in her first two-and-a-half years in the league.
Sue Bird, Loyd’s teammate and mentor, said that her scoring ability is in large part due to her knowledge of the game.
“She came into the season just really consistent, really picking her spots, knowing exactly where she wanted to get on the floor (and) exactly what she was going to do when she got there,” said Bird.
Loyd is the only player in the league to average more than 16 points and three assists per game while shooting 90 percent or better from the free throw line.
In addition to her impressive scoring numbers, Loyd possesses athletic ability and intangible attributes that make her one of the most exciting competitors in the league. Loyd has vertical leap of 28.5 inches, and at just 5-foot-10, she can dunk a tennis ball.
“She’s one of the most athletic players in this league,” said teammate Breanna Stewart. “She can just be all over the place, whether it’s shooting guard or multiple positions. And then at the same time, offensively, making plays that you don’t see women’s basketball players make.”
Loyd has a killer instinct on the court, and she has earned the nickname “Gold Mamba” – a nod to her alma mater’s colors, and the resemblance of her game and attitude to NBA legend Kobe Bryant – “ The Black Mamba,” a mentor of hers with whom she trains in the offseason.
Stewart sees this competitive edge in Loyd’s game.
“She’s an ultra-competitor,” said Stewart. “She wants to go out and just be on the attack for the whole forty minutes.”
For the last two-and-a-half years, Loyd has lit up the WNBA, and on any given night she’s liable to pour in an abundance of buckets.
“She’s a player that than create,” added Bird. “She can create her own and she can create for others. And that’s special, not many people can do that.”
If that’s not worthy of an All-Star Game bid, I don’t know what is.
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