By Seth Dahle
The last time the Seattle Storm started 4-1 was in 2010 – a year in which the team went on to finish 28-6 and clinch its second WNBA title in franchise history.
The Storm’s roster that season featured depth and a balanced offensive attack, which are also clearly visible on this year’s team. And while it’s still early, that squad also had Sue Bird, who already has 24 assists in three games.
Seattle’s 4-1 start has been anchored by a quartet of consecutive wins at home, including a sweep over Indiana and come-from-behind thriller over New York. Jewell Loyd has paced the Storm’s offense thus far, scoring at least 25 points in each of the first three games and averaging 21.4 per contest on 55.2 percent shooting.
Loyd’s current offensive stats are similar to that of Lauren Jackson’s 2010 season, when the eight-time All-Star totaled 20.5 points per game and was named MVP of the league and All-WNBA First Team.
Both Crystal Langhorne and Breanna Stewart have also been big, averaging over 13 points per game. Langhorne has shot a deadly 66.7 percent from the floor, while Stewart leads the team in rebounding (8.3 RPG) and blocked shots (1.8 BPG).
Stewart said that while the strong start is promising, the team is keeping things in perspective.
“We’re taking things one game at a time and focus on that,” said Stewart. “You want to have a strong season as a whole, not just the start.”
Whether it’s Loyd tearing up opponents with flashy crossovers, Stewart drilling critical buckets down the stretch or Bird making bullet passes to slashers such as Alysha Clark and Langhorne, it’s clear that the Storm’s identify has been established.
Head coach Jenny Boucek said anyone is capable of exploding on any given night.
Need good examples? Just look at Clark’s 22-point effort against Indiana in a game where she started 9-for-9 from the field. That performance came after Sami Whitcomb erupted for 22 points, including six three’s, during 15 minutes of action in the second half against New York.
“I think our identity is a team that is very smart, sound and tough defensively,” said Boucek. “This team, if I had to say any one word right now, is connected. Having everybody back, we’re now on the road to clicking the way we want to click, smoothing things out and playing the way we want to play.”
Boucek also commented that much of the offensive success is due to having “humble superstars.”
“This offense doesn’t work if you have stars that have to get their stats,” said Boucek. “Last game, our ‘big three’ had 18 assists. None of them had a huge scoring game, but those 18 assists between the three of them are special. When you have star players that are great teammates, move the ball and facilitate, it’s fun for everybody.”
After dropping its season opener to Los Angeles without the help of either Bird or Stewart, Seattle has proceeded to average 87.3 points per game in its last four wins. Los Angeles currently leads the league in scoring with 85 points per game, but the Storm has clearly been a different squad since the return of Stewart and Bird.
The Storm coughed up 43 turnovers in its first two contests before averaging only 12.3 in its last three wins. Much of that is credited to having Bird, who in her 16th season is currently second in the league in dimes with eight per game.
“There’s nobody that’s been better, in either men’s or women’s basketball, at calming a team,” said Boucek on Bird’s presence. “All of the sudden everything we’ve been talking about makes sense, and everybody just exhales.”
In the home opener on May 14, Loyd tallied a season-high 27 points in an 87-82 win over Indiana, and the Storm followed that up with a 10-point (81-71) victory against Washington to move above .500 for the first time since June 6, 2015.
The Storm rode that momentum to pick up two wins last weekend over New York (87-81) and Indiana (94-70). Whitcomb’s 22-point performance highlighted a 10-point comeback against the Liberty, and the Storm went on to tie a franchise record (61.4) for the best single-game field goal percentage in the 24-point win over Indiana.
In the latest Associated Press (AP) Power Poll, Seattle jumped to second in front of Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York. On Saturday, Seattle will face perhaps its biggest challenge thus far, as the Storm hosts Minnesota for a 1-2 matchup at 6 p.m. PDT.
Even when Seattle isn’t at its best, the team is finding a way to win, and that should pay dividends down the stretch.
“It’s a good sign when you have a team that’s playing very far from their potential right now and still finding a way to get stuff done,” concluded Boucek. “That’s what I’m sensing about this group.”