In 2015, Sue Bird averaged 10.3 points per game while shooting just 38.4 percent overall and 30.1 percent from the three-point line – all the lowest marks of her first 13 seasons with the Storm. The previous season, her first after missing 2013 due to knee surgery, didn’t go much better.
The perennial All-Star and two-time champion simply wasn’t herself.
“She’s very aware, and that was her No. 1 priority in the offseason,” Storm coach Jenny Boucek said during training camp this past May. “We hope to see improvement.”
Bird, 35, had just signed a new multiyear deal with Seattle in the offseason. She was coming off her second straight year of not playing overseas during the winter, and the Storm’s staff had fine-tuned some aspects of her offseason training. The difference was noticeable: “She’s in as good of shape or better than anyone we have in camp,” Boucek said at the time.
But with the arrival of No. 1 pick Breanna Stewart – and fellow top pick Jewell Loyd likely to take her game to another level – it would’ve been reasonable to expect Bird’s role to diminish a tad this year. Maybe she wouldn’t average double figures for the first time in her storied career.
Instead, Bird’s workload increased, and she enjoyed one of her very best seasons.
The veteran point guard averaged a league-high 5.8 assists, ranked second in three-point shooting at a career-high 44.4 percent, and finished ninth in the MVP voting. Bird’s 44.9 percent from the field was the third-highest rate of her career. Her 196 total assists were the second most of her career. Bird’s 2.42 assist-to-turnover ratio was her best since 2010, and she recorded exactly one steal per game, her highest average since 2011.
As Bird increased her scoring output to 12.8 points per game – also a personal best since 2011 – the Storm had the second-highest scoring trio in the WNBA (Stewart, Loyd).
“It’s incredibly satisfying,” Bird said of her season. “For somebody my age, you’ve seen a lot, and you’ve had lots of ups and downs. And later in your career, you don’t know if the up is going to happen again. So to have that again was really enjoyable. Yes, I know I do the hard work, but there’s so many people that helped me get to this point. I’m so thankful for them, and I definitely couldn’t have done it without them. But it does feel good to be myself again.”
Bird attempted slightly more shots this year than in 2015, and her 162 three-pointers taken were the second most of her career. She was ultra consistent, rarely scoring 20 points yet reaching double figures almost every night.
It was the third season in which Bird won the assist title. As always, she threw a number of highlight-reel passes, including these no-look dimes.
Another notable stat from Bird’s season is that she didn’t miss a single game, playing 31.6 minutes per night in the process (eighth in the league). The Storm was significantly better with her on the floor: Bird finished fourth in the league in plus-minus.
While most WNBA players had a chance to rest during the month-long break, Bird was leading the United States to another Olympic gold medal. She played in four exhibitions and seven Olympic games in a four-week span. And on her quest to a fourth gold medal – no basketball player has more than her – Bird led the USA with 4.4 assists per game and posted an insane assist-to-turnover ratio of 7.8.
Whether it was stateside or in Brazil, Bird inspired teammates with her play in 2016.
“It was very cool to see that, because I’m getting older myself,” Noelle Quinn said with a smile. “It gives me hope that once you hit 30, you can still have a lot of success in this league. It’s rewarding to see the hard work she put in during the offseason come to fruition. She did an amazing job. I really admire that, and I’m happy that she had a great season.”
Of course, Bird was asked about retirement a number of times this year. She spoke at retirement ceremonies for two of her best friends – Lauren Jackson and Swin Cash – and watched as fellow legends such as Tamika Catchings and Penny Taylor also played their final games. Committed to finishing her career in Seattle, Bird has said she’s taking it one year at a time.
She might be nearing the end, but it’s clear Bird still has plenty of solid basketball left in her.
“Sue is one of the most decorated basketball players in the history of the game,” the Storm’s Alysha Clark said. “You wouldn’t know it if you were walking down the street. You wouldn’t know it if you were hanging out at her apartment. Who she is at her core makes it even sweeter to see what she was able to do on the court this year.”