By Seth Dahle
Five – that’s the magic number for the Seattle Storm in this year’s highly anticipated WNBA draft. In fact, the Storm has never picked fifth overall in the history of the draft. With so many talented prospects in the 2018 mix, the No. 5 selection is almost as valuable as the first, second or even third pick.
In 2016, Seattle became the first WNBA team to notch back-to-back Rookie of the Year honorees in Jewell Loyd (2015) and Breanna Stewart (2016), and the Storm has boasted many other first-year greats in the league.
Could there be another Rookie of the Year for the Storm on the horizon? If so, Seattle would tie Minnesota for the most (three) in league history.
In celebration of Seattle’s fifth overall pick, we broke down the top rookie campaigns in the Storm’s 18-year history.
Don’t mess with Lauren Jackson. No, it’s not because of her six technical fouls in her first 17 games as a rookie – but rather for her near-unstoppable presence in the paint and ability to hit treys on a consistent basis.
When Jackson was selected first overall by the Storm in 2001, then head coach Lin Dunn said she had to turn down “whole starting fives” from teams who were willing to wipe a clean slate for the Australian great. While stats are fun to look at, it was Jackson’s “toughness, competitiveness and long-term potential” that caught Dunn’s eye.
Jackson was everything Dunn imagined, and more. She posted season averages of 15.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game en route to being named a Western Conference All-Star. She scored 20 or more points five times, while also collecting four double-doubles and tallying 64 blocks as a rookie.
Despite finishing 10-22 during Jackson’s rookie season, Seattle certainly saw potential, and with the No. 1 overall pick in the following year’s draft, it was only a matter of time before two strangers were about to form one of the toughest and most unstoppable 1-2, guard-to-center tandems in WNBA history.
ROCKY TOP PUNCH
Let’s stay in 2001. The Storm, still fresh in the WNBA in its third season, nabbed a steal when it selected Semeka Randall in the second round as the 17th pick overall. Randall came to the Emerald City well-coached after playing for University of Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, the legendary coach who served as the face of women’s basketball until passing away in 2016. Randall knew how to win, compiling a collegiate record of 134-10 and helping the Lady Vols to a perfect 39-0 mark, as well as a national title, during her freshman season in 1997-98.
With that same competitive drive, Randall emerged in the WNBA as a stellar rookie in 2001, finishing second on the Storm in scoring with a career-best 9.4 points per game, including a season-high 28 vs. the Orlando Miracle on June 12, 2001. She registered 44 assists and 29 steals, while also giving the Storm a presence on the glass with 3.3 boards per contest (third on team). She started all but two games and played alongside Jackson, another rookie at the time, and the duo fused together to fuel the Storm’s building process.
Her four-year WNBA career included stops in Utah (2002) and San Antonio (2003-04), and she now currently serves as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Wright State, who competes in the Horizon League and most recently made a WNIT appearance in 2018.
Even as a rookie, Sue Bird gave Storm fans early indications that she would become an iconic franchise player and the greatest point guard the game has ever seen. Add her skills to a rising superstar in Jackson, and voila! A championship-caliber team was born. Fast-forward two titles (2004, 2010) and 16 years later, and the former UCONN standout is still putting up numbers that show no signs of slowing down.
Seattle relied heavily on Bird early on, starting her in all 32 games. Bird certainly delivered, averaging 14.4 points and six assists in 35 minutes per contest. She was deadly at the line, nailing 91.1 percent of her free throws, and was almost as automatic from beyond the arc, going 57-for-142 from deep. At the time, Bird broke nearly every Storm rookie record, including points (461) and assists (191) in a season. She still holds the top single-season marks for dimes, steals (55) and three’s made (57), as well as the single-game record for assists with 12.
Bird, whose career-high for points still holds at 33 vs. the Portland Fire on Aug. 9, 2002, was ultimately named All-WNBA First Team and notched a starting role on the Western Conference All-Star Team en route to leading the Storm to its first playoff appearance and winning season in franchise history.
Illinois native Jewell Loyd made headlines in April of 2015 when she declared early entry into the WNBA draft, forgoing her senior year at Notre Dame. During her college career, Loyd was a dominant force for the Fighting Irish, leading them to the Final Four each year, including a National Championship appearance in 2015. She registered career stats of 1,909 points and 273 assists en route to being named ACC Player of the Year and AP All-American First Team her junior campaign.
Just a couple weeks later, Loyd was snagged first overall in the WNBA draft, making Notre Dame the first school in history to produce lottery (top four) picks in four consecutive years (2012, Devereaux Peters to Minnesota; 2013, Skylar Diggins to Tulsa; 2014, Kayla McBride to San Antonio – all with the No. 3 overall selection). She made an immediate impact for the Storm, averaging 10.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per contest while shooting 90.4 percent (104-for-115) from the charity stripe.
Loyd was ultimately named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2015 – the first in franchise history for the Storm.
How about this for a rookie season synopsis? Fourteen franchise rookie records (yep, 1-4), four Rookie of the Month awards (a clean sweep for the season) and a Rookie of the Year accolade to cap the year.
That’s the kind of season it was for Stewart, who set the rookie benchmark to unprecedented standards in 2016.
When ‘Stewie’ entered the league as the top pick in the 2016 draft, she brought with her high expectations after winning four national titles at UCONN, as well as a quartet of Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards. Those expectations were definitely met, and exceeded, as she led the Storm to a playoff appearance and posted a career-high 38 points on 12-for-16 shooting vs. Atlanta on June 28, 2016. That 38-point performance was also the third-highest scoring output by a rookie in WNBA history (40, Candace Parker in 2008; 39, Odyssey Sims in 2014).
While rookie averages of 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds are certainly impressive, Stewie did more than just score. She totaled 114 assists, 64 blocks and 42 steals. She led the WNBA in defensive rebounding (8.1 per game) and broke Lisa Leslie’s single-season record with 277.
It’s no surprise she was named the league’s Rookie of the Year by a near-unanimous vote (38 of 39 votes) – making Seattle the first WNBA team to produce back-to-back Rookie of the Year honorees. Stewie garnered All-WNBA Second Team and All-Defensive Second Team accolades, and she was also recognized as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.
Other notable Storm rookie seasons: Tanisha Wright (2005), Sami Whitcomb (2017), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (2015), Shekinna Stricklen (2012), Ramu Tokashiki (2015)