May 9, 2021 

How do the Seattle Storm evaluate preseason play?

With so many missing players this preseason, it's hard to know how to judge the Storm

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Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm shoots the ball against the Phoenix Mercury on September 11, 2020, at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages)

How much weight do teams put into performances in preseason games? This has been a common question for Seattle Storm Coach Dan Hughes during training camp.

While Hughes has not been entirely dismissive of these exhibitions, he has remained adamant he evaluates the entire picture. So, a contradicting player performance in a preseason game is unlikely to be a deciding factor in whether they do or don’t make the team. It sounds like what will carry more weight is a practice trend carrying into a game.

This brings us to Saturday’s 88-71 Seattle victory over Phoenix in the preseason opener. The Mercury had most of their team, but the Storm were mixing six players, including five rotation players. There won’t be many regular-season games without Breanna Stewart, Mikiah “Kiki” Herbert Harrigan, Mercedes Russell, or Katie Lou Samuelson.

Again, this brings into question how the Storm evaluates performances. Let’s use rookie Kitija Laksa as an example.

Hughes has said that Laksa has shown well offensively in practice. In Saturday’s contest, Laksa had 13 points in 13 minutes on 5-for-10 shooting. While pushing a shot per minute likely isn’t what the Storm will look to from her in the regular season, her scoring likely aligns with what the team has seen in practice.

Now, Hughes has also said the defensive end is where Laksa needs to get up to speed. This is not uncommon for a young player but having Stewart on the back line should help hide some of her liability on that end. For what it’s worth, the Storm were a plus-6 with Laksa on the floor on Saturday.

Laksa is among the young players Hughes has been positive about in training camp. Unlike other seasons, he has not had to slow down his practices too much for his young players. If young players like Laksa, Kiana Williams, and N’dea Jones are playing well, it means there will be some tough roster decisions ahead for Hughes.

Among the Storm’s biggest challenges this preseason is figuring out how all the new pieces fit, without having all their pieces. Losing Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard was always going to force the team to adapt. Integrating players into new roles without the ability to have those players present adds an extra layer of difficulty.

“We had a couple goals. We understand this is a preseason game, but we wanted—for some of our veteran people—to get a little rhythm with who they were going to play with in the upcoming season,” said Hughes after the game. “Secondly, we wanted to get a good look at our roster. And I thought they did a good job of presenting that to us in the game. The takeaways are important and then we’ll come back on Monday, we’ll go out again and make some more observations.”

Having newcomers like Herbert Harrigan and Samuelson to see how they play alongside the returning players would give us a better read on where the team is at. After all, reigning champions seldom have this much turnover and can remain able to be seen as contenders like the Storm have.

Dupree adjusting well early in her Seattle tenure

One of those veterans the Storm have been able to integrate is Candice Dupree. The 15-year veteran has fit well into the Storm’s system so far, according to new teammate Sue Bird.

“When I look at Candice as a teammate, even if it was briefly with USA Basketball, and as a competitor, she’s always someone who is steady out there,” said Bird. “She’s a confident player in that she knows who she is and does what she’s good at.”

“For us and the way we think she can fit is, we’re a team that relies on our post players hitting outside shots. That’s kinda how our offense works. Look at our personnel in Stewie, Natasha, and even Mercedes and Ezi, they get a lot of open shots. The other thing we do with our post players is we run a ton of pick ‘n’ rolls. I think those are two things Candice naturally does well.”

Saturday was Dupree’s Storm debut and she played well, scoring 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting, grabbing five rebounds and dishing two assists. Dupree only played 18 minutes but that’s probably all she needs to find rhythm in the preseason at this stage of her career.

“I think overall it was a really good game for us. The coaches wanted us to come out and execute our defensive schemes. I thought we did a decent job of that,” said Dupree reviewing her team’s performance. “Got to get a little better, I think, crashing the boards and rebounding on the defensive end. But all in all, I think everybody played a really good game, we took what we’ve been working on in practice and carried it over.”

Because of the Storm’s key absences, it’s fair to wonder how much of their schemes they’re able to implement. It will be interesting to watch how roles will change based on personnel once the Storm have their full roster. Sticking with Dupree, Hughes has said there will be times she will play with Stewart. How Dupree plays next to Stewart may be different than with Russell or Ezi Magbegor. Ideally, Dupree and Stewart would begin to work on building that chemistry now, but they’ll have to figure that out as they go.

Then again, talent can take you a long way in basketball. Sometimes there are issues with stylistic fits but other times, talent can find a way. Both Stewart and Dupree are smart and talented players, so it’s reasonable they will build that chemistry throughout the regular season.

Waiting For The Full Picture

Hughes joked after one training camp practice that he wouldn’t have the career he does if he was judged on the preseason, so he tries not to judge too much based on the preseason.

Despite being shorthanded, it seems the Storm met their goals for their first preseason game. However, taking away a lot of meaning from this game is difficult because many players are likely playing outsized roles with all the absences. Stephanie Talbot, for instance, is probably not starting many regular-season games for this team.

It’s good to see players like Laksa and Dupree continue their strong practice play into games. Yet, it’s also fortunate for players like Williams and Talbot that in-game performance is not the sole criteria for their evaluation.

So far, all we’ve of the Storm is a partial picture with a broad idea of how they want to play. We likely won’t know much about this team until the regular season unless absentee players suddenly show up.

Written by Derek James

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