June 25, 2023
Jewell Loyd finds her voice and unlocks her potential
The departure of both Bird and Stewart following the 2022 season has now left Jewell Loyd to reinvent her role as the veteran leader of the Storm
SEATTLE — Eight years ago, Jewell Loyd was drafted No. 1 overall by a struggling Seattle Storm team looking for a saving grace after a 12-22 season. Loyd joined a team with a solidified franchise player and legendary leader in Sue Bird, allowing 21-year-old Loyd to have someone to learn from as she emerged into a new chapter as a professional athlete. Bird’s role in Seattle as somewhat of a player/coach hybrid perfectly complimented Loyd’s quieter, lead-by-example leadership style.
While having multiple franchise-caliber players on the same team can at times lead to power struggles, Loyd and Bird, along with Breanna Stewart, were able to curate the perfect harmony of leadership that resulted in two WNBA championships.
But the departure of both Bird and Stewart following the 2022 season has now left Loyd to reinvent her role as the veteran leader of the Storm. Many wondered if Loyd could fill Bird’s shoes, but according to her teammates and coaches, she doesn’t need to. Loyd is defining Seattle leadership her own way.
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“What I’ve asked for from her this year in a leadership role is to do it by example,” Head coach Noelle Quinn said. “How you show up every day, how you work, that this new team understands what it takes to be successful in this league and she’s done that at a high level. She’s coming to practice in shape, and she’s in a great space mentally, physically, and I think she’s really honed in on what it takes to perform on the court and also make sure you’re a leader off the floor.”
Seattle veteran guard Sami Whitcomb’s perspective can be a unique measurement of Loyd’s growth throughout her career. Whitcomb began her WNBA career with the Storm in 2017, when Loyd was still on her rookie contract, and played in Seattle for four seasons before becoming a New York Liberty. After two seasons in the Big Apple, Whitcomb decided to return to the Emerald City, one of the places she calls home, through WNBA free agency.
Whitcomb returned to a revamped Storm team led by a player who had turned from a rookie to a veteran in her time away. Whitcomb gushed about how Loyd’s compassion for her teammates elevates her leadership. From reaching out to each of her teammates individually before training camp regarding what the season was going to look like and what the team needs from each person to making sure that everyone is comfortable and aware that they can come to her if they need anything, Whitcomb has been incredibly impressed with how Loyd has stepped up to the plate.
“She understands the importance of a good locker room and having good leadership, but also having everybody feel like they have a voice,” Whitcomb said. “We’ve had some really fantastic leaders in Seattle and I think she’s done a really good job of taking a little bit from each of them but then still being herself.”
Rookie Jordan Horston has only known Loyd in her veteran leader role and while the two of them joke in press conferences together that Horston doesn’t talk much, she won’t hesitate to go on and on about how great of a leader Loyd is.
“She’s just a great person,” Horston said. “She has welcomed me with warm arms and there’s nothing more I can ask for. She’s a genuine person off the court and she’s a hell of a basketball player. Every shot that she shoots, I’m thinking it’s going in. I’m just watching like, alright, let me get back on defense and then I’m like, oh no, I need to rebound! But she’s just a good person, that’s all I can say.”
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Another impressive trait that Loyd has mastered is her ability to pinpoint her teammates’ individual needs and tailor her leadership approach to put them in the best positions possible. Horston, as most rookies do, had an adjustment period to the WNBA in which she struggled with her in-game confidence, in turn impacting her performance. She has since gotten over that hump with the help of a few Jewell Loyd Pep Talks.
“The first day, when she came in, I asked her how does she best take information?” Loyd said when asked what she said to Horston after a tough game. “What does she need from me? And she said I need you to stay on me. So that was me being a leader and being honest with her. She has so much potential and for her to stop thinking and play. My job is to stay on her and bring the best version out of her. I know it’s there.”
Someone who knows Loyd better than anyone describes her leadership in that same way: she always knew it was there. Loyd’s mother, Gwen Davis-Loyd, who is also a Storm super fan and can often be found sitting courtside at Climate Pledge Arena to watch her daughter, always knew this facet of her superstar daughter.
“I see it from her all the time,” Gwen Davis-Loyd said. “She did it in high school, she did it in college, it was just finding what she already has, she just wasn’t able to do it before. She’s doing what was already inside.”
While Loyd has mostly taken the approach of finding ways to lead her team based off of her strengths, she has also gone outside of her comfort zone by becoming more vocal, something that Quinn also asked of her prior to the season.
“I’m definitely more vocal and talking way more, I think?” Loyd laughed, turning to her teammate for confirmation. “I don’t have to do anything crazy. I’ve always kind of let my work do most of the talking and learning and demonstrating and using my voice here and there.”
And her work is doing the talking. Loyd is currently leading the WNBA in average points per game at a whopping 25.4, which is head and shoulders above the second person on that list, who, ironically enough, happens to be Stewart. After playing alongside both Bird and Stewart for ⅞ of her career, many wondered whether Loyd, a consistent sharpshooter, would struggle without the WNBA all-time assists leader dishing her passes on the wing and the 2018 WNBA MVP kicking the ball out to her from the post.
Somewhat surprisingly, Loyd’s averages have skyrocketed since she became the sole No. 1 overall pick in a Storm roster. Her 25.4 PPG are a far cry from her 16.3 in 2022 and her previous highest number in that category of 17.9 PPG in 2021. Loyd is currently tied with league legend Diana Taurasi for the most 20+ point games in one season in league history at eight games, but considering that it is only 13 games into the season, it seems likely that Loyd will take that crown soon. But it doesn’t end there. Loyd has scored in double-figures in every game this season, including three games with 30+ points. She is also the only player in WNBA history to record 35+ points, 7+ 3-pointers, 5+ rebounds, and 5+ assists in a game, which she has done twice so far this season.
When some believed that Bird’s and Stewart’s departures would lead to Loyd’s downfall, it has seemingly allowed Loyd to better use one of her greatest strengths: executing plays and getting buckets unassisted. From a leadership and a game perspective, Loyd has gone from an overshadowed franchise player to an MVP contender carrying her team on her back.
While Loyd is having a statistically historic season, the Seattle Storm as a whole are struggling to find a rhythm, as they were back in 2015 when they first drafted Loyd. An 80-68 loss at home against the No. 9 Indiana Fever left Quinn and the Storm squad feeling defeated, but that sentiment was quickly turned around with a 97-74 win over the No. 12 Phoenix Mercury on Saturday. Looking ahead, Loyd and her No. 11 Storm entourage head to Minnesota on Tuesday to play the last team stuck in the bottom four of the WNBA standings, the No. 10 Lynx.