January 12, 2022 

Seattle Storm season in review: Mercedes Russell

The Storm season reviews continue with Seattle's great developmental success

Position: Center

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today. Join today

Age: 25

Base stats: 30 GP (28 GS), 24.7 min, 7.3 pts, 61.7% fg%, 76.6% ft% on 1.6 fta, 6.1 reb with 1.7 orb, 0.9 stl, 2.6 pf

Key advanced stats: +10.2 on-court plus/minus, +10.7 net plus/minus, 64.8% true-shooting (97th %ile), 31.5% FT rate (75th %ile), 14.4% reb% (76th %ile), 10.4% ast% (seventh among centers), 18.3% tov% (28th %ile), 1.9% stl% (62nd %ile), 4.8% pf% (27th %ile)

Shooting splits: 6 ft. average shot distance (ninth percentile); 37.6% of attempts at rim (85th %ile), 47.0% of attempts from 3-10 ft. (95th %ile), zero threes attempted; 83.9% fg% at rim (97th %ile), 54.3% fg% from 3-10 ft. (90th %ile); 78.3% of twos assisted (86th %ile)

Pre-/post-Olympic splits: Pre — 9.8 pts-per-36, 58.9% fg%; post — 12.2 pts-per-36, 66.1 fg%

Play-type stats: 1.357 points per PnR roll (98th %ile), 1.478 points per putback (92nd %ile), 1.465 points per layup (98th %ile)

Key quote:

Sometimes what it takes with a player like Cedes is the natural development process that sometimes isn’t allotted in our league, because there’s only 144 players there, because there’s 12 teams. And so when you have an opportunity to get a player and actually take time in the development, see what they can do on a day-to-day basis and have a vision for that, then that’s what you see in Mercedes. We saw how smart she was. Obviously we talk about the height — you can’t teach height, there’s not a lot of players that are at her size. But also the skillset that she has and the mind for the game.

So you think about her taking time to learn, to grow, and within a system to where she, at her size, is very mobile; at her size, she’s still very effective; and at her size, she is playing the game with her mind. So just a testament to what she does, working day-in, day-out, going overseas and playing at a high level, and then coming back. That is the true progression that an athlete can have when you have time and you invest in them.

Head coach Noelle Quinn

Best game: Sep. 17, v. Phoenix — 14 points, 7-for-9 FG, eight rebounds (three offensive), three assists, career-high-tying three steals, 37 min

Mercedes Russell’s rise in Seattle has been nothing short of incredible. The former national consensus-top-two recruit out of high school only averaged 11.7 points at Tennessee, and though she made a junior-year leap, only went 22nd in the 2018 draft to New York. She played 32 minutes in two games for a Liberty team bound for a 7-27 record before being cut. The Storm immediately brought her in, playing her as an end-of-bench reserve that year. She was decent as a full-time starter in 2019 when Natasha Howard played the four with Stewie out. She slid to backup in the Wubble in 2020 and shot horribly, to be frank, but clearly Made The Leap defensively, able to execute Seattle’s SOS defense well while holding up in the post and starting to really use her 6’6 frame to full effect.

Then came 2021. All Russell did this past year was finish second in the W in field-goal percentage. She (and variably Ezi Magbegor and Breanna Stewart) held the frontcourts in Las Vegas to 34.4% shooting, Tina Charles to 45.1%, and Brittney Griner a bit below her season average (which is notable with Stewart and Magbegor each missing one of the three Mercury games). She hit high ball-screen traps and recovered to deep rim paint defense, provided quality rim protection both in primary action and in help, and rarely blew coverages.

Offensively, Russell was an excellent play-finisher and a very good screener and handoff big from anywhere on the court and an effective cutter. I wrote in July about the inherent limitations of Seattle’s closing lineup with her not creating offense, and while she remains a finisher and not a creator, her suddenly elite conversion rates and ability to get involved outside the paint and superb positional passing severely mitigated those problems.

Russell’s most notable overall skill was her on-court intelligence and feel. Head coach Noelle Quinn likes to refer to her as “a point guard in a post-player’s body,” and it shows on both ends.

Random highlight:

Current contract: Restricted free agent

Offseason Outlook: Likely to return

Quinn, in agreement with many talent evaluators, sees Magbegor’s long-term position as a hybrid big — not a center. So Seattle’s got to be handing out a deal to a free-agent center, especially given the lack of viable bigs in the draft outside the top half of the first round. Russell is the youngest viable free agent there, has a wealth of knowledge of playing in the Storm’s system and with the current personnel, and has been continuously improving since she reached the league.

Should Seattle bring an 11-player roster into the 2022 season, there’s enough money to hand Russell a max while still upgrading elsewhere. I don’t necessarily expect Russell’s market to reach max levels, but if it does, the Storm can quite feasibly match.

Position data per WNBA Advanced Stats, shooting splits per Basketball Reference, play-type data per Synergy

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.