May 16, 2021
Takeaways from the Seattle Storm’s season opener
The defending champs began their title defense on Saturday in a finals rematch
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It’s no secret the Seattle Storm look very different from a season ago. Between significant roster turnover and players tied up overseas, expecting Seattle to look like themselves immediately was unrealistic. Two preseason games is not quite enough time to work through these challenges, especially against Vegas, last season’s finals runners-up.
Regardless, the Storm claimed the lead late in the first quarter and never trailed again en route to a 97-83 victory on Saturday.
While this is only one game, here are a few things that stood out in the Storm’s victory.
When times get tough, look to No. 30
The Storm got off to a slow start in this game as the Aces got out to a 7-0 lead. Vegas led by as many as nine points before Seattle got it going. A big reason for this slow start was the lack of Breanna Stewart touches. Stewart finished with 28 points and 13 points on 19 shots, but had just two field-goal attempts in the first 7:55 of this game.
That is not enough shots for Stewart when the team is struggling to score and on the brink of a double-digit defeat. Overall, the Storm missed seven of their first nine attempts.
Stewart is someone you can throw the ball to anywhere on the floor and she can create a shot. If there’s no good shot, she can also get to the line. There is little downside to throwing the ball into her when the offense is struggling.
Some of this has to do with A’ja Wilson defending Stewart and making getting her the ball difficult. Some also has to do with this group not having much time together. Candice Dupree, for example, had four shots to Stewart’s two in that eight-minute stretch. Dupree played well, but that’s likely not the balance the team was aiming for.
The Storm will inevitably find their offense in the mud again this season and remembering they have one of the biggest sources of offense in the league in Stewart will help them.
Dupree looks like a good fit
There is something remarkable about watching veterans like Dupree. You can just see how 15 years of experience has players like this in the correct position almost automatically. This was the case for Dupree on Saturday, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds on 16 shots.
While Dupree’s shot wasn’t falling, you could see where she fits. Dupree doesn’t use the same space on the court Stewart does, allowing her to pick teams apart from the midrange. While these mid-range shots have decreased in the game over the last few years, there is still value in making them.
There is something to be said for being able to hit shots from anywhere on the floor. This versatility can deter teams from packing the paint to take away shots at the rim or from simply running you off the 3-point line. Your offense is much more dynamic when you pose a scoring threat no matter where you catch the ball. These mid-range shots can work well in moderation.
Dupree still moves well, especially with the ball. She creates a number of shots for herself with her footwork and back to the basket. If she catches the ball in space, she can still work her way to the rim.
Where Dupree’s fit still seems progressing is her usage. Sixteen shots may be fine some nights, but is likely more than the Storm need on most. Last season, Natasha Howard took 7.5 shots per game and Alysha Clark took 6.7. There are certainly shots for Dupree available, but it will be curious to see how they balance out once Mercedes Russell and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan return to the team.
The Storm kept Stewart from defending 5s for much of the game
One goal Storm coach Dan Hughes had for his frontcourt rotation was keeping Stewart from defending opposing centers. Against a team like Vegas, who possesses good size up front, this is difficult.
Yet the Storm managed to keep Stewart from defending Liz Cambage or JiSu Park for much of the game. These assignments were left to Ezi Magbegor (who defended Cambage exceptionally at times) and Dupree. In fact, Magbegor did so well, she started the second half in place of Dupree.
Instead, Stewart was tasked with chasing Wilson around the perimeter for much of the game. Defending Wilson is a challenge in its own right because she can score with a hand in her face. There are also a number of spots on the floor Wilson can beat you from.
While Stewart rarely covered Cambage on Saturday, Cambage did defend Stewart for a few possessions in the second half. Stewart had 18 of her 28 points in the second half, so switching a bigger body on her was a reasonable adjustment for the Aces.
If this game is any indication, it’s likely Russell defends opposing 5s when she plays with Stewart. This could mean Dupree takes the opponent’s power forward when she plays with Magbegor or Russell. The possibilities are numerous and the Storm have many combinations to work through since they have not had their full roster to work with.
How many minutes will Dupree and Bird play each night?
Between Dupree and Bird, there is a combined 34 years of WNBA experience. Both players have forgotten more about basketball than most of us will know.
Bird and Dupree played 26 and 30 minutes, respectively, on Saturday. For Dupree, this has been her typical minutes load for the past few seasons. Bird averaged 23 minutes per game in 2020 and has seen her minutes taper off each of the last few seasons.
However, teams typically want to preserve their veteran players to keep them as fresh as possible for the postseason. Injuries and absences, as the Storm are experiencing, can interfere with these plans.
It’s certainly possible Bird’s minutes are scaled back a bit to around 20 per game, which would be a similar decrease as she’s seen in recent years. Another factor could be Kianna Williams’ development. The rookie played just three minutes, which is fine because Jordin Canada can handle those backup point guard minutes herself, but the Storm will likely need more from Williams at some point this season.
We will also have to see, again, how the distribution of minutes in the frontcourt is handled once Hughes has his full roster. The Storm have a ton of talent and finding a balance will be difficult. With that said, Seattle likely wants to ensure all their players are as fresh as possible for a likely playoffs run.
Jewell Loyd starts the season with a bang
An often unsung member of this era of Storm basketball, Loyd is one of the team’s most reliable and steadiest players. With Bird and Stewart, it’s easy for anyone else to get lost in the conversation. Loyd reminded us all again why she should be in the forefront of these conversations.
Loyd did it all for the Storm in her 35 minutes, posting 22 points, dishing six assists and grabbing four boards. Better yet, Loyd had zero turnovers and the team was a plus-14 with her on the floor. Having a player who plays that much, uses as many possessions as she does, and comes out as such a positive impact player should not be overlooked.
“I was just trying to make the right reads, you know, taking what the defense was giving me. I put in a lot of time on space studying how to create it and what I see,” Loyd said after the game. “So, I think the more you play, the more you understand the game and where you get your shots. But I was just taking what the defense was giving me tonight.”
What stood out most was how Loyd put herself in the right spot practically every time. Loyd connected on two 3-pointers off of dribble handoffs, offensive putbacks, and scoring in a number of ways. She balanced out her 16 shot attempts well by making plays for her teammates, too.
It’s no secret Loyd is in a contract year, but that probably wouldn’t change anything for Loyd. The Storm won comfortably on Saturday, and she was a big reason for why.