August 11, 2020
The night Breanna Stewart played point guard
With Sue Bird out and Jordin Canada in foul trouble, the Storm turned to an unconventional source to run the offense
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Chicago Sky v Seattle StormOrlando, FL – AUGUST 10: Breanna Stewart #30 of the Seattle Storm shoots the ball against the Chicago Sky on August 10, 2020, at the Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Seattle Storm isn’t exactly teeming with point guards. With Sue Bird and Epiphanny Prince out for varying reasons, the Storm have had to get creative. Monday’s 89-71 victory over the Chicago Sky was no exception. Jordin Canada found herself in foul trouble just two minutes into the game and changed the team’s dynamic.
We saw a lot of Sami Whitcomb early. Whitcomb had an exceptional game with 17 points on nine shots and dishing six assists. Her strong play allowed coach Gary Kloppenburg to keep Canada on the bench to avoid further foul trouble.
“Yeah, I mean I think that just, you know, gives credit to what she’s done and what she’s continued to work on and knowing that you know, she never gave up and she knew that eventually her number’s gonna get called and when it is, she’s ready and you know, whether she had 17 or she had steals or whatever she’s doing, she’s continuing to be active,” said Breanna Stewart.
“Sami’s playing really well. She can get her shot off. She comes off screens good, she has such a quick trigger and she’s so accurate that if you can give her any space when she gets hot like that, it’s going down,” said Kloppenburg. “I’m really happy with her, I thought she did a good job defensively coming in and guarding some different people.”
However, the Storm didn’t use Whitcomb as a traditional point guard. She and Stewart took turns bringing the ball up the floor and initiating the offense. Aside from her 10 first-quarter points, Stewart dished out five assists while Whitcomb added four. This efficiency led to a 33-point quarter and a great start in an important game.
After seeing double and triple teams against the Mercury on Saturday, it was likely the Sky would do the same. However, because Stewart was initiating from the perimeter so often, Chicago doing the same likely would have meant pulling Cheyenne Parker out of the paint and leaving another outside shooter open.
That’s not much more ideal than guarding Stewart driving the lane-on-one.
“I don’t think I look at stats, in general, like ‘Oh I need to do some more of that and that.’ I think just continuing to have more of an all-around game, everybody knows me for my offensive presence, for my rebounding and stuff like that but continuing to do more defensively, get my hands in passing lanes,” said Stewart. “And as far as the assists, seeing how teams have progressed to play me defensively since my first year to now, knowing that they’re not helping off a lot and knowing, what can we do to counter that to get someone else open because I know that if they don’t come off me and they screen me for example, that person who screens me is going to be wide open.”
In the end, Stewart finished with 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting, five rebounds, and seven assists. Canada’s foul trouble could have opened the door for the Sky but Stewart and Whitcomb’s willingness to share lead guard responsibilities made the Storm highly effective.
The thing about great players like Stewart is they’re capable of succeeding in just about any role. Whether Stewart is a forward or center doesn’t matter. It sounds simplistic, but Stewart showed she is a basketball player. As long as she’s on the court, she’s going to find a way to impact the game as she did against the Sky.
Canada later picked up her third foul late in the second quarter while defending Courtney Vandersloot. Fortunately, she avoided picking up another foul for the rest of the game, but the Storm appeared ready in case she did.
The fact that the Storm never trailed after the 7:03 mark in the first quarter and led by as much as 21 points against a team one game behind them in the standings says a lot about them. Even when the Sky cut their deficit to single digits in the third quarter, the Storm were able to shut the door heading into the final frame and never looked back.
Ezi Magbegor is coming on
Storm rookie Ezi Magbegor has seen a slowly expanding role over the last few games. Monday night was a bit of a coming-out party. In just 15 minutes, Magbegor dropped 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting and grabbed three boards.
While Magbegor has shown her efficiency in the post all season, she showed an ability to put the ball on the ground and drive the lane. This is a new element from her, at least in the WNBA. As of Tuesday morning, Magbegor leads the league in field goal percentage at 70.9 percent.
“As games do go on that confidence does get better, and it does help to be on a team like Seattle where my teammates back me before games, during games, after games,” said Magbegor. “Just getting used to it, the first few games, I’ve adjusted to that. With confidence, when I get out there just playing my game, playing the team game, just doing what I can for the team.”
As she becomes more comfortable with the WNBA game, her coach becomes more impressed by her play.
“We have her coming in probably behind Natasha [Howard] and playing those minutes and she’s been really productive and there’s certain matchups that she’s really effective in. I thought she did a really outstanding job of putting it on the floor, we got her a couple of good post-ups down there, and then she blocked a shot,” said Kloppenburg. “She’s really active defensively and she rebounds so it’s a nice luxury to have an athletic, long big coming in off the bench with our second group.”
While the Storm have a shortage of point guards, they have a nice frontcourt rotation. With Stewart, Howard, Mercedes Russell, and now Magbegor, Seattle can adapt to nearly any matchup an opponent throws at them.
Having a high-efficiency option like Magbegor who doesn’t require the ball in her hands allows the team a lot of freedom.