April 16, 2021 

Three questions after the Seattle Storm’s 2021 draft

How did the reigning champs do on Thursday night?

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PALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 1: Kennedy Burke #8 of the Indiana Fever shoots the ball against the Atlanta Dream on September 1, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Most teams who lost Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark in the same offseason might consider rebuilding. The Seattle Storm are in no such position. You don’t waste any time when you have Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Sue Bird.

Although the Storm had four picks in the 2021 WNBA draft, their focus was their title window, very much open.

Seattle was not supposed to pick until eleventh in the first round. Normally, you wouldn’t expect to land a top name. Yet, the draft featured a lot of surprises at the top that caused a few projected top picks to fall. Perhaps the pandemic affected teams’ scouting and decision-making.

The Storm made four picks on Thursday:

  • Texas A&M guard Aaliyah Wilson at 11th overall. However, the team quickly flipped her to Indiana guard Kennedy Burke.

  • With the sixth pick in the second round (18th overall), the Storm grabbed Stanford point guard Kiana Williams.

  • At 30, the Storm chose Texas A&M forward N’dea Jackson

  • At 35, the Storm selected forward Natalie Kucowski from Lafayette University.

Ultimately, the Storm made all four picks but kept just three prospects after the Wilson-Burke deal. Let’s examine some questions that came to mind on Thursday night.

Why trade Wilson for Burke?

On paper, Wilson would have been a good pick for Seattle. She defends, is a good finisher, and can shoot a little. Depending on the source, Wilson is listed at 5’10 or 5’11, making her a touch shorter than the team’s other wings. While she’s hardly undersized, the team lists Jewell Loyd at a similar height. Burke fits the profile of the team’s other offseason acquisitions a bit better.

Burke is listed at 6’1 and 182 pounds. While primarily a guard, her game is that of a wing, especially defensively, so think of her among the group including Katie Lou Samuelson, Stephanie Talbot and Candice Dupree.

Hughes and Rhea talked after the draft about the importance of maintaining a versatile roster despite losing Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark. When you look at the newcomers and holdovers, you see the team has wings as opposed to traditional positional designations.

Burke, Samuelson, and even Talbot all have the size to play at multiple spots on the floor and in different matchups. We have even seen Burke do some playmaking in the past. This feature of her game is undoubtedly appealing after losing Sami Whitcomb, who embraced more of a ball-handler role last season.

At age 24, Burke is young enough to improve. 2020 was Burke’s second WNBA season and she increased her production and efficiency in five more minutes per game. Being young enough to have upside remaining and two years of experience over developing a rookie more sense for a team still trying to contend now.

In 2020, we saw Burke unafraid to use her size to finish through contact at the rim. She also showed she can hit a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer despite shooting 31.1 percent from deep last season. In Seattle, Burke will likely have teammates drawing more attention. Burke also seemed to be able to find open teammates.

Right now, Burke for Wilson seems like a win-win deal. At pick No.11, a team isn’t guaranteed to find a player to make their roster. For the Storm, who are still in contention, acquiring a more known entity like Burke makes sense.

Williams can be a point guard of the future

With Bird turning 41 years old this season, adding another point guard makes sense. Losing Whitcomb also meant they needed another ball handler. Between Williams and Burke, they added two.

At 5’8 and 135 pounds, Williams is a similar size to Jordin Canada. Both players are adept at getting into the lane and to the rim. Williams showed an ability at Stanford to separate herself from bigger defenders and get the bucket.

While Bird will be a great role model for her, Canada can be too. Also a smaller guard, Canada has shown the ability to finish through contact or draw fouls near the rim. These will be important skills for Williams to develop too. Even with Canada’s blazing speed, she still can’t always get away from WNBA defenders. Dealing with that contact will be a part of Williams’ learning curve.

What’s unique about Williams’ game is how she creates space for herself with her step-back jumper. Williams can stop on a dime from practically anywhere and get a shot off. What’s remarkable about it is how efficient her movements are. She doesn’t need much time or space because of this. If a defender turns their hips too much in a certain direction or takes one step too many, Williams is probably going to pull up for the step back. So there is Loyd in her profile as well.

Part of why the shot was so effective at Stanford was because she was difficult to stop driving to the basket. Williams did well at forcing defenses to decide to take away her step back or the open lane and exploiting them for what they gave her. If she can translate this to the W, she can be a very good player.

How do you rate the Storm’s overall draft?

Evaluating a draft takes years. Considering the Storm acquired the No.1 overall pick in the Natasha Howard trade and then flipped it to Dallas for Samuelson, it was hard to tell what they were doing. Time will tell if that was a good decision. Seattle had first right of refusal on everyone in the draft and chose not to bring in another young player.

Samuelson, theoretically, helps them compete now. Someone like, say, Charli Collier, may not have done so in 2021. Retaining Stewart, Loyd and Canada next offseason will also help justify this decision because those moves will keep their window open.

If the Storm were looking to remain competitive and add supporting pieces to their core, it seems they did that. It’s hard to say whether Jackson or Kucowski will make the roster, but there will be first-round picks who don’t make their teams’ rosters. Williams will likely have to prove herself, too, and she makes a ton of sense on this team.

How well Burke performs will also determine how we reflect on this draft. If she plays poorly while Wilson thrives with the Fever, the trade is going to look like one that didn’t pay off.

Hindsight is always 20/20 but if the Storm lose Stewart or Loyd next winter and take a step back, trading this season’s No.1 overall will look worse.

If the Storm were looking to add complementary pieces, add affordable young talent, it seems they’ve done that. In the short term, this feels like a good draft but time will tell how we feel about it overall.

Written by Derek James

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