September 30, 2020 

What does Sami Whitcomb’s departure mean for the Storm?

As Whitcomb and her wife were set to welcome their child into the world, the guard justifiably left the Bubble to be with her family.

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Seattle Storm v Minnesota Lynx PALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 6: Epiphanny Prince #11 of the Seattle Storm shoots the ball against the Minnesota Lynx on September 6, 2020, at Feld EntertainmentCenter in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages)

While the Seattle Storm may not know their Finals opponent yet, they know guard Sami Whitcomb won’t join them. The team made the following announcement on Tuesday:

The Seattle Storm announced today that guard Sami Whitcomb has left Bradenton, FL to return to Australia to be with her wife for the birth of their first child. Whitcomb, who has played in each of the Storm’s 25 games this year will miss the remainder of the season.

First off, congratulations to Sami and Kate. Playing in the Finals would be a thrill but a child is only born once and no one should fault her for prioritizing family over basketball.

From a basketball standpoint, Gary Kloppenburg will need to adjust. Whitcomb averaged 8.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game on 38.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Seattle will miss more than Whitcomb’s shot. While Whitcomb possesses a deft 3-ball, that’s just one piece of her value. When backup point guard Jordin Canada missed time with injury, Whitcomb stepped in as lead ball handler. The veteran showed the ability to get her team in the offense, create for others, and even get in the lane.

Whitcomb is more than a shooter and Seattle will miss her presence in the rotation.

Filling the void

Presuming good health for Canada and Sue Bird, the Storm should be fine. Still, someone will need to step up. The most likely candidate? Epiphanny Prince. Early in the season, Prince and Whitcomb took turns running the bench offense while Bird’s knee healed.

Admittedly, Whitcomb looked more natural running the offense while Prince fared better as a perimeter creator and spot-up shooter. Both roles are important and the Storm may ask Prince to do a bit of both. How would she fare as the new emergency point guard? Here’s what I wrote earlier this season:

Prince hasn’t been in a primary ball handler role since she was with New York in 2015 when she posted an assist percentage of 24.5. Since then, she hasn’t accounted 1-in-5 of her team’s assists while she’s on the floor. This is fine since her game has grown in other ways and has overcome injuries since them.

It’s important to remember the distinction between what a player has been asked to do and what they’re capable of. Prince can fall back into that facilitator role because of foul trouble or Heaven forbid, injury. Prince may simply have not been asked to fill that role in five years. We’ll find out if it comes to that.

Prince has struggled shooting the ball, under 40 percent for the season, but also didn’t play in one-third of the Storm’s games. It’s not as if she was hurt. She had to depart the Wubble for personal reasons.

While her shot hasn’t fallen as she’d like, her counting starts are fine for her workload and the defense has been passable with her on the floor.

Prince has stepped up in the playoffs

Even before Whitcomb left the Wubble, Prince was stepping her game up. Although it was a small, two-game sample, the results have been encouraging. Prince is averaging 6.0 points, 1.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 66.6 percent from within and outside the arc.

Is she lighting the world on fire? No. But that’s all the Storm need to bridge those minutes from the bench to the starters. Prince probably won’t continue shooting this well, but they’ll take all they can get in Whitcomb’s absence.

Worst case, Kloppenburg re-unleashes Point Breanna Stewart. It would be fun if he did that anyway, come to think of it.

Losing a player like Whitcomb is a detriment to any team, even the Storm. However, given the amount of talent on their roster, Seattle is uniquely equipped to manage her absence for a few more games.

Written by Derek James

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