May 5, 2024 

2024 WNBA season preview: Seattle Storm

Free agency additions bring high expectations, but what will the rest of the roster look like? How will the team find success?

SEATTLE — The energy inside the Seattle Storm’s new Center for Basketball Performance during training camp has been light, yet focused and competitive. At Sunday’s training, players joked around and grinned widely, but remained engaged on learning, communicating, and executing.

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Expectations are very high for the Seattle Storm this year, following a disappointing but unsurprising eleventh-place finish in 2023. Jewell Loyd‘s two-year contract extension, secured right before the season ended, helped her team sign two of the league’s all-time greats in free agency, Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

With Diggins-Smith’s play at point guard, Loyd’s incredible scoring, and Ogwumike’s all-star post play, the Storm are already contenders to win a championship. Last year Loyd had to carry too much of the scoring load, averaging 24.7 points per game despite defenses double and triple-teaming her. Diggins-Smith and Ogwumike are expected to open things up this year.

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“I think some of it may be even easier because I don’t have to do everything,” Loyd told reporters Thursday. “There’s another guard that can penetrate. Skylar does a phenomenal job getting into the paint, collapsing defenses, and her ability to kick the ball out … any pick and rolls, anything like that, traps should be a little bit easier just because now they have to worry about Nneka coming off and making a decision.”

Seattle Storm Head Coach Noelle Quinn echoed Loyd’s sentiments about her team’s preparedness this year. She mentioned that their “identity first and foremost, being sharp in what we do, being prepared, and being focused and being disciplined,” will help them win this year. Tactically, however, the principle will be spacing. Similarly to last season, she wants to create space for the post players like Ogwumike to operate.

Upon returning to train for the 2024 season, Ogwumike immediately noticed the difference in camp. “I haven’t been used to playing with this much space. You know, there’s so many threats on the court, that where I operate it just feels freer.”

Nneka Ogwumike stands in the Seattle Storm huddle at the end of the first day of training camp, Sunday, April 28 at the team’s new Center for Basketball Performance. Ogwumike spent her entire career with the LA Sparks prior to signing with Seattle during free agency ahead of the 2024 season. (Bella Munson | The Next)

Talented players are not always talented leaders, but the trio of Ogwumike, Diggins-Smith and Loyd is unique. So far, Quinn has seen their veteran leadership styles complement each other as they each take charge in different ways. Loyd credits this synergy to a mutual level of respect and desire to push one another to be their best. “There’s not competition, there’s not any egos with everyone here. They understand what we’re all trying to do.”

They are strengthened even further by Ezi Magbegor, the first-time All-Star in 2023, at center. Ogwumike called out the big three narrative on media day saying, “I think it’s more like the fantastic four.” Adding about the Australian star, “she really does hold her own. And I think she’s unforgettable because she’s playing the full length of the court. She’s a threat everywhere.”

Those four are on guaranteed contracts and are all guaranteed starters, health permitting.

Returning players

Second-year guard Jordan Horston is most likely to start at the three, but that position could be open. Quinn did confirm that the team wants to keep Horston playing the three, where she is the most comfortable. However, they also value her defensive versatility to guard one through four. The head coach also complimented the Tennessean’s work in the offseason. After missing a lot of bunnies as a rookie, they believe she will shoot with significantly greater efficiency this year. Horston was also hampered by a shoulder injury last year. But since she had a successful surgery and rehab in the offseason, her health shouldn’t be a huge concern.

Seattle’s last two guaranteed contracts provide strong veteran presences off the bench. Sami Whitcomb, while capable of starting, is a consistent bucket-getter. Her three-point sharp shooting will provide energy and leadership to the second unit. Mercedes Russell brings terrific size, poise, defense, and facilitating as a 6’6 center.

Mercedes Russell and Sami Whitcomb play defense on a male practice player during a scrimmage at the end of practice on Sunday, April 28, in Seattle. (Bella Munson | The Next)

Seattle’s salary cap situation means they will only be able to carry 11 players on their final roster, rather than the allowed maximum of 12. Assuming those seven make the final roster, nine players remain competing for just four spots.

Jade Melbourne and Dulcy Fankam-Mendjiadeu played the entire 2023 season with the Storm after being selected in the 2022 and 2023 WNBA drafts, respectively. Melbourne, just 21 years old, has a lot of promise that the Storm seem keen to develop for the future. While her numbers in the WNBA weren’t impressive for her 10.6 minutes per game average, she shone in Australia’s WNBL. Melbourne averaged 16.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game playing for the UC Capitals during the offseason. Fankam-Mendjiadeu is not the biggest scoring threat, but she provides physical rebounding, strong screens, and defensive energy. Both second-year players are strong contenders to make the final roster.

Joyner Holmes was with the team most of last year after being picked up off the waiver wire. The No. 19 overall pick in the 2020 draft played roughly 10 minutes per contest over 29 games, averaging 3.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game on below-average shooting percentage. Seattle have shown interest in her versatility and mobility at 6’3, as well as her ability to score in the post and make longer shots as well.

How will they gel?

After signing Brenna Stewart ahead of the 2023 season, the New York Liberty were — somewhat unrealistically — expected to immediately win a championship with their new collection of talented stars. Reality did not work out that way. The Liberty players took a significant portion of the season figuring out each other’s rhythms and understanding how to play together.

The Aces core, by comparison, had already been together several years. The chemistry between similarly talented players ended in a second championship in a row.

Storm players are well aware of this. “I think the exciting part obviously, is we have all of the pieces, I think people know that, but I think we’re not jumping ahead too far, either,” Whitcomb explained to the press. “I think we know how hard it is to win in this league, even if you have a lot of talent. So I think we’re really trying to stay present and make sure we get the most out of every single training every single possession.”

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The Storm brought in major, Stewart-level talent during the offseason, but how quickly will they mesh? The expectations and rituals established in training camp could define the team’s chances at success this season.

“This is where it starts,” Whitcomb said. “And if we want to win a championship, it’ll be done in these moments in these early weeks and then in the early stages of the season. You don’t win a championship just in the [series], it’s all the stuff you do, all the legwork, all the foundational things.”

The challenge, according to Quinn, is accelerating the team’s connectivity and chemistry. She has challenged her team to do a lot of that chemistry-building off the floor “because at the end of the day, when we know that we’re in this thing together, we just play harder for each other.”

“If we could get that chemistry accelerated, then I feel like the on-court stuff will be accelerated as well,” Quinn added. “Yes, there’s some reality to the fact that we’re new. It’s not going to happen overnight. But … we’re going to be disciplined in everything. We’re going to be competitive in the way in which we approach every single day.”

How well the players learn to play together before playoffs arrive will define their chances of vying for a championship against teams with similar talent but more time together.

New additions compete in camp

Nika Mühl is another player with a strong chance of making the opening-day roster. The point guard out of UConn who broke Sue Bird‘s collegiate assist record was picked No. 14 overall by the Storm in the 2024 WNBA Draft. In just one day of training camp, she showed why she is an asset to the team. The 6’0 guard out of Croatia demonstrated her facilitating ability and defensive prowess against taller male practice players as members of the media watched scrimmages.

One of Melbourne and Mühl is essentially guaranteed to make the roster as the backup point guard to Diggins-Smith. It is also very possible, however, that both make the roster, something Storm personnel made clear after drafting Mühl.

Quay Miller is the other rookie in training camp, having signed a contract after going undrafted out of Colorado. The Washington native has a similar profile to Holmes, but with less professional and team-specific experience.

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The other player vying for that three spot is Victoria Vivians. Vivians spent her entire WNBA career with the Indiana Fever, who picked her eighth overall in 2018, before having her guaranteed contract waived ahead of her sixth professional season. The guard was a four-time All-American at Mississippi State but has struggled with efficiency as a pro. With 22.8 minutes per game, Vivians averages 7.5 points per game on 41.3% shooting from the field and 30.8% from three. She’s also averaged 1.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game over her career.

Seattle Storm players celebrate with Sami Whitcomb and Victoria Vivians after the former Fever guard converted a layup to ‘win’ the scrimmage on Sunday, April 28. Vivians has impressed so far in training camp but it remains to be seen if she can crack the final roster. (Bella Munson | The Next)

Kiana Williams and Kaela Davis have both made the rounds in the WNBA, competing in a variety of training camps and playing on short-term contracts. Williams has spent multiple seasons around the Storm, but it seems unlikely she beats out Melbourne and Mühl. Davis is an interesting prospect for the backup wing/small forward position where Horston is currently the penciled-in starter. The 6’2 South Carolina product has five years of experience. She had a decently strong first three years in Dallas but has struggled to stay on a roster since 2020.

To round out the training camp roster, Alaina Coates will compete with Fankam-Mendjiadeu and Holmes for back-up post positions. The 2017 WNBA draft landed the Gamecock with the Chicago Sky, and she has played for six teams since. This includes the Las Vegas Aces, whom she won a championship within 2023. Coates has only averaged eight minutes a game over her entire WNBA career and only played 30 minutes across 10 games for the champions, and then 11 total minutes over six playoff games. Coates only attempted six field goals for Vegas, converting five.

Quinn had high praise for the competitiveness of training camp. She noted that “we’ve got some really good productivity from some athletes that we need to really take a hard look at.

“That’s how you want camp to be,” Quinn remarked. “To be competitive, and to have those tough decisions to make, that means we’re in a good spot, knowing that we have to keep the very best roster that we can.”

Written by Bella Munson

Bella has been a contributor for The Next since September 2023 and is the site's Seattle Storm beat reporter. She also writes for The Equalizer while completing her Journalism & Public Interest Communication degree at the University of Washington.

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