May 6, 2022 

2022 WNBA season preview: Seattle Storm

The goal each of the past few years has been a title, and now it’s championship No. 5 or bust

Offseason summary

(Transactions per Across The Timeline, contract info from our Offseason Tracker)

Free agency

Draft

Training camp


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Overview

For the last few seasons, Seattle’s focus has been on maximizing its championship odds for the next couple of years; Bird can only play for so long, and two top-10 players like Stewart and Loyd rarely spend their whole primes together. That’s what led to the front office letting Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Alysha Clark walk away, flipping a No. 1-overall pick for Katie Lou Samuelson, trading a first for Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (waived before opening day), and shipping out Samuelson and another first-rounder for Williams. The first decision left space to re-sign the team’s core this winter, and the latter two mortgaged the future.

Now Bird is finally retiring (probably), and Stewart is on a one-year deal ahead of a free agency period in which 10 teams have nearly empty cap sheets. This is the last go-around for a Storm era that started in just the franchise’s third season. The roster is clearly constructed that way, with only one of the nine locks for the opening day roster on a rookie contract (Ezi Magbegor), and as many as four players on their last contract (Bird, January, Epiphanny Prince, Lavender). The goal each of the past few years has been a title, and now it’s Championship No. 5 or bust.

Last year, the Storm were atop the league for most of the pre-Olympic period, before several Olympians’ performances dropped off. So after a couple of moves to address its weaknesses, Seattle should be near the top in title odds, right? Not quite.

The problem for the Storm is that most of the other contenders got better: Chicago went 7-2 in the playoffs en route to the 2021 championship, and made arguably the best free agency addition in Emma Meesseman; Connecticut welcomes back a two-time All-Star in Alyssa Thomas for the whole season (the Sun had trouble integrating her into their slower style when she returned for the playoffs), while free agency signing Courtney Williams and draftee Nia Clouden add versatility to what had been a static offense; Minnesota’s roster is in flux, but it’ll likely emerge more talented than last year. Only Las Vegas clearly got worse, though Phoenix had huge questions even before Brittney Griner became imprisoned in Russia.

Projected rotation

1: Bird (60%) // January (25%) // Prince or Loyd (15%)
2: Loyd (55%) // January (25%) // Prince (20%)
3: Talbot (45%) // Williams (45%) // Loyd (10%)
4: Stewart (65%) // Lavender (30%) // Magbegor (5%)
5: Russell (60%) // Magbegor (35%) // Lavender (5%)

New player to watch: Gabby Williams, wing

Chicago Sky forward <a rel=
(Photo credit: Chris Poss)

In her last press conference of 2022, head coach Noelle Quinn called athleticism at the wing one of the team’s areas of weakness. Enter Williams. She has all the athleticism you can ask for and is a plus defender against any backcourt player. She also adds solid playmaking on top.

Williams’ problem, like many Storm role players before her, is that whole scoring/shooting thing. She went 1-for-12 from three in college and has hit only 24.8% from outside in the W. And while she converts well at the rim, she hasn’t been getting there — or to the line — nearly enough to be even a mediocre offensive player. Williams will contribute more to Seattle this year than Samuelson or the No. 9 pick were likely to. She’ll almost certainly be in a rotation with Talbot and January as the third backcourt player, and whether she can carve out a larger role from that is dependent on whether she can be a positive contributor on offense.

Returning player to watch: Ezi Magbegor, big

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(Photo credit: Neil Enns | Seattle Storm)

For the better part of two years, Magbegor has been seen as one of (if not the) most valuable trade chips in the league — length and twitch in the frontcourt, impactful at the rim on both ends, and barely old enough to drink, all on an old rookie deal. Last year, she improved her defensive game in most aspects, and could well be one of the best hybrid defenders in the league.

But Magbegor could be more than just a good situational defender. There’s another level to be found, and it’ll come down to a few key questions:

  • Can she strengthen up against top post-up bigs?
  • Can her free-throw shooting and good form from three translate into a good jumper?
  • Can she make her bunnies at the rim?
  • Is there any shot-creation here?

With Russell out for the start of the season, Magbegor will have plenty of opportunities to answer these questions.

Best-case scenario

Seattle’s best-case scenario is basically just the period last season between buying out Candice Dupree and the Olympic break. It’s the starters blowing out nearly every other starting lineup, giving way to a bench that slows the game down and at the very least doesn’t allow enough possessions for the opponent to regain the lead, and then working back in the starters until the half ends. Magbegor’s development and the additions of January and Williams and Lavender add more lineup flexibility, and more punch to the bench lineup. That kind of Storm team secures a top-two seed and a better chance of waltzing to the Finals than being upset.

Worst-case scenario

Did you know: Sue Bird is 41 years old. (Shocker, I know.) January is 35. Prince is 34. That’s about 70% of the minutes in my projected backcourt rotation; while Bird hasn’t lost too much athleticism the past few years, it’s possible the trio collectively loses more than a step. The last version of Williams in the WNBA was unplayable in high-leverage situations, and her game doesn’t appear to have expanded in Euro play. Magbegor’s development isn’t linear. Though Stewart and Loyd give the Storm a high floor, they’ll find it hard to secure home-court advantage or notch easy playoff wins with a subpar supporting cast.

Prediction

26-10 (7-3 in Commissioner’s Cup games), No. 1 seed in the playoffs, loss in Finals

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the Seattle Storm and college basketball for The Next, while also writing for The Chronicle, Duke's independent student paper

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