April 16, 2024 

Seattle Storm make smart use of limited WNBA Draft picks

Nika Mühl continue to follow in Sue Bird’s footsteps, Mackenzie Holmes stashed for future

The Seattle Storm may have had only two picks in the 2024 WNBA Draft and very limited roster spots for those rookies to compete for, but they made the best of their limited situation. Drafting a player that is a perfect fit for their team culture and needs, in addition to a talented draft-and-stash prospect, is about the best outcome they could’ve expected.

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Seattle’s first pick of the night didn’t come until the second round, but in picking Nika Mühl 14th they stole some first-round-caliber talent that they were shocked and thrilled was still available. The 5’11 guard out of the University of Connecticut came into college somewhat unknown but made a name for herself as she proved to be one of the best point guards in the country.

Head coach Noelle Quinn spoke excitedly after the draft about the various aspects of Mühl’s game that intrigued them. A versatile player with good size, the ability to stretch the floor and shoot 3s at a high percentage (shot 40.8% from behind the arc in 2023-24), Mühl defended some of the best guards in the game with her discipline and length, married with high IQ and offensive abilities.

She left the Huskies having dished out the program’s most assists all time (686), most assists in a single season (284, 2022-23) and the most assists in a single game (15 vs. NC State on Nov. 20, 2022). Storm fans are well acquainted with the previous holder of that all-time assists record, and there is significant hope that Mühl can follow in the footsteps of her fellow No. 10, Sue Bird.

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“It’s a full-circle moment for me,” Mühl told media. “All the things that kind of led up to this, it’s crazy. I can’t believe it. But I’m just super grateful and I can’t wait to see [Sue Bird]. I’m sure she’s going to be of a great help, and my mentor and somebody that’s going to guide me, and I want that.”

One of the Storm’s biggest offseason needs after signing Skylar Diggins-Smith in free agency was a backup point guard. The team already has Jade Melbourne, but seemed unwilling to trust the young Australian with big minutes last season, at least partially due to her defense.

It would seem, then, that Melbourne and Mühl are in direct competition for one of very few open roster spots, but Storm personnel said that is not the case. Quinn said she sees a world in which, within the Storm’s somewhat positionless system, the two international guards play the one and two interchangably. General Manager Talisa Rhea spoke overall of a commitment to evaluate the entire roster and have the best 11 players possible to start the season, whatever that combination looks like.

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Culture fit

Quinn takes a lot of pride in and puts a lot of emphasis on her team’s defense. Mühl fits that culture brilliantly. The Croatian guard earned All Big East honors three seasons in a row for her impressive performances. As great as her facilitating is, her defense may be even better, earning her Big East Defender of the Year twice.

Mühl had the entire nation talking about her defense when her Huskies took on Iowa in the FInal Four. Fans were obsessed with the lockdown defense she played on Caitlin Clark. Her standout performances extended beyond the Final Four, too, showing out against JuJu Watkins and Dyaisha Fair to help UConn on its improbable tournament run.

The Storm were well aware of Mühl’s defensive prowess before the most recent NCAA Tournament, and there is no question it is one of the reasons the team, decidedly defense-first under Quinn, is so excited about her prospects.

“It really stood out to us because those assignments are tough,” Quinn told media. “The size, the ability, their scoring ability, their ability to pass and the way in which Nika played all those players … so the defense did stand out in the postseason for us and honestly throughout her entire career. But to have the load of those players, to take pride in that assignment, is what we saw.”

Nika Mühl crouches in a defensive stance with her arms out as she defends Caitlin Clark
Nika Mühl (10) defends Caitlin Clark (22) in the Final Four matchup between UConn and Iowa on April 5, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Though all of her family was back home in Croatia, except for her sister, Mühl had lots of support for the momentous occasion of draft night. She was joined at the table by some of her UConn family in head coach Geno Auriemma and associate head coach Chris Dailey, while two of her teammates, Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, were in the audience videotaping the moment like the proudest moms you’ve ever seen.

Mühl beautifully thanked her UConn family after being drafted and spoke with particular emotion about her head coach.

“He’s not just my coach. He’s my best friend,” Mühl said. “He’s been there from the start. When I failed, through the worst things, through the best things, he always stuck by my side and never left. I’ll cherish that bond and that relationship that I have with him forever. I’m so grateful and happy that he was there tonight.”

Beyond the personal, coming from UConn and playing under Auriemma has proved time and time again to be a recipe for success in the WNBA. Mühl is unlikely to be an exception.

“I feel like I couldn’t get more prepared than being at UConn, surrounded by all the coaches, but especially Coach [Auriemma]. He’s just a legend,” Mühl said. “They prepared me. They pushed me. They cussed me out when they had to. They yelled at me when they had to. They praised me when they had to. They just did everything right.”

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Seattle take the culture of the team very seriously, and who players are as people always goes into their decisions, Rhea told media. They feel Mühl perfectly fits, and can contribute to, this team culture headlined by community and high standards.

“We feel like Nika is one of those players that really is going to add a lot to our culture. That she’s a great teammate, that she’s going to work hard, that she’s going to match our standards and what we expect from our players and really add a lot of value,” Rhea said.

Mühl embodied that attitude when she told media how she hopes to make amazing relationships in Seattle and bring her best as a teammate because “I feel like that’s what makes and helps teams win, and I want to be a part of that winning program, because it truly is a historic, winning program.”

Whether or not she makes the roster, Mühl has the attitude necessary to go far. Discussing her future teammates, Mühl told media, “Those are some iconic basketball players, people that I want to learn from, that I want to listen to, that I want to get challenged by, that I want to get yelled at, everything, all of the above. I’m ready for it. … I feel eager to learn. I feel eager to be challenged and eager to fail and rise up, and I feel like that coaching staff and that team will do it for me.”

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Stashing talent for the future

With its second pick of the night, Seattle selected forward Mackenzie Holmes 26th. The Indiana Hoosiers star finished her college career with a program-record 2,530 points, 1,043 field goals made and a 63.9% field goal percentage. The 6’3 Maine native played a massive role in Indiana reaching three Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight, neither of which the program had achieved before her arrival in Bloomington.

When Holmes announced she was declaring for the draft, she also made public her plans to take 2024 away from the court to have surgery on her knee. In her social media announcement, Holmes shared that the knee injury has been present since ninth grade, and, rather than once again focusing on getting back on the court as quickly as possible, she will take “the steps to correct the problem and the damage it caused.” She hopes this decision will ensure her career is as long and successful as possible, as well as lead to a healthy body, prevention of further issues and less pain.

As a result, Holmes will not be available to play in 2024 but is expected to join the Storm for training camp in 2025.

Mackenzie Holmes pivots while holding the basketball at hip height, players blurry in motion around her, a look of concentration on her face
Forward Mackenzie Holmes (54) of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game between the Murray State Racers and the Indiana Hoosiers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN on November 17, 2023. (Photo credit: Gretta Cohoon | Indiana Athletics)

This works well for the Storm, who see her as a development piece and have limited roster space in 2024. They have five players — Alaina Coates, Kaela Davis, Joyner Holmes, Victoria Vivians and Kiana Williams — signed to training-camp contracts, plus Mühl, competing for two spots. In 2025, however, only Jewell Loyd and Diggins-Smith will be under contract. The rest of the roster is on nonguaranteed rookie-scale contracts or will be unrestricted free agents.

In terms of Holmes’ existing game, Rhea said, “I think she’s a really fundamentally sound player, versatile big, plays how we like to play, can guard, can stretch out, is continuing to work on her 3-point shot.” Holmes will benefit from having “an offseason to go through the rehab process but also to have some skill development time and to come into camp next year ready to go.”

As Rhea suggested, Holmes is dominant in the paint, but her 3-point shot has been inconsistent throughout her career. She has shown some ability to stretch the floor, but if she wants to make it as a professional she will need to expand her skill set in that area, developing a game similar to Megan Gustafson’s. The good news is she has a year to work on it.

For now, Holmes will get ready for her May surgery and rehab. The Storm will have conversations with her and her agent to determine how they can best support her while also finding some time soon to get her in market and around the team. Seattle hopes she will then be poised to make an impact next season and beyond.

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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