May 18, 2024 

Seattle Storm see improvement amid disappointing start to season

Skylar Diggins-Smith: 'The effort is there. We're encouraged'

The Seattle Storm’s start to the 2024 WNBA season — back-to-back losses to the Minnesota Lynx — was both surprising and entirely predictable. Perhaps Seattle looked worse in its opener than expected, but it happened to the New York Liberty last season. It takes time for superstar signings to gel.

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Seattle built an incredible roster in the offseason, and now growth, specifically how fast the Storm can make it happen, will define this season’s success.

Tuesday’s home opener featured a fourth-quarter breakdown that ended in a 83-70 loss. Friday’s rematch in Minnesota showed big improvements.

“I definitely feel like the effort is there. We’re encouraged,” free-agent signing Skylar Diggins-Smith told reporters after Friday’s loss. “We know the mistakes that we’ve made — going forward, as we get more games under our belt, [we] know we can correct some of those.”

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Storm head coach Noelle Quinn echoed her point guard. Listing the positives from Friday’s game, Quinn noted “a sustained level of competitive spirit and desire.”

She continued, “A couple of down-the-stretch, 50-50 balls they got to, but I thought way less this this time around. I thought that our offense was flowing a little bit better than our first game. I thought that we withstood their physicality. Our disruption bothered them early. … We were very locked in with our adjustments that we were making throughout the game.”

On Tuesday, the first quarter featured flowing, easy offense for the Storm, but they struggled to communicate and make effective changes when Minnesota slowed them down. On Friday, the communication and fight was there, fueling a 17-4 run to send the game into overtime.

Quinn described how proud she was of her team for its connectivity and how that led to success.

“We talked about the first game how when some adversity hit, we got disconnected. I saw really good body language [in the second game] and I saw that our mentality was strong,” she said. “We never let the lead dictate how our posture was for possession by possession. [I] thought we came up with some good defensive possessions and some good execution down the stretch.”

“I felt very connected to my team today,” Diggins-Smith said. “So I’m just more so focusing on the culture of how we do things, how we want to conduct ourselves on the floor and our competitive spirit and just having more discipline.”

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Quinn also believes that culture is key to this growth. “I thought that we competed at a high level. I thought we stayed connected when it got tough,” she said. “And that’s not really a X’s and O’s thing; it is literally a culture thing. And I love what I felt, from that standpoint, in the game.”

Despite losing in double overtime, the growth from the first game to the second was a big leap. It’s what you want to see from a team that is learning how to play together.

What went as expected

Nneka Ogwumike has been a star in the WNBA for over a decade. Everyone knew her signing with Seattle would have a huge impact, and through two games, she has shined the brightest of any Storm player.

Ogwumike’s Storm debut featured 20 points and nine rebounds. On Friday, she scored 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the field, pulled down 11 rebounds and recorded five steals.

Ogwumike has looked fantastic combining with Jewell Loyd and Diggins-Smith on the offensive end while bringing veteran savvy on the defensive end.

Coming off the bench, Mercedes Russell was expected to make an impact, too, but she took her efficiency to another level. Playing 13 minutes on Tuesday and 11 on Friday, Russell had otherwise identical statlines. The 6’6 center shot a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor in both games with seven points and three rebounds.

Seattle Storm point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith stands in a low defensive position with her arms out wide. She defends Minnesota Lynx guard Natisha Hiedeman, who is dribbling the ball.
Seattle Storm point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (4) defends Minnesota Lynx guard Natisha Hiedeman (2) during a game at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 17, 2024. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

What was surprising

Some of Seattle’s scoring struggles can be traced to Loyd and Diggins-Smith’s trouble shooting the ball, very uncharacteristic of the Notre Dame alums. Loyd only hit three of her 19 shots on Tuesday while Diggins-Smith fared only slightly better, connecting on four of 13 attempts.

Loyd’s struggles followed her to Minnesota, where she shot 4-for-21 from the field. However, she made very smart adjustments to get to the free-throw line 11 times, and she contributed 20 points despite the struggles. Quinn said, “She’s very deadly when she gets into rhythm, and we’ll continue to get those shots for her and we’ll continue to get her in rhythm.”

Friday was also the first time in Loyd’s 10-year WNBA career that she fouled out of a game.

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Diggins-Smith seemed to find her groove towards the end of Friday’s game, shooting 8-for-22 on the night. Her struggles were somewhat more expected, given that she is returning to play after giving birth to her second child and after 20 months of no game action. The veteran’s shot may be a little rusty, but her court vision and conditioning is not.

Expect the former Fighting Irish teammates to find their shooting form sooner rather than later. Once they do, the Storm should start to look like the so-called superteam many expected.

As Diggins-Smith said, “We are only two-games in. Nothing’s gonna be sexy right now.” But with time, it will be.

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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