June 25, 2024 

Victoria Vivians is Seattle’s unsung starter

Jewell Loyd: 'She’s always in the right spot, comes up with a big rebound, big block, big deflection, whatever it is, right when we need it.'

SEATTLE — Victoria Vivians may not always stand out on the stat sheet, but her play will stand out to her Seattle Storm teammates and coaches.

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“She’s been consistent for us and she probably doesn’t get mentioned enough,” Storm guard Jewell Loyd told media after their home victory over Vivians’ former team, the Indiana Fever. “She’s been helpful for us and she’s always in the right spot, comes up with a big rebound, big block, big deflection, whatever it is, right when we need it.”

Vivians signed with Seattle in the offseason as a free agent after agreeing to a $90,000 buyout on her guaranteed contract with the Fever worth $137,000. The guard’s signing with the Storm flew under the radar as signings of the likes of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Nneka Ogwumike understandably drew headlines. But despite the lack of media attention or flashy stat lines, Vivians has become an important piece of the Storm roster as they look to compete for a WNBA Championship.

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“My first role is to be a two-way player, be good on offense and defense, but I focus more on defense,” Vivians told The Next. “So I feel like I bring my defense to the game, try to guard the best player and hold them under their average. I feel like that and my shooting ability — to space the floor and keep the offense honest.”

Starting alongside Loyd, Diggins-Smith, Ogwumike, and center Ezi Magbegor, Vivians is averaging four points, 2.9 rebounds, one assist and 0.6 steals in 16.7 minutes per game. While not the most eye-popping stats, these are some of the most efficient of her career.

While Seattle expects consistent offensive contributions from Vivians, the asset that keeps earning her minutes is her defense.

“She can be a really good defensive player for us in terms of what we need,” assistant coach Pokey Chatman told The Next. “It may not be the lockdown one on one defender against certain people, but she understands angles, she understands size, and she recognizes sets in actions.”

Victoria Vivians defends Courtney Williams in a game against the Minnesota Lynx at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn. on June 9. (Photo provided by Seattle Storm)

Although Vivians comes from a defense-first system under Texas head coach Vic Schaefer — whose defensive principles most recently led the Longhorns to the Elite Eight a few months ago — it hasn’t always been her focus. Now Vivians understands its importance, and has worked to improve over her time as professional. 

“A defensive player is gonna be on the court all the time because you need defense to win games,” Vivians said. “So I feel like, in order for me to stay on the court, I feel like my defense has to be consistent.”

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Two things seemingly define Vivians’ defensive strength: effort and basketball IQ.

“Honestly, defense is about effort, I mean it’s not about being lazy. Everybody can guard it’s just how much effort you put into it,” Vivians said. “With me it’s pride and effort … I don’t want to get scored on no matter who I’m guarding. It could be the best player or not the best player. I’m still gonna guard them with the same intensity as I guard the best player.”

The Mississippi native combines this effort with extensive knowledge of personnel and attention to the scout. A WNBA veteran, Vivians has played in 160 games since being drafted by Indiana in 2018 and averaged over 20 minutes per game throughout her six seasons. Chatman says Vivians has learned from getting meaningful reps in the league:

“She’s been in the league several years, she played for different coaches. So she understands the different ways to go about doing things so nothing’s new to her,” Chatman said. “Sometimes we think about great defenders as the most athletic or the tallest or their blocking shots, but she understands actions that we’re trying to take away — whether we’re switching someone, whether we’re top locking someone.”

Vivians’ defensive prowess particularly shone in Seattle’s early June home win over Phoenix. Diana Taurasi only scored seven points on 3-for-12 shooting, with Vivians being her primary defender for most of the game. Every game the Storm coaches honor the player with the best defensive performance with a WWE award-style belt; Vivians received that honor against the Mercury.

Head coach Noelle Quinn explained after the game, “She’s in Diana’s space, she’s aggressive, she’s blowing things up and she’s being very sharp with her scout defense. Because of that she got the belt today, because I think it’s just important to highlight and to continue to empower and encourage her to continue on this path of great defense. She’s had some tough assignments, I think she’s taking the challenge excellently.”

On the topic of Vivian’s contributions that don’t show up on the stat sheet, Diggins-Smith praised her teammates’ “toughness, her edge that she brings to the table, especially in the first unit.” Diggins-Smith added, “she’s been taking some tough defensive assignments these last few games and has really stepped it up for us. So shout out Tori.”

Contributing in multiple areas

Vivians’ greatest offensive weapon is her three-point shot. It’s one of the reasons Chatman drafted Vivians No. 8 overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft as head coach of the Indiana Fever at the time. “I think there’s always a space for a shooter in our league because they, pun intended, create space,” Chatman said.

At the beginning of the season, Quinn mentioned Vivians shooting 40% from three in her rookie year as a sort of benchmark they knew she was capable of. Seattle wants Vivians to space the floor and knock down open threes when her All-Star teammates draw defenses. Sixteen games into the season, Vivians is converting 40.6% of her three-point attempts, the tenth-best three-point field goal percentage in the league.

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In some ways, Vivians’ job is to not stand out too much offensively.  “The focus is not on me,” Vivians said in an interview with the Seattle Times. “Not when I’m next to those All-Stars.” As such, her usage percentage is the lowest of her career, just 12.4%. While the Storm are set up for their stars to shine brightest and take most of the shots, Vivians focuses on being efficient when she gets open shots.

Many people expected second-year player Jordan Horston to be Seattle’s fifth starter alongside Loyd, Diggins-Smith, Ogwumike and Magbegor, but Vivians has filled that role since the first preseason game. Explaining after a pre-season routing of the Mercury why she likes starting Vivians at the three-position Quinn said it was her “poise and an ability to play with four other amazing players, and not need a lot of attention as far as touches.”

Victoria Vivians holds up her arm at the end of her three-point shooting motion and her teammates on the bench raise their arms in expectation of a make behind her.
Victoria Vivians holds her follow through on a three-point shot attempt against the Dallas Wings on June 13 at College Park Center. (Photo provided by Seattle Storm)

Quinn continued, “Knocking down open threes. Defensively being solid. There’s something about having a vet who has been in this league… She adds a lot of value in the locker room, very positive and a pro and I think we need that.”

According to Loyd, Vivians has done everything they expected: “She’s been very vocal in our huddles when we’re talking about certain things and schemes, making sure she’s very knowledgeable about the details and honestly her defense has been really helpful these games,” Loyd said. “She’s kind of always in the right spots for us to execute at both ends of the floor and I think her ability to understand the details on her person that she’s guarding or even on offense helps her a lot.”

Vivians’ rebounding, a skill that combines her high effort and basketball IQ, is also very strong. “I think she has a mindset — she’s hungry, so she will go after the ball. But she also has a knack for knowing where the long balls are gonna go,” Chatman said. “She does get us a couple extra possessions a game.”

Standing at 6’1, Vivians plays the three most often but can also be deployed as a four when Seattle wants to play small. Chatman also praised Vivians’ post entry passes: “She’s used to playing with post players so her post entry passes and looking to enter a ball to the post is something that we hadn’t had a lot of in the past, but now with Nneka, and Ezi asserting herself, it adds another dynamics to our offense.”

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Veteran leadership and a fresh start

Vivians was an outstanding scorer in high school and college but has somewhat underwhelmed expectations in the WNBA. Seattle may be the perfect place to revitalize her game and show people what she can do after struggling in Indiana where she spent the first six years of her career (just five seasons played as she missed all of 2019 to injury).

The guard had signed a two-year guaranteed contract with the Fever in 2023 after posting career-high numbers in points (9.8), rebounds (3.6) and assists (2.4) during the 2022 season. During the 2023 season she averaged 5.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists while making 14 starts and appearing in 38 games. In March, she agreed to a buyout of her contract as Indiana looked to clear salary cap space.

“I didn’t want to be there,” Vivians told The Next of Indiana. “The situation wasn’t good so it was my decision to leave, and then here came Seattle. So I felt like it was a better opportunity for me which it is because now I’m in a starting role defending the best players on the court every night so I’m appreciative and grateful for this opportunity.”

Victoria Vivians smiles widely during warmups wearing a black zip-up quote with Storm written across the chest in neon green.
Victoria Vivians smiles ahead of a matchup against the Minnesota Lynx on May 14, 2024 at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. (Photo credit Seattle Storm / Jane Gershovich)

Vivians feels Seattle has provided “a complete reset” and been “a breath of fresh air.” She praised the opportunity to be part of a winning program and play with All-Stars like Ogwumike, Loyd, and Diggins-Smith, adding of her decision to join the Storm: “It would be dumb for me not to come here.”

Sunday’s home victory over the Connecticut Sun marked the first match all season that Vivians did not start. Quinn told reporters after the big win that she communicated to both Vivians and Jordan Horston before the game that she wanted to match Horston’s minutes with Dewanna Bonner’s minutes at the three as much as possible. Quinn felt that Horston had the size, athleticism, and most importantly, reps guarding Bonner last season, to be particularly effective as a matchup stopping the league’s fifth leading scorer all-time. 

As Bonner played most of the game at the three position, Vivians only played five minutes. Horston was effective and had a terrific night, but Vivians still provided important help off the bench when needed. She hit one three-pointer and recorded a steal.

As of right now it is unclear if Horston will continue to start but Vivians will continue to be a tough veteran presence on both ends of the floor whenever the Storm call upon her.

“She’s got some grit to her,” Chatman said. “She’s got some hustle, and how can you not like that?”

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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