Noelle Quinn doesn’t particularly like comparisons, but the Storm coach refers to the Chicago Sky for perspective on Seattle’s uninspiring 5-5 start.
“The thing I always think about when going through adversity is Chicago was the blueprint,” she said. “They won a championship and they were 15-15.”
Few outside of the most ardent Sky fans would have believed they would recover from a dreadful 3-7 start and win their first WNBA title last year.
Quinn, who has been forced to shuffle four different starting lineups, will have everyone available for just the second time at 7 p.m. Tuesday when Seattle faces the Atlanta Dream (7-4) at Climate Pledge Arena.
“This group hasn’t had [many games] together,” she said. “We are learning. … I’m not trying to look at our record and panic by any means.
“But it’s encouraging to know that we don’t want to be great in June. We want to be great in July, August, September and peak at the right time.”
After 10 games, here’s a look at five things we’ve learned about the Storm.
1. Stewie is staging a potentially historic season
Breanna Stewart is the only WNBA player who ranks among the league’s top 15 in points per game (20.4 — 1st), steals per game (2.9 — 1st), blocks per game (1.0 — tied 11th) and rebounds per game (7.0 — 14th).
Stewart is virtually a lock to garner her fourth All-Star selection and it’s probable that she’ll make her third All-Star Game start.
Granted, it’s way too early to seriously think about postseason awards, but Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP, has emerged as an MVP front-runner and is putting herself in position to contend for her first WNBA Defensive MVP award.
“What I wanted to do was make an impact on both ends,” Stewart said. “Knowing our defensive schemes and growing into a vet and understanding the spots you want to be on the court offensively and defensively.
“Trying to just disrupt the other team’s offense is what I’m trying to do.”
Stewart could become the first player to capture the league’s MVP and Defensive MVP awards since former Storm star Lauren Jackson in 2007. Only four players have captured both awards in the same season, including Sheryl Swoopes (2000 and ’02), Lisa Leslie (2004) and Yolanda Griffith (1999).
2. Ezi is ascending
In her third year, Ezi Magbegor is giving off major Natasha Howard 2018 vibes when the former Storm standout had a breakout year that launched her to stardom.
The 6-foot-4 center leads the league with 2.9 blocks per game and is 10th in the league in steals at 1.6. Magbegor is also no slouch in the scoring and rebounding departments while averaging 12.0 and 7.0, respectively.
“She’s really starting to understand herself more and understand the game a little bit more at this level,” guard Sue Bird said. “Ezi has always known how to do things, and now she’s starting to see when to do things.
“It’s funny because I still see so much more she can do and areas she can grow in, which is a great sign. The kid’s still 22. … Now she’s presenting like a mature WNBA player who knows exactly what she’s doing out there.”
Magbegor, who missed three games while in the league’s health and safety protocols, has started seven games in place of Mercedes Russell, who sat out the first eight games while recovering from an undisclosed non-basketball injury.
Quinn was unsure if Magbegor would return to the bench once Russell is ready to start.
“She’s showing that she’s very capable in that position,” Quinn said. “What Ezi can do with whatever unit she’s on the floor with I don’t want to hold that back. I think she’s done a great job this year.”
3. Fewer threes, more free throws would probably help
Jewell Loyd rationalized “three is worth more than two” to explain why the Storm lead the WNBA with 27.7 three-point attempts per game.
At their current pace, Seattle would finish the season with a league-record 997 shots behind the arc.
No WNBA team is as reliant on the three-ball as the Storm, who get 35.5% of their scoring from the perimeter.
Conversely, Seattle ranks last in the league in free-throw attempts per game (14.2) and percentage of points from the line (14.5%).
“It starts with me setting a tone in that sense just because it’s something I can do,” said Loyd, who leads Seattle with 65 three-point attempts. “But when we get great three-point shots, we’re not going to turn those down. We’re all shooters on this team. Our ability to make shots when we need to is part of our DNA for a long time. It’s how the game is changing, too.
“But we definitely want to get to the free-throw line.”
The Storm have not attempted fewer than 24 three-pointers in any game this season. However, in the past three games, Seattle has made 13, eight and seven free-throw attempts.
4. The reserves need a leader
We all know about the Big Three and how fundamental they are in Seattle’s success.
But when the Storm really had it rolling a few years ago and won WNBA titles in 2018 and 2020, they could count on meaningful and somewhat consistent contributions from a handful of backup players.
For the past two years, bench production has been lacking in Seattle.
So far, Seattle hasn’t been able to define roles because the intended 11-player roster has played just one game together. But Quinn made it clear that she’s expecting Epiphanny Prince and Stephanie Talbot, who are both averaging 5.6 points, to take command of the reserves.
5. Climate Pledge is nice, but …
The Storm love the locker room amenities at the $1.15 billion Climate Pledge Arena as well as the team’s average attendance of 10,312, which is on pace to set a team record and leads the WNBA by more than 3,000.
However, the spacious new venue, which is 800,000 square feet and nearly double the size of predecessor KeyArena, isn’t without its downsides.
“There is a depth perception thing in this building,” Stewart said Friday night following a 68-51 loss to the Dallas Wings when the Storm shot 31.7% from the field and 17.2% on three-pointers. “That is not an excuse, but we’re getting used to it.
“Something is a little bit funky.”
Loyd added, “There’s something to it, but whatever it is, we have to get used to it.”
The Storm’s 5-3 home record has just as much to do with their fluctuating roster and player availability as it does anything else.
At home, Seattle is shooting 41.4% from the field, 32.5% on three-pointers and 80% at the line. On the road, those percentages are 36.7, 35.5 and 77.8, which isn’t a whole lot different.
Still, perception — pun intended — is everything and the Storm believe their new building partly explains why the offense has been misfiring.
“We’re trying to get comfortable shooting in a new arena,” Stewart said. “It’s not [KeyArena]. It’s not the same depth-perception wise and hopefully it’s going to come sooner than later because you can feel the fans are just waiting for a reason to explode, and we need to give it to them.”