In most instances, WNBA training camps are all about re-establishing continuity and discovering as much as possible about the newcomers in a relatively short amount of time before the start of the regular season.
This year is no different for the defending league champion Storm, which brings back just seven returners while adding 13 newcomers to a bloated 20-player training-camp roster.
Still, several veterans including star Breanna Stewart were absent from the first day of training camp Sunday and are expected to arrive later this week after completing requirements with their overseas teams.
“We’re still missing quite a few that are very familiar with our system,” said Sue Bird, who enters her 20th year in the WNBA and 18th season. “We just don’t have everybody here. And it’s Day 1 of brand-new faces. So we didn’t even get to cover like 90% of what we usually have in our defensive playbook.
“But what you did see today was … when you got legs, you can do a lot. And the one thing we do have is we got some young legs in this training camp currently. They cover a lot of ground. The names that come to mind, N’dea Jones did amazing today. She was everywhere. And Haley Gorecki showed signs of activity.”
Coach Dan Hughes, who returns to the sideline after sitting out last season for medical reasons, categorized the first training camp practice as a learning day in which the pace was slower than he liked.
Still, he was generally pleased with how the Storm’s three returning veterans in camp (Jewell Loyd, Jordin Canada and Bird) taught the schemes to the newbies.
“I’m a little slow to draw conclusions right away,” Hughes said. “I need a few days to do that. What starts to point out to you is the reality of multiple plays where they’re doing something really good or multiple where they’re doing something really bad. Today I don’t want to draw any conclusions and tomorrow I don’t want draw very many.”
Still, the Storm will need to make several personnel decisions before trimming the roster to 12 players before the league deadline May 13.
The Storm has a road exhibition against the Phoenix Mercury on May 8 before the two teams face off in a closed-door scrimmage on May 10 in Seattle.
Seattle opens the regular season at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett on May 15 against the Las Vegas Aces, which is a rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals.
Here are five areas that need to be addressed during the Storm’s training camp.
1. Find a role for Candice Dupree
In many aspects, bringing in a seven-time WNBA All-Star who won a league title with Phoenix in 2014 makes a lot of sense for a veteran Storm team that’s competing for a second straight championship.
However, there’s no certainty how the 36-year-old forward who signed a one-year, $170,000 deal will fit in with the Storm.
“For me personally, Day 1 was fun being out there with veteran players and people that can think the game and play high-IQ basketball,” said Dupree, who spent the past four years in Indiana, which never won more than 13 games during her tenure. “Can’t really tell how the fit will be yet. It’s just Day 1 and just putting in some early offense sets and working on our basic defense. But so far, it feels pretty good.”
Dupree is incredibly efficient offensively and should draw favorable one-on-one mismatches inside with lineups that include four perimeter shooters. Defensively, Dupree could be tasked with defending opposing centers such as Brittney Griner and Candace Parker, which might be a lot to ask from a 6-foot-2 and 178-pound forward.
2. Re-establish a defensive identity
There’s no getting around it, the Storm lost two of the WNBA’s best defensive players after trading Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark departed via free agency.
Hughes doesn’t think he’ll need to overhaul Seattle’s defensive schemes, but simply plugging in new players and expecting similar results isn’t realistic.
The Storm appears to have a vacancy in the starting lineup that will go to either Katie Lou Samuelson, Kennedy Burke or Mikiah “Kiki” Herbert Harrigan.
Unfortunately for Seattle, the players aren’t at training camp and solving that little mystery will go a long way in determining how much the Storm will need to trap and double-team opposing players.
3. Optimize Breanna Stewart
Stewart has two WNBA titles, two Finals MVP trophies and league MVP honors, but as Hughes noted last month, it’s impossible to know if the 26-year-old star is starting to reach the peak of her potential or if she’s capable of much more.
Hughes realizes Seattle has one of the best players in the league and wants to push her to make more decisions with the ball in her hands.
Theoretically, the versatile 6-foot-4 forward could direct the offense and assume more playmaking responsibilities.
4. Develop offensive chemistry and pecking order
The Storm had one of the best offenses in the WNBA last season, which ranked second in scoring (87.5 points per game), first in assists (21.9) and second in three-point percentage (39.4%).
Stewart and Loyd figure to return as the primary scorers like they were during the Storm’s championship runs in 2020 and 2018.
After those two, it’s anyone’s guess where the ball goes next. Dupree and Bird are viable scoring options who are equally skilled at running the pick-n-roll, which is a staple of Seattle’s offense.
It remains to be seen where Samuelson, Burke and Herbert Harrigan will find their shots.
Meanwhile, Canada, who enters a contract year, and promising second-year center Ezi Magbegor could also be given expanded roles.
5. Kitija or Kiana?
Ostensibly, the last spot on the Storm’s roster will go to Kitija Laksa or Kiana Williams.
Laksa, a 6-foot guard from Latvia, was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA draft who remained overseas last season. Williams, a 5-8 guard from Stanford, was the 18th overall pick in the second round in this year’s draft.
Laksa may have an easier time finding minutes considering she’s touted as a perimeter threat slotted behind Loyd while Williams is vying for playing time with Bird, Canada and veteran Epiphanny Prince.