Comb through the stats of WNBA superstars and you’ll see the jump players make between years two and three. So keep an eye on Breanna Stewart especially.
The initials of former No. 1 overall pick Sue Bird are SB. The initials of former No. 1 overall pick Lauren Jackson are LJ. In their respective third and fourth seasons in the WNBA, they won their first title with the Storm.
The initials of former No. 1 overall pick Breanna Stewart are BS. The initials of former No. 1 overall pick Jewell Loyd are JL. Those are the reverse of Bird’s and Jackson’s, they’re about to begin their respective third and fourth seasons … so a Storm title is a wrap, right?
I’m not the first to raise this theory. A television reporter brought it to Loyd’s attention at Storm media day Wednesday, only to find out that Loyd’s friend informed her of the initial coincidence the day Stewart was drafted.
Does that mean another championship is coming to Seattle this fall?
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“I’m not going to say anything. I don’t want to jinx it,” said a grinning Loyd. “That would be pretty dope, though.”
But is it realistic?
At this time a year ago, former Storm coach Jenny Boucek made a point of tempering expectations. Her team finished under .500 the previous season and hadn’t added needle-moving personnel. A couple months later, Boucek had been fired, but her preseason analysis was correct — the Storm ended up 15-19 and was bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Since that time, though, the Storm has brought on coach Dan Hughes, a 20-year WNBA veteran who once led the San Antonio Silver Stars to the WNBA Finals. The team has drafted former UCLA point guard Jordin Canada, the No. 5 pick who had 15 points and five steals in Tuesday’s exhibition win over Phoenix. The Storm has signed 6-foot-4 forward Courtney Paris to help on the desperately-needed rebounding front. And it has watched Stewart and Loyd — two of the Storm’s national-team players (Bird being the third) — steadily improve.
With all that, I asked Hughes what we can expect from the Storm this season. Is this the year it returns to its street-parading ways?
His response? Slow down there, Turbo.
“The first thing I want to be is a winning basketball team. We haven’t been a winning basketball team since 2011,” said Hughes. “We have to change the defensive direction where it’s been and where we’d like to go. … To be elite, we’re going to have to shore up the defensive side of the ball.”
It’s true that it has been seven years since the Storm finished above .500. It’s also true that the nets the team has tried to protect take a lot of abuse.
It doesn’t look terrible upon first glance. The Storm’s opponent field-goal percentage was 44.3 last year — the fourth-worst out of 12 teams. But Seattle’s total rebounding was 11th, as was the number offensive boards allowed, meaning losses were typically the result of surrendered second-chance points.
How much roster turnover will help with that remains to be seen. Drafting a point guard certainly won’t be the antidote. A touch more length and bit more depth will help — but rebounding is as much about desire as it is about size. That’s what Hughes is going to have to instill.
More than anything, though, the Storm is going to have to get production from the marquee names — Stewart, Loyd and Bird.
Comb through WNBA superstars’ stats, and you’ll see the trampoline leap players make between years two and three. Diana Taurasi averaged 16.0 points on .410 shooting her second year, then 25.3 points on .452 shooting her third. Lauren Jackson averaged 17.2 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 40.3 percent her second year, then 21.2 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 48.3 percent shooting her third. Elena Delle Donne went from 17.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and a .429 shooting clip her second year to 21.2 points, 9.3 boards and a .460 clip her third.
So to expect Stewart — the player many consider to be the best women’s college basketball player ever — to improve mightily is not without merit. And seeing how she won four consecutive national titles at UConn, she’s getting pretty sick of this whole losing thing.
“I’m here to win. That’s why I play basketball. I’m tired of being 15-19 or whatever we were my rookie year,” said Stewart, who was joined by her dog, Spicy, at the podium. “It’s about winning and bringing that culture back to the Storm franchise.”
If Loyd can build upon her 17.7 points per game last year, they’ll get closer to that. And if the 37-year-old Bird — called the “Benjamin Button of basketball” Wednesday — can replicate the 10.6 points and career-high 6.6 assists from last season, they might even make a bit of a playoff run.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. It might be fun to dream of a title, but there’s a few steps to conquer first.
Despite LJ SB, BS and JL — becoming a winning basketball team should be the Storm’s initial goal.