With a 38-year-old point guard, a reigning MVP superstar and a veteran roster, the defending WNBA champion Storm is in win-now mode and seeking to become the first team in 17 years to collect back-to-back titles.
To that end, adding a young player in Wednesday’s WNBA draft — especially with the last pick in the first round — didn’t align with Seattle’s immediate plans.
So the Storm used the 12th overall pick to select 19-year-old Australian center Ezi Magbegor, who will remain overseas this year with plans to join Seattle in 2020.
“We knew before the draft that Ezi was committed to staying in Australia and developing in 2019,” Storm CEO and general manager Alisha Valavanis said. “That was part of the plan. We’re looking forward to 2020. This was a decision to invest in a future player for the team. And we’re thrilled that she was there at 12.
“The goal this offseason was to bring back the players that became free agents and to really keep in tact the roster that was in place. It’s a championship roster. There was a focus on not disrupting the core.”
That core includes perennial All-Star point guard Sue Bird, the league’s oldest player, 24-year-old MVP forward Breanna Stewart, All-Star guard Jewell Loyd and a handful of role players on a team that finished with a league best 26-8 record.
Magbegor may not have a role with the Storm this season, but the 6-foot-4 post player is expected to follow the path of her mentor Lauren Jackson and become the next great Aussie to star for the Storm.
“Lauren was definitely one of my basketball idols growing up,” Magbegor said. “She has had an amazing career and has definitely left a legacy on the WNBA and Australian basketball.”
Magbegor initially jumped on the Storm’s radar while averaging 7.6 points and 3.8 rebounds for the Australian national team at the 2018 FIBA World Championships in San Cristobal de la Laguna, Spain, last September.
“She was on the Australia national team when Jewell, Sue and Stewie and I were with Team USA,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “She played us and, a matter of a fact, she played well against us. I kind of followed her after that. … She just has that kind of upside that was kind of special.
“We got a player that I think will develop and that some point could be a very good player in the WNBA.”
Valavanis described Magbegor as a “unique talent” with “a lot of length and a lot of athleticism.”
Hughes compared her favorably to Storm forward Natasha Howard, who won the league’s Most Improved Player award and was selected to the league’s all-defensive team last year.
“Ezi is a little bigger than Natasha, but she’s got some of things that Natasha has,” Hughes said. “She’s also 6-4 and has the ability athletically to do some things at the (center) position. She could be a (forward) and she could be a (center) in our league and she’s developing in a lot of ways.”
In the second round, the Storm used the 24th overall pick to select Mississippi State’s Anriel Howard, a 5-11 forward who averaged 16.4 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.
“She’s somebody that we spent time evaluating and a lot of time discussing,” Hughes said. “She was truly in the discussion at 12. We really feel like we were very fortunate that we got her at 24.”
The Storm took South Dakota State guard Macy Miller in the third round with the final pick at No. 36.
“Her strengths fit with the chemistry and culture with how we play,” Hughes said about Miller, who averaged 16.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 turnovers. “I like the idea that she’s a shot maker and throws the ball to the right people.”
Howard and Miller will have a difficulty finding a spot on a crowded roster with few obvious openings.
Seattle has 11 players under contract. WNBA teams must carry a minimum of 11 players and no more than 12.
“You’re talking about someone that is having to make a jump from college to pro and maybe is competing with a player that’s already played in the league,” ESPN analyst Kara Lawson said. “The limited time frame that you have to prove it, it’s not like you get two months to prove it. You get two weeks or three weeks.
“And it’s really hard because it’s a pressure-packed environment in the practices and certainly in the preseason games. You’re having to also learn a new system for most players, new terminology. … You’re processing all those things at the same time in a training-camp scenario where you’re playing against the best players you’ve ever played against in your life. It’s just not easy.”
Storm training camp opens May 5 ahead of exhibitions against Phoenix (May 15) and Los Angeles (May 17).
WNBA teams must finalize rosters on May 23 and Seattle opens the regular season May 25 against Phoenix.
Howard and Miller are the only additions that Storm have made to the roster, but Hughes hinted the team is still attempting to tweak the roster.
“We’re not done yet,” he said.
NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said the league hopes to have a WNBA commissioner in place before May 25 regular-season opener.
“It’s such a critical time for the WNBA right now and we want to find the right person, the right set of skills for this job,” Tatum said.