Expectations were modest and practically nonexistent when the Storm acquired Stephanie Talbot on Feb. 10 in a trade with New York that sent Sami Whitcomb to the Liberty.
It appeared Seattle had gotten fleeced, considering the Storm swapped a homegrown fan favorite who thrived in the role of a three-point specialist for a relatively unknown commodity in Talbot. She had been a marginal contributor during her three years in the WNBA and chose not to play in the league last year due to personal reasons.
In hindsight, Talbot said she wished she had played the 2020 season, but she reconciled that “it was better off for me in the long run.”
Sitting out last summer allowed the 6-foot-2 and 192-pound forward to improve her strength and conditioning after shedding a few pounds.
After a historic season in Australia’s WNBL in which Talbot became the first player in league history to win the Most Valuable Player of the Year award and the Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season, Talbot was traded to the Storm.
“I was super excited to be honest,” Talbot said Monday during a Zoom interview. “I was at New York. I hadn’t played there before, but looking from the outside they had a lot of (wings). It was going to be a tough spot for me to be in. Seattle, with Alysha Clark leaving, there was an opportunity that opened up for me to kind of earn a spot and earn some court time. It was an exciting trade for me.”
Still, Talbot was a training-camp invitee with a non-guaranteed contract and no assurance of latching on with the 2020 WNBA champions.
“I knew (she had) a chance, but when she got into camp, I just kind of watched her fit into our system both offensively and defensively,” coach Dan Hughes said. “Then I started seeing the versatility that we can make use of eventually down the line. That was a bit of a surprise just to be frank. But a good surprise.”
Making Seattle’s opening-day roster is something of a monumental achievement for Talbot, the No. 33 overall pick in the 2014 WNBA draft, considering she’s one of just three third-round draft picks playing in the league this season. The others are Washington’s Theresa Plaisance and Stella Johnson.
“I’ve never been one to be concerned about where somebody was drafted,” Hughes said. “If you take a look at my history, you’ll find I coached a number of players who weren’t first-rounders. … Those things don’t matter to me. It’s all about can you play and can you help the team?”
It’s early, but Talbot has displayed many of the attributes that allowed Clark to thrive the past few years playing alongside WNBA All-Stars Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd.
With so many prolific scorers, including seven-time WNBA All-Star Candice Dupree, Bird noted “no one should have to take a tough shot on this team.”
During Seattle’s 97-83 win over Las Vegas on Saturday, Talbot got several open looks as the fifth offensive option and knocked down two of four three-point attempts for six points in 17 minutes off the bench. She also collected four rebounds.
“She’s got a lot of bounce in her step,” assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “She’s pretty athletic. She can run the floor. She can get to the rim. She’s an excellent three-point shooter. She can stop on the fast break and knock down the 3 and she rebounds. She’s a very good rebounder at both ends of the floor.
“What I’ve seen with her defensively is she’s really picking up what we’re doing. She’s a pretty good on-ball defender. She’s a very good help defender and knows what we’re doing with all of our trappings. As she gains more confidence, I think she’s really going to have an excellent year for us.”
Considering the modest expectations upon her arrival, Storm fans would be thrilled if Talbot comes anywhere near matching her 13-game performance with Australia’s Adelaide Lightning in 2020 when she averaged 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals while shooting a career-high 47.9% on field goals.
“I’ve only been here three weeks, but I’m loving it here,” Talbot said. “I love the way they play. They like to run. They like to play up-tempo. They’re a defensive team. That suits me to a tee. I like to get out and run. I like to use my athleticism. I’m really enjoying playing with the girls here. It’s only been one game, but I hope it’s going to be a really good fit for me.”
Talbot will likely come off the bench once again when Seattle (1-0) faces Las Vegas (0-1) in Tuesday’s 7 p.m. rematch at Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena, but she’s poised to assume more responsibilities.
Newcomer Katie Lou Samuelson, who started the opener, is temporarily leaving the Storm on Wednesday and will miss 5-6 games while competing with Team USA in the FIBA 3×3 Olympic qualifying tournament on May 26-30 in Graz, Austria.
Samuelson’s absence seemingly creates an opening in the lineup for Talbot, who admittedly was unsure three weeks ago if she’d make the team.
“About a week before the final rosters were due I was really nervous,” Talbot said. “We had a lot of really good players here. But in that final week, I had a really good week on the training floor. My second scrimmage was pretty good. I was pretty confident in the fact that I put my best foot forward.
“I’m super excited to be playing with this team and happy to be here.”
Reserves Epiphanny Prince and Mercedes Russell, who missed Saturday’s opener, will not be available Tuesday while completing WNBA protocols to rejoin the team. The Storm is expected to add them to the roster before its two-game road trip that begins Thursday in Minnesota.