For the past three years, Sue Bird has graciously entertained my sometimes wacky and rarely profound theories on basketball, the WNBA and the Storm.
Usually, I have a story idea that seems perfect, until the 11-time WNBA All-Star, three-time league champion and future Hall of Famer says otherwise.
Thursday was no different.
Following practice, we debated if a WNBA team can win at a high level without a dominant post player.
Last year, six of the league’s top scorers were post players. In 2017, the top five scorers were post players. And the scoring champion has been either a forward or center in each of the past four seasons.
Furthermore, the past four WNBA champions have been led in scoring by, you guessed it, a post player who won the Finals MVP award.
Presented with what appeared to be a preponderance of evidence, Bird, a 5-foot-9 point guard who is entering her 17th season, smiled politely and rattled off several WNBA champions led by guards in the past two decades.
Most recently, Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi and Minnesota Lynx standout Maya Moore carried their teams to titles in 2014 and 2013, respectively.
“Don’t get me wrong, having a great player down low is a tremendous advantage … but guards in this league have proven they can win too,” Bird said. “Of course, we’re talking about really good players who played on really good teams. But it can be done.”
Which brings us to the Storm, which is still coping with the loss of MVP forward Breanna Stewart, who will miss the 2019 season due to an Achilles tendon injury suffered last month while playing overseas.
Theoretically, the next woman up is Jewell Loyd, a first-time All-Star last year who is poised for a big breakout season having been seemingly thrust into a starring role.
The 5-10 guard posted the best rebounding (4.6) and assist (3.7) numbers in her career in 2018 while her scoring (15.5 points) and minutes (29.7) dipped slightly from the previous year.
“When you’re playing with Stewie, who had an unbelievable season, you don’t need to do much,” Loyd said. “You just need to be consistent. I think that’s what I did. I did my job.
“You have expectations going into a season and then you realize who’s around you and what they’re doing so you adjust. I did what I needed to do for our team. I put the team first and me second. And we won a championship. That’s all that matters.”
So what’s best for Loyd and the Storm without Stewart?
“I know that with Stewie not being here that there’s more on me,” Loyd said. “I’ve played on teams where I had to carry teams before and I had to be the main focus so it’s nothing new to me. It’s just the opportunity that I have now to prove myself again on another level.
“I know the player that I am and I know where I’m at right now. I’m not too concerned about getting caught up in trying to average all these points. If I do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll get things done and we’ll be fine.”
Loyd has thrived the past three years playing alongside Stewart, who commands a lot of defensive attention.
However, it remains to be seen how opponents will defend Loyd without having to worry about Stewart, who averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals last season.
“A lot of people think I’m just a scorer, but I can pass the ball as well,” Loyd said. “That’s something that people underestimate about my game, that I can create and break down defenses in a lot of different ways.
“They can try to stop me from scoring, but I take pride in trying to make my teammates better. For me, it’s going to be fun. This is what I want to be a part of and this is what’s going to help me grow as a player. This is exciting for me. This is what I’ve been getting ready for since I’ve been in the league.”
However, that doesn’t mean the Storm suddenly will morph into the Jewell Loyd Show, featuring the former No. 1 overall draft choice of 2015.
“It’s normal for someone like Jewell in this scenario to be like I need to do more,” Bird said. “I thought the same thing when Lauren (Jackson) went down. Personally, I think Jewell needs to be even more of a consistent player and somebody that the team can count on and look on and be more of a leader.
“You can’t be something you’re not just because you’re saying it. You need to be yourself and shine in that way. Jewell has qualities that no one else on the team has and she needs to bring them every single game. When you have a great player like Stewie go out, you need everyone to be even more consistent than they were.”
Loyd has taken and made more three-pointers each year since her rookie season in 2015 when she shot 20.8 percent from three-point range.
“I’ve always come back and gotten better at something,” said Loyd, who shot 37.0 percent behind the arc last season. “I focused a lot on being more consistent from three and finding different ways to score.”
Still, it remains to be seen if the defending champion Storm can compete for another title with Loyd leading the way.
“Every championship team is different just like every season is different,” Loyd said. “People thought that Kobe (Bryant) was done after Shaq (O’Neal) left and you know how that played out.
We just have a different look than we had last year.
“I’m not worried about or getting caught up in what people say. It’s basketball. It’s a game of runs. It’s a game of energy. And we have that here. I’m confident in the players that we have and our coaching staff. Like I said, we’re still the champions until someone beats us and that’s something we can’t forget.”