It’s probably time to find an heir apparent to star point guard Sue Bird, 37. Could it be UCLA’s Jordin Canada?
For most of her 16-year professional career, the indestructible Sue Bird has been the Seattle Storm’s Iron Lady.
Aside from 2013 when she sat out the entire season due to knee surgery, the 37-year-old Hall-of-Fame bound point guard has started 516 of a possible 549 games, including the postseason.
Bird displayed few signs of slowing down last season while averaging a career-best 6.6 assists, 2.0 turnovers (the second lowest in her career), 10.6 points and 30 minutes in 30 games.
When: 4 p.m. Thursday Where: New York City
TV: ESPN2 (first round), ESPNU (second and third rounds)
Storm picks: No. 5 first round, No. 5 third round (29th overall)
As difficult as it may be to imagine the Storm without Bird, this looks to be the year when Seattle finds her heir apparent in the WNBA draft. The Storm has the No. 5 pick in the first round and then the 29th overall pick, in the third round.
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“Even though we don’t want to face it, Sue Bird will have to retire at some point,” ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said. “So I definitely think Seattle will be looking at a point guard option with their pick.”
By most accounts, the best point guard in the draft is Jordin Canada.
The 23-year-old Los Angeles native starred the past four years at UCLA, where she became a hometown hero who broke the Pac-12’s 27-year-old career assist record with 793.
The Bruins star averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 steals while starting 131 of 137 games.
Canada, the Pac-12’s reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, has led the conference in steals in each of the past three seasons and became the first women’s player in Pac-12 history to log 1,800 points and 700 assists.
“Is there a player that’s more fun to watch than her?” Robinson said. “She can lose a defender off the bounce, no problem. Very classy. She can penetrate the defense (and) find the seams. She’s got the next-level quickness.
“Not a pure shooter, meaning I don’t think she’s thinking about shooting the three every time she touches it … but you have to respect the fact that she’s worked on that three.”
The draft’s other top point guard prospect is Duke star Lexi Brown, a projected first-round pick who averaged 19.4 points, 4.4 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 3.7 steals last season.
Recent Storm drafts
2nd round (15th pick overall): Alexis Peterson
3rd round (30th pick overall): Lanay Montgomery
1st round (1st pick overall): Breanna Stewart
3rd round (26th pick overall): Lexi Eaton Rydalch
1st round (1st pick overall): Jewell Loyd
1st round (3rd pick overall): Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
2nd round (20th pick overall): Vicky McIntyre
3rd round (26th pick overall): Nneka Enemkpali
“The thing that sets her apart a little bit is her size,” Robinson said about Brown, who is 5-9. “She’s got a couple inches on most of the point guard group. Her three-point range is something that is intriguing to me because you stretch the line a little bit in the WNBA more than it is in college.”
Brown, who converted 69 of 186 three-pointers (37.1 percent), is the third player from a Power Five conference with career numbers exceeding 2,000 points, 500 assists, 300 steals and 200 three-pointers.
“She’s the ACC Defensive Player of the Year,” Robinson said. “That’s a part of her game that really impressed me, her strength on the ball. She has a high basketball IQ. Really sees the floor well and comes from a basketball pedigree.
“The other thing that kind of is different about Lexie is that she can play the 1 and 2. She’s got enough size that she can move to the 2 and become a shooter as well.”
The Storm is hoping to contend for a WNBA title after finishing the past two seasons with a first-round loss in the playoffs. Still, optimism needs to be tempered considering Seattle hasn’t finished with a winning season since 2011.
“We’ve addressed a lot of areas already and in this draft I believe we’ll find someone who will not only help us this season but for many years to come,” said president Alisha Valavanis, who oversees her fourth draft with the Storm. “I see the person we pick (Thursday) fitting in nicely with our core group that we’ve assembled.”
With the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 and 2015, Valavanis selected forward Breanna Stewart and guard Jewell Loyd, respectively. Last season, Stewart finished second in scoring (19.9) and Loyd ninth (17.7) in the WNBA.
“The first year (2015) was actually very nuanced, but the second year with Stewie it was a pretty clear decision for us,” Valavanis said. “We’re really excited about the fifth pick in a draft class that we think is very strong. … But like I said, we’ve made a few moves in free agency in preparation of this draft.”
The Storm’s biggest offseason acquisition was bringing in new coach Dan Hughes, who came out of retirement in October.
“We are not looking to replace Sue,” Hughes said. “We are definitely looking for someone to complement all the great things Sue does for the team.
“This is more about Sue being Sue, and a tailor-made opportunity for whoever we bring to camp to learn from Sue and to complement her.”
Since the arrival of the 62-year-old defensive-minded coach, Seattle began remaking the team with his input, specifically fortifying the front line. The Storm traded its 2018 second-round pick for 6-4 forward Natasha Howard and signed free agent Courtney Paris, a 6-4 center.
Seattle also re-signed forward Crystal Langhorne, who averaged 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds last season, and brought back reserve guards Sami Whitcomb and Noelle Quinn.
“A focus for us in the offseason was to improve around the rim, improve rebounding and improve our presence in the paint,” Valavanis said. “So we tackled that and really focused on that.
“We’re continuing to think about the backcourt and how we can complement and have depth at the (point-guard) position. I think we’re also as a staff of the mind-set that we’ll continue to look at the best available player. So those are two of the filters that we’re using as we think about the pick.”
Hughes, who has poured over hours of film on draft projects, admits the Storm has narrowed the team’s pick to a range of 10 players.
Robinson is pretty sure it will be either Canada or Brown.
“I really think Seattle would be looking at one or two of those point guards to back up Sue,” she said.
|The Associated Press conducted a mock draft of WNBA coaches and general managers.|
|1. Las Vegas||A’ja Wilson*||South Carolina||C|
|Comment: Consensus national player of the year who averaged 22.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.|
|2. Indiana||Kelsey Mitchell*||Ohio State||G|
|Comment: The four-time All-American finished second on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list behind Washington’s Kelsey Plum.|
|3. Chicago||Diamond DeShields*||Turkey||G|
|Comment: Started collegiate career at North Carolina and skipped senior year at Tennessee to play overseas.|
|4. Chicago||Azura Stevens*||Connecticut||F|
|Comment: Spent two years at Duke and played last season at UConn before becoming first-ever Husky to turn pro early.|
|5. Seattle||Jordin Canada*||UCLA||G|
|Comment: Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year winner and Pac-12’s career assists leader is the heir apparent to Sue Bird.|
|6. Dallas||Gabby Williams*||Connecticut||F|
|Comment: Most athletic player in the draft who averaged 11.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.6 steals last season.|
|7. Washington||Victoria Vivians*||Mississippi St.||G|
|Comment: All-around performer who led Bulldogs to NCAA tournament title game in each of the past two seasons.|
|8. Indiana||Maria Vadeeva||Russia||C|
|Comment: Young 6-foot-3 lefty star has been playing professionally on one of the best teams in the country.|
|9. Connecticut||Kia Nurse*||Connecticut||G|
|Comment: Four-year starter who played for Canada in the 2016 Olympics. Invited to WNBA draft after averaging 13.5 points.|
|10. New York||Ariel Atkins||Texas||G|
|Comment: Three-time All-Big 12 performer and speedy playmaker who averaged 12.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists.|
|11. Los Angeles||Stephanie Mavunga||Ohio State||F|
|Comment: Started two years at North Carolina and Ohio State and established reputation as a big-time rebounder and defender.|
|12. Phoenix||Marie Gulich||Oregon State||C|
|Comment: The 6-5 rim protector ranks third in OSU history in blocks, fifth in rebounds and fourth in field-goal percentage.|
|* Invited to WNBA draft|