Natasha Howard discovered a rebirth in Seattle where she’s playing the best basketball since her record-breaking days at Florida State and the Storm (10-4) has emerged as an early title contender.

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Before tipoff Tuesday night, Natasha Howard will collect her 2017 WNBA championship ring, which will close the chapter on her two-year tenure in Minnesota.

Lynx fans at the Target Center might still be stewing over the trade that sent the 6-foot-2 versatile forward to the Storm and seemingly reversed the fortunes of both teams.

The deal depleted the depth of the defending WNBA champion, which stumbled to a 3-6 start before reeling off four consecutive victories and climbing to a sixth-place tie in the league standings at 7-6.

Meanwhile, Howard discovered a rebirth in Seattle where she’s playing the best basketball since her record-breaking days at Florida State and the Storm (10-4) has emerged as an early title contender.

“I’m just being me,” Howard said. “Being myself, getting out of my shell a little bit and embracing what I have that God gave me.

“It’s just being comfortable with myself and my teammates have confidence in me. … I always told myself I could do more if I played more. I’ve always believed that.”

Howard played in all 34 games the past two seasons while helping the Lynx to a pair of trips to the WNBA Finals, but she made just one start and averaged 4.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 11.7 minutes in 2017.

Minnesota traded Howard to Seattle for a 2018 second-round choice and the rights to swap the team’s 2019 first-round selections.

The Lynx chose center Ji-Su Park in the second round before packaging her in a deal with Las Vegas for a 2019 second-round selection and former Gonzaga star Jill Barta, who was released before the season.

“I can’t speak on why I was traded or things like that because I really don’t know,” Howard said. “I’m proud of what we got done there and I’m happy at how things turned out.”

When asked if she was in a better situation in Seattle, Howard was reluctant to talk about her former team.

“I can’t say that because, for one, we’re still early into this season,” Howard said. “Put it like this, I’m happy. … Like I said before, I’ve always believed that if I play more, then I’ll do more.”

Alongside established stars Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, Howard, 26, is having a breakout season while averaging 14.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 26.8 minutes — all career-highs.

“She brings a different look for us,” Storm forward Alysha Clark said. “She’s super athletic. That’s probably been said about 500 times since she’s been here, but she really is.

“Her ability to guard perimeter players and to guard bigger post players and stretch the floor offensively and block shots — she just brings a different dynamic to our team that we didn’t necessarily have. I love her aggression both offensively and defensively. She’s a real quiet type of player to where you look up and she has 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. And she makes it look easy.”

When teams pay too much attention to Stewart and Loyd, Howard has delivered outputs previously unseen during her WNBA career.

She posted 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting in a 105-98 victory at Las Vegas and finished with a career-high 25 points while connecting on 8 of 11 shots in a 103-92 triumph over Connecticut.

The last time Howard scored at this high level, she was a second-team All-American who averaged 20.5 points and 9.3 boards in her senior season (2013-14) at Florida State.

“She’s one of my favorites that I’ve ever coached,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “We wanted her to be Batman and she was always more comfortable being Robin.

“But here’s the thing about Tasha, she finds a way to help people win. She’s not the look-at-me or it’s-all about-me player. She just does whatever it takes to win games.”

Howard made her impact early at FSU on the glass where she became the school’s career rebounding leader (1,047). She ranks second in career points.

In 2013-14, she scored a school-record 40 points on 14-for-19 shooting in an 83-59 victory at Syracuse. That season, she recorded five 30-point games.

Semrau, who watched Howard score 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting to help Seattle beat Dallas 97-76 Sunday, said the selfless former Seminoles star has landed in a perfect situation.

“Watching that team is really fun because Sue does a great job running the team and she doesn’t need the accolades,” Semrau said. “Stewie is all about winning and everybody plays off of those two.

“I would tell Tasha to be Tasha and keep doing what you’re doing. Her coaching staff and teammates are putting her in position to have success and she’s putting them in a great position to win because she’s all about team.”

Breakout season

Approaching the midpoint of the 2018 season, Storm forward Natasha Howard has emerged as a WNBA All-Star candidate and the early favorite to win the Most Improved Award. She’s averaging career-highs in every meaningful statistic. A look at her past two seasons:
Year, team GP/GS Minutes FG% Rebounds Blocks Points
2017 Minnesota 34/0 11.7 48.4 2.4 0.6 4.3
2018 Seattle 14/13 26.8 60.0 6.8 1.9 14.1