Before the 2018 WNBA season started, most postseason projections had the Seattle Storm finishing toward the bottom of the playoff pack. Though the Storm benefited from having two of the last four top overall draft picks (Jewell Loyd in 2015 and Breanna Stewart in 2016) — and the ageless skills of their longtime franchise player, Sue Bird — few expected them to make it to the semifinals, let alone the championship.
In his press conference after Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, Head Coach Dan Hughes said:
“It’s interesting because if you watch the evolution of this team they kind of went from, okay, we’ve got some talent, so okay, we’re a pretty good team, so okay, now we’re in first place, and now there’s going to be some tough games down the stretch. What are we learning?
I remember saying to the team maybe there was a reason we had to go on this journey to understand how tough it’s going to be and what we’re going to do. When we got to that moment, I thought, okay, here’s the chance. Did we learn something? Are we going to play to our strengths? And they did.”
Turning around a young, fledgling team into a championship squad takes a lot of hard work. Here is how they got it done over the course of the 2018 WNBA season.
The Storm’s stars followed Sue Bird’s lead
In the offseason, Bird, Loyd and Stewart were together for early offseason training. In their training, Loyd and Stewart learned the ins and outs of Bird’s training regimen, especially diet.
In an interview Bird gave to GQ in June 2018, she mentioned that Stewart specifically became more proactive about asking Bird questions regarding diet. Bird also learned that she had a slight gluten allergy and modified her diet accordingly. Diet has certainly helped improve Bird’s performance over the last several years, enabling her to continue playing at an elite level.
Natasha Howard enters the Storm starting lineup
Traditionally, great basketball teams have big and strong centers who play close to the basket. But the game today is starting to lean away from that a bit.
Natasha Howard was the fifth pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft but could never truly find a starting role, whether with the Indian Fever (her first two years in the league) or the Minnesota Lynx (in 2016 and 2017). In fact, Howard played rather sparingly for Minnesota, where she had to play behind Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles.
Howard came to the Storm in a sign-and=trade deal during February’s free agency period. She quickly became Seattle’s starting center, averaged career highs in nearly every statistical category and won the award for Most Improved Player of the Year.
Unlike a traditional center, though, Howard is a bit lankier and quicker. She also has a strong three-point shot for a post player. All of these elements came together in her 29-point and 14-rebound performance in Seattle’s Game 3 against the Washington Mystics in the 2018 WNBA Finals.
Stewie asserts herself as WNBA MVP
When the Storm drafted Breanna Stewart number one in the 2016 WNBA Draft, Seattle fans were excited to see a player who had a game reminiscent of former star post Lauren Jackson.
Like Jackson, Stewart is a tall post who can rebound and shoot as well as anyone. But unlike Jackson, Stewart also has a good passing game.
Stewart’s game and performance culminated in her winning the 2018 WNBA Most Valuable Player and 2018 WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player awards.
Bird allows the young stars to shine but takes over when necessary
There are very few professional athletes playing at 37-years-old, but Sue Bird is doing just that, and showing few signs of slowing down.
On the surface, Bird’s scoring was at a career low 10.1 points per game in the regular season. But why score so much when Stewart and Loyd are blossoming toward their primes? Instead, Bird averaged a career-high 7.1 assists per game.
And even when Bird took shots, she was more accurate than ever, where she averaged a career high in overall field goal and three-point shooting percentages.
There were times during the Storm’s playoff run when it seemed they would lose to the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals, including late in Game 5; Bird, herself, was having a poor game. But after taking issue with her nose mask getting grabbed, she turned on her clutch genes.
The moral of the story here? Don’t make Sue Bird angry!
Is Seattle the next dynasty?
Given that they have two first overall draft picks and a solid collection of young and veteran experience in the lineup, the Storm are in good position to be a dynasty not unlike the Minnesota Lynx for much of the 2010’s.
However, nothing is guaranteed. Even the Lynx this decade couldn’t win consecutive WNBA Championships. In fact, no team has accomplished this feat since the Los Angeles Sparks did it in 2000 and 2001.
There are also multiple teams that could be in contention to win a championship in the next few years. The Las Vegas Aces have won their third consecutive first overall pick for the 2019 WNBA Draft. Teams in a similar position, like Las Vegas, are likely going to be in contention sooner rather than later, challenging the Storm’s attempts to dominate as a true powerhouse.
And as the 2018 WNBA runner-up, the Mystics should also be in good position to win a championship, especially if the Storm and/or other teams have chemistry or injury issues in the next couple years.
Regardless, the Storm will be in great position to win more championships for years to come.