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Storm Update: How does Gabby Williams’ injury affect Seattle’s approach to the rest of the 2023 season?

Seattle Storm forward Gabby Williams will miss most of the remainder of the 2023 WNBA season with a stress fracture in her foot, raising questions about how the Storm will fill the large void left in their lineup.

Seattle Storm v Phoenix Mercury
How the Seattle Storm replace Gabby Williams’ minutes in their lineup will be something to monitor for the remainder of the season.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The Seattle Storm (8-21) got some tough news on Wednesday when it was announced that forward Gabby Williams would miss the next 4-6 weeks with a stress fracture in her left foot. Williams suffered the injury in the Storm’s recent game against the Connecticut Sun when she landed on a Sun player’s foot in the second quarter.

Williams, who has played in ten games for the Storm this season after re-signing with the team in early July, is averaging 8.4 points, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals in 28.5 minutes per game. Although Seattle’s roster looks considerably different than it did last season, Williams has played mostly the same role for the now-rebuilding Storm, functioning as a playmaking forward on offense while also being one of the WNBA’s most disruptive off-ball defenders.

How Williams’ arrival altered Seattle’s approach

More notable than Williams’ individual numbers, however, was the Storm’s lineup overhaul that coincided with her arrival.

It’s no secret that Seattle is in a transitional season after losing superstar Breanna Stewart in free agency and longtime point guard Sue Bird to retirement. Through late June, the team’s rotations reflected a typical rebuild: rookies like wing Jordan Horston and guard Ivana Dojkić playing significant roles and taking their lumps along the way, with a smattering of veteran placeholders like Kia Nurse and Sami Whitcomb playing smaller, supporting roles alongside established All-Stars Jewell Loyd and Ezi Magbegor.

Seattle Storm v Chicago Sky
With Williams (center) in the lineup, the Storm have given some of their other veteran players additional playing time as well.
Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

With Williams in the lineup, though, things changed. Rookie big Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, who had earned a spot in the team’s starting lineup, suddenly found herself competing with veteran center Mercedes Russell for minutes. Dojkić went from starting and playing 24.5 minutes per game to barely getting off the bench behind Whitcomb. (The Storm recently released Dojkić from her contract to allow her to prepare for the forthcoming European season.) Even Horston, who the Storm drafted at No. 9 overall and has a bright future with the franchise, has been playing less as of late.

To be clear, there is no one way to execute a rebuild. Even though it’s important to give young players room to grow, there’s value in establishing culture and building good habits through on-court leadership. It’s unlikely that the Storm will make the playoffs (especially with Williams now out for what may be the remainder of the regular season), and a chance to participate in the 2024 WNBA Draft lottery would probably be more beneficial for the franchise long-term—something head coach Noelle Quinn and the rest of the Storm brass are well aware of.

Will Williams’ absence result in another strategic shift?

The question, then, will be how Seattle handles things the rest of the way.

Will the 35-year old Whitcomb continue to start, or will the Storm unleash 20-year old guard Jade Melbourne? Who will start in Williams’ place: Nurse or Horston? And will Loyd, whose contract is up after the 2023 season, play 35.3 minutes per game the rest of the way, or will Seattle choose to scale things back a bit to preserve her body?

The Storm shocked the league in their first game without Williams, coming back from a 16-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Dream in the final seconds of a 68-67 thriller. So no matter what Quinn’s rotations look like the rest of the way, the team’s effort should not be in question. We’ll see what kind of results that effort leads to down the stretch.