A five-year rebuild has come together for the Seattle Storm, and now, they’re the new WNBA Champion, bringing home the third title to the city. That’s because new head coach Dan Hughes has unleashed the long-awaited Breanna Stewart era, bringing solace to fans who endured consecutive years of ugly, last-place basketball followed by two mediocre seasons.
Winning basketball is back in Seattle similar to how it came.
Now this new guard-forward duo is set to hold down the franchise for years to come like Jackson and Bird did to win titles in 2004 and 2012, and it’s all just starting now.
A super team is forming.
The Storm’s future wasn’t always this clear.
Last season provided little optimism that the Storm would be anywhere near what they are currently. They barely made the playoffs with a sub-.500 record, then lost in the opening round. The Storm actually finished a game worse than the last year in what was supposed to be a building year.
While 6’4 do-it-all forward and MVP Stewart started to break through in her second season, 36-year-old Bird wasn’t the superstar of old, and scoring guard Loyd struggled to separate herself as a star in her third season.
The Storm were on the verge of wasting Bird’s final seasons just to grow her replacements.
But fast forward one season, and one coaching change, and all the pieces are coming together.
How’d the Storm get so good all of a sudden?
The Storm are playing to their strengths for the first time since adding Stewart and Loyd, and that’s why Seattle is going to finish with its first winning season in seven years. Much of this effort should be credited to Dan Hughes, who came out of retirement to take over this team.
Hughes is leading the second-best offense of the last six seasons by way of embracing modern basketball. Hughes’ Storm team is on pace to break the WNBA’s three-point attempts and makes record, thriving behind the line.
The Storm have shooters upon shooters who’ve finally been freed to launch. As a unit, Seattle is shooting 20 percent more often from deep than a year ago (four more attempts per game), and is hitting those shots at the league’s third-best rate, 35.7 percent.
Stewart’s shooting 0.5 more shots from deep per game this season, and Loyd’s shooting 1.5 more. All-star snub and new acquisition, Natasha Howard, has taken 38 three-point attempts already after firing just 22 in her last four seasons combined with the Lynx.
Seattle’s offense can spread four- or even five-out if it wants to with so much perimeter-shooting talent available. They’re so tough to defend.
The Storm are playing faster than before, too.
Hughes has made understanding his team a priority, adapting to it rather than it adapting to him. That’s been key.
“In Cleveland we still hold the defensive records, but it wasn’t quite like that in San Antonio,” Hughes, who coached both teams for 11 seasons, told the Seattle Times. “I’m a little more of what’s our strengths? Our strengths to me is a sense of balance about what we’re doing.
“Looking at our team, we made some inroads rebounding. This is a pretty good rebounding team and we continue to make inroads there. We are turning people over a little better, but we’re doing it with pace because this teams needs to play as many possessions as I can get for them.”
The Storm’s pace has increased by two possessions per game this season, according to the WNBA, contributing to the team’s five additional field goal attempts.
Not only is the Storm’s quicker approach to the game making them one of the most exciting teams to watch, but its breathed fresh air into their legendary point guard, Bird. With 10 points on the second-most efficient shooting of her career (54.2 effective field goal percent), and seven assists to just two turnovers, she’s having her best season in seven years.
This team thrives in motion, especially when Bird leads the break.
Breanna Stewart’s broken out as the future of the WNBA.
Stewart’s third year is where she’s taken her game from great to unstoppable. Fully adjusted to the pros, she’s taking contact better than ever, improving by nine percent to a 61 percent two-point shooter, and she’s asserted herself as the go-to that makes this team a championship one.
She’s leading the entire league at 22.8 points per game, is sixth in rebounds at 8.2, and at 59.3 percent effective field goal shooting, she ranks seventh among players who log 10 minutes or more per game.
The league's current leading scorer is a member of #TeamDelleDonne and is sure to show out at #WNBAAllStar— WNBA (@WNBA) July 20, 2018
Check out @breannastewart's top 5 plays of the #WNBA season so far! #WatchMeWork pic.twitter.com/fs8y3yCKxS
It’s easy to forget she’s just 24 years old and the best is still ahead of her. She looks that good on both ends of the court.
The pieces are in order for Seattle after two years of bottoming out and two more of mediocrity. Their No. 1 picks are all-stars already, and Bird looks as good as she has in the last decade.
With the right coach to lean in on all three superstar’s talents, the Storm have found themselves, and we may be on the verge of another dynasty.