Despite missing the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, the Seattle Storm can exit the 2023 WNBA season with a sense of optimism. An 11-29 record should not obscure how Seattle successfully sowed the seeds of the next, great Storm team.
Here’s what went right, what went wrong and what’s next for the Storm:
What went right?
Jewell Loyd got buckets. Lots of them.
Loyd not only won the 2023 WNBA Peak Performer Award for scoring after averaging a league-leading 24.7 points per game, but she also set the all-time record for points in a single season, scoring 939 points across 38 games played. Always capable of scoring in bunches, Loyd leveled up this season, providing the consistent offensive production characteristic of superstars (or MVPs).
More impressively, she did all this despite dealing with nagging, season-long injuries. saying at the Storm’s exit interviews, “I’ve only played five games this season healthy, maybe 4.5…it was very taxing for me….I would do it again for my teammates.”
With this spirit of commitment, she signed a two-year supermax extension to remain with the Storm, thus shutting down any speculation about her fleeing Seattle for a more competitive situation this offseason.
The 2023 season provided promising glimpses of the supporting cast that can grow around Loyd in future seasons. Leading the Storm’s group of youngsters is Ezi Magbegor, who earned her first All-Star honor in 2023. Magbegor possess an near-perfect skillset for a modern big. On defense, she’s emerged as an elite playmaker, evidenced by her three “stocks” (steals + blocks) per game. On offense, she’s capable of rolling to the rim or spacing the floor, as well as making some passing reads.
Jordan Horston, the ninth selection in the 2023 WNBA Draft, likewise popped as a potential two-way star. With a long, wiry-strong frame and shifty, quick-twitch athleticism, Horston profiles as a high-upside wing, capable to sticking to opponents on one end of the floor while able to score at all three levels on the other end.
Add in another athletic big in Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, the 21st pick in the 2023 draft, and the Storm have the outline of intriguing team suited to compete in a WNBA that prioritizes athleticism, versatility and offensive efficiency.
What went wrong?
But the Storm are not there yet. Especially on the offensive end.
Despite Loyd’s prolific production, the Storm were the WNBA’s worst offensive team, finishing with an offensive rating of 96.9. Ball security was a problem, as Seattle had the second-most turnovers per game. Generating easy scoring opportunities via passes also proved challenging, with Seattle finishing last in the league in assists per game. These issues are attributable to the Storm’s lack of an experienced point guard, as rookies Ivana Djokić and Jade Melbourne were the only traditional point guards on the roster.
At midseason, a potential solution to Seattle’s issues arrived: Gabby Williams. A point forward, Williams averaged a team-high 3.8 assists per game. Yet, she only suited up in 10 games before suffering a foot injury. Prior to the early-August game in which Williams was injured, the Storm had won three of four games, suggesting Seattle could have settled into an improved level of play had Williams remained healthy.
The lift provided by Williams was noteworthy due to the subpar seasons of some of Seattle’s other vets. Kia Nurse, signed as a free agent after she missed the 2022 season due to an ACL injury, offered little more than inconsistent, low-volume 3-point shooting. Mercedes Russell, who also dealt with an injury-related absence in 2022, struggled to make an impact as she bounced in and out of the starting lineup. Both players, who are signed to protected veteran contracts upwards of $140,000 in 2024, ended up averaging less than 20 minutes per game.
As noted above, Loyd inked an extension that will keep her in Seattle through the 2025 season, a level of buy in that will benefit the Storm as they seek to build a more competitive squad around her. At exit interviews, head coach Noelle Quinn said of Loyd’s decision to stay in Seattle, “Players know that she’s going to be here, and she’s going to be a key piece of what we do in free agency.”
Considering the Storm’s glaring need for a point guard, might Loyd’s commitment convince another former Fighting Irish star to come to the Emerald City?
Just sitting here thinking that. a Jewell Loyd and Skylar Diggins-Smith backcourt in Seattle would be niceeeeee.
— Lyndsey D’Arcangelo (@darcangel21) September 11, 2023
Regardless of the players the Seattle leadership chooses to prioritize in free agency, an estimated $1,041,470 in cap space should offer optionality.
Unfortunately, re-signing Gabby Williams, an unrestricted free agent, does not appear to be an option, as Williams does not expect to play in the WNBA in 2024 due to the league’s prioritization rule, which requires players to complete overseas commitments before the first day of the WNBA season. At exit interviews, Williams, who plays for ASVEL in the French League, shared, “2024 looks like it’s not possible, more so because of prioritization and of course even if I were to come, it would be in August with the Olympics,”
Outside of Williams, the Storm’s free agents are Yvonne Turner (unrestricted) and Joyner Holmes (restricted).
Of course, the Storm also will have a 2024 lottery pick. Four out of the five times that the franchise has fallen into the lottery, they’ve landed the No. 1 pick. And those No. 1 picks have been legendary: Lauren Jackson (2001), Sue Bird (2002), Jewell Loyd (2015) and Breanna Stewart (2016). Even if they enter the draft lottery with the fourth-best odds, Seattle certainly can hope for another legendary lottery night.