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After 294 days, the WNBA star is free.
The Seattle Storm were the unanimous preseason choice of ESPN WNBA analysts for which team would win the 2020 title. A vaunted cast could not agree on any other topic, but all viewed Seattle as the team to beat in Florida.
The logic is clear. The 2018 WNBA champions are returning 2018 regular season and finals MVP Breanna Stewart and 11-time All-Star Sue Bird to a team that made it to the conference semifinals last year without either player.
Chicago jumped out to a successful run in the wubble. The Sky impressed many people with their play early on and the game against the Storm was billed as a potential late-round playoff matchup. More than Chicago regressing, the 89-71 loss to Seattle showed how far in front of the rest of the league the team from Seattle truly is.
Here’s what Seattle has proven during their blistering 7-1 start:
Early foul trouble for Jordin Canada allowed Breanna Stewart to run the show. With Sue Bird sidelined with a knee injury, Stewart could play a little of everything. She dished out five assists, scored 10 points, and added a pair of rebounds — in the first quarter. By the final whistle, her point total was up to 25 and the Storm had an 18 point victory.
Stewart’s game has evolved, slightly, since she last took the court. She is taking and making more 3-point shots per game than at any point in her WNBA career and assisting at a higher rate too. More than anything, she’s quickly returned to her previously dominant form, putting the league on notice as it’s clear there are no lingering issues from her Achilles recovery.
While plenty of other players have impressed so far, Stewart is exceeding across the board. She is top five in the league in field goals, 3-pointers, free throws, rebounds, steals, blocks and points. In advanced stats, she ranks second in player efficiency, fifth in usage rate, and first in both defensive rating and win shares.
Chicago could have done a better job of closing down some of the lanes through which Stewart raced to the basket, but the four-time collegiate national champion — who already has a legitimate Hall of Fame case — has an off-the-charts basketball IQ and will take advantage of any team’s missteps.
The road to the championship most definitely runs through the Storm. The Storm offense dominated the first quarter to the tune of a 33-18 scoreline. In the second, Seattle’s defense held Chicago to just 10 points, so it didn’t matter that the Storm had their second lowest scoring quarter of the bubble. Although Chicago came into the game, and remains, the top shooting and 3-point shooting team in the league, Seattle bested both and shot 51.4% from the floor, including an absurd 52.9% from beyond the arc.
Jordin Canada filled in successfully at the point last year and has been able to do the same in 2020. Jewell Loyd, coming off of two straight All-Star seasons, is matching or improving upon her stat line from last year. Seattle just has so many options.
The Storm have the best defensive rating in the league and the third-best offensive rating. No other team ranks in the top three in both; Las Vegas is the closest at second and fourth. The Aces also have a +6.0 point differential, the nearest to Seattle’s +8.2 of anyone. The two teams don’t meet until a Saturday, August 22 matchup on ABC that may be an eventual finals preview — and a head-to-head between the top two MVP contenders.
Even with a short rotation, Seattle still gets significant contributions from its bench. Sami Whitcomb went 3-for-3 from deep, scored 17 points total, and matched Jordin Canada’s six assists against the Sky. Ezi Magbegor was an efficient 6-of-8 from the field for 13 points. Combined, their 30 points were more than Chicago’s five bench options, who tallied 21.
That included a career-high 11 points for the rookie from Oregon, Ruthy Hebard. With that effort, Chicago once again saw five players reach double digit scoring. The Sky’s entire starting lineup boasts a double digit scoring average, but in this treacherous stretch of play in which there’s often only one day off between games, rest and a deep bench are more important than ever.
Seattle only has four players averaging at least ten points per game, and only three are active. But the Storm still get massive contributions off the bench. The ability for someone like Whitcomb to come off the bench and average the second most points on the team will prove instrumental throughout the team’s run in IMG Academy.
After 294 days, the WNBA star is free.
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