The Seattle Storm will look very similar to the team that brought home the WNBA Championship last season. After re-signing Crystal Langhorne and Mercedes Russell in the off-season, Seattle now has 11 returning players under contract. The team will likely keep their one remaining roster spot open for their first-round pick in April’s WNBA Draft.
After owning the number one record in the WNBA last season and winning the championship, the Storm are stacked for another run at the title in 2019. Seattle was at the top of the league in several statistical categories last season. They were number one in overall Offensive Rating (111.1), number two in Defensive Rating (101.5), second in Points Per Game (87.2), first in assists (721), second in steals (266), fourth in blocks (149) and fifth in rebounds (1204).
The Storm expect to bring back their same starting lineup of MVP Breanna Stewart, All-Stars Sue Bird, and Jewell Loyd, along with Most Improved Player of the Year Natasha Howard and long-time veteran Alysha Clark. Seattle also has a couple of sharp-shooting three-point shooters they bring off the bench with fan favorite Sami Whitcomb and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
The Storm were historic scoring from beyond the arc in 2018. Seattle led the league with 3-point FG’s made and attempted at 307/816. They had 100 more 3-pointers made than four other WNBA teams last season and at least 50 more than eight of the eleven other teams in the league. Analytics have seen the NBA game adjust to a much higher clip of three-point field goal attempts in recent seasons and the Storm made this adjustment as well.
With the addition of Head Coach Dan Hughes and Natasha Howard, Seattle’s defense and rebounding improved significantly from the 2017 season. However, this is still likely the team’s biggest weakness heading into the draft. Fortunately for Seattle, this year’s draft has a surplus of strong Power Forwards and Centers to choose from and I suspect that is likely where Seattle will look come draft day.
Let’s take a look at twelve potential players that could be available when the Storm select 12th overall at the end of the first round of the WNBA Draft on April 10th.
Season Averages: 20.1 PPG | 8.1 RPG | 2.0 APG | 1.1 SPG | 2.5 BPG | 2.6 TO
Alanna Smith would be a perfect fit for the Storm. At 6’4″ she is a true stretch four who knocks down 3-pointers at a 40% clip. She’s also a terrific shot-blocker averaging 2.5 blocks per game. While she does struggle a bit with turnovers and fouls, she does everything else so well that it shouldn’t be a problem at the next level. The Australian also got excellent exposure to WNBA competition as she played solid minutes in the 2018 FIBA World Cup.
While early mock drafts had Smith as a late first round or even early 2nd round pick, she has played so well her senior season that she is almost a lock to go in the Top 10 at this point. Seattle would be lucky if she fell to 12, but it doesn’t appear likely at this time.
Season Averages: 20.0 PPG | 10.5 RPG | 3.7 APG | 1.3 SPG | 1.4 BPG | 1.9 TO
Napheesa Collier, the talented post player out of Uconn, has had a strong senior season. Averaging a double-double of 20 points per game and over 10 rebounds. For a post, she also averages nearly four assists per game and has proven to be a strong distributor in Coach Auriemma’s system. Collier has had multiple games this season of 30+ points and 12+ rebounds playing for one of the country’s best college teams the UConn Huskies. One potential problem for Collier is she may be a bit undersized at 6’2″ to play the post in the WNBA. She likely would be too undersized to play the five and depending on the match-ups may not even always be able to play the four. This could move Collier to the Small Forward position in the WNBA, but that isn’t an ideal fit as she is a poor outside shooter, shooting just 21% from 3-point range.
It will be interesting to see where Collier lands in the draft. Surprisingly, the first ESPN mock draft had Collier landing with the Storm at the 12th overall spot; whereas, some other mocks have put her as high as fourth overall.
Season Averages: 22.9 PPG | 15.9 RPG | 1.0 APG | 1.0 SPG | 1.7 BPG | 3.2 TO
One of the most dominant post players in college basketball Kristine Anigwe leads the NCAA in rebounding at around 16 rebounds per game. She also is in the Top 10 in scoring at around 23 PPG. Anigwe has been a monster all season long, most recently posting 32 points and 30 rebounds on March 3rd against WSU. It was also her 30th consecutive double-double this season. She earned All-Pac-12 honors all four seasons at Cal and was voted to the Pac-12 All-Defensive 1st team for the second time in her college career. Averaging nearly two blocks per game and over 15 rebounds makes her a force on both ends of the court. The only major knocks on her play are that she can be turnover prone and has a tendency to get into foul trouble.
Anigwe has been projected as a mid-to-late first round pick in the WNBA draft. Her impressive play this season has raised her stock in recent months. She will likely be gone before the Storm select at 12 unless she slips, possibly due to more early entry players coming out of college than expected.
Season Averages: 17.1 PPG | 6.1 RPG | 2.8 APG | 1.4 SPG | 0.3 BPG | 3.0 TO
Sophie Cunningham has led the Missouri Tigers to a 21-9 overall record, including a huge upset victory over 5th ranked Mississippi State on February 14th. Cunningham is a well-rounded player that brings a ton of hustle and energy to the court. Averaging over 17 points, six rebounds and nearly three assists per game she does a bit of everything. She shot lights out her Junior season shooting over 60% from two-point range and over 45% from three. While her shooting percentage has gone down a bit this season, she is still shooting above 40% from 3-point range this year. Cunningham rebounds well for her size at 6’1″ and also has strong enough handles to be able to bring the ball up the court on occasion.
Cunningham is projected to be a late first round to early second round pick and could very well still be available when the Storm makes their selection. She is also one of the few non-post players that is projected to go around where Seattle will draft. So if the team decides they are in greater need of a backup to Alysha Clark or Jewell Loyd than they are another post player, Cunningham very well could be the pick at 12.
Season Averages: 16.0 PPG | 9.9 RPG | 3.2 APG | 1.5 SPG | 0.5 BPG | 2.3 TO
Jessica Shepard helped lead the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to their 2nd NCAA Championship in 2018. At 27-3 overall and the fourth-ranked team in the country this year, they will have a strong chance to repeat as champions. The Fighting Irish are one of the most stacked teams in the country as they could have at least three players go in the first round and will likely have 4-5 players drafted overall. Shepard averages 16 points per game and nearly 10 rebounds. She scores most of her points in the low post and does not show WNBA 3-point range at this time. She also averages over three assists per game which is great for a C/PF. Shepard is an elite passer at her size. She is very well rounded and consistent in her approach and can be relied upon to make a decent impact in just her first year in the WNBA. She also spent time working with Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve before her senior season to help better prepare herself for the WNBA.
Shepard has been projected to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to the middle of the second round depending on the mock drafts. There is a solid chance she could be available when the Storm select at 12 and she might be the best available player at that point left on the board.
Season Averages: 13.7 PPG | 7.6 RPG | 1.6 APG | 1.2 SPG | 2.7 BPG | 1.6 TO
Brianna Turner is the other starting post player for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Turner brings a different skill-set to the table. She is a dominant shot-blocker averaging nearly three blocks per game. Of the twelve players listed in this breakdown, she leads all players in blocked shots. She is very athletic and uses her athleticism to attack the basket; it is also used for her stout defensive ability. Turner is more limited offensively as she does not have three-point range (zero attempts on the season) and at best has a limited mid-range game. Most of her scoring is down within a few feet of the basket, but she is very good at that, scoring on over 63% of her shots.
Turner has been projected at the very end of the first round and often in the second round in most mock drafts. There is a strong chance she will still be available when the Storm make their pick at 12. One of the biggest concerns with Turner is that she does have a history of knee injuries. She has had two ACL tears during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Fortunately, she has been healthy all year and has appeared in all 30 games this season.
Season Averages: 27.4 PPG | 13.3 RPG | 1.7 APG | 0.4 SPG | 1.7 BPG | 1.4 TO
Megan Gustafson is the leading scorer in the country at over 27 points per game. She is also in the Top 5 in rebounding at over 13 rebounds per game. She shoots over 70% from 2-point range and nearly 80% on her Free Throws! She’s had nearly 10 games of 30+ points and even multiple 40 point performances this season. She is a scoring machine down in the low post with an excellent hook shot. While not known for being an excellent defender, she does average close to two blocks per game.
Surprisingly, despite these gaudy numbers Gustafson is putting up this season, she rarely finds herself projected as a first-round pick. There seem to be questions about if her scoring will be able to translate to the WNBA in a league where she will face much taller and much more athletic competition on a nightly basis. There are also questions about whether she will be able to defend post players in the WNBA. She is only 6’3″ and does not necessarily have the speed and athleticism of some of the other players. Because of this, she is often projected as an early to mid-second round pick. However, if the Storm believe she can translate her talents to the WNBA level, she could become a steal at the 12th overall pick.
Season Averages: 15.9 PPG | 8.1 RPG | 1.5 APG | 1.2 SPG | 0.5 BPG | 2.2 TO
Anriel Howard transferred to Mississippi State and currently teams with projected lottery pick Teaira McCowan. At 5’11” Howard is an extremely strong rebounder averaging over eight rebounds per game. She has also proven to be a strong scorer; she is the 2nd leading scorer on her team behind McCowan and averages nearly 16 points per game. She is a strong two-way player who is able to score and defend.
Howard’s draft projections seem to be all over the place. Some mocks have had her as a late first-round pick, while others have her projected into the third round. Most commonly, she is seen as an early second-round draft pick and will likely be available for the Storm at twelve.
Season Averages: 22 PPG | 8.5 RPG | 4.1 APG | 2.3 SPG | 1.3 BPG | 2.5 TO
Bridge Carleton fills up the stat sheets on a regular basis. She is the leading scorer in the Big 12 averaging roughly 22 points per game. She rebounds very well for her size at over eight rebounds per game. Carleton’s frame allows her to attack the basket and score through contact. She also has outside range connecting on over 60 3-point field goals this season shooting at roughly 37% from beyond the arc. She also does a great job getting her teammates involved, able to drive and kick or dish to a low-post player. Of all the players in this list, she leads the group at over four assists per game. There may be some concerns about her speed and athleticism against WNBA competition.
Possibly more than any other player, Carleton has really shot up the mock draft boards as of late. All season long, she has been projected to go in the 2nd round, but very recently she has shown up in the first round of a few mock drafts. Carleton could land in Seattle if they’re looking for a well-rounded guard/forward to back-up Jewell Loyd or Alysha Clark.
Season Averages: 14.5 PPG | 8.1 RPG | 1.6 APG | 1.4 SPG | 2.4 BPG | 1.9 TO
Caliya Robinson is another strong post-player out of Georgia. She leads the Lady Bulldogs in scoring at over 14 points per game and averages over eight rebounds. Her best attribute is her defense and her ability to block shots. Her block rate is very high at over 8% and she averages nearly two and a half blocks per game. Unfortunately, she does have the tendency to get into foul trouble which has occasionally limited her minutes in games. She does have 3-point range, which is a plus for a player her size, but she’s only attempted 35 threes this year connecting on 11 of them.
One of the earliest mock drafts entering this college season had pegged Caliya Robinson to the Seattle Storm. Since then she has been consistently slotted as a 2nd round pick in just about every mock draft. She has still put up strong numbers this year, but other players have had a larger impact this season.
The two toughest players to scout and watch are a couple of International stars playing in Australia and China.
2018 FIBA World Cup Averages (Australia): 7.6 PPG | 3.8 RPG | 0.4 APG | 0.2 SPG | 0.4 BPG | 0.8 TO | 12.4 MPG
Eziyoda Magbegor is a very talented power forward from Australia and at just 19 years old, she could become a legit force in the WNBA for the next decade. At this time, however, she is still very raw and more potential upside than a proven commodity. What she has proven at this point is that she has a legit WNBA body that will only get stronger as she gets older. She is tall and lanky which allows her to disrupt shots in the paint. She also has a nice ability to get to the hoop in the low post. She played well for Team Australia in limited minutes during the 2018 FIBA World Cup basketball games with her best game coming against Argentina where she scored 14 points and had eight rebounds.
Because of Ezi’s potential, she has been projected as high as a Top Four pick in the WNBA Draft. However, other mock drafts more commonly have her slotted somewhere between a late first and early second round pick. If she were to fall to Seattle at 12, there might be too much upside for them to pass on her at the end of the first round.
2018 FIBA World Cup Averages (China): 8.3 PPG | 6.1 RPG | 0.9 APG | 0.7 SPG | 1.4 BPG | 0.4 TO | 20.4 MPG
Xu Han is another talented 19-year-old International player expected to be drafted in the 2019 WNBA Draft. She is 6’9″ which gives her excellent height rarely seen in the WNBA. With her height, she is obviously able to affect a lot of shots down low. Similar to Magbegor, Han is also still very inexperienced and will take time adjusting to playing in the WNBA. In fact, some have suggested that she may stay in China for another year or two before making her way to the United States, even if she is drafted this year. Han played well in the 2018 FIBA World Cup, where she averaged over eight points and six rebounds per game. She had her best scoring game against Team USA where she led her team in scoring with 20 points in a 100-88 loss to the United States.
Han has been mostly projected as an early second round and occasionally slipping into the late first round. Depending on how Seattle views second-year player Mercedes Russell may determine if they were to go after Han in the draft. Russell also has exceptional height at 6’7″ and was picked up by Seattle last season. If they view Russell as a legitimate backup Center of the future, they may look to shore up their wing or power forward positions instead.
The 2019 WNBA Draft looks to be loaded with talent this season. While there is no consensus number one overall pick like there was when Breanna Stewart or A’ja Wilson came out of college, this draft does appear to be deeper this year as opposed to being top heavy. This should benefit Seattle who will pick last in every single round.
The Storm could benefit from another athletic post player, someone who can rebound and defend. Seattle could also consider another ball-handler or combo guard, but this is not a huge priority with Sue Bird confirmed to be returning for the 2019 season. They could also use some additional instant offense off the bench. However, when running on all cylinders, Seattle has no obvious weaknesses that must be met in this draft. This should allow them to go after the best player available.
The WNBA Draft will be held on April 10th, so keep an eye on these players and more as the NCAAW conference tournaments are currently ongoing and the March Madness tournament is about to begin!