In 2016, Jewell Loyd cemented herself as one of the WNBA’s best shooting guards and a future star in just her second season. She averaged 16.5 points per game with a .543 true-shooting clip, helping lead her rising Seattle Storm to a postseason berth. As her breakout year came to a close, Loyd said this in the Hardwood Paroxysm Quarterly:
“I’m thinking back and I’m like, all this time I’m playing basketball I was just more athletic or just better than other girls,” Loyd said. “But now it’s like I’m ready to train, I’m ready to learn other things, other moves and see the game differently. Change the speed and all this little stuff that I’m now realizing, ‘oh my gosh, I can do this, I can learn this?’”
Oh my gosh is right, especially if you’re an opposing coach or player. Loyd has come into 2017 a more complete player, carrying the load with Breanna Stewart struggling to find her offense. The Notre Dame product is averaging 19.8 points per game, good for sixth in the league, on 46.4% shooting from the field, 36.1% from three and 90.2% from the free-throw line. Her usage rate falls just short of 30%, but nobody is taking on that big a workload with similar playing time. It’s now been three years of improved scoring, assisting and efficiency for Loyd, with no sign of slowing down.
“She’s growing all the time,” Jenny Boucek, head coach of the Seattle Storm, told The Summitt. “More in the dictator role and controlling the game as opposed to just playing hard, which she’s always done, but now she’s getting more of sense of how to control and counter what defenses are doing.”
Loyd has certainly dictated the Storm’s offense, which ranks fourth in the WNBA despite a down year from last year’s number one overall pick. The biggest leap has come from behind the arc, a development many have longed for out of Loyd. She shot just 20% from three in her rookie year, which jumped to 30% last season. 2017’s 36.1% mark is above league average, and comes on four attempts per-36 minutes. She’s become an off-ball nightmare, a frightening development given she was already an on-ball nightmare. Loyd is in the 98th percentile in spot-up shooting per Synergy Sports, but her shooting isn’t limited to passive catch-and-shoots. Loyd has had zero reservations with staring down a defender and yanking a contested trey in their grill.
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“Got more reps, got a little stronger in my legs and just had a little bit more confidence,” Loyd told The Summitt when asked how she improved her stroke.
Becoming a marksman has only opened up the rest of her offensive game, a mix of athletic superiority and crafty finishing. The pick-and-roll has been a favorite for Loyd, and now defenders can’t simply duck under screens. Play up and she can attack away from the screen, or hit you with a burst of speed and blow past or through the big waiting for her. The differences in this area of her game are subtle, but Loyd has been just enough quicker, just enough stronger and just enough smarter this season to take her scoring to the next level. Her free-throw rate is at a new career-high, over ten percentage points up from last season. She can still look invisible for stretches at a time and have her down games, but in the grand scheme she is at a scary new level.
“Working a lot on three-point shooting, finishing at the rim, change of speed,” Loyd said when asked about her offseason regimen. “I think just going back for my third year, [I’m] definitely more comfortable.”
Loyd had three months off during the offseason, which she used to maximize development time to the fullest. Her shooting coach from the sixth grade made her a threat out to thirty feet, and just prior to Storm training camp, Loyd sought out the help of a basketball legend.
Kobe Bryant knew Jewell Loyd since a Lakers assistant coach introduced the two at a game in Chicago. The two kept in contact as Bryant’s career came to a close and Loyd’s blossomed. Although they worked together at Nike and followed each other’s on-court excellence, the two had yet to make a workout happen until this offseason.
“We’ve been trying to connect for a while,” Loyd said. “I had a good break so I asked him if I could come out, he said of course.”
What followed was four days of personal sessions with Bryant, something he does rarely. But he knows Loyd is the real deal.
“When I watched her play, certain things can stand out,” Bryant told The Summitt. “Like I can tell if a player is really serious about the game or if they’re just bs’ing. If you’re bs’ing I’m not going to give you the time of day. If you’re really committed to the process, really committed to working, perfecting your craft, then I can pick up on that pretty quick.”
Loyd called the details of the workouts “top secret,” but Bryant divulged that they were mostly made up of the game’s nuances.
“It’s all basic stuff, it’s all very simple things, but it’s the details within those simple things,” Bryant said. “The details of a pump fake or jab step. Timing on a 2-3 dribble pull-up and the rhythm that’s required for that.”
Whatever was taught, Bryant got a good look of it when he watched Loyd shred the Los Angeles Sparks’ defense in person. She finished with 25 points in the season opener, impressing her mentor while sending a message to the defending champs and the WNBA. It’s been this kind of a season for Loyd, which begs the question: what’s next from here?
“I like the way she’s moving, I like her spacing, her recognition in game situations,” Bryant said. “I think she’s doing fantastic, but I also think there’s another gear that she has, that she will get to.”
Oh my gosh.