Award caps off breakthrough season for Natasha Howard
Seattle Storm forward Natasha Howard was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player for the 2018 season, the league announced Sunday.
Howard’s teammate Breanna Stewart also received the 2018 Most Valuable Player Award hours before the Storm open their semifinal series with the Phoenix Mercury.
Howard pulled away in the voting, collecting 29 of the 39 first-place votes. The Washington Mystics’ Natasha Cloud was second with four first-place votes.
Howard averaged 13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, the last of which were second-most in the WNBA, and she was also ninth in total win shares (4.6).
The 2014 first-round pick established herself as a valuable role player for the Minnesota Lynx over two seasons, helping the Lynx win a WNBA title in 2017. However, few could’ve expected her to break out as she did in 2018.
The Storm acquired Howard from the Lynx in return for a 2018 second-round pick and the right to swap first-rounders in 2019. Since Seattle finished above Minnesota in the standings, the Storm received an All-Star-caliber player for just a second-rounder—one of the more lopsided WNBA trades in recent years.
In an interview with Howard Megdal for The Athletic, Storm head coach Dan Hughes explained how he had been tracking Howard since her time at Florida State. He attempted to trade up and select her in the 2014 draft, only for the Indiana Fever to take her fifth overall.
Because of that, Hughes knew exactly how to utilize Howard’s skills and wasted little time giving her a prominent role in the rotation. She replaced Crystal Langhorne in the starting lineup ahead of Seattle’s second game and stayed there for the remainder of the year.
Howard’s impact was felt especially on the defensive end. Not only can she match up with opposing centers underneath the basket, but she could also use her length and athleticism to harass shooters on the perimeter.
With Sue Bird turning 38 in October, it’s only a matter of time before Howard takes over as the third member of Seattle’s “big three” alongside Stewart and Jewell Loyd.