The Seattle Storm won the WNBA title, what did we learn?
FAIRFAX, VA—The restoration is complete.
Sue Bird, champion once again.
Breanna Stewart, fulfilling the Harry Potter-level destiny that follows her everywhere she goes, whether through predictions of her own or simply the expectations of anyone privileged enough to see her on the court.
A group of young, talented players in Seattle looms as the standard for the rest of the league to reach.
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So with the Seattle Storm now champions of the basketball world, thanks to a 98-82 win over the Washington Mystics Wednesday night, what does it all mean?
Breanna Stewart is now the standard
Through three years in the league, here’s what Breanna Stewart has accomplished: 18.8 win shares—for comparison, Elena Delle Donne’s total through three years was 18.1, Maya Moore’s 21.2, Tamika Catchings 24.4, Diana Taurasi 15.4. But like Taurasi, she’s been given the right group to build around her, and she’s won ahead of even Taurasi’s schedule, capturing league MVP and title honors in her third year, while it took Taurasi until year four.
But the moment really feels most like when Maya Moore won a championship as a rookie in 2011. That heralded the start of the Maya Moore Era, four titles in seven seasons, routine trips to the WNBA Finals even in seasons she and the Minnesota Lynx fell short.
Who can imagine a scenario where Stewart, 24, now that she’s internalized what it takes to win a WNBA title the way she won at Connecticut as a collegian, doesn’t figure out a way to do it, often, through the rest of her 20s?
The easy analysis is that Sue Bird is the leader of the Storm, and let’s be clear, Bird is a leader of tis team, without question. But Stewart is the leader now, the one who actually came to Bird during the playoffs when she saw her shots were short and reminded her to put her legs into them, the one who Jordin Canada cited as every bit as important to her development as Bird is, the nerve center of the Seattle Storm strategically and psychologically.
“I think coming into this season, she really just changed her mindset,” Bird said of Stewart. “She had goals, specific goals, and yeah, she had some individual ones, but I think she knew those individual goals, winning MVP, being dominant, or as dominant as possible, that was going to impact the team positively and probably lead us to where we are now. So I think it just speaks to Stewie. Obviously the kid knows how to win.”
She had an answer Wednesday night whenever Washington made a run. She has encapsulated all the best aspects of what we’ve seen from previous UConn stars: Rebecca Lobo in the post, Sue Bird’s playmaking, Diana Taurasi’s sense of the moment, Maya Moore’s indefatigable will. And she does it in a 6’4 package with a 7’1 wingspan. All this at age 24. We’ll tell our grandkids about what we saw, and what we’re about to see.
Sue Bird: The one who stayed
Sue Bird made no secret of it: she’d considered leaving Seattle ahead of the rebuild, and when they got the top pick in 2016, she stuck around to shepherd the team through the Breanna Stewart Era. In the process, though, changing her diet and workout habits, she’s turned into the best version of herself we’ve yet seen, just completing the most efficient shooting performance of her Hall of Fame career here, in the month before she turns 38.
“When people ask me that question, what I’ve gotten from Sue, I say everything, and it’s honestly true,” Stewart said following the game. “On-the-court stuff, off-the-court stuff… her basketball IQ is like no other, but the fact that what she does for her body, and I’ve just tried to mimic that, especially this past year, working with the same person as her and really focusing in on how can I make sure that I’m prepared every single day, whether it’s practice or games… Obviously when I came here as a rookie, I wanted to win a championship with her, but it’s easy to say that. It’s not as easy to do it and do it at the level that she was at.”
No one asked Bird if she was coming back next season, and no one had to. She’s playing at the elite level that makes her the de facto starting point guard for Seattle, and for USA Basketball not only now, but for the 2020 Olympics. Appropriately, Sue Bird gets to define the end of her career on her own terms, in her own time, in a way befitting of the breadth of accomplishment.
Pole position for Seattle Storm
Dan Hughes spoke about his conversations with San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in the moments following Wednesday night’s win, remembering what Pop had told him about how to win a championship.
“I think we’ve got some work to do, but if you’re asking me have we hit a ceiling, no. There’s still growth in this team. We were very fortunate health-wise, and I think — I remember talking to Gregg Popovich, and I tried to pick his mind about championships, and one of the things he said, you’ve got to be lucky. You’ve got to be healthy. And you’ve got to have your players that you need at that point. And we were. We were blessed to be a healthy team in a lot of ways. But yes, I think… this team still has potential, I think, to stay or even greater from where they are.”
Certainly, injuries can change a season in an instant—the Mystics will wonder forever how this series would have played out with a fully healthy Elena Delle Donne. But consider, if they stay healthy, the following: Bird is on track to play through at least the 2020 Olympics. Stewart is 24. Jewell Loyd is 24. Jordin Canada, who got better as the year went on after arriving with exciting potential this season, is 23, and now she’s seen first-hand how to run a WNBA championship team. Natasha Howard just turned 27 this month. And they’re all signed—Canada, Howard, Loyd, even the vital bench players like Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb—through 2020.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault defined it this way: “They’re the defending champs now, they’re young, they’re really talented, they’re smart, and they know how to play with each other. Teams are going to have to figure out some ways to match up and have as much fire power as they do because even on the nights that you play pretty good defense, they just have so many weapons to put the ball in the basket. Everybody talks about Stewie, everybody talks about Sue, but when you look at the series that Natasha and Alysha Clark and the game that Jewell had the one game, you have so many weapons, and then they bring somebody like Sami Whitcomb off the bench, and she had an impact on the game today.”
This championship felt like the beginning for the Seattle Storm, not the end.