Stewart’s injury has changed the Storm from a team that’s centered around her to a team that will have to lean even more on its backcourt. Assistant coach Noelle Quinn said that the team’s identity will remain perimeter focused, running through the sure-handed Bird and fifth-year veteran Jewell Loyd.
“A lot of what makes our team great is our pace and our ability to space the floor,” Quinn said. “Are you going to continue to see threes? Yes. Are you going to see more guard penetrations and moving defenses? Yes.”
When Stewart went down, Loyd became the most important player on the team, overnight. The good news is that her efficiency numbers have improved steadily throughout her career while she has maintained a per-game average of more than 15 points. She’s just going to have to do so, so much more.
The same could be said for Jordin Canada, who put up 5.7 points per game as a rookie off the bench. She says she’s entered camp this year with more confidence and, she hopes, an improved game.
“Last year I wasn’t sure what to expect or how to put myself on a team with so much talent,” she said. “I need to bring a little bit of aggressiveness on the defensive end and be more aggressive on the offensive end. Try to get my teammates into position and be more vocal. Everybody’s going to have to step up.”
Seattle’s also going to ask Bird to defy what normal people may refer to as “aging” once again. That’s never been a problem before, but in her age 38 season, she is going to have to score in double figures, distribute, and stay effective from three. It’s a big ask.
“I think at this point I’m not going to change my game dramatically,” Bird said. “But you can always be a little smarter. You can always be a little more prepared. And if you can do things even a little bit better than last year, that’s an improvement.”
Shavonte Zellous was a solid offseason addition and will provide depth in the backcourt, but she’s not a great shooter and her role on the team is still a little cloudy. The staff is optimistic that she will become a major contributor, and Quinn cited her physicality and ability to defend on the perimeter as reasons why. Sami Whitcomb had a strong playoffs last season and will hope to carry that momentum into this year, while Canada said she’s been impressed with training camp invitee Recee Caldwell.