Fantasy Basketball

2022 WNBA season preview: Seattle Storm want to win it for Sue Bird

As mentioned in our power rankings, over the past four seasons the Seattle Storm are 2-for-2 winning the championship when Breanna Stewart has been healthy for the playoffs. The top of their roster isn’t going to be a problem, with Stewart being No. 2 in our Top 30 and No. 1 in ESPN’s Top 25 and Jewell Loyd being No. 5 on Swish Appeal and No. 6 on ESPN. Sue Bird, who received votes for Swish Appeal, was No. 16 on ESPN. I was not one of the writers giving Bird a vote, but I agree with ESPN’s assessment based on the first half of last season if you take efficiency into account and not just production.

The rest of the Storm’s roster is underrated. Gabby Williams is due for a breakout season after missing all of last year and Mercedes Russell is on the rise as well. Veteran additions Jantel Lavender and Briann January add depth as does fan favorite Ezi Magbegor.

For this year’s season preview of the Storm, I broke down all the players who could still make their roster:

Breanna Stewart — Stewart is a perennial MVP contender and is widely considered the best player on the planet. In 2020 she came back from a torn Achilles to the tune of 19.7 points per game and a Finals MVP award. In 2021, it was more of the same with 20.3 points per game, but she missed the playoffs with a foot injury and the Storm lost their second round game to eventual runner-up Phoenix in overtime. Stewart, who is from Syracuse, N.Y., met with the Liberty in free agency, but is back playing in a city where she is beloved — where she has played her entire career.

Jewell Loyd — Emerald City Jewell (also known as the Gold Mamba) skyrocketed to No. 5 on our Top 30 list. This is an exciting time for both her and Stewart as they are both in their prime. The fact that Loyd could be even better than last year is scary. She can score in so many different ways and her production went up to 17.9 points per game last year, nearly matching Stewart. While Stewart gets her due credit as the best player on the team, Loyd is a great candidate to take a final shot, giving Seattle multiple options and therefore the element of surprise.

Sue Bird — I had Bird ranked as the 15th best player in the league on June 21 of 2021. She had played 14 games up to that point and was shooting 47.9 percent from beyond the arc and 52.3 percent from the field. Over her final 16 games, she shot 37.1 percent from deep and 35.8 percent from the floor. So the drop-off was pretty big, but she put Seattle’s big three at an all-time great level through the first half of the season. This year is her farewell tour. Expect her to be near the top of her game yet again. Her consistency is incredible; she has averaged at least 9.8 points and four assists in each of her 18 seasons.

Gabby Williams — Williams is a great young talent who can be explosive with drives and shoot from all over. She spent her first three years with the Sky, averaging 7.3, 5.6 and 7.7 points, respectively. She was traded to the Sparks for the 2021 season, a season they already knew she would miss due to French National Team commitments. She was then traded to Seattle on Feb. 3 of this year in exchange for Katie Lou Samuelson and the No. 9 pick in the 2022 draft.

Mercedes Russell — Russell’s field goal percentage skyrocketed last year. She was second in the league at 61.7 percent, trailing only the great Sylvia Fowles. Russell is still just 26 years old and has a lot of potential. She is considered to be better than her stats (career-high scoring average is 7.5) indicate and could become one of the better starting centers in the league.

Jantel Lavender — Lavender is a one-time All-Star, having made the game in 2015 when she averaged 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. She played her first eight seasons with the Sparks before playing 2019 with the Sky and last year with the Fever. She was unable to have as big an impact on the Fever as they might have hoped, averaging just 6.4 points in 20 minutes per game. But she’s a great mid-range shooter as a 6-foot-4 forward and could provide some scoring pop for the Storm.

Briann January — January is also a one-time All-Star (2014) and is a one-time champion (2012), both with the Fever. Last year she made the All-Defensive First Team at age 34; it was her seventh-career All-Defensive honor and her first since six-straight from 2012 to 2017. Sun coach Curt Miller constantly applauded her for shutting down opposing teams’ star scorers, which the Storm will also look for her to do. January’s career-high scoring average is 10.3 and she is capable of knocking down threes (38.1 percent).

Ezi Magbegor — Magbegor is a young player that a lot of people are excited about. She impressed in her rookie season in the wubble, averaging 6.5 points in 13.3 minutes per game as a 20-year-old. Last year she put up similar numbers and did a good job when tasked with guarding some of the best bigs in the league. She is a member of the Australian National Team.

Stephanie Talbot — Also a member of the Australian National Team, Talbot started nine games for the Storm last year and averaged 17.9 minutes. She is a 6-foot-2 wing who can drive and hit threes. She actually shot a very good 41.5 percent from deep last year. She was seventh on the team in minutes per game last and could be a key rotation player again.

Epiphanny Prince — Prince is an accomplished guard who averaged double-figure scoring six out of seven years at one point in her career, including 18.1 points per game in 2012. She has made two All-Star games. However, her production in two years in Seattle has been very low. At age 34, she’s not the same player she used to be.

Kennedy Burke — Burke tore it up overseas this offseason, finishing eighth in EuroLeague women with 16.9 points per game. That performance has made her a tough player to cut seeing as her talent could translate back into the WNBA. She also had a pretty solid wubble season with the Fever where she averaged 7.2 points per game. In the wubble she actually accused the Storm of resting their players because they didn’t think Indiana was a threat. It’s all love now though.

Kiki Herbert Harrigan — Herbert Harrigan was a great shot-blocker and quietly a solid scorer at South Carolina. She led a Gamecock team that had Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Tyasha Harris and Destanni Henderson in scoring in 2019-20. As a WNBA rookie with the Lynx in 2020, she made the occasional three to give her team juice (14-of-33 from downtown), but only averaged 3.8 points per game. She then missed all of 2021 because she was pregnant. According to Em Adler (Storm beat writer at The Next), Seattle may not want to cut Herbert Harrigan, who was the No. 6 overall pick in 2020, but they may have to.

Elissa Cunane — An outstanding college player at NC State who fell much lower than expected when she went at No. 17 on draft night. If she makes the team, she could end up being a steal for the Storm. She’s a great all-around traditional center who can also step out and hit the three.

Evina Westbrook — A key player for UConn during their run to the national championship game this past season. She started at Tennessee before becoming a Husky. She averaged a career-best 14.9 points per game and shot a career-best 38.2 percent from beyond the arc as Lady Vol in 2018-19. Her numbers declined at UConn, but she is a big, athletic guard.

Paisley Harding — Harding had 28 points, including a key 6-0 individual run that helped BYU come back in the fourth, against Rutgers in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. So she’s a clutch performer. She averaged 17.3 points and shot 38.3 percent from outside with 2.3 makes per game this past season. She’s a 5-foot-9 guard.

Raina Perez — Perez averaged 20.3 points at Cal State Fullerton in 2019-20 and an impressive 4.9 assists at a Power 5 school in NC State in 2020-21. So she’s got all the tools to be a great point guard, but her height (5-foot-4) is going to work against her making the Storm roster.

Jade Melbourne — Melbourne is a 5-foot-10 19-year-old guard from Australia who went 33rd in the draft and remains unsigned. She averaged 12.6 points, five rebounds and 3.4 assists at the U19 World Cup.

Jenna Giacone — Giacone is a 6-foot-1 guard out of Dayton who went undrafted. She averaged 13 points this past season with the Flyers and shot 38.8 percent from three with 1.7 makes per game.

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