An emerging Storm: Seattle shows flashes in bumpy 2015 campaign

Japan National Team member Ramu Tokashiki played a vital role for the Storm in her rookie season. Photo by Neil Enns/Seattle Storm.
Japan National Team member Ramu Tokashiki played a vital role for the Storm in her rookie season. Photo by Neil Enns/Seattle Storm.

From the outset of the 2015 season, the expectation for many was a finish at the bottom of the league standings for the Seattle Storm. With a 10-24 season in the books, and the best shot at the No. 1 pick in next week’s draft lottery, that’s exactly what happened.

But from the year’s first practice to its last game, head coach Jenny Boucek had no interest in measuring success in terms of wins and losses.

“We’re really pleased with this team’s growth,” said Boucek after the team’s season finale against San Antonio on Sept. 13, “and that was our number one objective this year was to find some young players and grow together with them.”

There’s no question that the team made strides with some of its young players, but it remains to be seen if there’s enough of a foundation to make 2016 the year the team returns to the playoffs. But after finishing just four games back of Los Angeles for the fourth and final spot this year, that may not be a tall order.

Guards

Sue Bird — 10.3 PPG, 5.4 APG, 28.6 MPG

The one constant from season to season for Storm fans, Bird once again averaged double digits in scoring, while leading the team in assists (and finishing second in the WNBA at 5.4 per game). However, she posted those numbers while averaging the fewest minutes per night, and playing the fewest games (27) in her 13 WNBA seasons.

Those numbers reflect how the team pulled back the reins at the end of the year, with Bird sitting out four of Seattle’s final five games.

Managing the soon-to-be 35-year-old’s playing time more closely doesn’t come as a surprise, as the team slowly but surely prepares for life without the nine-time All-Star.

It’s hard to envision her playing in another uniform, but she is an unrestricted free agent. That being said, there seems to be little chance she doesn’t return for at least one more year to mentor last year’s No. 1 draft pick.

Jewell Loyd — 10.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 25.9 MPG

Only one rookie among the 27 that saw WNBA action this season finished in the top-five in scoring, rebounding, and assists. Unsurprisingly, that was April’s No. 1 pick.

The Notre Dame alumna requested to come off the bench in the early part of the season, as she adjusted to the pace of the pro game, and was nothing short of impressive when she rejoined the starting lineup in mid-July. After finishing in double digits just once in her first eight games, she posted 16 10-plus-point performances in her next 25.

While she played shooting guard for most of the season, Loyd was tasked with running the point toward the end of the year with Bird on the bench. That could be a sign of things to come. But before Loyd takes on a shift as substantial as running the offense, she’ll likely need more seasoning and guidance from Bird.

“She’s been mentoring me a lot and I’ve been trying to pick her brain a little but just trying to get everyone involved and make the right decisions,” Loyd said after a game against Tulsa on Sept. 3.

Angel Goodrich — 3.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 15.8 MPG

Acquired at the start of the year after getting cut by Tulsa, Goodrich initially rode the bench before a trade that sent Renee Montgomery to Minnesota opened up the backup guard spot.

In that role, she was arguably more effective than she was when she appeared in 31 games as a rookie (16 starts) with the Shock in 2013. While Goodrich didn’t do much as a scorer, averaging three points a night, she did avoid turning the ball over and stayed out of foul trouble. That, along with an assist-rate second to Bird on the team, made her an effective option to run the point off the bench.

She also had an eye-popping season finale, playing a full 40 minutes for the first time in her professional career. In that extended stint on the court, Goodrich finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for her first-ever WNBA double-double, while also posting four assists and three steals. That performance came on the heels of an 11-point, five assist, three steal outing against the Lynx.

Whether those late season successes will warrant her return in 2016 is up in the air.

Jenna O’Hea — 5.9 PPG, 2.4 APG, 20.9 MPG

The fifth-year player out of Australia saw her more minutes than ever before in 2015, playing almost 21 minutes a game, up from 13.4 last year. She responded with career-high averages in points, assists, and defensive rebounds.

Known for being a sharp-shooter throughout her career, O’Hea shot just 38 percent from 3-point range, down from 40 percent in 2014, and 50 percent with the Sparks in 2013. But to that end, O’Hea relied less on her range from the outside, and drove to the basket more than she had in previous seasons.

But with a similar skillset as Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, and the Olympics on the horizon (though it’s unknown whether she’ll be on the Opals roster), the Storm may opt to ship O’Hea out in search of help in the post.

Forwards

Ramu Tokashiki — 8.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 20.6 MPG

The Japanese international may have been the biggest question mark for the Storm heading into the season. With only two other players making the jump from Japan in the league’s 20-year history, it was unclear how the four-time Women’s Japan Basketball League MVP might adjust.

But the 23-year old passed the test that was her first WNBA season with flying colors. While a strong fan following had her just a few hundred votes from joining Bird as an All-Star Game starter, Tokashiki had earned some Rookie of the Year buzz by the mid-point in the season.

“Taku” finished third among rookies in scoring, third in blocks, and sixth in rebounding, as one of the top first-year players in 2015.

Unfortunately for Seattle, with Japan winning the FIBA Women’s Asia Championship with Tokashiki at the forefront, there’s no word yet what her status for 2016 is. While the team certainly has her in their long-term plans, the Olympics may keep her away for at least a portion of the year.

Crystal Langhorne — 11.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 25.7 MPG

Make no mistake, while Langhorne played the five for much of the season, it was when she was playing at the four-spot that she truly shined. It’s not a role she’s seen much since joining the Storm, but it’s one that made her an All-Star in Washington.

While her rebounding numbers fell from around seven per night the past two seasons, to five-and-half a game this year, her shooting percentage remained around 55 percent.

If the Storm can add a true post-player that allows Langhorne the option to shift over, and take advantage of her potent jump shot, she appears more than capable of putting up numbers similar to those she did earlier in her career.

But if the team doesn’t, and she continues to take fewer shots (her 286 field goal attempts were the fewest since her second-season in 2009) while being forced to match up with the likes of Brittany Griner and Sylvia Fowles, bringing her back may not be the best option.

Like Bird, Langhorne is also an unrestricted free agent.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis — 5.8 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 12.3 MPG

One of the most prolific scorers in NCAA history, the UConn alumna initially struggled to adjust to the speed of the pro game.

But as the season went on, KML clearly appeared less hesitant on the catch-and-shoot, and began driving to the basket with more frequency.

“I think that it’s developed a lot,” she said after a game against the Lynx on Sept. 11. “It has a lot to do with being able to use my shot to bait the defender in. I think once I figured I can use that against them, it made it a lot easier to get to the basket.”

In her final two games of the season, Mosqueda-Lewis posted back-to-back career highs with 16 and 19 points against the Lynx and Stars. While there’s still plenty of development left to go, by the end of the year she looked to be the outside presence fans were hoping for.

Alysha Clark — 6.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 23.1 MPG

A fan-favorite for Storm faithful, Clark did well in a leadership role as she became the team’s second-most tenured player, trailing only Bird.

In 31 starts, she posted career-highs in minutes, points, rebounds, and assists, as one of the most versatile players on the roster. Offseason moves and the return of Monica Wright may bump her from the starting lineup, but Clark would likely then slot into the conversation as one of the league’s top sixth women, with a jumpshot that can spark the offense.

Abby Bishop — 5.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 19.6 MPG

The reigning Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) MVP missed the final eight games after undergoing a medical procedure on her right hamstring.

Before being sidelined, the 26-year old was playing nearly 20 minutes a night, and showing impressive range from the floor, shooting over 30 percent from behind the arc. A 18-point performance on 7-of-12 shooting against the Sparks on June 14 may have been an aberration, but that kind of scoring presence from a post would be welcome heading into next year.

Like O’Hea, Bishop could also make the Australian Olympic Team for 2016, making her status unclear as well.

Monica Wright — 7.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 19.8 MPG (Career Averages)

The six-year veteran did everything asked of her since coming over in the trade that sent Montgomery to Minnesota in July. Of course, recovering from knee surgery meant that the focus was on getting healthy for 2016, rather than rushing back to the court this season.

Seattle had targeted Wright in the past, signing her to an offer sheet after the 2013 season, one that was quickly matched by the Lynx. The 27-year old has shown in the past that she can be an effective piece off the bench — finishing second in Sixth Man voting as a member of the 2013 champions — but it remains to be seen how much of a role she’s expected to shoulder in Seattle.

With the team finishing 11th in scoring at 70.4 points per game, Seattle could use the Wright that averaged at least 8.5 points a night in 2010, 2011, and 2013.

Note: The Storm selected Nneka Enemkpali with the 26th pick of the 2015 draft, with the understanding she would miss the season as she recovered from a torn ACL. At the time of her injury in January, she was on pace to become the fifth player in Texas history to log 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds as a Longhorn.

Centers

Markeisha Gatling — 4.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 12.2 MPG

After missing the first seven games of the year, and playing sparingly throughout the first 75 percent of the season, it was often unclear how much of a role Gatling might have heading into 2016.

However, the second-year center out of North Carolina State flashed much of the potential that made her a first-round pick in 2014 by the Sky in the final fourth of the year as she saw extended minutes. That included a double-double (10 points & 12 rebounds) against Minnesota on Sept. 11, and a season-high 12 rebounds in the season finale against the Stars two days later.

Whether she could handle a starting role in the middle is unclear, but she certainly deserves to be in the conversation.

Quanitra Hollingsworth — 3.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 12.2 MPG

As Gatling established her presence in the middle, Hollingsworth saw less time in the rotation at the five. When she was on the court, she often struggled to stay out of foul trouble, and had difficulty at times protecting the basketball with 38 turnovers on the year.

The 2012 Olympian ultimately did not make a huge impact, but did average three rebounds on the defensive glass per game, and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds while paired with Gatling in the season finale.

It’s hard to see her returning next season, especially if the Storm opts to draft a post-player in what’s expected to be a deep draft

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