At the core of the future of the Seattle Storm are two players.
Much like the teams of the past relied on the duo of Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, the rosters of the years to come will be built around back-to-back Rookies of the Year, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. That much is clear.
But as they continue to develop, just how far they’ll go in the postseason will depend on the players around them.
That’s where Carolyn Swords and Alexis Peterson come in.
The 6-foot-6 veteran center, and the 5-foot-7 rookie guard out of Syracuse, were Seattle’s two main acquisitions, as part of a somewhat surprisingly quiet offseason.
Swords was acquired in a three-team deal with the Liberty and Mystics earlier this year, which saw Seattle send the No. 6 pick in the draft to Washington, along with swapping second-round selections to get the fifth-year post out of Boston College.
Peterson, who had been tabbed by many as a first-round pick after being named ACC Player of the Year, fell to the Storm at that No. 15 pick.
They’re two vastly different players but both could – and likely will – have to play key role if Seattle is to win its first playoff series since the 2010 WNBA Finals.
Swords called it fun “to be on the other side” of the energy in the early parts of training camp, saying Seattle was a hard team to scout as an opponent, as a group that plays well together and know each other’s tendencies.
The Massachusetts native said her size and presence in the post will free up Seattle’s playmakers.
“I’m hoping with my length that I can help protect the paint on defense, and then help to draw some attention and maybe take some pressure off on offense, within the context of what they’ve been doing, but hopefully free some people up to do what they do best,” Swords said. “Especially on the defensive end if I can guard the other team’s center, I think that can free up the team to do what they like to do, be a little more floating, more active, and put them more in their comfort zone.”
The 27-year old has proven durable, starting all 34 games for New York last season, and playing in at least 29 in four of her five WNBA seasons. After averaging just over five points and four rebounds a game each of the last two years, she may not be known for filling the stat line, but rather for what her presence means for her teammates.
“It’s really exciting when you get to play alongside such talented players,” Swords said of Loyd and Stewart, “so I’m looking to make their job easier, whether that’s drawing the extra defender away from them, and then just learning their tendencies and reading off of them. Teams are usually going to scheme for them, so making them pay for those decisions based on their defensive schemes, and looking to complement where I can.”
If Swords is used as a true center, it would also likely open forwards Crystal Langhorne and Ramu Tokashiki — both plus-shooters — to play away from the basket.
Meanwhile, Peterson said her first WNBA training camp has gone smoothly, as she makes the jump to the pros. An Associated Press All-America second-team selection, Peterson set Syracuse single-season records in scoring and assists her senior year, and left as the program’s all-time leader in assists, second in scoring and field goals, and third in steals.
Those eye-popping numbers, however, weren’t enough to convince any of the nine teams to draft before Seattle.
“I feel like everyday I have something to prove, so it’s just a part of the story … I have this willingness to show people that they missed out, and what I can bring,” she said.
She won’t be counted on for the 23 points a night she put up with the Orange this year (at least not in her rookie season), but Peterson could be the team’s point guard of the future, and will likely get ample opportunity as a backup in 2017. She’s also the team’s youngest player, and won’t turn 22 until mid-June.
While Swords and Peterson are the team’s key acquisitions, they’re not the only new players battling for a role.
Also in camp for the Storm is former Washington guard Sami Whitcomb, who was named to the WNBL All-Star Five for the second-straight year, averaging more than 24 points a game for the Perth Lynx and besting her own league record for 3-pointers in a season.
Lanay Montgomery, a 6-foot-5 center from West Virginia, was Seattle’s third round selection, could also be in a position to make the roster.
With the offseason departures of Krystal Thomas, Monica Wright, and Abby Bishop, there’s at least two open bench spots (one all but certain to go to Peterson), with the possibility for more shuffling depending on camp results. That could mean Whitcomb or Montgomery, or a bigger surprise in former Lynx guard Jennifer O’Neill or ex-Sparks and Sun center Nikki Greene.
That entire group will get its first shot to make an impression in game action on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., as the Storm face the Mercury at KeyArena in the team’s first preseason game. The two teams will face-off again in Phoenix on Sunday at 3 p.m., before the regular season begins on May 13.