It’s hard to assess during the first month of the season how strong teams are and where they’ll be when the WNBA regular season ends in August.
Most teams are still without key players who are finishing overseas commitments. The Sky, for example, are without Kahleah Copper, Julie Allemand and Li Yueru.
Throw in early injuries and COVID-19 protocols, and you’ll get a team like the Storm, who have been without two-time WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince their last two games.
Prince has been cleared to return from health and safety protocols, but Stewart’s availability for Wednesday’s game against the Sky is questionable.
“We prepare like [Stewart] is going to be here,” Sky coach/general manager James Wade said. “It’s a good test for us if she is. We want to play against their [whole] team. We don’t like when players are out because it can subconsciously give you a false sense of security.”
Coming into the season, Seattle was pegged as a title contender, but a 1-3 start to the season has brought that into question.
The Storm are clearly a different team with Stewart, but her absence has exposed the team’s weaknesses, starting with the offensive production from their backcourt.
Seattle has explosive guards in Briann January and Jewell Loyd. Everyone knows what Sue Bird is capable of, even in her 19th season. Through the Storm’s first four games, Loyd has been carrying the offensive load.
Loyd is second in the league in scoring, averaging 22 points, with a three-point percentage of 43.3%. Meanwhile, January and Bird are shooting under 30%.
With Kahleah Copper still out, Rebekah Gardner and Dana Evans will have to show up big defensively. The Sky’s bench, averaging 19 points through the first three games, needs to continue that production to allow Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Candace Parker to get valuable rest.
The Liberty got plenty of open looks from deep last week against the Sky but only converted 13%. Against the Storm, the Sky can’t afford to give up the same attempts regardless of Seattle’s shooting woes.
Wade’s frontcourt lineup of Azura Stevens, Emma Meesseman and Parker has a size advantage against the Storm with Stewart sidelined. Still, the Storm are coming off three straight losses and will be hungry for a tone-shifting win against the reigning champs.
For the Sky, the last two games of their three-game trip will signal how far Wade’s team has to go to reach full steam. The Sky have developed more continuity offensively since their season-opening loss to the Sparks, but there are still issues to be ironed out defensively.
It’s hard to accurately assess any team without its full roster. The game against the Storm will be the Sky’s last without Copper, the 2021 Finals MVP, who will make her season debut Sunday against the Mystics.
“What’s more impressive than the depth is the combination of talent that we have and their willingness to play a different role,” Vandersloot said. “Finding a player like [Gardner], who has shown she can play in this league but is coming in with a mentality like, ‘Whatever you guys need,’ that type of sacrifice is what’s going to make us really special.”