The 2018 Seattle Storm: How a Winning Formula turned into a WNBA Title

The Seattle Storm did everything right to claim their third WNBA Championship.

The seemingly magical success of a championship winning team, in any team sport, is the combination of the right people at the right time. And there is a lot that goes into the right people and the right time.

First, the players, the coaches, the front office, and the ownership all have to have the smarts, the talent, and the desire and motivation to win.

Second, they all have to get along; there has to be chemistry. You can have a few spats here and there, you can have one player that doesn't get along with another and maybe you'll still win. But one thing you often hear coaches talk about as their team is hoisting a championship trophy, is how special a group of players they have. How much they truly like each other, care about each other, and look out for one another. You can have plenty of the first part of the equation. You can have a lot of talented players, but if they don't get along, if they don't play as a team and as a cohesive unit, they won't win.

And they have to have the hunger, desire, and motivation to win, whether it's their first championship, or their third, or fourth, or fifth. The next big part of the equation is that it has to be the right time. You have to make the right pass, get the right loose rebound, make the right play to score the right points at the right time to win. You have to play the right defense, make the right stops, and steal the ball and run on the fast break at the right time to win. You have to call the right plays and sub in and out the right players at the right time to win. Part of this winning equation comes down to a lot of preparation and a little bit of luck. You have to have the right players, and you have to make the right trades at the right time to win as well. And the Seattle Storm had every part of the equation to win this year. They had every part of the winning formula that ultimately leads to a sweep of the Washington Mystics to claim the franchise's third WNBA championship.

The Right People

The Storm came into the off-season with plenty of talent, yet they seemed to lack just a few pieces here and there. They had a veteran legend of a point guard in Sue Bird, who stayed with the team even when they began a rebuild after their 2010 championship, and suffered several losing seasons. They had other key veterans Alysha Clark, Crystal Langhorne, and Noelle Quinn who had all provided valuable minutes whether it was as a starter, or coming off the bench.

They have young talent like Sami Whitcomb and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. who also provided solid minutes off the bench in 2017. They also had two back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners in Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, who were growing into two of the best players in the league. They had talent, but they had just come off a disappointing first round exit in the playoffs against the Mercury after a 15-19 season. They needed more depth, they needed a third scorer, and they needed to improve on defense. They had also fired head coach Jenny Boucek two-thirds of the way through the season and needed to find someone else besides interim head coach Gary Kloppenburg to lead the team. Who could they get in the draft or in a trade to be the third scorer, who could they add for a bit of depth off the bench and add to the defense? And who was going to be the head coach?

The Right Moves at the Right Time

The Storm front office made the right moves at the right time by making two of the best moves of any WNBA team during the 2017-18 off-season. First, they found their new head coach in two-time WNBA Coach of the Year Dan Hughes, who had retired in 2016 after 11 years coaching the San Antonio Stars, where he and Becky Hammon lost in the 2008 Finals to the Detroit Shock.

He had also coached the Cleveland Rockers for four seasons, winning Coach of the Year in 2001 after a 22-10 season. He was a defensive minded coach who loved what he did. He loved his players and he wasn't afraid to show his love or his appreciation for them. The Storm front office knew they had their head coach, and the fact that they had picked the right head coach became more apparent as the season wore on.

The second big move the Storm made was in trading for Minnesota Lynx Forward Natasha Howard. The Storm gave up a second-round pick in the 2018 draft, as well as a conditional option to swap first-round picks in 2019. Team President and GM Alisha Valavanis said in a February 7th article, "Adding Natasha was a significant step in bolstering our interior presence...she is an athletic rebounder and defender, areas we have identified as improvements for our roster. We are all looking forward to welcoming Natasha to Seattle.” Again, the Storm were pleased with what appeared to be the right move for the right person at the right time, but no one knew back in February just how much of impact both the hiring of Dan Hughes and the trade for Natasha Howard would have. The Storm weren't done yet though, as they signed former Dallas Wings forward Courtney Paris, and added the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, UCLA's Jordin Canada with the 5th pick in the 2018 Draft.

At the beginning of the season, the Storm looked ready to make a run to get back into the playoffs. They looked poised to perhaps even make into the second or third round. And then the season actually started.

The Right People Making the Right Moves at the Right Time

The Storm started out the regular season with an opening night loss at home to their bitter rivals the Phoenix Mercury. But they went on the road and got revenge just three days later by destroying Phoenix 87-71. They then went 7-3 to start the season and by July they had the best offense in the league.

Sue Bird was steadily guiding her younger teammates to success. She was, as she herself put it, the "mama hen" of the team. But she didn't let her teammates become robots, and she didn't let them lean too heavily on her. She offered advice, she guided the offense, and she made the right passes and the right shots and the right play calls, but she also let her teammates grow and learn from every single up and down game, and from every loss. Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and newcomer Natasha Howard were suddenly averaging 15 to 20 plus points per game. Howard quickly became the third scorer, as well as the defensive and rebounding anchor the team had needed the year before. Jordin Canada, Courtney Paris, Crystal Langhorne, and Sami Whitcomb rounded out a stable rotation off the bench.

Alysha Clark provided some of the best defense and offense of her career all season long. Dan Hughes was calling all the right plays, making all the right substitutions, and getting the absolute best out of every single one of his players. He was motivating them at all the right times and in all the right places. As the regular season came to a close, Breanna Stewart was the front-runner for the MVP award, Natasha Howard was the front-runner for Most Improved, and the Storm were the best passing, best rebounding, and best scoring team in the league. They didn't lose back-to-back games all season long, and they went out and earned home court throughout the playoffs along with a coveted second-round bye into the semi-finals.

The 2018 Seattle Storm looked like they had made all the right moves, they had all right people, and it looked like it was the right time to win a title. But remember what I said about luck? That played a part in their season as well.

When the 2018 WNBA season started, there were two teams that just about everyone expected to see in the Finals for a third consecutive year, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx. But the Lynx struggled mightily to start the season, as they only won four games out of their first ten. They regained their footing, however, and made it into the playoffs. The Sparks meanwhile ended the season with a 19-15 record and set themselves up with a first-round single-elimination match up with the aforementioned Lynx. The Sparks prevailed to eliminate the Lynx and possibly put an end to arguably the WNBA's best ever dynasty.

But then Los Angeles got eliminated themselves by the Washington Mystics in Round 2 in a 96-64 blowout. For the Seattle Storm, this was a little bit of luck. The two best teams of the past several years wouldn't have a chance to get hot in the playoffs and challenge the #1 seeded Storm in the Finals, who had relatively little playoff experience. Instead, they would have to take on their rivals the Phoenix Mercury, who as mentioned earlier, had bounced them in the first round of the playoff the year before. And what a series it would be! The Storm took a 2-0 lead after winning both home games, including a nail-biting overtime win that had more than a little bit of luck along with a lot of perseverance.

Even more luck (and of course wisdom and leadership) came the Storm's way when after breaking her nose on Breanna Stewart's elbow in a Game 4 loss in Phoenix, Sue Bird was able to play with one of her many face masks on in Game 5; rallying her team in the 4th quarter with huge 3-pointer after huge 3-pointer to send Seattle to their first Finals appearance in 8 years.

It took the Seattle Storm everything they had, from every player on the roster, but they did what they set out to accomplish.

They had made it to the WNBA Finals with a matchup against (again a bit more luck came the Storm's way) a Washington Mystics team that was not quite 100%, due to the knee injury to Elena Delle Donne and the broken finger and fatigue suffered by LaToya Sanders. As the Game 1 rout happened, you saw the best team in the league doing exactly what you expected them to do. They won, and they won big. Game 2 was where their youth and playoff inexperience really showed, and it looked as if the Mystics, behind a resurgent and suddenly healthy looking Delle Donne, were ready to tie things up and make it a series.

But the Storm had grown this season, and every win and every loss they learned a bit more about themselves, a got a little bit better as a team. Game 2 proved that they could get the points and get the stops, and make the right plays at the right time to ultimately come away with the win. When one player wasn't playing well, another player stepped it up; Jewell Loyd certainly stepped up in Game 1 and the second half of Game 2. And when they need their two best players to go on the road and do everything they can to sweep the Mystics to win a championship, they answered the call. Natasha Howard and Breanna Stewart both showed up big time scoring a combined 59 points. But the whole team showed up as well.

Along with Howard's 29 points, she pulled down a career-high 4 rebounds to help stifle the Mystics, along with Alysha Clark's defense, 9 rebounds, and 15 points, and Sue Birds typical 10 points and 10 assists. The bench came in and provided a spark, especially Sami Whitcomb and Jordin Canada who didn't put up huge numbers, but helped guide the offense while Bird rested. This team did absolutely everything right to get three straight wins to capture the Storm's third WNBA Championship. Stewart was MVP, but Howard was a close second, and with the young core that this team has, there is no question that they are capable of competing for another title next season. However, this season proved that you have to have to have all the right players, doing all the right things, at all the right times, and have just the right amount of luck, talent, motivation, desire, and chemistry to win.

Here's to the 2018 WNBA Champion Seattle Storm, and here's to all their hard work and talent paying off not only this season, but for many seasons to come.

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