The defending champion Seattle Storm and the WNBA jump started their 25th season with the 2021 draft on April 14th as teams return to their home arenas and hopefully in front of their home fans.
The 2020 season ended with Seattle taking back the championship as they swept the Las Vegas Aces for their fourth in franchise history and their second in the past three seasons.
The Storm started their training camp on April 25th at Seattle Pacific University after heading into the draft ready to bring in some new faces to an already changed roster as free agency and trades sent fan favorites across the country and brought in new players for fans to cheer.
Two of the biggest losses this off-season were Alysha Clark who disappeared off the championship roster as she took free agency and headed to the 2019 WNBA champion Washington Mystics. Clark who was a huge fan and community favorite will have to wait to show off her extraordinary defensive skills with her new team as an injury will keep her out of the 2021 season.
The former Middle Tennessee guard will be missed on defense especially as Seattle moves afterwards were to send the 2019 WNBA Defensive Player of the year and starting forward Natasha Howard to the New York Liberty along with former University of Washington guard Sami Whitcomb.
But the loss of those players became an opportunity for Seattle to bring in a variety of experience levels. In exchange for the New York trade Seattle garnered the Liberty’s number one pick for the 2021 draft which they quickly sent to the Dallas Wings in exchange for forward Katie Lou Samuelson.
The Storm brought in some veteran players Candice Dupree formerly of the Indiana Fever and Tamera Young from the Las Vegas Aces.
Dupree is a 15-year veteran out of Temple who is tenacious in her play and Young, a 12-year vet, will be a defensive force.
Though some may question bringing in double-digit year vets after losing two starters and a strong bench player Dupree and Young make only four players with over 10 years’ experience.
The other two have shown that many years still brings championships in 11-year vet Epiphanny Prince who won her second championship, first with the Storm, last year and of course the woman who is Seattle basketball in 19 year and four time champion Sue Bird who continues to show that years on the court equates to championships for the city.
After these four the rest of the roster is relatively young with forward Jewell Lloyd the “elder” stateswoman of the young crop after being the Storm’s number one pick six seasons ago.
Included in that “young” group is a player who many consider the best in basketball in two-time MVP and champion Breanna Stewart. Stewart who also was named Finals MVP in both championship wins continues to show that despite missing a season with an Achilles’ injury her play didn’t suffer and in fact improved including her overseas play where this year she lead her … team to an undefeated season and the Euro League championship.
And another MVP trophy for Stewart.
After these moves there still remained seven spots to fill from last year’s championship roster and free agency helped to fill a few before the draft.
The roster has a lot of talent at this moment and with draft picks the Storm should have no trouble putting together a solid roster of 12 but the question will be how soon can they obtain the flow and chemistry that they developed over the past few years that led to two championships so they can remain a force.
And who will come in off the draft to try and make their mark quickly to fill a conveted roster spot.
The draft began with the Dallas Wings who, for the first time in league history, had the first two picks.
They started by choosing, as expected, Charli Collier of the University of Texas with the first pick. Collier, a 6’5” center is considered a good rebounder with a solid three-point shot.
The first round saw a few surprises including a higher than expected pick of Pac-12 player and co-defensive player of the year Aari McDonald as the Atlanta Dream’s pick at number three.
McDonald moved herself into the spotlight with an incredible post-season where she lead the Arizona Wildcats to the championship game before losing to Stanford. The 5’6” guard plays with fire and swagger that should fit well into the Dream’s roster.
For Seattle it was looking at filling a few needs like defense and outside shooting. They seemed to get that with their first pick of the night and the 12th pick of the first round in 5’11” guard Aaliyah Wilson considered a strong perimeter defender.
The Storm then traded Wilson to the Indiana Fever and received guard Kennedy Burke. The former UCLA Bruin should feel right at home as she joins former Bruin teammate and two-time WNBA champion guard Jordin Canada as well as former Fever teammate Dupree.
Burke averaged 7.2 points per game in 22 games with Indiana. Burke was originally drafted by Dallas with the 22nd overall pick in the 2019 draft.
“We are excited to have Kennedy join us in Seattle,” said Storm General Manager Talisa Rhea. “She’s a versatile player that has pro experience and we believe will be a great fit for our Storm culture.”
Seattle stayed in the Pac-12 as they used the 18th overall pick to take Stanford Cardinal guard and 2021 NCAA champion Kiana Williams. At 5’8” Williams has a deep range from the three point line and is solid in the pick and roll. She averaged 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game over four seasons at Stanford.
Williams was named to the All-Pac-12 team three times and brings a needed depth at point guard. She’s considered a pure floor general which can only get stronger as she learns besides Bird who will be heading into her 20th season with the Storm.
As the names were called Seattle looked to the inside for the 23rd overall pick and found Texas A&M’s 6’2” forward N’Dea Jones. Jones is A&M’s all-time rebounding leader with 1,026 and in double-doubles with 42. She is a two-time All-SEC selection and averaged 11.7 rebounds while scoring 11.0 points per game.
The Storm rounded out the draft with their final pick of Natalie Kucowski of Lafayette College as the 35th overall pick. Kucowski was the 2020-21 Patriot League Player and Defensive Player of the Year. The 6’3” forward averaged 17.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game during her senior season. She finished as Lafayette’s all-time rebound leader with 1,197.
“We entered the draft understanding our needs for 2021 team and I feel like we met all of them,” said Storm Head Coach Dan Hughes. “Our picks bring a high level of competitiveness to our training camp group and it will be exciting to put together a roster for the season.”
Hughes returns after sitting out the 2020 season due to health concerns. Assistant Gary Kloppenburg led the Storm to the 2020 championship with input from Hughes as he watched from home.
The WNBA season begins May 14 with Seattle starting its title defense against last year’s finals foe the Las Vegas Aces when they play at 12pm on Saturday, May 15 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Washington.
The game will allow limited fan attendance and will also celebrate the Storm’s championship season with a ring ceremony as they celebrate the franchises, and Bird’s, fourth championship and second over the last three years.