A legacy play for Seattle Storm — Jess Smith talks WNBA Golden State

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Feb. 21, 2024

Happy Basketball Wednesday, and a reminder that if you’re coverage plan out of Sabrina Ionescu‘s display of shooting brilliance Saturday night in Indianapolis is multiple stories on what Kenny Smith thought about it all, you’re doing it wrong. (Sabrina shot 38.3 percent from 25-29 feet last season, Kenny.) So let’s talk instead about the Seattle Storm, shall we?

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What struck me as we saw the newest members of the Storm, Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith, get introduced to the media on Monday was how much remains unsettled in the legacy of Seattle’s top three players. Those two, along with Jewell Loyd, reside in the top 20 in win shares among all current WNBA players. Jewell is 30, Nneka and Skylar are each 33. And yet, it feels like we have less of a handle on their career arcs and ultimate destinations in the pantheon of WNBA players than most players who reach this point in their careers.

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Ogwumike isn’t just third among active players in win shares, at 62.8, she is sixth all-time. The only players ahead of her? Tamika Catchings, Sylvia Fowles, Lauren Jackson, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker. It is rarefied company. And yet, I cannot help but note that in conversations of the very greatest, we consistently hear Catchings dinged for winning the one title. Everyone else in that group has multiple WNBA championships. Nneka’s got one, in 2016, and her record with the Sparks once Parker left following the 2020 season was just 42-66. So for Nneka, getting another one with Seattle would make a difference — especially since Ogwumike is expected to start for the Storm, one reason she picked Seattle over New York.

Then there’s Diggins-Smith, who has blown things up in not one, but two different WNBA cities. And yet: it isn’t as if Dallas at the time or Phoenix in the aftermath of her public separation from Diana Taurasi and company thrived without her. Diggins-Smith doesn’t have a title on her resume yet, for all her individual brilliance, and has long argued essentially that she is the victim of her circumstances. In Seattle? She’s chosen her circumstances.

“Hopefully just continuing that legacy of bringing a great product on the floor to compete for the championship,” Diggins-Smith said of her goal in Seattle. “I’ll put that out there since we didn’t say that word. That’s everybody’s goal, and I think it’s how we go about things and habits that we create that will help us get closer to that.”

I guess Loyd’s legacy is the most settled, with a pair of titles already. But it was notable to me that both Diggins-Smith and Ogwumike spoke openly of the chance to play with Loyd as a primary motivator for both of them moving to Seattle. In that amorphous way, it feels like Loyd doesn’t quite get the credit she should for the multiple championships she won with Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, and at some level that makes sense. But while we need to see how it shakes out, Loyd should be the number one scoring option for the Storm in this version of the roster, and a 30s of contention and a title or two is going to raise Loyd into the upper pantheon of all-time WNBA greats for sure.

The only one whose WNBA legacy should be set already? Pokey Chatman, cited in the presser as a reason to come to Seattle, who has a massive free agency haul to pair with her many years of successful drafting in this league.

Will it work? Most people I spoke to around the league think it will, especially with everyone eager to prove it will in year one. But the first year is often the most difficult from an on-court standpoint.

As I have pointed out in this space, the one thing you cannot sign in free agency is continuity, and whether Seattle can win a title in a league where Las Vegas has plenty of it and New York is in Year 2 of the Stewart-Jonquel Jones partnership as well is anything but certain. They will be fascinating to watch no matter what happens, though, and the results should animate WNBA discussions for generations to come.

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Howard Megdal, founder and editor of The Next and The IX, will release his next book on May 7, 2024. This deeply reported story follows four connected generations of women’s basketball pioneers, from Elvera “Peps” Neuman to Cheryl Reeve and from Lindsay Whalen to Sylvia Fowles and Paige Bueckers.

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This week in women’s basketball

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Jada Williams is next for Arizona.

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Five at The IX: Jess Smith, WNBA Golden State president

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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.