A day before the WNBA season tipped off, the league released the results of its annual GM survey. Seven general managers picked the Las Vegas Aces to win the title, the Mystics and Sky each got two votes, and one lone believer chose the Los Angeles Sparks. (Until I hear for certain that GMs weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams, I’ll assume that was Derek Fisher.)
Conspicuously without a single vote: last year’s champions, the Seattle Storm. Half of me feels this oversight should make some fans very nervous about the talent evaluation capabilities of the people running their WNBA franchises. (Really? Not one vote for the team with Breanna goddamn Stewart?) The other half of me understands the snub a little. Losing Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark—not only the team’s best defenders but also quite possibly the WNBA’s two best defenders—would be enough to seriously complicate a path to the title for any ordinary team. This very blogger, at this very website, wrote that the somewhat-new-look Storm squad had some questions hanging over it this year.
And the questions did stay hanging for a few minutes of Seattle’s season opener against the Las Vegas Aces on Saturday afternoon. The Storm looked a bit lost on defense to start, and it didn’t help that their own shots weren’t falling. Liz Cambage, matched up against Breanna Stewart, worked inside and drew a foul about 30 seconds into the game to kickstart what would be a 7–0 Vegas opening run.
Complicate a path to the title for any ordinary team, I said. The Storm are not that. They may just be the most blessed franchise in professional sports. Certainly one advantage of theirs last year was that the team had already been together for their 2018 championship run. But the Storm’s eventual 97-83 victory on Saturday asked whether the skeptics this year had overweighed a roster’s stability relative to its talent, and whether they’d underestimated a great team’s ability to adapt.
One of the game’s real revelations was guard Jewell Loyd. Loyd has always been an excellent player and scorer; that she put up 22 points and six assists was not the revelatory part. What she showed Saturday was that she could also be a star defending the perimeter, where her Alysha Clark-less team could now use the help. With Loyd assigned to her, Vegas’s brand-new star playmaker, Chelsea Gray, could only manage to get off some wobbly jumpers.
And then there was Ezi Magbegor, a second-year center who came into the game with perhaps the toughest assignment of all: Guard Liz Cambage without getting owned in spectacular fashion. The Aces’ star center is the standard by which any modern post player measures herself, and exactly the sort of player you might worry about sending a relatively inexperienced player to face down. But Magbegor assured everyone there was no need to worry by completely locking down Cambage and getting the Storm right back in the game. Those questions hanging over the Storm? Ezi, you have answered them. Seattle’s elite defenders are dead. Long live elite Seattle’s defenders.
And she’s shooting, too. Pay close attention to the below video of a 21-year-old, 6-foot-4 backup post player confidently knocking down a three, and you will hear the sound of 12 general managers grumbling, “Ah, shoot. Ah, fuck. Is it too late to change my answer?” Magbegor played 14 minutes and finished the game an incredible +24.
“We still have Stewie and Jewell,” Sue Bird said after the game, throwing a verbal elbow of sorts into the ribs of these survey takers, who I imagine are all now smacking themselves on the forehead. “We lost a lot in free agency, and I love every single one of those players, but people forgot we had Stewie and Jewell. I think today was an example of that. We’ve got the hard part. We’ve got the franchise players. Now, we just need to figure out how the rest of us can complement that and go from there.”