The expansion Seattle Storm in 2000 won six games, then improved to 10 games in 2001 after adding #1 pick Lauren Jackson, who finished second in the rookie of the year voting. In 2002, the Storm selected Sue Bird at #1, and made the playoffs for the first time, while Bird won rookie of the year and All-WNBA First Team honors. In 2003, Jackson was named MVP, and in 2004, the Storm won all the marbles.
Similarly, the 1992 Orlando Magic was 21-61, but their reward for that was #1 Shaquille O'Neal, with whom the Magic won 20 more games. They parlayed the #1 pick in 1993 into Anfernee Hardaway at #3 plus some other goodies, and climbed from 41 to 50 wins. The next year, they reached the finals.
If you treated Seattle swingwoman Betty Lennox's numbers as if they all came from the backcourt, then a comparison of Lennox and Bird is at least equal to Detroit's All-Star guard tandem of Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith. In 2005, Nolan and Smith combined for 28 points and 7 rebounds; Bird and Lennox for 24.5 points and 6.8 rebounds. The Storm players look better in steals plus assists against turnovers -- 2.33 (Bird) and 2.46 (Lennox) for Seattle, opposite 1.76 (Nolan) and 1.52 (Smith) for Detroit.
However, much of Lennox's production came from the frontcourt. Iziane Castro Marques started 32 games alongside Bird, and she contributed 8 points and not much else. #11 draft pick Barbara Turner has split Marques' minutes in the preseason, and produced about equally.
Jackson can do everything. Seattle can bank on her scoring 18 points and pulling 8 rebounds, but she'll also chip in two blocks (career high of 8) and one steal (a career high of 5), and even shoot 34 percent of her treys and 80 percent of her free throws.
The Storm must be delighted with the way Wendy Palmer has established herself as the team's third forward, by leading the team in scoring twice and rebounds twice in the preseason. Seattle is Palmer's sixth stop -- she was an All-Star for Detroit in 2000 -- but she had her best two-point and three-point shooting percentages last year in San Antonio.
I wrote before that coach Anne Donovan is taking the idea of molding the team in the coach's image too far -- the 6-8 Hall of Fame center has six centers on her preseason roster. Starter Janell Burse puts up 10 and 6; the three leading candidates for the backup role are Suzy Batkovic (7 and 3 in 16 mins.), Tiffani Johnson (4 and 4 in 20 mins. for Houston), and Simone Edwards (7 and 4 in 21 mins. in '02).
Outlook: It seems to be all about Bird and Jackson. The Storm lost three roleplayers from their championship team, and won 20 games the next year, anyway, finishing third in field goal percentage, third in rebounding, and fifth in field goal percentage allowed. They'll meet Sacramento in the west finals, unless dark horse Houston catches lightning at playoff time.