Storm rookies showing growth despite inconsistent performances

To explain their preference for experienced veterans, a WNBA executive once joked every rookie in the starting lineup or rotation accounts for 4-5 losses.

The adage certainly applies to the Storm (10-23) and Indiana Fever (9-24) — two teams at the bottom of the league standings who will play a combined seven rookies when they meet 4 p.m. Thursday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

“It’s no secret you need vets and experience to win,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “There’s not a lot of times in the history of the W when you’ve won a championship playing a lot of rookies. … That’s not a knock on rookies. It just takes time for them to grow and understand the cadence of a W season, the amount of work that you have to put in and how to sustain that.”

Quinn has been hesitant to say the Storm are rebuilding during a season that looks very much like a team starting over after a fruitful seven-year playoff run that included WNBA titles in 2018 and 2020.

Seattle retained just four players (Jewell Loyd, Ezi Magbegor, Gabby Williams and Mercedes Russell) from last year’s 22-14 team.

Meanwhile, four of the Storm’s eight newcomers are rookies, including Jordan Horston, Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, Jade Melbourne and Ivana Dojkic, who left the team two weeks ago.

“We’re re-imagining and trying to understand where we want to go in the future,” Quinn said. “That’s part of the process. The experienced teams are the ones that have the advantage because of the short training camps and not a lot of time to teach every little thing that you need to teach within a 2-3 week period. Teams that have the vets and been through it and have that consistent corps find that success.”

Aside from a recent nine-game stretch in which the Storm posted a 6-3 record, wins have been scarce this year.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that consistency from Seattle’s rookies has been equally elusive.

Take Horston for instance.

At times, the 6-foot-2 forward looks like a future star while tallying 23 points, 10 rebounds and three assists against Atlanta last month. On July 30, she was a big reason why the Storm dominated Indiana during an 85-62 win while producing 15 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.

And other nights Horston’s dismal 25% three-point shooting is an offensive liability for a Storm team in need of alternative offensive options to support Loyd, the WNBA’s scoring leader.

“We got to get her to finish a little bit better,” Quinn said Tuesday after Horston scored three points on 1-for-11 shooting in the Storm’s 102-79 loss at Chicago.

Horston, who ranks third among WNBA rookies in scoring (7.2 points per game) and rebounds (5.0), is vying for All-Rookie honors along with Fankam Mendjiadeu who averages 4.5 points and 4.7 rebounds.

It remains to be seen if Dojkic, who averages 6.5 and 2.8 assists, will receive serious consideration because she’s played in just 23 games.

Dojkic’s absence has led to more minutes for Melbourne, the WNBA’s youngest player at 21, who had played sparingly early in the season before appearing in each of the past six games.

“Each of them has grown,” Quinn said. “We’re exploring (Horston) at multiple positions during the season. She’s locked in. She’s shown that she has the athletic ability and the basketball acumen to play at this level. Same with Jade. … She’s progressed every single day. Not quite where we want all of our rookies to be, but her growth has been tremendous.

“What you see from Dulcy is what she showed every single day in training camp. Now it’s more refined because our systems and our principles are put in. But she’s finding ways to impact the game with her rebounding and energy level. From Day 1 to now, just a lot of tremendous growth from all of them.”

Fankam Mendjiadeu will have a difficult task Thursday against Indiana’s

Aliyah Boston, the WNBA All-Star center presumptive Rookie of the Year winner who leads all rookies in scoring (14.7 points), rebounds (8.2), blocks (1.3), steals (1.3) and field goal percentage (59.9).

“Aliyah Boston is a physical presence,” Quinn said. “She’s done a really good job this year. Just her ability to finish around the paint and defensively the physicality that she’s shown. Her ability to rebound the basketball. She’s a load.

“It doesn’t feel like she’s a rookie with the way she’s impacted the game. Truly there’s a difference when she’s on the floor versus not for that team.”

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