It's certainly not a stretch to say that former Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie was one of the Storm's fiercest rivals before retiring from the WNBA last year.
Nevertheless, having stepped into the role of broadcaster now, there was no hesitation in her voice when praising the Storm near the end of an interview last week for SBN's Swish Appeal.
"I think the Storm are the team to beat," said Leslie, who will be covering the WNBA Finals for NBA TV. "I picked the Storm to win."
Not that Leslie took any sort of real big risk in proclaiming a team that went 28-6 in the regular season is the team to beat, but it's certainly high praise from one of the game's legends and biggest rivals. Aside from having won two WNBA championships with the Sparks in 2001 and 2002 as well as being among USA Basketball's most decorated Olympians, Leslie can also relate to playing on such a dominant team - she was the centerpiece of the 2000 and 2001 Sparks teams that previously stood alone as the only two teams to go undefeated at home before the Storm matched that feat this season.
"Whenever you have that undefeated record at home that's a huge sign," said Leslie. "Championships are won on the road, but when you definitely can defend home and have that home court advantage, there's nothing else like it."
Of course, in addition to having home court advantage, the Storm have their share of talented stars, with point guard Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson normally garnering the majority of the attention. However, Leslie has also taken note of players on the Storm that haven't gotten as much recognition.
"Lauren Jackson, she's obviously been phenomenal, but I think Swin Cash has really been, I would say, the X-factor," said Leslie. "The way that she's just come along after her back [injury], she's just really responded well. She always plays hard. I'm sure that [coach Brian Agler] always talks about how the best player who's the most underrated would probably be Swin Cash because she just shows up and she gives you so much and it doesn't necessarily show across the board."
Beyond their trio of All-Stars three, part of what has made the Storm so difficult to play beat this season is their depth beyond those three. As Storm coach Brian Agler has noted, both the Storm and their WNBA Finals opponent Atlanta Dream are well aware that beyond the star players are other players to worry about. One player that has sort of flown under the radar for portions of this season is Storm forward Camille Little.
"I think Camille Little has improved her game so much and she just finds a way to get buckets," said Leslie. "She's not even on your radar and, boom, there you go: offensive board to Camille Little."
Little came to the Storm in a trade with the Dream for a second-round draft pik, as described by Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans. Having already worked with Little before coming to the Storm, Agler was already familiar with Little and must have had some sense that he was getting a bargain.
"She was with us in San Antonio when I was there so I knew what she was capable of doing," said Agler, who coached Little as an assistant when she was on the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2007. "I think players - it's like a lot of things - players sort of come into their own if they get in the right situation. And that doesn't mean one situation is better than the other at all - it's just some people fit in better. And I think that was the case with Camille."
When the Dream were established in 2008, they acquired Little through a dispersal draft. Perhaps not surprisingly considering the team's dominant inside strength now, coach and general manager Marynell Meadors brought in a number of post players. Little was one of them and essentially got caught in a log jam.
However, the situation in Seattle has seemed to bring out the best this season. As Leslie alluded to, Little has been the type of player who always seems to quietly go about the business of being in the right place at the right time. There comes a point when that ability to fly under the radar and then show up at the right time - in some cases when the team needs it most - has to be recognized as strong game awareness rather than coincidence or luck.
How well does Little's risk-taking mentality translate to team defensive success? - Swish Appeal
"She’s the same: she’s a blue collar worker," said Wright. "She’s gonna get things done for you. She works hard, she makes the dirty plays. She’s gonna come up with the important plays that maybe you don’t necessarily see on the stat sheet but we notice as a team because we know it helps us whether it’s offensive or defensive – she may get a tip on the basketball, she may get a rebound, she may stand in there and take a charge or she might be in the right position defensively to make somebody else do something different. So she does all the things we need her to do without it necessarily being seen all the time."
Ultimately, the way Leslie describes Little's contribution to the team captures yet another way to describes the Storm's "resilience" in overcoming 13 fourth quarter deficits, including a seemingly insurmountable one against the Mercury - somehow they just find a way to get buckets and, more importantly, stop their opponents from getting buckets.