Last season, the Seattle Storm managed only 15 wins all season long, barely sneaking into the playoffs before bowing out in the first round. But it’s been a different story in 2018, as Seattle is sitting with the best record in the WNBA with only nine games left in the regular season and looks to be the favorite to win the league championship this year.

Seattle Storm WNBA Odds
Breanna Stewart (30) celebrates during a 101-83 victory by the Seattle Storm over the Connecticut Sun during the 2018 WNBA regular season. (Image: Elaine Thompson/AP)

At 18-7, the Storm have a three game lead in the Western Conference over the Los Angeles Sparks, and are 2.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Dream for the best record in the league.

Defensive Focus Under New Coach

Technically, the Storm haven’t even clinched a playoff spot yet: in a 34-game season, it’s hard to get much separation from the pack. But barring disaster, Seattle won’t just get into the postseason, they’ll do so as one of the top teams in the league. And if they can hold on to one of the league’s top two records, they’ll earn a bye to the semifinals.

The Storm have been one of the best offensive teams in the WNBA, averaging 86.8 points per game. While most of that offense is coming courtesy of returning stars Breanna Stewart (22.7 PPG) and Jewell Loyd (16.1 PPG), new addition Natasha Howard had also become a key contributor, averaging 12.7 points and giving opponents a new, versatile weapon to worry about.

But the biggest difference could be the addition of head coach Dan Hughes, who came out of retirement to lead the Storm this season. His focus has been on defense, and that emphasis has paid dividends: by giving up just 79.8 points per game, Seattle now ranks fourth in the league defensively.

“We’re winning a lot of games off our defense, which is something that we haven’t been doing in previous years,” Loyd told The Seattle Times. “Our defense is really efficient and we’ve been able to find ways to win games late in the game.”

Veteran Bird Excels at 37

The Storm have also benefited from the veteran leadership of Sue Bird. In Seattle’s last game – an 87-74 loss to the Dream – Bird set a WNBA record by playing in her 500th career regular season game. While this is Bird’s 16th season in the league, she’s still a highly productive point guard, averaging 10 points and 7.1 assists per game. At 37 years old, Bird was named to her 11th All-Star Game, also a WNBA record.

She’s playing at a high level,” Stewart told the Connecticut Post while talking about the league’s oldest player. “There is no shortcut. Every day she knows she has to do this stuff. No matter if she’s feeling good or feeling bad, she’s still going to go out and do it.”

All those pieces have led to an excellent regular season for Seattle, and bookmakers expect them to keep that form in the playoffs. William Hill has the Storm as the 5/2 favorite to win the WNBA Championship this year, ahead of the defending champion Minnesota Lynx (7/2) and last year’s runner up, the Los Angeles Sparks (3/1).

There will be plenty of competition for Seattle in the playoffs, and considering the improvement the team has seen this year, some might see this season as a success even if they fall short of a title. But that’s not how Stewart wants to look at the upcoming postseason.

“We’re trying to win a championship,” Stewart told the Seattle Times. “Anything less than that isn’t what we want.”