Seattle Storm season player review: Mercedes Russell

From starter to reserve: Russell's season wasn't flashy but her role was vital to their championship run

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PALMETTO, FL - SEPTEMBER 9: Mercedes Russell #2 of the Seattle Storm plays defense against the Dallas Wings on September 9, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages)

What a difference a year makes for Seattle Storm center Mercedes Russell. Each year of her career to this point has brought a new challenge for her to adapt to. At age 24, Russell has been drafted and traded and gone from reserve to starter and back to reserve by her third WNBA season.

Who knows what her role will look like in 2021.

Russell was thrown into the starting lineup after Breanna Stewart went down at the beginning of the 2019 season. She grabbed 6.1 rebounds per game — the second-best mark on the team — while shooting 52 percent from the field. Russell also finished fifth in scoring for the Storm and made multiple plays per game on the defensive end.

The Storm needed help from anywhere on the roster with both Stewart and Sue Bird missing the 2019 season. Russell delivered in just her second season in the league.

2020 brought a whole new challenge for Russell. With Stewart healthy, Russell wasn’t going to play 25 minutes per game anymore. Unsurprisingly, Russell’s minutes were nearly halved (13.8 per game) and her production dropped with her playing time. Having to share minutes with Stewart and rookie Ezi Magbegor certainly limited her time on the floor.

Yet, the Storm didn’t need Russell to fill the same role in 2020 as she had the season before. So, it didn’t matter she shot just 41 percent from the field. The Storm had plenty of other players to get buckets from. This allowed Russell to do the nitty-gritty dirty work the team needed.

Russell was often used as a screener on the offensive end. She also wasn’t afraid to get in the paint and grab a few boards. In fact, her rebounding, assist, blocks, and steals rates were fairly similar to what they were as a starter.

Sure, she probably would have liked to have a few more shots fall but that wasn’t her job. When you watched a Storm game, it’s not like the offense was running through Russell. Her ability to do things like set a good screen for her point guard or box out allowed the Storm to play their best.

Not many players would have been thrilled to have their role shrink as much as it did from 2019 to 2020 for Russell. Yet, we never heard her complain and she is now a champion for the second time in three seasons. Given Seattle’s cap crunch, the Storm may very well call upon more from Russell in the future.