During her four seasons with the Seattle Storm, Sami Whitcomb was at the heart of ‘good story’, with the University of Washington fulfilling the archetype of inspiring, local success.
Now, in her fifth WNBA season and her first with the New York Liberty, Whitcomb is just ‘good’. She is a certified sharpshooter who can bury opponents with a bunch of three-pointers. She is an integral piece to the upcoming Liberty, which is in the middle of their most successful season in a decade.
Here’s a look back at Whitcomb’s unlikely path to becoming one of the most important players on a play-off candidate, in addition to an analysis of why she’s so important to Liberty’s success.
Whitcomb’s Wandering to the WNBA
After a four-year college career in Washington, Whitcomb quit the 2010 WNBA draft. When she was cut from the Chicago Sky after an invitation to a training camp, she gave up her professional basketball dreams, but instead chose to return to Washington to serve as video coordinator for her former college team.
Yet Whitcomb’s love for the game lured her back. She left for Germany in the summer of 2011 and played one season for the ChemCats Chemnitz and one for the Wolfenbüttel Wildcats. In the summer of 2013, she jumped to Slovakia and adapted ŠKBD Rücon Spišská Nová Ves for one season. Whitcomb also went Down Under in 2013, where she would play four seasons for the Rockingham Flames of Australia’s State Basketball League (SBL). From 2015-’16, Whitcomb joined the Perth Lynx of the WNBL for the first of three successful seasons.
Along this peripatetic professional basketball path, Whitcomb has earned numerous individual honors. During the 2017 WNBA season, her overseas efforts were eventually helped her earn her another WNBA opportunity, when she signed a contract with the Seattle Storm.
SamBam settles in Seattle
In her first season in Seattle, Whitcomb averaged 4.5 points in 12.2 minutes per game. However, there was a flash of the player she became today. In just her third WNBA game, Whitcomb exploded 22 points from the bench within 15 minutes, powered by a 3-for-4 performance of 3.
Next season, Whitcomb would play a smaller reserve role for a Storm team that would win the WNBA title, with less than three points in 8.6 minutes per game. Yet it is not necessarily a bit to say that Seattle would not have secured the then franchise’s third championship without Whitcomb. In Game 5 of the fiercely controversial semifinal against Phoenix Mercury, Whitcomb was the savior, providing a knockout shot and troublesome defense to help the Storm survive and progress.
In 2019, Whitcomb enjoyed an extensive role for the injury-plagued and excessive Storm, playing more than 20 minutes and scoring just over seven points per game. For the 2020 bubble season, when Seattle would win the title again, she slipped back into a reserve role, with 8.1 points in her 16.5 minutes per game. Due to the birth of her son, Whitcomb missed the final. Although Seattle certainly wanted her as a spark from the bench, whether as a threatening shooter or annoying defender, the Storm swept the Las Vegas Aces without her.
In short, Whitcomb established herself as an important part of the Storm organization, but, as suggested by her absence, she was undoubtedly essential.
This season, on the other hand, she’s crucial, and it’s not just because she’s no longer in a team led by Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. Whitcomb has joined more than a new team, but also reached a new level.
SamBam explodes in Brooklyn
It’s the full weaponry of her three – pointer that fueled Whitcomb’s leap. With apologies to Diana Taurasi, Arike Ogunbowale, Allie Quigley and others, she is the most dangerous deep threat in the W this season.
With her quick release, Whitcomb shoots away with great effects. She tries to have a career high of 6.1 3-points per game, and despite these increased efforts, she also shoots the best percentage of her career and strips the nets to a tune of 43.8 percent, which is the best point is among players with more than 50 attempts. Her 56 make 3s currently lead the league.
While these impressive numbers are a testament to Whitcomb’s shooting skills, they’re also a product of New York’s offensive system, for which Whitcomb is a perfect fit. Since taking over Liberty before the 2020 season, head coach Walt Hopkins has taken on the power of the three-pointer and implemented a five-offense system that relies on taking and making a high volume of 3s. Last season, Liberty managed to take 3s but not pick up. In 2020, they were second in the league in try attempts, but they shot a league-worst 27.7 percent from behind the arc. The import of more reliable three-point shooters was therefore an off-season priority. The two-year protected veteran contract they gave to Whitcomb proves that money is well spent, as the New York system maximizes Whitcomb’s skills and Whitcomb’s skills further maximize the New York system.
The fact that Whitcomb averaged 7.2 3-point attempts and 3.2 3-points in Liberty wins, compared to 5.2 attempts and 2.2 losses as proof of how her shooting helped drive New York’s success. Her performance on June 26 against the Atlanta Dream is the best illustration of her worth. On its way to a career-high 30 points, Whitcomb set a franchise record of seven three-pointers.
It should be noted that Whitcomb is more than a sharpshooter. She also averaged career highs in rebounds, assists and steals, with 5.8 steals, 2.8 cents and 1.1 steals per game.
What can we expect from Sami and the Liberty during the second half of the season?
Currently, Liberty sits sixth in the standings, just below .500 at 10-11. The franchise’s first playoff spot since 2017 seems likely. If they make it to the post-season, New York would be a dangerous opponent, largely because of Whitcomb.
In a bit of curiosity, Whitcomb shoots just over 50 percent from deep down the road, compared to 37.7 percent at home. If Liberty passes the first round, Whitcomb’s apparent comfort from behind the arc in hostile territory could help Liberty secure a playoff game in the second round.
A SamBam dream for people wearing sea foam green!