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Tamika Catchings, 5000, and the Value of Draft Classes

Over the weekend, Tamika Catchings became the 6th player in WNBA history to score 5000 career points.  Catch has been a great player for a long time and does a lot of things well besides scoring, but 5k points is a significant milestone.  Perhaps more interestingly, Catch is the second player from the 2001 Draft Class to cross the 5000 mark, after Lauren Jackson.  It's the only class to have two (so far).

It's always been an article of faith among WNBA fans that the 1999 Draft Class, with all the ABL players along with Chamique Holdsclaw, Nykesha Sales, and Becky Hammon, was the best in WNBA history.  A closer look suggests that this might not be the case.

Nah, just kidding.  There's really no case to be made here.  The class of 1999 is just too deep for any other one to claim the crown, thanks to the ABL players.  It had 27 players score 1000+ points.  The class of 2011, which many consider pretty good, only had 26 players make a roster.  1999 had more players score 3000+ points (11) than all but two classes have had score 1000+ (1998 has 12, 2001 has 14).  1999 has 64 All Star appearances, only 2001 has even one third that many (it has 33).  49 of the 50 draftees from 1999 made rosters.  The one who didn't, the infamous Z-Woman Natalia Zasulskaya, certainly would have if she'd ever come to the US.  27 undrafted/assigned players also debuted in 1999.  And it wasn't filled with one and done types.  More than half of 1999's draftees were still playing in the league in 2004, five years later.  Compare that to 2006, a decent class.  Now, five years in, seven of 42 draftees (17%) are still playing in the W (including Monique Currie, who isn't playing, but you know what I mean).

Now, you could say that the top level talent from 2001 matches or even exceeds 1999.  2001 has three MVP awards to 1999s one and has nearly twice as many MVP Shares.  1999 has 17 different players who received MVP votes during their career, a truly absurd number, but most didn't receive very many.  2001 matches 1999s 26 All WNBA Team mentions, but 2001 has 16 First Teams to 1999s nine.  2001 has dominated the defensive awards with 12 First Team All Defense team mentions and five Defensive POYs.  1999 has one and zero in that category (noting that the All Defense Team didn't exist until 2005).  2001 also has three scoring titles to 1999's two.  2001 was a phenomenal class, but it just wasn't as deep as, well, the entire ABL.

None of the more recent classes seem likely to challenge 2001 or 1999 as the top two classes.  2004 is the last one to reach double digits in 1000+ point scorers.  That class was highly touted but hasn't been as good as some people expected beyond Diana Taurasi.  2008 looks strong.  It already has seven 1000+ scorers and will add a few more.  Probably enough to match or exceed 2004.  I don't think it will reach 2001's mark of 14, let alone 1999's ridiculous 27.  2008 is already down to only 17 players on rosters.  I'm predicting 2013 to be a great class.

Will any class ever match the talent and depth of 1999?  Ever is a long time, of course, but I don't think it's likely.  With enough expansion and salaries that are sufficient to keep players from early retirement, the numbers of the Class of 1999 might be surpassed some day.  I don't think we'll ever see a class with as much league-wide impact.

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