WNBA Rookie Rankings: Odyssey Sims, Bria Hartley, Anna Cruz, Jamierra Faulkner on the rise

Joey Buettner

Here's a follow-up look-in on the first year players in the WNBA this season. With most teams having reached the halfway point, rookies have more or less become who they're going to be for the season.

So here we go, with the first half the season in the books, here's an updated rookie rankings with each rookie's previous ranking (on June 16) in parentheses.

1. Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut Sun (1)

Although she's come back to earth a bit in terms of her numbers, Chiney has still been very solid for the Sun. Her points per game since the first installment of the rookie rankings on June 16 have dropped to about 13 a night but her rebounding--the one skill that analysts were sure would translate -- continues at 8.3 a night, including a 22 point, 17 rebound performance in a tough loss to the New York Liberty on June 29.

Chiney has also made significant improvements in terms of fouls: with Kelsey Bone continuing to start beside her, moving Ogwumike to her more natural 4 position, Chiney's game-high for fouls since June 16 is only four. Ogwumike has also improved her free throw stroke - or so it seems - as her percentage has increased from 67% through the first 11 games while making 86% in the 6 games since.

Now this is a third of the sample size (in half the games which also illustrates her coming back towards the pack) but still a significant improvement.

2. Odyssey Sims, Tulsa Shock (5)

If Ogwumike is coming back towards the pack, Sims is right on her heels. With every game that passes, Sims seems to become more and more comfortable with the professional game.

Some of the blame on her struggles has to do with being in a new role to start the season but as she has become the starter alongside Diggins in the backcourt, Sims has started to blossom. Sims is a willing and crafty passer and it's shown recently as she is average just under 5 assists in the last 7 games.

The one thing that kept her from taking over the top spot in the rankings this week was the same issue I had with her as a senior at Baylor: she's a high-volume scorer. In her 30-point outburst in their last game, Sims shot it well but she's still the worst shooting rookie -- that's played any meaningful, consistent minutes -- in the WNBA.

Sims sliding into the starting roration has also caused a domino effect that leaves Skylar Diggins playing more of the 2-guard role. Diggins became an All-American and top recruit in high school playing off-the-ball and - especially after struggling last season - I thought this move could be beneficial and it has.

3. Bria Hartley, Washington Mystics (7)

In the first installment of the rookie rankings, I mentioned that I think Bria will eventually be the best guard in the 2014 draft; her play since has backed that up. With Ivory Latta having a down year after being an all-star last year and the Mystics trading away a perennial All-Star in Crystal Langhorne on draft day, Hartley has arguably been the Mystics best and most consistent player.

She has been turning the ball over a bit more than Mystics coach Mike Thibault would probably like to see her doing but she has been aggressive and has done a good job of staying the course even when she has tough nights. Hartley has also been a solid defender as well as adding 11.4 points a night since the first rankings. If the Mystics are to add on to the success they've had with such a young roster, Hartley will prove instrumental.

4. Anna Cruz, New York Liberty (10)

Cruz has been the poster child for seizing opportunities this season. As a 27-year old rookie, Cruz came into camp and impressed Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer to the point of cutting a rookie that he was apparently very high on in Tyaunna Marshall (yes, I'm still upset) and she's been able to show why.

Cruz has consistently knocked down the shots given to her, which is going to be key if New York wants to fight its way back into the playoff picture in the second half of the season. Cruz has played extremely well in her role this season and if you want proof look no further than her overall shooting numbers: 50% from the field, 41% percent from three. Even though her free throw percentage could stand to improve (69%), she hasn't been there much.

Cruz's game on Tuesday could be considered her strongest game this season, shooting 7-for-7 (1-for-1 from downtown) with 5 boards and 5 assists to go with 0 turnovers in 31 minutes in a much-needed 16-point win over Tulsa.

5. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun (8)

Allison Hightower has returned from injury but Thomas continues to start, and for good reason.

Since the first rankings, Thomas has averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 boards a night for the Sun from the 3-spot. The biggest key is that she gives the Sun another threat that's a bit different from the rest. Thomas is a beast on the fast break and is able to create extra opportunities with her rebounding that the Sun just don't get with Hightower.

The one problem continues to be Thomas' shooting. She's making a good amount of her mid-range jumpshots but still has yet to make a three-pointer (0-3) this year. If she's going to be the long-term solution for any team in the WNBA, Thomas has to at least get to the point that you have to guard her from three or she'll be cheating herself.

6. Jameirra Faulkner, Chicago Sky (NR)

Faulkner leaps into the rankings this week not only because she's going to play heavy minutes going forward with Courtney Vandersloot out for what amounts to at least the rest of the season, but also because she's played very well in those minutes.

In her first start on the year, Faulkner put up 27 points (9-11 from the floor, 8-9 from the line) and was really able to pick apart the Sparks defense in the second half. Even in the next game against Phoenix, Faulkner struggled from the field as the Mercury spent most of the game in a zone to prevent her penetration but was able to still be effective only turning the ball over once and finishing with 4 of the team's 10 assists.

Turnovers have been an issue for Faulkner on the year but I usually associate turnovers with aggression and that's a good thing for the Sky. Learning on the fly could prove beneficial for Faulkner's future as well as the Sky.

7. Kayla McBride, San Antonio Stars (6)

McBride has been very consistent with her inconsistency. Similar to what you came to expect of her at Notre Dame, McBride's better shooting games tend to come after really bad ones. The only bad side to that, is in between those outbursts following bad games, she's been really mediocre as a scorer when you step out of the realm of rookies and just talk basketball.

McBride has done a good job of keeping her turnovers down but that's mostly because if she catches it, it's going up; of course that's not a bad thing when you consider that McBride is shooting 40% from the three point line. She also does a good job of staying out of foul trouble and is a very solid ball-handler for a team that already doesn't turn the ball over much, second-best in the league.

8. Damiris Dantas, Minnesota Lynx (3)

It could be said that Dantas is playing at the same level she was previously just in less minutes: since our last installment, she hasn't seen a 30 minute night and that has more to do with her drop in the rankings than her actual play. As Devereaux Peters has returned, Dantas has retained her spot with the starters but with Peters looking more active than ever and knocking down jumpshots from spots deeper than before, she takes a lot of the minutes, especially late in games.

Dantas will only see her minutes continue to drop over time as Rebekkah Brunson is expected to return in a matter of weeks but Dantas has definitely shown that she belongs in the best league for women's basketball worldwide.

9. Natasha Howard, Indiana Fever (4)

Howard was plucked from the starting lineup after a few sub-par performances, even including a 2 minute outing against Phoenix. Then the rookie from Florida State returned to the starting lineup after a 10 point, 7 rebound game in a loss to Atlanta.

The challenge is that Howard has continued to do the same things she'd been doing at the beginning of the season but teams have figured out how to guard her. And with Tamika Catchings returning Saturday to what is likely still going to be at the 4-spot, one has to wonder if Howard has reached her ceiling as far as production, considering the hill the Fever have created for themselves if they want home-court advantage in the first round.

10. Stefanie Dolson, Washington Mystics (9)

Dolson continues to get better with every outing. Her drop has more to do with Faulkner's elevated performance than her actual slippage. She hasn't gotten the minutes that are given to some of her counterparts as Mike Thibault seems to have settled on veteran Kia Vaughn as his starting center but she has been very solid. Shooting 55% from the floor and fifth in blocks per minute, Dolson is probably one of the players making the most of limited minutes: since playing 40 minutes in the triple OT victory over the Sparks, the most minutes Dolson has seen was 24 in a tough home loss to the Indiana Fever.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Shoni Schimmel, Atlanta Dream (2)

Schimmel's meteoric drop has to do with Celine Dumerc's arrival. Dumerc has been penciled in as the starter for the Dream since she was signed and Jasmine Thomas seems to be in head coach Michael Cooper's favor as well so Schimmel is barely seeing minutes in games these days. She's still getting her shots up but Schimmel hasn't been able to continue to impact the game from a numbers standpoint the way she was early on. Schimmel has also been a bit of a defensive liability - while Thomas and Dumerc are not - which has a lot to do with her being third on the depth chart as well.

Jordan Hooper, Tulsa Shock (NR)

Hooper continues to play well in limited minutes for the Shock: fourth among rookies in three point field goal percentage, Hooper brings great size on the perimeter to go along with her shooting and often overlooked ball handling ability. Williams may be hesitant to start Hooper as his starting lineup is fairly young in terms of WNBA life but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the offense kicks up a notch when Hooper enters the fold.

Tricia Liston, Minnesota Lynx (NR)

Liston has started to see some time since our last rankings and has done exactly what we thought she could do: shoot the three. She's seen valuable minutes for her confidence as she saw very little time at the start of the year. Liston doesn't exactly give up the same points she scores as has been the case with many "shooters" over the years so if her game continues to grow the way it did at Duke, she cant continue to hold a job during the summers.

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