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Rookie Rankings: Can Anyone Dream of Catching DeWanna Bonner?

I started to write a rookie rankings post and ended up writing a long post about my thoughts on Atlanta Dream point guard Shalee Lehning.

To summarize the previous post, I found it curious that she was not listed in the latest rookie rankings on at all given that she’s a starter on a playoff caliber team that recently won four games in a row.

Tough crowd, I guess.

However, I have a hard time not putting her among the top ten rookies.

Washington forward Marissa Coleman has not played particularly well since returning from injury.

Chicago Sky guard Kristi Toliver is glued to the bench.

And it’s hard to establish that a player like Connecticut Sun center Chante Black is actually having a bigger impact on her team than Lehning (Black was once a starter for the Sun, but no longer with the return of center Sandrine Gruda).

If you judge rookies on…

a) what they do well,
b) their ability to make things happen when they are on the court, and
c) their ability to contribute to their team’s success in their first season.

…then how can a player starting at point guard be left out?

So as you may have guessed, Lehning is among my top ten rookies, using the same evaluation framework I used for my past rookie rankings. Of course, it's a guide to identify players, not a rigid determinant of who's best.

And you are also safe in assuming that DeWanna Bonner still leads my rookie rankings.

So where does everyone else fall?

1. DeWanna Bonner: Duh. Shouldn’t take much explanation.

It's basically more of the same – there are currently 14 players in the league who are ranked among the top 50 in Boxscores (a player’s individual contribution to team success), usage rate (how well a player is able to create scoring opportunities while on the floor), and scoring efficiency ratio (the ratio of a player’s scoring plays to all non-scoring plays as defined by turnovers and missed shots).

The only other people in that company are MVP candidates and All-Stars…and…

2. Angel McCoughtry: the Rookie of the Month for July is still the most talented rookie of this class, although Bonner’s situation has allowed her to outperform McCoughtry.

Like Bonner, McCoughtry has demonstrated the ability to make things happen with the ball in her hands…and on the defensive end as well. She might become one of the best all-around players in the WNBA as her game matures. You can’t help but see the ability when you watch her game – she can get shots off the dribble, drive to the basket, and draw contact. She can pass the ball and is going to become a very good on ball defender.

Her one glaring weakness is rebounding and it will be interesting to see if she improves on that over the course of her career.

3. Renee Montgomery: As mentioned in the previous post in comparison to Shalee Lehning, Montgomery is not quite the distributor many people want to see from a point guard, but she is a very efficient scorer.

In what could have been a tumultuous season with the coach resigning and forward Seimone Augustus going down to injury early, Montgomery has managed to contribute to the team’s success in key moments. She is about average in terms of the metrics used above to judge Bonner and McCoughtry, but is among the top guards in the league in terms of 2 point percentage.

And her ball handling ability, court sense, and ability to get to the basket for easy scoring opportunities make her easily one of the most impressive rookies of this season. In addition, she is a very solid defender, using her athleticism well to guard players on the ball.

4. Shavonte Zellous: It’s a tough call between Montgomery and Zellous, but I went with Montgomery because she is starting on a team that has been in the thick of the playoff hunt this season at one of the toughest positions in sports. But by the same standard as Bonner and McCoughtry above, Zellous is the next most impressive rookie.

While her team has not performed quite as well, making it difficult to argue she’s contributing as much to team success, she is still among the best in the league at getting herself to the free throw line, creating scoring opportunities for herself, and doing it with high efficiency relative to the league.

As an undersized guard, it would help her to distribute the ball a little more effectively (her assist rate is in the bottom 50 of the league) and shoot a better 2 point percentage (currently 38.84%), but she has otherwise been a very impressive performer this year.

But most importantly, Zellous is the best perimeter defender of anyone of the rookie group. She uses her quickness to create problems for opponents and does a pretty good job of help defense.

5. Courtney Paris: With more playing time, Paris has demonstrated that she can contribute quite a bit to a WNBA roster. She is the second most efficient scorer in the league behind Storm forward Lauren Jackson and has consistently had among the league’s best rebounding rates.

As she continues to adjust to the WNBA game – particularly developing her post moves against WNBA defenders – I would expect her to be even more effective.

6. Anete Jekabsone-Zogota: I have not seen her play a whole lot and she only started playing well recently, but lately, she is easily among the best rookies of this bunch. In her case, it’s not that she does one particular thing well but that she does a little bit of everything. She is already becoming an outstanding all-around player for the Connecticut Sun.

The "lately" qualifier makes it somewhat difficult for me to rank her…but if she can keep this up for the remainder of the season, she’ll end up vaulting ahead at least three of the rookies ahead of her who have been rather inconsistent themselves.

7. Briann January: I happen to like her game, think she has great court vision, and she looks extremely comfortable on the court. The only thing holding January back is that she is not a very efficient scorer right now. However, as a point guard, she’s contributing quite a bit to the Indiana Fever backing up Tully Bevilaqua and that should count for something. It’s also worth noting that she is a solid perimeter defender on a team that relies heavily on defense. The fact that her defense is notable makes her an even stronger player.

8. Megan Frazee: Frazee, very similar to Sacramento Monarchs forward Crystal Kelly last year, is just very often in the right position at the right time to make plays, both on offense and defense. It makes her a valuable asset to a very good San Antonio Silver Stars team.

She’s decisive when she gets the ball and shoots with range. Storm coach Brian Agler once noted that she’s more of a perimeter player right now than an interior player, but when the Storm attempted to put forward Katie Geralds on her on August 1st in Key Arena, she went right to the post and worked Geralds inside. She’s emerging as a solid rotation forward for a team with an embarrassment of riches at the position.

9. Shalee Lehning: Extended thoughts on Lehning are posted here.

And as I stated in that previous post about Lehning, I’m not saying she’s the top rookie or even the best at her position, but you’d have a really hard time naming a rookie that has actually consistently performed better than her this season...because there are not that many rookies even starting for their teams.

10. Quanitra Hollingsworth: If I continue to base my evaluations on the rookie evaluation framework I’ve used above, Hollingsworth is the next best rookie. And it’s close between her, Chante Black, and Marissa Coleman. So what is the deciding factor?

Hollingsworth is among the best offensive rebounders in the league in terms of the percentage of rebounds she gets while she’s on the floor. Offensive rebounding is an extremely valuable asset and the demonstrated ability to do that means she is able to extend possessions for the links and put herself in position for easy baskets.

That ability as well as an average 2 point percentage (44.59%) make Hollingsworth my choice for #10 over some other very worthy players. By the way, another player who flew under the radar last year as a limited offensive rebounder but ended up emerging in her second season: Crystal Langhorne.

Transition Points:

For more about how I went about doing these rankings, please see the Rookie Ranking Framework here.

Kristi Toliver is in the unfortunate situation where she has had neither consistent playing time nor a consistent role on the team.

In terms of performance, she has not had a very good rookie campaign. Yet although I've been quite lukewarm on her for most of the season, she has demonstrated the talent to be an effective player. Hopefully she'll eventually get that opportunity that she's waiting to seize.