A good chunk of the season has now been played. Many rookies have done a great job so far, and here's a top 10 list.
1. Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut Sun
As I expected, Ogwumike has come into the league fully prepared. What impresses me the most is that she could easily be averaging 20 and 10 if she could just stay out of foul trouble. I would attribute a lot of her foul trouble more to coaching than JUST her adjusting to the physicality.
One of the things that excited me the most about Ogwumike coming into the WNBA this season was that I, along with many others, expected her to be able to make a full-time move to the 4. Now, the Tina Charles trade played a role in some of this as well but my thought process is that if TC was still in a Sun uniform, you'd have been fired immediately had you not started them together so play Ogwumike with Bone, which has been happening a lot more lately and the Sun have gone 4-1 so far with the combination starting together in the post.
2. Shoni Schimmel, Atlanta Dream
This may shock some people since Natasha Howard has really impressed a lot of people, but Schimmel's performance has been amazing. In games where she has played 20 minutes or more, Schimmel is averaging 8 assists, which would be good for first in the league. And this is a player that has only started two games.
The one thing that I've thought could take the Dream to the next level for a long time was someone to actually LEAD the fast break. The Dream has made their living on the break for a long time but having someone that is enough of a threat that you have to guard them on the break with McCoughtry/Lyttle/de Souza filling lanes while Hayes or Thomas are running to the three point line has to be a scary sight for any team after a turnover.
3. Damiris Dantas, Minnesota Lynx
Another player that has impressed immediately is the non-English speaking Dantas. I always wondered how she would fair against top level talent because in highlights that I'd seen, she didn't really just seem that impressive against players that aren't exactly WNBA level talent.
With that said, Dantas has been invaluable to Minnesota's 8-2 start. She brings a different dynamic than that of Rebekkah Brunson, but for the season in 2013 Brunson averaged 10.6 points and 8.9 rebounds on 50% shooting in 29.4 minutes. If you take a look at Dantas' numbers so far this season, they're not that far off. She's also shown quite a bit of aggression and poise for a rookie on the two-time defending world championship team that features three Olympians from the 2012 Team USA basketball team.
4. Natasha Howard, Indiana Fever
Howard probably had the hottest start to the season of any rookie this year considering her first game that included 16 points, 10 boards, 6 blocks, 2 assists, 3 steals and only 1 turnover in 32 minutes. She's come back to earth quite a bit since then as teams have been able to scout her and now they're giving her the jump shot and in the last three games, Howard has 9 rebounds and 8 turnovers, which isn't good for someone that's counted on as much as she is right now.
I'll go a step further and state that for Howard's talent-level, she's got a long way to go as a passer. Her minutes are likely to go down when she returns, but Tamika Catchings is the perfect player for Howard to learn from because Catch was almost the same player when she came into the league. Amazing potential but a 3-4 tweener that you can't help but put on the floor.
5. Odyssey Sims, Tulsa Shock
Quite a few people, not me, thought that Sims had a real chance of being Rookie of the Year. She should find her way into the conversation by the end of the season as it seems Fred Williams seems to have finally figured out where to play her. I think her starting at the one allowing Skylar Diggins to go back to her roots as a high school All-American as a scorer is what's best for this team. Sims is a plus-level defender and sees the floor really well. My problem with her during her senior year has remained relevant in her transition. If Sims can somehow up her efficiency offensively, she hits the tougher shots but she seems to over-think things when she's wide open, this team could find itself playing the spoiler role all season long.
6. Kayla McBride, San Antonio Stars
I can honestly say I expected McBride to really be higher on this list but she's become a bit of a volume shooter herself in the W. Part of this is because she's playing out of position for Dan Hughes but she's better than the alternatives in Shenise Johnson and although it pains my heart to say it, a shell of the All-Star Shameka Christon; the other part is the fact that she's the only true offensive option on the perimeter. Danielle Robinson's baskets continue to come in the same way they always have: just being faster than everyone. Becky Hammon has become a three-point specialist almost as her drives that used to end in highlight finishes have now become her circling the baseline looking to catch a defender sleeping.
7. Bria Hartley, Washington Mystics
I hold no qualms about loving the position I've played for the last 10 or so years and I think Bria Hartley will be the best guard in this draft in the long run. Hartley's a sniper when she's zoned in, has the tightest handle of all rookie guards and UConn head coach Geno Auriemma was actually able to help (er....make) her into a solid one-on-one defender when she was in college
In the mix with a 2013 all-star and a player that is beloved by Coach Mike Thibault, Hartley has forced her way into the starting lineup for the last five games. She has been solid in the point guard role and can slide off the ball and be aggressive just the same. Not to mention, she's already got the crossover of the year so far. Here's the video again, in case you did miss it:
8. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
If it wasn't for Katie Douglas, Alyssa Thomas would be much higher on this list. Thomas has been solidly impressive. Strength transfers at all levels of basketball and going chest to chest, there's not many players,if any, that can do anything with Alyssa Thomas. The jumper is still a work in progress (0-2 from three point range and if I remember correctly, they were both bad misses) but you can't teach size and it could take players years to get to the comfort level she has with balancing her strength, speed and ball-handling ability. There's a number of players that have their eyes bulge with they have the ball in the middle of the floor on the fast break but given her other shortcomings, I'd have to put Thomas pretty high on that list as she's probably aware it's her best chance at denting the box scores offensively.
9. Stefanie Dolson, Washington Mystics
Dolson has been given quite a bit of credit for changing her body in college but her first couple games in the WNBA have proven that she still has improvements to be made. What has helped Dolson is that she's such a cerebral player and she sees the floor very well for a rookie center. Dolson has also been strong at the free throw line shooting 92% and technically leading all rookies in that area as she's taken twice as many free throws as the players ahead of her in the concrete numbers as both Angel Robinson and Maggie Lucas have hit all 8 of the free throws they've taken on the season. Dolson's ceiling is still very high as she's had a few bright spots finishing baskets with defenders in her pocket and playing 40 minutes for the Styx in their triple OT win over the Sparks.
10. Anna Cruz, New York Liberty
I tried to nitpick and find any method I could to put Jordan Hooper or Jameirra Faulkner in this list ahead of Cruz but I just couldn't. She's been very consistent for the Liberty and that's something this team doesn't know much about this season.
Cruz turns the ball over way too much for someone playing 30 minutes a night and not being of All-Star caliber (meaning that she doesn't see the same defensive attention as a Maya Moore or Diana Taurasi) but it's because she's not afraid to take risks and they eventually have to pay off. Laimbeer really likes her and she fits the mold of the type of point guard he prefers. I wasn't very happy to see Tyaunna Marshall cut (and I think she could help this team more than Rodgers/McKinney/Braxton/Warley-Tolber have) and the first name I looked to was Cruz but shooting the three at a 56% clip for a team that saw it's best three point shooter be at 36% last season is reason enough.
27 rookies have made a WNBA team roster, and many of them have played big roles. Here are some other players who have done well so far, but ultimately didn't make the Top 10:
Jordan Hooper, Tulsa Shock - Besides having the best name in basketball, the kid can flat out play, shoot, hoop, all of the above. I love Hodges and she's very steady but Hooper does a lot of the same thing at 6'2 and is more comfortable putting the ball on the floor.
Jameirra Faulkner, Chicago Sky - Absolutely loved seeing her drafted because I've long loved her game but wondered if team's would give her a look based on her size but one thing about Pokey Chatman, she seems to be able to get the most of talented players who have tended to be overlooked by solely instilling confidence in them.
Markeisha Gatling, Chicago Sky - Shooting 65% from the field, Gatling has already shown that she is a force to be reckoned with when she catches the ball in the paint. She's still got a long way to go defensively but in spot minutes, she's shown that she can finish and is quite mobile offensively for a player who spent most of her time with her back to the basket.