With so much of the WNBA’s current generation of star players missing most (or all) of the 2019 season, we’ve gotten a chance to see the next generation blossom. The proof is in 2019’s All-Star roster: Six of this season’s All-Stars will be participating in the midseason exhibition for the first time.
Which of those players has the best All-Star credentials? Let’s examine each first-timer’s case using what we’ve learned about WNBA stats thus far.
Heading into the 2019 season, DeShields was a trendy pick for the league’s Most Improved Player award. She finished her rookie campaign on a scorching note, averaging nearly 20 points per game on a true shooting percentage (TS%) well north of 60 percent across her final five games.
The second-year jump so many were expecting from DeShields hasn’t quite happened, though. Per 100 possessions, her traditional stats are nearly identical to those from 2018, save for an increase in rebounding and a dip in shooting efficiency:
Even so, DeShields has been plenty good enough to warrant an All-Star bid. The Sky’s record (11-8) combined with the somewhat weakened guard pool (no Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi pretty much guarantees that a few backcourt spots would open up) gave coaches enough reason to select her as a reserve.
Breanna Stewart is out for the season and Sue Bird has yet to suit up as she recovers from a knee procedure. But Seattle remains in the hunt at 12-8, and 2018’s Most Improved Player is a major reason.
Howard’s All-Star case is an incredibly easy one. She ranks no lower than sixth in the WNBA in points, rebounds, blocks and steals per game, which made her a shoo-in.
Advanced metrics love Howard, too. Her on/off net differential through July 22 is a ridiculous +37.3 points per 100 possessions; in other words, Seattle can ill afford to bench Howard for any period of time. On performance alone, Howard’s spot as an All-Star starter is well-earned. Some fans believe, however, that she should not be allowed to play at all while being investigated for domestic violence.
It’s been quite the rise to stardom for this undrafted Rutgers product. After bouncing around the WNBA at the start of her pro career, Wheeler has found a home with the Fever — a team that has now entrusted her with the roles of veteran leader and primary ballhandler.
Wheeler has thrived in these roles. She’s started all 20 games this season, putting up career highs in several basic categories: She’s scoring 12 points per game on a 53.5 percent effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and her 5.7 assists per game rank third in the WNBA.
That doesn’t capture Wheeler’s importance to Indiana, though. A look at the Fever’s on/off ratings reveals that the team hasn’t been able to take her off the court; her on/off net differential of +11.7 points per 100 possessions is by far the best among Fever rotation players. The team’s eFG% drops by 5.1 percent with Wheeler off the court and she is assisting on 38.6 percent of her teammates’ baskets.
The offseason move that sent Sims to the Lynx has decidedly worked in Minnesota’s favor. The Lynx are a team in flux, especially in the backcourt. With Lindsay Whalen retired and Seimone Augustus sidelined due to injury, Minnesota needed someone to pick up the slack.
That’s where Sims has been so valuable. She leads the Lynx in both scoring and distributing at 15.3 points and 5.4 assists per game and her 25.5 percent usage (USG%) rate — also a team high — reflects just how much Sims has been asked to do for Minnesota.
Granted, among similar-usage players, Sims’ scoring efficiency (46.9 percent TS%) and assist/turnover ratio (1.57) are not eye-popping. She has never been a highly efficient scorer — her career splits page is a good way to quickly compare seasons — but the bottom line is that the Lynx have been able to survive a huge roster turnover and remain competitive with Sims as their No. 1 option.
The second-year Liberty guard’s selection as an All-Star follows the theme of players who have been asked to increase their scoring output to help their respective teams.
Fortunately for New York, that’s one thing that Nurse does really well. While her USG% thus far hovers around 20 percent, Nurse has increased her efficiency dramatically, posting a TS% of 59.3 percent through July 22. This ranks second in the WNBA among similar-usage guards.
That jump in efficiency comes not only from better three-point accuracy (36.8 percent, up from 29.4 percent in 2018), but also from more free-throw attempts. Her free-throw rate (ratio of free throws attempted to field goals attempted) stands at about .409 — up from .301 in 2018. This is especially interesting given that free-throw attempts are down significantly this season across the league.
Whichever way those numbers are crunched, the Liberty have benefited from a more aggressive and effective Nurse. Her scoring far outweighs her meager contributions in other areas and if her career continues on this path, 2019 won’t be the last year she’s voted in as an All-Star starter.
Minnesota’s 2019 first-round pick was a late addition to this list. New WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert selected Collier to replace the injured A’ja Wilson at the All-Star Game. Collier will play, but Wilson will perform her captaincy duties.
Engelbert certainly could have done worse. Collier arguably has been the best all-around rookie in the WNBA this season, ranking third among qualified rookies in scoring, second in rebounding, fourth in assists and first in steals.
Such versatility has quickly made her indispensable to the Lynx. The team’s offense has been 11.9 points per 100 possessions better with her on the court than off the court, while its defense has been 4.1 points per 100 possessions better. The off-court sample size is fairly small, but that’s partially because Collier’s all-around game has enabled Cheryl Reeve to play her at different positions, maximizing both her time on the court and her impact on the team.