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The Rookie Report: Late-blooming WNBA rookies embrace ‘better late than never’

Brianna Turner continues to take full advantage of her first meaningful playing time, new arrival Jillian Alleyne scored her first career points this week and 30-year-old Shey Peddy gets another shot in what’s been a busy rookie season.

Phoenix Mercury v Los Angeles Sparks
Brianna Turner has averaged 11 rebounds in her past three games, including a 14-rebound performance that tied the Phoenix Mercury rookie record.
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

“Late bloomer” is very much a relative term.

Napheesa Collier established herself as an early Rookie of the Year candidate, as what ended up being a seamless fit with the Minnesota Lynx led to a role in the starting lineup, big minutes and lots of well-deserved attention. But it was Arike Ogunbowale’s early play with the struggling Dallas Wings that garnered her June’s Rookie of the Month award.

The next month’s story was a little different, as Collier’s consistency — and occasional standout games on a team of veterans — garnered her not just the July Rookie of the Month award, but also an All-Star nod. Ogunbowale didn’t have a bad July; far from it. But the pressure of being a languishing team’s star rookie is different than the pressure of being the star rookie on a team that could probably put together an experienced starting five without you.

So, August is here, and both Rookie of the Year contenders are still putting up standout numbers. Collier’s performance continues to fit in nicely with what the Lynx have going on, which includes the return of Seimone Augustus from injury.

But from a scoring standpoint, Ogunbowale has absolutely exploded.

In five games so far this month, Ogunbowale has only scored fewer than 20 points in one of them. She put up a career-high 35 points on Aug. 14, the highest scoring effort from a rookie this season. The Wings are 3-2 in August, and in each of Dallas’ wins (plus one of the losses), Ogunbowale was either the sole game-high scorer or tied for it.

Again, “late bloomer” is a relative term — one that is normally applied to the players listed below, and not someone who’s had the opportunity and the talent to be great all season. But if Ogunbowale continues this late push for Rookie of the Year honors, even above the rookie All-Star, “late bloomer” would be a perfect way to describe her trajectory.

Let’s talk about some other late bloomers who are just starting to show what they can do — due to teammates’ injuries, late signings or both — in this late portion of the season:

Brianna Turner, Phoenix Mercury

Phoenix Mercury v Dallas Wings Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

Why yes, Brianna Turner is on this list for the second week in a row! She’s had a great last week scoring-wise, matching her career-high 12 points set last week. But where Turner has shone this time around is on the glass. Her 14 rebounds on Aug. 8 tied Brittney Griner’s Mercury rookie record, and she grabbed 11 and eight rebounds in her next two games.

As mentioned last week, Turner’s increased playing time is a direct result of the Mercury losing several players to injury (and, for the next couple of games, suspension). She started in Griner’s place on Aug. 14, but had also started in the three games before that — her only four career starts.

It’s poor circumstance that has led to these starts, sure, but Turner has more than proven herself capable of handling the responsibilities of the position. Despite only having played in 19 of the Mercury’s 24 games, Turner’s production of late has been brilliant.

See her play: The Mercury host the Atlanta Dream tonight, Aug. 16, at 10 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network).

Jillian Alleyne, Minnesota Lynx

Minnesota Lynx v Atlanta Dream
Alleyne is on the right, blocking the shot.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Like several players this season, Jillian Alleyne has waited several years to have her WNBA moment. Those moments finally came this season: First, when she signed a seven-day contract on July 30; next, when she signed another seven-day contract on Aug. 6; then on Aug. 11, when she recorded her first career points.

The 2016 Oregon graduate’s draft stock fell after she suffered an ACL injury her senior year, leading to her being selected 20th overall in that year’s draft. After preseason stints in 2017 and 2018, Alleyne was waived by the Lynx prior to the 2019 season. But when it was the Lynx’s turn to face the injury bug again, the team decided to bring her back for a regular-season opportunity.

Alleyne has only scored in two of her games, but she’s gotten on the stat sheet in very limited minutes in each. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the capacity to be a scorer: During the 2018-19 season with Hapoel Rishon Le-Zion (Israel), Alleyne led the team with 18.7 points per game. While she might not get the chance to show off like that with the Lynx, finally getting to the WNBA at all — for now — is worth celebrating.

See her play: The Lynx play the Washington Mystics tonight, Aug. 16, at 8 p.m. ET (WNBA League Pass).

Shey Peddy, Washington Mystics

Connecticut Sun v Washington Mystics Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

She’s baaack.

Shey Peddy, who made headlines earlier this season for finally getting a shot at the WNBA at the age of 30, was signed by the Washington Mystics on Aug. 14 for the second time this season. Because Peddy was already employed by the team as a video and analytics assistant, she was able to grab two minutes of game action that day (and a rebound).

Peddy is only signed to a seven-day contract due to some recent Mystics injury woes, but considering her last stint with the team was as a replacement for missing EuroBasket Women players, she’s probably used to the temporary nature of her employment as a player. But it’s still nice that the Mystics decided to bring her back for a second go this season.

The Mystics play two more times between now and when Peddy’s contract is up, assuming they don’t re-sign her. Here’s to some more scoring opportunities, and perhaps even some new career highs.

See her play: See above — the Mystics are in Minnesota taking on the Lynx tonight, Aug. 16, at 8 p.m. ET (WNBA League Pass).