Consistency can be hard to come by for WNBA rookies, even among those who come from programs that thoroughly prepare each year’s crop of seniors for the league. Notre Dame’s record five draftees are all still around, for example, but it was UConn’s Napheesa Collier who was hand-selected for the 2019 All-Star roster.
Let’s talk about those Notre Dame players, though, because they’re a true case study in the different levels of success a WNBA player from an elite school can experience. There’s Arike Ogunbowale, who is making a strong move for Rookie of the Year, and Jessica Shepard, who unfortunately tore her ACL in June just as she was finding some regular success.
But interestingly, it’s No. 1 overall pick Jackie Young who’s been flying relatively under the radar, even though she’s a regular starter for the Las Vegas Aces. And while Brianna Turner and Marina Mabrey put up big performances this past week that got them on this list, they haven’t yet truly established themselves — mainly due to being on teams bursting with veteran talent.
This week’s Rookie Report is about these three Notre Dame standouts, but it’s also about the first rookie to be traded this season. While Cal doesn’t quite have the pedigree of UConn or Notre Dame, Golden Bears superstar Kristine Anigwe certainly seemed pro-ready ... until she ended up on the Connecticut Sun, a team that didn’t seem to need as many rookies as it ended up with. Now with the Dallas Wings, Anigwe has a better chance to get more playing time, and the opportunity for her to finally have the rookie season of her dreams is still in reach.
It’s hard to make it in the WNBA for everyone, including those coming out of Final Four mainstays. Here’s to these four players latching onto their recent big performances and seeing out their rookie seasons with all the success they envisioned on draft night.
Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces
Beyond finding a regular place in the Las Vegas Aces’ starting five, Jackie Young has struggled to establish herself in the pros as a consistent scoring option. She easily leads all rookies in assists with 4.3 per game, but also owns the third-lowest shooting percentage at just 31 percent.
That said, when Young is hot, she is hot: On Aug. 3 against the Wings, she scored a career-high 17 points to go along with five assists and four rebounds. The bulk of those points came from the free throw line, where she went a career-best 9-of-12.
In her next game on Aug. 5, though, Young scored just two points, but still added five assists and three boards. Perhaps getting to the line will be the way to go for her — in her last two double-digit scoring efforts, she made nine and six free throws — but like fellow rookie guard Arike Ogunbowale, improving her shooting percentage will be the way to go moving forward.
See her play: The Aces host the Chicago Sky on Friday, Aug. 9 at 10:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network).
Brianna Turner, Phoenix Mercury
Playing for an injury-depleted Phoenix Mercury squad has presented some unique opportunities for Brianna Turner, who turned in the best performance of her young career on Aug. 4 against the Washington Mystics. Her 12 points and six rebounds in 32 minutes were all career-bests, as were her six made field goals.
After scoring four points in her first 11 games combined (with four or fewer minutes in each), Turner has scored in her last five games, getting double-digit minutes every time. While the circumstances of her increased playing time aren’t ideal for her team, they certainly give Turner a chance to shine.
On a team that now has four rookies with the signing of Arica Carter on Aug. 4, standing out when given this kind of chance is crucial, and Turner has, so far, delivered.
See her play: The Mercury visit the Los Angeles Sparks tonight, tonight, Aug. 8, at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2).
Marina Mabrey, Los Angeles Sparks
Like a good handful of rookies this season, if you give Marina Mabrey some solid playing time, she’ll turn in a decent scoring effort. Mabrey’s last five games have seen her hit double figures twice in games where she got 42 total minutes — including 10 points on Aug. 4 against the Seattle Storm — but in the other three, she got just nine total minutes and was held scoreless.
The Aug. 4 game was Mabrey’s fourth time reaching double digits in scoring. It was also her most efficient of those games, as she scored those 10 points in just 16 minutes. Still, like Young and other rookies, Mabrey’s 32.7 percent shooting isn’t doing her many favors. She shoots an impressive 92.9 percent from the free throw line, but has only gotten there 14 times all season.
Mabrey has clearly been improving throughout the season, though — it’s just a matter of rediscovering her shooting ability from her Notre Dame days and tweaking it for the professional game. Soon enough, Mabrey could find herself a reliable scoring option game-to-game once more.
See her play: The Sparks take on the Phoenix Mercury tonight, Aug. 8, at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2).
Kristine Anigwe, Dallas Wings
The very first trade of the regular season took place on Aug. 6, sending the Connecticut Sun’s Kristine Anigwe to the Dallas Wings in exchange for Theresa Plaisance. Anigwe notably didn’t see much playing time with the Sun, seeing an average of 7.1 minutes in 17 of 22 games. But now that she’s with a team that can actually use her — especially one not in a position to make the playoffs — perhaps she’ll finally be able to show the WNBA the kind of brilliance she exhibited at Cal.
Anigwe will face a difficult task right away, as Dallas hits the road for two games this week. The Wings are 0-10 away from home this season, but wouldn’t it be a magical thing for Anigwe to put up her first career double-double (or double digits in scoring or rebounding for the first time) in the Wings’ first away win of the season?
By the way, the Wings visit the Sun on Aug. 18 — perhaps Anigwe will be able to show off then, too.
See her play: The Wings visit the Seattle Storm tonight, Aug. 8, at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN3/League Pass).