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Courtney Williams has risen to WNBA stardom

Atlanta Dream guard Courtney Williams has taken a big leap in 2021 and is truly one of the best players in the league.

WNBA All-Star Game
Courtney Williams (with ball)
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Courtney Williams was a favorite of Connecticut Sun fans during the 2019 WNBA Playoffs. She scored 25 points in Game 2 of the semifinals against the Los Angeles Sparks and helped the Sun complete the sweep with 17 points and 13 rebounds in Game 3.

Then, in the Finals Williams scored 26 points in Game 1, 22 in a Game 2 win and 16 in each of the final two games of the series, which was won by the Washington Mystics. She had at least four assists in every game of the playoffs except for Game 5 of the Finals.

Williams had a great run in Connecticut leading up to the 2019 Finals as well. Drafted No. 8 overall in the same draft as Breanna Stewart (2016), she went from the Phoenix Mercury to the Sun during her rookie season. She went on to average a solid 8.1 points in 19 games with Connecticut that year.

2017 saw Williams average 12.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists as she started 28 of 34 games. She followed that up with 12.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and three assists per game in 2018 and 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals in 2019.

Her ability to be one of the best rebounding guards in the league and one of the best mid-range shooters in the league made her a key piece of a near-championship-winning run and also made her an attractive young player to other teams around the league.

One of the teams interested was the Atlanta Dream, who acquired Williams in a trade in February of 2020.

Williams, who is from Georgia, upped her scoring and rebounding averages to 14.6 and 7.2, respectively, for the Dream in the 2020 wubble. Entering the 2021 season as a 27-year-old she seemed poised for a big season.

At Swish Appeal, Williams was in consideration for our Top 30 player list. Looking at her combined career bests in the five major categories with being in her prime factored in, she would have made the Top 30 at No. 23. However, the Swish Appeal staff and I decided to go with some different players (Kelsey Mitchell, Satou Sabally, Chennedy Carter and Ariel Atkins) toward the end of that list. Sabally and Carter were higher draft picks than Williams and had great rookie seasons last year, Mitchell is a dominant scorer with less peripheral stats than Williams and Atkins made it on the strength of her defense.

No. 23 through No. 26 on our preseason list were Myisha Hines-Allen, Diamond DeShields, Tiffany Hayes and Betnijah Laney, respectively.

While Williams did not make my ballot for the Top 30, I could not completely ignore what the numbers were telling me. So I chose her as my player who would be a household name by the end of the season in SB Nation’s preseason roundtable, saying:

Williams made a bit of a name for herself during the 2019 WNBA Finals when she was a member of the Connecticut Sun, but look for her to become even more well-known this season. She doesn’t often get talked about as one of the best players in the WNBA, but numbers suggest she had a case to be in Swish Appeal’s Top 30 players. With career-best averages of 14.6 points (2020), 7.2 rebounds (2020), 3.8 assists (2019) and 1.4 steals (2019), she deserves more respect and should put up even bigger numbers at age 27 for a Dream team that is looking for other members of its deep roster besides Tiffany Hayes and rising star Chennedy Carter to step up and give them a legit big three.

Williams came out and scored in double figures in her first eight games of the 2021 season with an average of 18.1 points per game. She also had two points-rebounds double-doubles and four-plus assists in six contests. She, Hayes and Carter did indeed form a big three that helped the Dream get off to a 4-2 start.

Williams’ signature performance of the season came in the game that improved Atlanta to 4-2 on May 29. She scored a season-high 31 points, including the game-winning three with 1.6 seconds left in overtime, grabbed a season-high 12 boards and dished out seven assists (tied for a season high).

After scoring eight points on June 9, Williams rattled off another eight-straight games with double-digit points, averaging 17.9. Right before the Olympic break she posted two single-digit scoring efforts that lowered her season average to 16.3, but she was still an obvious selection as a first-time All-Star. And she jumped from unranked to No. 14 on my Top 30 list on June 29:

Team WNBA All-Star picks highlighted in blue.

Williams’ phenomenal performance in the All-Star Game was fitting for a player that has truly risen to stardom in 2021. Here’s what was written in our recap of the game:

Courtney Williams posted the third-most points for Team WNBA with 15 and blocked Team USA’s last real hope at coming back (an A’ja Wilson layup that would have cut it to four with 1:17 left). The guard’s impressive rejection against the world-class inside scorer was not the end of her heroics. She also made a floater with 36.2 seconds remaining that capped the scoring for the night.

Neither Aerial Powers nor Julie Allemand has had the chance to follow up on promising 2020 showings, but of the 2016 draftees who have played this season, Williams has been the third-best player behind Jonquel Jones and Stewart and the sky is the limit for her moving forward.