As is our annual tradition, we’re counting down the 30 best players in the WNBA. Nos. 30 through 21 was published yesterday, and the top ten will be published on Wednesday.
Each member of the Swish Appeal staff was asked to rank their top 30, including rookies, based on who will be the best in the WNBA for only the 2022 season. If a player was voted 1st on a list, they earned 30 points; second place earned 29, and so on, and the totals were summed together to make a collective staff determination. In the event of a tie, the player who was higher on the 2021 list stayed ahead.
Players who received votes but didn’t make our final list include Sami Whitcomb, Sue Bird, Rebecca Allen, Brianna Turner, Stefanie Dolson, Kayla McBride, Dearica Hamby, Brionna Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Allie Quigley, Myisha Hines-Allen, and Gabby Williams.
Here’s a look at No. 20 through No. 11:
20) Alyssa Thomas (52 points)
Last year: not eligible because of injury
Thomas is unapologetic about her new style of play, saying in a 2021 Zoom call, “I’m able to play with my shoulders. I’ve been doing it for years and I’m gonna continue playing the way that I play.” She gave that answer when asked if she planned to have surgery on the torn labra in her shoulders. Those who followed Thomas at the University of Maryland will remember her sweet pull-up mid-range shot. That is no longer a part of her repertoire, but she is amazingly just as good a player without it. Everybody above Thomas on this list can at least threaten to take a shot from outside the paint and the one with the least prowess in that department, Sylvia Fowles, is 6-foot-6. That Thomas averaged 15.5 points per game in 2020 at 6-foot-2 with no mid-range shot is a testament to her toughness and relentlessness. Her dominance in transition has always defined her game, but the fact that she can also back down and bully her way to buckets as a 4 is impressive. Thomas also stuffs the entire stat sheet as well as anyone in the league and is an outstanding defender. Although she doesn’t have a championship yet, she is a legendary playoff performer and that has to be taken into account as well. And last year she returned early from a torn Achilles. Who does that?!
19) Betnijah Laney (55 points)
New York Liberty
Last year: No. 26
Sabrina Ionescu was the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 and the Liberty traded a No. 1 pick to get Natasha Howard, but Laney is the queen of New York as the highest Liberty player on this list. That’s because she put the team on her back last year and thrived under the bright lights of the Big Apple. This article by our Eric Nemchock documents Laney’s incredible start to the 2021 season. She kept it up too and was always the one with the ball in her hands in crunch time throughout the season. I personally had her ranked as the fifth-best player in the league midway through last season and in my opinion she was the second-most deserving non-Olympian All-Star behind only eventual MVP Jonquel Jones. Laney was known for her defense while playing for the Fever in 2019, but then her offensive production skyrocketed with the Dream in 2020. She averaged 17.2 points per game that year en route to being named the WNBA’s most improved player. Last year she averaged 16.8 points as well as 5.2 assists, with the latter marking a high for non-point guards.
18) Ariel Atkins (60 points)
Last year: No. 30
Atkins snuck on the list last year because she is a great two-way player. Not every great 3-point shooter can defend the way she can. After upping her scoring average by 1.4 to a career-best 16.2 and making the All-Defensive Second Team for a fourth-straight season, Atkins has jumped 12 spots. On June 21, 2021, I had her as the 10th best player in the league. She eventually fell to No. 16 at the All-Star break and out of the Top 19 that I made on Sept. 1. But boy did she show us something during her 15-game double figure streak from May 18 to June 29. That included an average of 21.7 points per game during a nine-game stretch from May 21 to June 17. Atkins’ 41.1 percent shooting from three in 2020 stands as the most accurate representation of what she’s capable of — she has arguably the purest 3-point stroke in the league. Her other three seasons have seen her shoot a combined 35.8 percent, but she was fifth in makes last year with 66. She only played 6.6 minutes per game in her first Olympics, but now has a gold medal to her name.
17) Diana Taurasi (65 points)
Last year: No. 14
Taurasi received a ninth-place vote, but was also ranked as low as No. 26. She played like the best player in the world at times during the 2021 playoffs, but can she keep that up for a whole season at age 39? Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith both rank ahead of her on this list, but if you watched the playoffs last year, you know that Taurasi was just as responsible as Griner for the fear that the Mercury imposed on opponents. Now, Griner never had a single-digit scoring performance in the entire 2021 postseason and averaged 21.8 points. Taurasi was a little less consistent and averaged 17.6. But, while Griner may have been the MVP of the team, the fear factor that came with Taurasi’s willingness to shoot and ability to make any three, no matter how deep, was huge. There was criticism of us putting Taurasi as low as No. 14 last year and she definitely proved us wrong with that 37-point performance in Game 2 of the semis. But it’s hard to put a 39-year-old much higher than the teens when there are so many other talented players in the league.
16) Kahleah Copper (75 points)
Last year: not ranked
After Emma Meesseman won Finals MVP in 2019, there was a lot of hype surrounding her too and questions about where she ranked. NPK (North Philly Kah) hopes to have a better 2022 than Meesseman’s 2020. What’s funny is that Copper’s 2020 was actually better than her 2021. We knew who she was entering 2021 and she didn’t make our Top 30. Is one incredible playoff run enough to crown her as a Top 10 or Top 5 WNBA player? It was enough for James Wade, who cored her and made her the highest-paid Sky player while initially giving Courtney Vandersloot (No. 9 on our list) an offer that Holly Rowe reported as “wildly disrespectful.” Many media members agree with Wade and see Copper as the best player on the Sky. At Swish Appeal, we were split. Copper’s ability to move without the basketball is phenomenal and she’s obviously a terror with the ball as well, possessing a first step that is among the best in the league. Her 3-point shot (34.1 percent) falls short of elite status, but she may improve. We’ll have to wait and see if she can crack the Top 10 or Top 5 after this season.
15) Arike Ogunbowale (76 points)
Last year: No. 12
The knocks on Ogunbowale are that she doesn’t provide a lot outside of scoring and doesn’t score efficiently. As such, the most electrifying talent in the league again fails to crack our top 10. Ogunbowale is on par with Jewell Loyd when it comes to creating for herself and finishing at the basket. They’re the best of the best. And Ogunbowale carries the weight of the world for her team, while Loyd has Breanna Stewart to help her out. In addition, she may miss a lot of shots, but Ogunbowale is known for hitting the big ones. In 2018, she made the game-winning shot for Notre Dame in both the semifinals and the final. The lack of respect Ogunbowale sometimes gets embodies what the Wings are all about. They have that edge to them and want to prove everyone wrong. That’s the attitude they had last year and there was a whole cast of characters stepping up to help Ogunbowale. The result was a trip to the playoffs. But the one most responsible for guiding the Wings further is still Ogunbowale.
14) Nneka Ogwumike (84 points)
Los Angeles Sparks
Last year: No. 9
For one shining moment, Nneka Ogwumike was the best player in the WNBA. That moment came in 2016 when she won her MVP award. She averaged 19.7 points and 9.1 rebounds and was solid in the three other major categories as well with 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks. She also led the league with a field goal percentage of 66.5. Since then, she has been arguably the most underrated former MVP in league history. Nagging injuries affected her in 2020, when she averaged career lows of 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds. Last year she was asked to become the clear-cut No. 1 player on a team that lost Candace Parker to the Sky and she improved her numbers, but not by a ton. With her as the team’s lone superstar, the Sparks missed out on the playoffs. The team has now added a second superstar in Liz Cambage to take some of the pressure off Ogwumike. The Sparks are still on the outside looking in on the 2022 playoff picture as predicted by Swish Appeal, but the combo of Cambage and Ogwumike is one of the best one-two punches in the league. Ogwumike was of course controversially left off the Team USA roster for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
13) Napheesa Collier (87 points)
Last year: No. 11
Collier will miss at least a good chunk of time to start the 2022 season because her baby is due May 31. But this list isn’t about who will play in 2022 — it’s about who the best active players are at the moment. According to our list, Collier is the best player from the 2019 draft class so far, edging out Ogunbowale, Jackie Young, Teaira McCowan, Katie Lou Samuelson and Asia Durr, who were the five players taken ahead of her. She’s still just 25 years old and the fact that she is due for even bigger and better things in the coming years was taken into consideration. As a 6-foot-1 small forward/power forward, she has a complete offensive game. Though her 3-point percentage was pretty low last year at 25.3 percent, it was 40.8 percent in 2020. Collier would be the best player on the Lynx if Sylvia Fowles wasn’t somehow still at the top of her game at age 36. For now, Collier is happy to be teaming up with Fowles and giving Minnesota one of the best frontcourts in the league. Like Atkins, Collier was a first-time Olympian and gold medalist in 2021.
12) Elena Delle Donne (89 points)
Last year: No. 2
As I said in the Mystics entry in our power rankings, we’ll have to see it to believe it from Delle Donne this year considering her inability to stay on the court last year due to back issues. With that being said, I’ll also repeat what I said in Delle Donne’s Top 30 entry from last year, which is that the last time she was on the court for a full season she won her second MVP award. At age 32, if she’s healthy, she could still be one of the best players in the league. Delle Donne has changed the way basketball is played with her guardlike skills at 6-foot-5 inspiring countless younger frontcourt players to develop the same talents. There are a lot of Elena Delle Donne wannabes out there, but she is the real deal. It’s not just her ability to shoot the three, which would give anyone her height a great inside-out presence, it’s also her ability to handle the ball on the perimeter and drive. She is the most accomplished active scorer in the league outside of Diana Taurasi; her career scoring average of 20.2 points per game ranks second in league history behind only Cynthia Cooper (21).
11) Liz Cambage (92 points)
Los Angeles Sparks
Last year: No. 4
Cambage could be ranked anywhere between where she was ranked last year and 11th, but her performance last year was underwhelming and sports are all about ‘what have you done for me lately?’ Her numbers ended up being respectable (14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game) and she deserved to make the All-Star game, which she did. But I had her at No. 15 in my MVP race as of Sept. 1, 2021. And the numbers don’t tell the whole story of how her impact on winning just wasn’t there in the way we expect it to be with her. But, as I said in the power rankings, I do expect her to reinvent herself in LA. It’s where she’s always wanted to be and the Sparks need her to play a bigger role than Vegas needed her to play last year. So expect the scoring average to go up and expect to see the Liz Cambage we all love to watch. She is capable of being a megastar. In 2018 she won the scoring title with 23 points per game and she owns the record for most points scored in a single WNBA game (53).
Last year’s list:
Note: Alyssa Thomas was not included on last year’s list because she wasn’t expected to play at all during the season. This year, Brittney Griner and Napheesa Collier, who will both miss the beginning of the season, were included.