So far, the first three selections of the 2022 WNBA Draft have all been rousing successes in their own unique ways. Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin have all been able to come in and play pretty well. All three of these women have a strong case for Rookie of the Year, but in my eyes, the clear frontrunner is Howard.
Even though I admit that I’m a little bit biased because I am from Atlanta, if you look at it objectively, it’s pretty obvious that Howard has the best case out of the three top picks. She is currently averaging 15.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game. That is definitely a better stat line than both Smith (13 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game) and Austin (8.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per game).
You can also argue that Howard has had by far the biggest impact on her team. The Dream finished the past season 8-24 and lost their two top scorers in Chennedy Carter and Courtney Williams. Currently, the Dream are 12-14 and are a No. 6 seed in the WNBA playoff picture.
Meanwhile, Smith is currently on a team that is 5-23, the worst record in the WNBA. While Austin is on a team that is currently 16-11 and the No. 5 seed in the WNBA playoff picture, she was coming into a much better situation on a team that had won the championship in 2019 and was getting back WNBA legend Elena Delle Donne.
It’s clear that Howard is asked to do more for her team than either of these two women. Smith hasn’t really had that much of an impact on a bad team and while Austin has been a key piece for her team, she was arriving on a team that already had plenty of talent.
We’ve already seen just how important Howard is to her team when she missed two straight games from July 15 to 17 with a right shoulder injury. Her team just utterly collapsed at home against the Connecticut Sun and they eventually managed to defeat what’s left of the Phoenix Mercury.
She eventually came back against the team with the league’s second-best record, the Las Vegas Aces, and dropped 24 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead them to a win. Overall, as you can see, Howard’s case for Rookie of the Year is pretty airtight. When you consider her numbers and impact on her team, her case is pretty impeachable.
In the end, it will come down to whether the Dream make the playoffs or not and if Howard continues to play at this level, I have no doubt that they will. Regardless of what happens, there is simply no doubt that the future is bright in Atlanta and that’s all thanks to this special woman from Cleveland, Tennessee.