Overreacting to Early Stats of the WNBA
In 1996, Clyde Drexler of the Houston Rockets averaged 25 points, 10 steals, 10 rebounds and nine assists a game.
Uh…actually let me rephrase that: after opening night in the 1996 season, Clyde Drexler almost averaged a quadruple-double with those stats.
As fans, it is fun to overreact to early season statistics. For some fan bases, a player’s five-game run at greatness might be the only worthwhile highlight of the season. Of course, there are surprises every year where a new star is born and puts the league on notice. Most of the time, players land in between those two extremes.
So far in the infancy of the WNBA season, there have been some eye-popping stats that may or may not continue to stand out in the box score the rest of the way. The following is a deeper look at players and teams that have the best chance of sustaining their exaggerated stat lines.
Alyssa Thomas: scorer, playmaker, and…elite rebounder?
After making her first all-star game appearance last year, Thomas has brought that momentum to the 2018 season, as she is already averaging 14.7 points and 4.7 assists per game. While those stats aren’t all too surprising, Thomas’ rebound rate has jumped from 6.8 rebounds a game last season to 11 per game this season. She was already a solid contributor on the boards, but this dramatic rise in cleaning up the glass puts her in elite territory. Since joining the league in 2014, her rebounds per game each year are 5.1, 5.3, 6.0, 6.8, and now, 11.
Her 17 rebounds against the Dream propelled her rebound rate, but Thomas is more than capable of being able to have big games like this. The one hindrance she may face might not even be her foes on the court, but rather her teammates who could stop her double-digit rebound efforts. The Sun are the only roster in the league that contains six players averaging 10.5 points per game or more. That gives Thomas fewer chances on the offensive end for creating second-chance opportunities on the glass due to her team’s high shooting efficiency. It is absolutely certain that Thomas would prefer her teammates continue to shoot the ball at the same rate over building on her individual rebounding feat.
The rookie wall doesn’t apply to this year’s class…yet
This year’s class of rookies has taken the league by storm.
A’ja Wilson is already averaging 21 points a game, which would be the highest mark for a rookie since Seimone Augustus, averaged 21.9 points per contest. She is the definition of a stat sheet stuffer. She is pulling down 7.7 rebounds, going to the line 9.8 times, and is averaging over one block and steal per game in six contests. She is an elusive scorer who can finish with either hand at the rim.
Her numbers might actually go up, rather than descend, as the season progresses. She is shooting 46.6 percent from the field, which could easily climb as she gets acclimated to life in professional basketball. Wilson is showing the league that she is not just a talented rookie; she is ready to be the next star in the WNBA.
Wilson isn’t the only rookie who has played a big role in her team’s success. Chicago Sky guard, Diamond DeShields, is averaging 15.3 points per game despite only shooting 22.3 percent from beyond the arc. After struggling with turning the ball over in college, DeShields has also cut down her assist-to-turnover ratio since transitioning to the WNBA. She will need to step into the 3-point shot with more confidence if she is going to keep up her scoring pace. DeShields has shown flashes of being able to dial it in from the 3-point line, so she has a chance to be even better as a scorer.
Kelsey Mitchell of the Indiana Fever has already found her stroke from deep as she is averaging the most made shots per game (3.3) from downtown. She ranks behind Wilson, with 18.3 points per contest. She has also heaved up 7.7 shots from long range, which is the highest in the WNBA. Of course, what is remarkable about this is that Mitchell is receiving virtually no help from the win-less Indiana Fever. Her scoring could dip if teams begin to try to take her out earlier on in games.
As these rookies continue to grow, there is always that damn rookie wall that looms ahead. It is much more prevalent in the NBA as the season is twice as long, although playing against the best players in the world for 34 games is much different than going against college athletes. It is hard to imagine someone like Wilson not continuing her dominance, but anything can happen down the stretch.
The Sun cannot be stopped!
Okay, the Dream stopped them, BUT the Sun is easily the team to beat in the league right now. They don’t seem to be slowing down, and the point differential between them and their opponents is truly remarkable. The Sun is averaging 94 points per game compared to their opponents, who are only scoring 75.7. That is an 18.3-point difference.
Those are numbers someone would expect from one of the all-time great UCONN teams, but not a WNBA squad. That point differential would be the biggest in the league’s history if the season were to end today. The chances of The Sun continuing that pace seems improbable, but they have six scorers who can contribute every time they run up the floor. For the fan’s sake, let’s hope that there is a dynasty forming in Connecticut.