Where Does A’ja Wilson’s Rookie Season Rank All-Time?

I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t expect A’ja Wilson to be this dominant this year.

When I wrote about Wilson for SLAM before the 2018 season, I thought Wilson had a good chance to be Rookie of the Year, but expected her to struggle at times against bigger, more physical competition.

But with her 34-point, 14-rebound performance in the Aces’ comeback win over Connecticut on Saturday, Wilson has all but secured the ROY award.

Wilson has turned around the long-suffering Aces franchise (formerly San Antonio Stars) and could become the first rookie to make the First Team All-WNBA team since 2008.

Twenty games into her WNBA career, Wilson is putting up numbers that few players—let alone rookies—have ever put up.

Wilson ranks second in the league in scoring (21.0), fourth in rebounding (8.7) and fifth in blocks (1.7). Perhaps even more impressive, she’s turning the ball over just 1.6 times per game despite a 29.2 usage rate (third-highest usage rate in the league).

The only knock on Wilson’s rookie resume is her 53.4 true shooting percentage, but that’s hardly a knock.

All this begs the question: Where does Wilson’s season rank among the greatest rookie seasons ever?

Excluding the WNBA’s inaugural season in 1997, only three other players have had singularly dominant rookie seasons.

1. Tamika Catchings, Indiana, 2002
18.6 PPG, 57.1 TS%, 8.6 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.9 SPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.6 TOV, 26.2 USG%

Catchings’ rookie season is hands down the best in WNBA history, but she sat out a year after being drafted by the Fever.

Similar to Ben Simmons, Catchings had a year to train as a professional before her rookie season. Some would say that Catchings wasn’t a true rookie.

She led the league in steals and was a First Team All-WNBA selection in 2002.

2. Candace Parker, Los Angeles, 2008
18.5 PPG, 58.2 TS%, 9.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.3 SPG, 2.3 BPG, 2.8 TOV, 24.4 USG%

The only player to ever win the ROY and MVP in the same season, Parker was absolutely dominant in 2008. She led the league in rebounding and was a First Team All-WNBA selection.

Parker had the advantage of playing alongside Hall of Fame center Lisa Leslie, who was still elite at age 36.

3. A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas, 2018
21.0 PPG, 53.4 TS%, 8.7 RPG, 2.5 AST, 0.8 SPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.6 TOV, 29.2 USG%

If Wilson keeps up the current pace, her rookie season will rank top-3 of all time. That puts her in the same trajectory as some sure-fire Hall of Famers.

4. Breanna Stewart, Seattle, 2016
18.3 PPG, 57.6 TS%, 9.3 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.9 BPG, 2.4 TOV, 24.5 USG%

Stewie lost more games during her rookie WNBA season than she did during four seasons at UConn, but she wasn’t any less incredible.

She won a Gold medal with Team USA at the Rio Olympics en route to a nearly unanimous ROY selection.

Most Improved/Disappointing WNBA Players This Season

We’re about halfway through the 2018 WNBA regular season, so let’s take a look at which players have impressed (and distressed) so far this year.

2018 WNBA Most Improved Players

1. Natasha Howard, Seattle
2017: 11.7 MPG, 52.8 TS%, 2.4 RPG, 4.3 PPG
2018: 26.2 MPG, 64.8 TS%, 6.6 RPG, 13.6 PPG

The easy choice for Most Improved Player this season, Howard is taking full advantage of a new opportunity in Seattle. Howard went from playing just 11.7 minutes off the bench in Minnesota last season to starting at center for the Storm.

She’s extended her game to the three-point line, while shooting a staggering 64.8 true shooting percentage. With the expanded minutes, Howard is putting up career-highs in every category.

Adding Howard was perhaps the most underrated move the offseason, as the Storm effectively gave up just the No. 17 pick in the 2018 Draft in return.

2. Natalie Achonwa, Indiana
2017: 18.3 MPG, 59.7 TS%, 3.7 RPG, 7.1 PPG
2018: 24.5 MPG, 60.5 TS%, 7.2 RPG, 10.1 PPG

Achonwa has been Indiana’s most productive player as a full-time starter this season. Still just 25, Achonwa is young enough to be part of the Fever’s rebuild.

She’s rebounding the ball at a rate on par with the most efficient bigs in the league. And while she’s never been much of a shooter, Achonwa has stayed effective in the post and from the foul line.

2018 Most Disappointing Players

1. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut
2017: 28.5 MPG, 63.4 TS%, 11.9 RPG, 15.4 PPG
2018: 20.5 MPG, 58.7 TS%, 5.2 RPG, 8.6 PPG

Last season’s Most Improved Player, Jones has clearly regressed in 2018. She’s struggled to stay out of foul trouble and hasn’t rebounded the ball nearly as effectively.

Jones has struggled alongside Chiney Ogwumike. Forced to match up with DeWanna Bonner last night, Jones played only 13 minutes, scored 2 points, grabbed just 1 board and committed 3 fouls.

2. Layshia Clarendon, Atlanta
2017: 29.8 MPG, 45.4 TS%, 6.6 APG, 10.7 PPG
2018: 18.5 MPG, 44.2 TS%, 1.9 APG, 4.9 PPG

After being named an All-Star in 2017 and spending an offseason training with USA Basketball, Clarendon’s production has dropped off precipitously. Most alarming has been Clarendon’s shooting numbers—34.7 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from three.

With Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery and Brittney Skyes all playing well, Clarendon will continue to find it difficult to get consistent minutes off the bench.

WNBA Most-Improved Players: June 22-29

I guess you could say I’m an aspiring stats nerd. Recently, I’ve been diving into WNBA statistics for this season.

This morning, I went through the numbers over the past seven days to determine which players had the biggest improvement from their season average.

Statistically speaking, Sue Bird and Alex Bentley improved the most during the 7-day span.

Bird, in now her 17th WNBA season, hasn’t been shooting the ball well. But over four games, she’s shot the ball very efficiently, while boosting her assists and steals.

Season: 39.1 FG%, 32.8 3P%, 6.9 AST, 1.2 STL
6/22-6/29: 52 FG%, 42.9 3P%, 9.5 AST, 2.0 STL

Bentley, 27, thrived in a sixth man role last season and really caught her stride coming off the bench this week.

Hitting the three-ball is key to Bentley’s game, opening up the court and making her virtually unstoppable. If she can shoot in the mid-30s from three, Connecticut’s bench will be the most dangerous in the league.

Season: 39.6 FG%, 27.3 3P%, 2.9 AST, 1.3 STL
6/22-6/29: 48.6 FG%, 36.4 3P%, 5.0 AST, 2.3 STL