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Friday, July 19, 2019

Dribble and Dish: Rookies Making the Difference for Some WNBA Franchises

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Photo Caption: Tina Charles, the number-one pick of this season’s WNBA draft, is also number one in the early going in the race for Rookie of the Year. Charles leads all rookies in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game for the Connecticut Sun, numbers good enough to place her among the top 10 players in the entire league in both categories. Charles, teammate Kelsey Griffin, and Minnesota’s Monica Wright are the only three rookies in this year’s class to have earned spots in their teams’ starting rotations.

Photo Credit: Courtesy NBAE/Getty Images

By Christopher Thompson

The 2010 WNBA season is nearly three weeks old, and though Atlanta and Seattle had impressive early runs, already there are no undefeated teams remaining in either conference. On a brighter note, there are no teams in either conference who have yet to taste victory this season, though Los Angeles, with just a single win under its collective belt, is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Seattle, with just one loss (6-1) leads the league—probably to no one’s great surprise.  But Atlanta, which rules the East by a two-game margin (6-2), is certainly a surprise.  While it is too early to make any definitive judgments, the WNBA season is only 34 games long, so even three or four losses can put a team in a hole that may be hard to overcome. Los Angeles, for example, is just 1-5, putting them already four-and-a-half games behind the Storm. If there is a silver lining for the Sparks it is that the only team in the West to break the .500 mark is Seattle. Tulsa and Phoenix are tied for second, despite amassing only 3-3 records, and the remainder of the conference—San Antonio, Minnesota and LA—are deep under water. 

This week, we’ll take a look at how much personnel movement in general, and rookies in particular, have played a role in the fate of teams to date.

The Dream have shown addition by subtraction with the release of Chamique Holdsclaw who became unhappy with yet another situation and demanded a trade. When no team offered up anything for the one-time superstar, she was released and quickly picked up by San Antonio (who sent Belinda Snell packing to make room for her). Holdsclaw paid immediate dividends for the Silver Stars as she scored 19 points and dished five assists to lead San Antonio to an 88-81 win over Los Angeles on her first night in a Silver Stars uniform. Since then, she’s been averaging 13.8 points per game for the Stars, below her career average of 17.2, but still a boost for a team that was in desperate need of another scoring option.

Along with the Holdsclaw release and signing, teams have made only a handful of roster changes made since the final rosters were set. The Tulsa Shock traded Shavonte Zellous to Indiana for a second-round draft choice, a clear signal that someone was unhappy with this player who was dynamite off the bench for Detroit last year in her rookie season.  Minnesota reinstated Rebekkah Brunson when she returned from Turkey, and the Sparks signed Chanel Mokango, the cast-off first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Dream. Mokango, a 6-5 post out of Mississippi State who hails originally from the Congo, is the only player released before the season started who has been able to get a look with another team. Courtney Paris, Laura Harper, Ashley Battle, LaToya Pringle and Lisa Willis, among others, were all released in the final days of training camp and could be of help to other teams. But surprisingly, none has been picked up thus far (perhaps due to monetary considerations).

Twenty rookies made the final rosters. While Mokango has been added by LA, Gabriela Marginean was released by Minnesota when Brunson returned so there are still 20 rookies on rosters. Mokango has yet to play, but given L.A.‘s struggles so far, it is likely that she will get some playing time soon.

By far the greatest preseason publicity surrounded Marion Jones, the 34-year old rookie who was on the 1994 NCAA champion North Carolina squad, but won fame as a sprinter, winning Olympic Gold. Jones subsequently had her medals stripped and went to jail due to her use of steroids. Despite the hype, her limited on-court performance for the Tulsa Shock has been less than spectacular, with Jones averaging barely five minutes per game for Tulsa and scoring only four points (total) in the six games in which she has played this season.

Tulsa is one of three teams with three rookies on their roster. While Jones has been largely ineffective, perhaps the biggest rookie surprise so far is teammate Natasha Lacy. Lacy played three years at TCU, but spent her final year of eligibility at UTEP, graduating in 2008. She was drafted by Detroit in the second round that year, but was cut early in training camp. She subsequently played in Europe and two years later is back as a walk-on with the Shock. Lacy has played 21 minutes per game, fourth among rookies, and is averaging 9.2 points per game. She also leads all rookies with 4.8 assists per game. Even more impressive, Lacy leads the league in steals with 2.6 per game.

Tulsa’s third rookie is Amanda Thompson from Oklahoma who was the Shock’s second-round draft pick, but stuck. Thompson has averaged eight minutes per game, and has had a negligible impact thus far, averaging just 1.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.

Connecticut also has three rookies, including two of only three newcomers in the league who are regular starters. Tina Charles, the number-one pick of this season’s draft, is the early leader for rookie of the year. Charles leads all rookies in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers also place her tenth in scoring and sixth in rebounding among all players in the league.

Kelsey Griffin, the overall third pick in the draft out of Nebraska, is fourth in scoring among rookies (9.2 points per game) and second in rebounding (6.6). The third rookie on the Sun roster is Allison Hightower, a second-round pick out of LSU, who is also playing 13.1 minutes per game. The three rookies have grabbed 89 rebounds between them, compared with 107 rebounds for the league’s 17 other rookies combined. Bottom line: Connecticut’s rookies account for more than a third of the total minutes for the Sun, making them a critical factor in the fortunes of this franchise.

The other team in the league with three rookies on the roster is Seattle. Unlike Connecticut, the Storm’s rookies have barely seen the court. All three rookies are foreign players. Abby Bishop and Alison Lacey are Australians and Jana Vesela is Czech. All three have played fewer than six minutes per game and have collectively scored a total of 12 points in the Storm’s seven regular-season games to date.

Also in the conversation for Rookie of the Year honors is Monica Wright,  the only rookie left on the Minnesota roster now that Gabriela Marginean has been released to pave the way for Brunson’s return. (Marginean, a third-round pick from Drexel. played sparingly in the Lynx’ first four games before Rebekkah Brunson returned from Europe.) Wright, out of Virginia, was the second overall pick in this year’s draft. With Connecticut’s Charles and Griffin, Wright is the only other starter among this year’s rookie class. Wright is averaging a respectable 14.4 points per game but her other statistics are less flattering. She is shooting only 36 percent from the field. She also averages three turnovers per game versus only one assist. Earlier this week, however, Wright showed her potential as she scored 32 points and made six-of-10 three-pointers to lead the Lynx to a 92-82 win over the Mercury. Though Wright’s playing time, and perhaps her scoring as well, may go down once Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins return to full health, Wright’s field-goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio may well improve with her talented teammates back to share the load and spread the defense.

Epiphanny Prince went to the Chicago Sky with the fourth pick of the draft. Prince passed on her senior year at Rutgers to play professionally in Europe. Even though Prince comes off the bench, she is third among rookies in scoring at 9.5 points per game. She also averages 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Prince is shooting a respectable 45 percent from the field. The other rookie for the Sky is Abi Olajuwon, a third-round pick out of Oklahoma, who stuck. The daughter of all-time NBA great Hakeem Olajuwon has played in three games and has scored just two free throws.

The Washington Mystics also field two rookies, both of them relievers. Jacinta Monroe was the sixth pick of the draft, out of Florida State. She missed the first two games of the season due to an ankle injury, but has played seven minutes per game since, averaging 2.4 points. Ashley Houts, the other Mystics rookie, is a second-round draft pick out of Georgia who was acquired from New York just before the start of the season. She has played in four of the Mystics’ seven games and amassed her complete stat line—one three-pointer and one two-point field goal—in just one of them, a 65-80 loss to Connecticut.

Andrea Riley was the eighth pick in the draft for Los Angeles. Riley played 28 minutes in the first game of the season for the Sparks, posting 16 points, which would have been impressive but for her abysmal field-goal shooting. Her playing time has diminished since then, in all likelihood due to her continued struggles shooting—19 percent from the field and 15 percent from beyond the arc. Though Riley was the only rookie to stick on the L.A. roster early on, Chanel Mokango has joined the roster, though not the rotation, for the past three games, making the Sparks a member of the “two-rookie” club. 

Jayne Appel, the fifth pick in the draft, out of Stanford, is the only rookie on the San Antonio Silver Stars. She missed the first three games of the season with a stress fracture in her right foot, and saw her first significant action against Seattle, playing 14 minutes and putting up just two points but pulling down five rebounds.

Jene Morris from San Diego State was the eleventh pick for the Indiana Fever and is the only rookie on that roster.  Morris is averaging 13 minutes per game, seventh most among rookies. She is scoring 4.3 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field.

Connecticut’s Kalana Greene was the first pick in the second round for the New York Liberty. Greene is averaging 3.3 points in 12 minutes per game.

The remaining rookie is Brittainey Raven from Texas. Raven was a third round pick for Atlanta, but she has contributed eight minutes per game for the undefeated Dream.

The only team without a rookie is last season’s champion, the Phoenix Mercury.

As the season progresses some rookies may get increased playing time, but as of now the only rookies who look like they will have a significant impact are the first five players taken in this year’s draft, along with the 28th pick from two years ago.

Here’s a rundown of the rookies selected in the 2010 WNBA Draft—those that made it and those who are now considering other paths:


2010 WNBA Draftees on Current Rosters
Pick No. Team Player Position Status School
1 Connecticut Sun Tina Charles C Final Roster Connecticut
2 Minnesota Lynx Monica Wright G Final Roster Virginia
3 Connecticut Sun* Kelsey Griffin F Final Roster Nebraska
4 Chicago Sky Epiphanny Prince G Final Roster Rutgers**
5 San Antonio Silver Stars Jayne Appel C Final Roster Stanford
6 Washington Mystics Jacinta Monroe F Final Roster Florida State
7 Connecticut Sun Danielle McCray G/F Out for Season-ACL Tear Kansas
8 Los Angeles Sparks Andrea Riley G Final Roster Oklahoma State
9 Los Angeles Sparks*** Chanel Mokango F Current Roster Mississippi State
10 Seattle Storm Alison Lacey G Final Roster Iowa State
11 Indiana Fever Jene Morris G Final Roster San Diego State
12 Los Angeles Sparks Bianca Thomas G Waived Mississippi
13 New York Liberty Kalana Greene G Final Roster Connecticut
14 Washington Mystics Jenna Smith C Waived Illinois
15 Connecticut Sun Allison Hightower G Final Roster LSU
16 Washington Mystics**** Ashley Houts G Final Roster Georgia
17 San Antonio Silver Stars Alysha Clark F Waived Middle Tennessee State
18 Washington Mystics Shanavia Dowdell F Waived Louisiana Tech
19 Tulsa Shock Amanda Thompson F Final Roster Oklahoma
20 Los Angeles Sparks Angel Robinson F Waived Georgia
21 Atlanta Dream Brigitte Ardosi F Waived Georgia Tech
22 Seattle Storm Tanisha Smith G/F Waived Texas A&M
23 Indiana Fever Armelie Lumanu G Waived Mississippi State
24 Phoenix Mercury Tyra Grant G Waived Penn State
25 New York Liberty Cory Montgomery F Waived Nebraska
26 Minnesota Lynx Gabriela Marginean***** F Waived Drexel
27 Connecticut Sun Johannah Leedham G/F In Europe until 2011 season Franklin Pierce (D-II)
28 Chicago Sky Abi Olajuwon C Final Roster Oklahoma
29 San Antonio Silver Stars Alexis Rack G Waived Mississippi State
30 Washington Mystics Alexis Gray-Lawson G Waived California
31 Tulsa Shock Vivian Frieson F Waived Gonzaga
32 Los Angeles Sparks Rashidat Junaid C Waived Rutgers
33 Atlanta Dream Brittainey Raven G Final Roster Texas
34 Seattle Storm Tijana Krivacevic F Europe - did not report to training camp Hungary
35 Indiana Fever Joy Cheeck F Waived Duke
36 Phoenix Mercury Nyeshia Stevenson G/F Waived Oklahoma

*No. 3 pick Kelsey Griffin was immediately traded by the Minnesota Lynx to the Connecticut Sun in exchange for the Sun’s first and second-round draft picks in 2011.

**No. 4 pick Epiphanny Prince played for three years at Rutgers before dropping out to play pro ball with Eurocup’s Botas-Spor in Adana, Turkey, in 2009-10.

***No. 9 pick Chanel Mokongo was drafted by the Atlanta Dream but waived before the season began. She was signed on June 1 by the Los Angeles Sparks, who waived veteran Tiffany Stansbury to make room for Mokongo on the roster.

****No. 16 pick Ashley Houts, originally drafted by the New York Liberty, was traded to the Washington Mystics on May 12 in return for Nikki Blue. Houts made the Mystics’ final roster.

*****No. 26 pick Gabriela Marginean made the Minnesota Lynx’s final roster, but was subsequently waived to make room for the return of veteran Rebekkah Brunson.

Originally published Sat, June 05, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
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3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
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