With several stars out, look for these WNBA players to shine in 2019
On April 14, reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles tendon in the final game of her EuroLeague season. It’s a devastating injury for Stewart and for her WNBA team, the defending champion Seattle Storm. It’s also a huge loss for the league, which has had several prominent players announce during the offseason that they will retire or sit out the 2019 season.
But just because the WNBA won’t be the same this season without Stewart and others doesn’t mean it won’t be an exciting year. If your favorite player’s absence has you considering tuning out, I’m here to convince you otherwise. If it simply means that you need a new team to root for or guidance on what active player’s jersey to buy, I’m here for that, too.
Here are some WNBA stars who will not play for most or all of the 2019 season and some other amazing players with a similar style who fans might not know.
If you like Breanna Stewart (out for the season due to injury), you should watch Chiney Ogwumike
Stewart’s career stats: 20.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game; 54.3% effective field goal percentage
Ogwumike’s career stats: 14.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 0.9 BPG; 57.3% eFG
Stewart and Ogwumike are versatile, athletic forwards who both have Connecticut ties: Stewart won four national titles at UConn from 2013 to 2016 and Ogwumike has played for the Connecticut Sun since 2014. A tireless worker, Ogwumike is well known around the league for the energy and effort she brings to every game — not to mention to her full-time analyst position with ESPN. She may be less well known to fans because she missed two of the past four WNBA seasons with injuries, including an Achilles tear in 2017, but she was a 2018 All-Star and is poised to build on that in 2019.
If you like Maya Moore (out for the season for personal reasons), you should watch Asia Durr
Moore’s career stats: 18.4 PPG, 3.3 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game; 52.1% eFG and 37.6% 3-point shooting
Durr’s 2018–19 stats (at Louisville): 21.1 PPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 SPG; 52.1% eFG and 34% 3-point shooting
At the risk of oversimplifying both players’ expansive games, Moore and Durr are both lethal scorers who can get hot in a hurry. Moore, a former WNBA MVP and five-time All-Star, averaged a career-high 23.9 points per game in 2014 and has shot better than 40% from 3-point range in two of the past three seasons. Durr is a two-time ACC Player of the Year and was the second overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft after scoring the eighth-most points of any player in the country this season, including a 47-point outing against NC State. Durr will likely play a starring role for the New York Liberty from day one, as the team desperately needs some perimeter scoring to complement All-Star forward Tina Charles.
If you like Rebekkah Brunson (out for an undetermined time frame due to injury), you should watch Alyssa Thomas
Brunson’s career stats: 9.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 18.0% total rebounding rate, 47.3% eFG
Thomas’s career stats: 11.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 13.1% total rebounding rate, 46.9% eFG
A power forward, Brunson is the WNBA’s career rebounding leader and has won five titles both by making big plays and by doing all the little things right. In addition to her points and rebounds, she has averaged better than one steal per game in her career and even added a 3-point shot to her game two seasons ago. Thomas began her WNBA career as a wing, but moving to power forward in 2017 helped her game take off. She has contributed “a little bit of everything” for the Connecticut Sun, including better than 4 assists per game from her new position. Brunson and Thomas are also the career rebounding leaders for their college programs (Georgetown and Maryland, respectively), and their WNBA coaches would tell you that their toughness and competitive fire make them particularly hard to replace. The fact that I have barely mentioned their scoring abilities should tell you all you need to know about these glue players whose games are near-impossible not to like.
If you like Angel McCoughtry (out for the start of the season due to injury), you should watch Diamond DeShields
McCoughtry’s career stats: 19.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.1 SPG; 45.1% eFG
DeShields’ career stats: 14.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.1 SPG; 47.6% eFG
DeShields was a rookie last season, so it’s not exactly fair to scrutinize DeShields’ career stats against those of McCoughtry, a five-time All-Star for the Atlanta Dream. At the same time, DeShields’ numbers actually compare pretty well to McCoughtry’s, and there’s reason to think she will flourish in her second season with the Chicago Sky and her first under new head coach James Wade. At 6–1, DeShields is a big, strong, and quick guard who some think could become the league’s best defender one day. With an all-around game like she showed last year, a future All-Star nod is a good bet, too.
If you like Cappie Pondexter (retired), you should watch Kelsey Mitchell
Pondexter’s career stats: 16.4 PPG, 3.8 APG, 1.0 SPG; 46.1% eFG and 35.0% 3-point shooting
Mitchell’s career stats: 12.7 PPG, 2.7 APG, 0.7 SPG; 43.2% eFG and 33.5% 3-point shooting
Like DeShields, Mitchell was a rookie last season, but she still put up solid numbers for a young Indiana Fever team. However, to see why she warrants the comparison to Pondexter — who holds the WNBA record for most games scoring 30+ points — it’s worth going back to Mitchell’s senior season at Ohio State. She was the nation’s third-leading scorer at 24.3 points per game and had eight 30-point games. She also shot better than 40% from 3-point range and nearly 50% on 2-pointers, making her the rare player who can combine volume scoring with efficiency. Simply put, Mitchell was unstoppable in her final year as a Buckeye, and it’s only a matter of time before she scores 30 points in a WNBA game, too.
If you like Skylar Diggins-Smith (out for the start of the season due to pregnancy) or Lindsay Whalen (retired), you should watch Jordin Canada
Diggins-Smith’s career stats: 15.9 PPG, 4.9 APG, 1.3 SPG; 44.5% eFG and 28.1% assist rate
Whalen’s career stats: 11.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 1.0 SPG; 48.4% eFG and 29.2% assist rate
Canada’s career stats: 5.7 PPG, 3.3 APG, 0.9 SPG; 38.5% eFG and 29.3% assist rate
Diggins-Smith and Whalen were two of the league’s top point guards last season, but there are many reasons to expect that Jordin Canada can have a breakout second season in the WNBA and distract us from their absence. First, Canada was one of the best college point guards in the country two years ago, averaging 17.0 points, 7.1 assists, and 3.3 steals per game for UCLA along with a ridiculous 40.2% assist rate. Second, she now plays for the Seattle Storm and will likely be asked to play more minutes and produce more in the wake of Stewart’s injury. And this will be Canada’s second season playing with and learning from Sue Bird, who some consider the best point guard of all time. That kind of mentorship is invaluable to a young point guard. This season, Canada could play alongside Bird more regularly, which would be a nightmare for opposing guards on both ends of the court.
If you like Monique Currie (retired), you should watch Ariel Atkins
Currie’s career stats: 10.3 PPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG; 44.3% eFG and 33.8% 3-point shooting
Atkins’ career stats: 11.3 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.3 SPG; 51.3% eFG and 35.7% 3-point shooting
Atkins actually surpassed Currie on the Mystics’ depth chart last season, starting 24 of 29 games and being a key contributor as a rookie in the Mystics’ run to the WNBA Finals. She got some recognition across the league for her efforts, including a spot on the All-Defensive Second Team, but she is not nearly as well known as her star teammates Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver. Expect Atkins to continue making the hustle plays and big shots that endeared her to fans last season while developing more consistency in her second year as a pro and mentoring another young two-way talent in rookie Kiara Leslie.
If you like Liz Cambage (will reportedly sit out the season if not traded), you should watch A’ja Wilson
Cambage’s 2018 stats*: 23.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG; 19.0% total rebounding rate and 30.1% usage rate
Wilson’s 2018–19 stats: 20.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG; 14.5% total rebounding rate and 29.2% usage rate
*Cambage has played three seasons in the WNBA, but 2018 was her first season in the league since 2013, when she was just 21 years old. For other players, I presented their career stats to show what they have brought to the league over a sustained period of time, but for Cambage, I elected to share only her 2018 stats to give a clearer picture of what her game looks like in 2019, when she is past college-age and entering her prime.
The 6–8 Cambage was the runner-up for WNBA MVP last year; memorably dunked in the All-Star Game; and was a media favorite, speaking out on issues ranging from racism to mental health to WNBA travel schedules and salaries. She is healthy and could still play this season, but is unlikely to do so unless the stalemate is resolved between her current team (Dallas) and the one WNBA team she wants to play for (Los Angeles). But 2018 Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson could be just the antidote to a Cambage-less season, as she nearly equaled Cambage’s eye-popping numbers and is similarly unafraid to speak her mind. She will lead a young Las Vegas team that has had the No. 1 draft pick in three straight years and expects to snap a four-year playoff drought this summer.
It’s a testament to the quality of the WNBA that it can absorb the losses of so many veterans and still be poised to deliver a fantastic season. Instead of focusing on the stars who will be missing when the season begins on May 24, let’s savor the opportunity to watch other players who are some of the best in the world in their own right.