Was Skylar Diggins overrated? Is Elena Delle Donne a big-time star in the making? Is Brittney Griner really all that and a handful of dunks?
Part of the fun of sports is matching our expectations with actual performance, and so we want to make comparisons as quickly as possible – but in reality, it takes much more than a few games to judge a player. In fact, since athletes in general peak at age 27, it really makes sense to take some time before settling into a conclusion.
With that in mind, let’s go back to 2008, and look at the first round of the WNBA draft – and at players who make an impression on the league in the second and third rounds. There are some patterns in which players lived up to or exceeded expectations, and those who didn’t, but those will become pretty clear as we move through the list.
1. Candace Parker, Los Angeles: There’s no question that Candace Parker is a great player, and her career numbers (17.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg) are impressive, but to me, at least, there’s a tinge of disappointment. It seemed the CP3 could be one of those special athletes who could elevate their sport, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t quite happened. She’s beautiful, talented, comfortable in front of a camera, but she’s become just another elite women’s basketball player. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it seems there could have been more. And the last championship in LA was in 2002, meaning a title in Tinseltown would go a long way solidify her status as one of the greats.
2. Sylvia Fowles, Chicago: The best pure center in the world, Fowles has done pretty much as expected – 15.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.9 bpg – but her team has never made the playoffs, and she’s never figured out how to pass out of a doubleteam. (In 142 games, she has 336 career turnovers to just 121 assists.) She’s also had trouble staying healthy, but five years from now, she could be even more dominating.
3. Candice Wiggins, Minnesota: As with most WNBA drafts, it drops off pretty quickly, and though Wiggins can’t be considered a disappointment compared to most of the players picked after her, you hope for more than a career 38.0 percent shooter from the third pick. Wiggins’ career scoring average is a respectable 10.4 ppg, but she averaged fewer than seven points a game in 2011 and 2012. She may still blossom in Tulsa, but injuries have slowed her and she may never be a 15-point scorer again, as she was her rookie year.
4. Alexis Hornbuckle, Detriot: Now with Phoenix, Hornbuckle has become a capable backup, but as with so many athletic players, she just can’t shoot. That wasn’t a problem in AAU, high school and college, but in the WNBA, her career 35.1 percentage means she’s just too easy to defend. And that 1.2 A/TO shows she isn’t a point guard either.
5. Matee Ajavon, Houston: Another athletic guard who can’t shoot, Ajavon had a very good 2011 (14.7 ppg) for a very bad Washington team (6-28). She’s now a reserve for the Mystics, and it appears her career may have plateaued as an adequate rotation player.
6. Crystal Langhorne, Washington: A lot of people, myself included, thought the 6-1 Langhorne was too small to be effective in the WNBA, but she worked on her outside shot and proved to be a steal at No. 6. Her career averages of 13.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg are enhanced by a 56.6 shooting percentage, but her below average passing and defensive limitations (due to her size) keep her from elite status.
7. Essence Carson, New York: Carson is a perfect example of why it takes time to evaluate a draft – and even though she tore her ACL this season, Carson showed she has steadily improved since she came into the league and at 27, was poised for a breakout season before her injury. She and Langhorne are also prime examples of the potential value of mid-first round picks.
8. Tamera Young, Atlanta: Yet another athletic player who can’t shoot, Young is miscast as a starter, but can give a good team like Chicago (where she is now) solid minutes off the bench. At 6-2, she’s also become a worthwhile defender.
9. Amber Holt, Connecticut: I confess I forgot she was a top ten pick, and there’s a reason – she never really made an impact on the league. She got 24 starts in Tulsa in 2011 to prove herself, and shot 30.2 percent from the field. (Why don’t coaches teach top-shelf talent how to shoot? Because they want to win meaningless AAU and high school games, and so keep players like Holt close to the basket.)
10. Laura Harper, Sacramento: Harper hurt her knee and never really developed, but she never really showed that she would have been a star before her injury.
11. Tasha Humphrey, Detroit: Considered a budding superstar coming out of high school, Humphrey peaked early and managed just two years in the WNBA before fading out of sight. The Shock rolled the dice on her, and came up empty.
12. Ketia Swanier, Connecticut: A desultory five-year career (2.5 ppg, 1.3 A/TO, 34.8 percent shooting) seems to have concluded with an early cut in Atlanta this year. You’ll be surprised to know she’s another quick guard who never learned to shoot.
13. Latoya Pringle, Phoenix: Like Harper, Pringle’s career was sabotaged by injuries, but at No. 13, you’re just hoping to get lucky anyway.
14. Erlana Larkins, New York: Larkins had a great run in the playoffs last year, but she’s still an undersized post who’s never even attempted a three-pointer. Her quickness and tenacity make her a solid rebounder, and she’s a definite gem at No. 14.
15. Shannon Bobbitt, Los Angeles: Bobbitt played 118 games in her WNBA career, which was about 100 more than most people thought a five-foot point guard could manage – so give her some credit. But, continuing a theme, she always relied on quickness and penetration and never was a consistent perimeter shooter, so it appears her future lies in Europe.
16. Nicky Anosike, Minnesota: Anosike delivered a lot of value for the No. 16 pick, but injuries and attitude questions combined to keep her off a WNBA roster this year. She could return to the league, though, especially if teams are added.
22. Allie Quigley, Seattle: Quigley has had enough cups of coffee in the WNBA to have earned a free latte, and she has worked enough on her game that she may have found a home coming off the bench in Chicago. She can shoot and has long arms, but defense is the issue.
25. Leilani Mitchell, New York: Clearly the best pick in the draft if you’re comparing slot to value, Mitchell is an accomplished shooter and a solid ballhandler, though her size and quickness limit her ceiling. Mitchell has started 97 games in her career, primarily because she has made 209 threes and 82.4 percent of her free throws, which shows how much shooting can matter in a WNBA career.
28. Natasha Lacy, Detroit: On the other hand, Lacy is 5-10 and about twice the athlete Mitchell is, but she’s out of the league, most likely for good, after missing 16 of her first 18 shots this season for Connecticut. Oh, and she’s a 61.1 percent free-throw shooter, which means that even when she does draw contact, she’s not going to be as productive as her athleticism suggests.
29. Sharnee Zoll, Los Angeles: A slender point guard who has honed her game overseas, Zoll hurt her knee last spring before landing a spot as Courtney Vandersloot’s backup in Chicago. Take a guess as to why she’s a backup … you’re right, she can’t shoot.
30. Charde Houston, Minnesota: Some will argue that Houston, not Mitchell, has delivered more value and she is a 9.8 ppg scorer and decent shooter. But Houston’s disdain for defense early in her career limited her minutes, though she seems to have found a home in Phoenix. Like Humphrey, Houston was a high school superstar, but unlike Humphrey, she has matured into a solid professional.