Looking at what it takes to make it to the Hall of Fame, it is easy to see that championships matter — a lot. But a number of all-time greats have never held the WNBA Championship Trophy.
For all time, there is no question that Becky Hammon belongs near the top of the list of the “best to never win it.” Despite being a six-time All-Star, twice named to the All-WNBA first team and twice to the second team, Hammon never won it all in 16 seasons in the league.
In the first half of her playing career with the New York Liberty, Hammon reached the WNBA Finals three times. The first two, in 1999 and 2000, the Liberty ran into the end of the Houston Comets four-year dynasty. In 2002, the Liberty were swept in the Finals by Western Conference Champion LA Sparks. After losing in the Conference finals in 2004 and 2005 and missing the playoffs in 2006, Hammon was traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars.
There, Hammon reached the Finals for the last time in 2008, where her team was swept by the Detroit Shock.
Hammon now sits at fifth in career assists and twelfth in career points after finishing her playing career with 450 regular season games and 60 more postseason games. Still, none ended in a championship.
Among active players, the “best never” title was applied for a long time to Candace Parker. Before winning it all in 2016, Parker was six-time All-WNBA, two-time All-Defensive Second Team, and the MVP in both her rookie season and 2013.
Then, Elena Delle Donne held the designation until the 2019 season ended with a Washington Mystics championship.
Now, we need a new “best to never win it.” Here are the three frontrunners for the mad-dash 2020 season:
The former first overall pick won the 2009 Rookie of the Year with the Atlanta Dream, where she played her entire career before joining the Las Vegas Aces this offseason. That first season, Atlanta was swept in the Conference semifinals by Detroit. The next two seasons, the Dream were swept in the WNBA Finals, first by Seattle and then by Minnesota. Two years later, in 2013, Minnesota swept the Dream again.
The next year, Atlanta fell to Chicago in the Conference semifinals, and in 2016 lost to the same Sky team in the second round. McCoughtry then rested for the 2017 season and missed much of the 2018 campaign with an injury as the Dream lost to Washington in the Conference finals. McCoughtry was once again sidelined by injury in 2019.
A primary option on both ends of the court, McCoughtry has the highest active usage percentage and steal percentage of any player. She is a six-time All-Defensive and six-time All-WNBA player. Still, the championship trophy to top it off has proved elusive.
Despite being one of the league’s marquee names, Diggins-Smith has played in just two career postseason games. The South Bend, Indiana native who stayed home for college to play at Notre Dame was taken third overall in the 2013 by the Tulsa Shock. Diggins-Smith played her entire career with the franchise, moving to Dallas in the 2016 season, but made her intention to play for a new team clear this past offseason.
It was back in her second season in the league that Diggins-Smith first began to shine. After averaging a little over eight points per game in her rookie season, Diggins-Smith won the 2014 WNBA Most Improved Player Award and was named to her first All-Star team. Since then, she has been an All-Star on three more occasions.
In 2015, the Shock made the playoffs for the first time in her career as the third seed in the Western Conference, but Diggins-Smith could only watch the postseason from the sideline due to a torn ACL. The team was swept in its first round by the Phoenix Mercury.
The result was the same for the next two postseason berths. Despite Diggins-Smith averagine 19 points, three rebounds and five assists in those games, the Wings were knocked out in the first round in 2017 and 2018. After missing last season on pregnancy leave, Diggins-Smith’s most recent game action before the bubble came during the national team’s tour through the college ranks.
Her first season with Phoenix Mercury may be her best opportunity so far to win a ring. She is flanked by Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, two of her U.S. national team teammates. The chemistry is apparent, and she is already averaging 14.0 points and 4.2 assists per game while shooting over 55% from the field.
Griner, who was taken two spots ahead of Diggins-Smith in the 2013 draft, got her first taste of a championship in 2014. Delle Donne, the second selection, just got her ring last year. Will 2020 be time for the third overall pick to finally win it all?
As a starter in her first year in the league — in 2011 — Vandersloot quickly excelled and was named to her first All-Star team. Chicago, which selected her third overall in the draft out of Gonzaga, had not made the playoffs in its franchise history and was still stuck in the mud.
It was not until 2013, when Delle Donne joined and had a Rookie of the Year season and Sylvia Fowles put together a Defensive Player of the Year campaign that Chicago finally made the playoffs. Indiana swept Chicago in the Conference semifinals, but with Vandersloot still leading the offense Chicago charged back in 2014 and reached its first Finals appearance. There, the Sky were swept by the Phoenix Mercury, the closest Vandersloot or Chicago has come to a WNBA championship.
The final two seasons with Pokey Chatman at the helm were both cut short in the playoffs, and the two-season tenure of Amber Stocks ended without a playoff berth. In that time, however, Vandersloot has become one of the game’s great facilitators.
Vandersloot is the all-time leader in assists per game at 6.21. She has led the league in assists three times in her career, including the past two seasons in which she set, and then reset, the single-season assist record. Already in 2020 she is pacing the WNBA with 43. Her success has continued in the postseason, where she holds the WNBA record for assists per game as well, at 7.0. In nine-plus seasons, she is already fifth on the career list, just ahead of Hammon.
Still, Vandersloot is known for more than just her assists, and her leadership on the court helped Chicago end its two-year playoff drought last season. The Sky returned to the playoffs with a 20-14 record and the fifth seed in James Wade’s first season. Following a decisive first round win over Phoenix, plenty of people in Chicago think the Sky had an opportunity to make a much deeper run, but the plans were dashed by an (infamous) half-court shot by Dearica Hamby.
Historically, Vandersloot’s July and August season numbers have dwarfed her early season outputs—she has averaged nearly three more assists per game in those months than in May and June. Lucky for Chicago, in an unusual season that tipped off in late July, Vandersloot looks to already be in peak form.