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WNBA top draft picks: How does this year’s trio stack up?

Rhyne Howard posted 21 points in her first meeting with Shakira Austin on May 20, but Austin’s Mystics took the win against Howard’s Dream. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Clare Brennan and Emma Hruby

The top three picks from this year’s WNBA draft class have wasted no time making their presence known in the league. But just how well do Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin stack up against top trios from years past?

Just Women’s Sports decided to investigate, delving into four previous sets of top picks from the past 15 years. While the sample size for Howard, Smith and Austin is small, they hold their own amid some impressive company.

2008 Draft Class: Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, Candice Wiggins

These three players have five WNBA championships between them across the last 15 seasons, which shows their staying power – indeed, Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles are still going strong. They also all made an immediate impact upon their introduction to the league.

After setting a WNBA record in her debut, No. 1 overall pick Parker didn’t let her foot off the gas for the Sparks. She finished the season as both Rookie of the Year and league MVP. She also led the league in rebounding.

Parker failed to score in double digits in just one game all season – the final regular-season contest, in which she played just nine minutes as Los Angeles emptied its bench. Her peak performance came against Houston on July 9, when she racked up 40 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks and two steals. She averaged 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 blocks for the season, which remains one of the best of her career.

Fowles, the second overall pick, didn’t post the same eye-popping numbers as Parker, but her stat line (10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.1 steals) earned her a spot on the All-Rookie team and the All-Defensive Second Team. Austin boasts similar stats through her first seven games this season.

Rounding out the 2008 trio, Candice Wiggins was named Sixth Woman of the Year in her rookie season. She averaged 15.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game for Minnesota despite starting just one game all season.

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Candace Parker, Candice Wiggins and Sylvia Fowles pose for a WNBA draft portrait. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

2013 Draft Class: Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins-Smith

No. 1 overall pick Brittney Griner ended her first season as the WNBA blocks leader. She posted 81 blocks in 2013, then followed it up with a career-high 129 a season later. As a rookie, she averaged 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks.

Elena Delle Donne, the No. 2 overall pick, was named Rookie of the Year after averaging 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 blocks and starting in all 30 games for the Sky.

In her first game, Delle Donne compiled 22 points, eight assists and four blocks to set the tone for the season. She regularly scored in double digits, and she scored at least 20 points 13 times.

Skylar Diggins-Smith took a season to come into her own. Now a star for the Mercury, she began her career with the Tulsa Shock, averaging 8.5 points, 3.8 assists, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game in her rookie season. The next season, she averaged 20.1 points per game.

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Elena Delle Donne shoots the ball over Brittney Griner during their rookie season. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

2018 draft class: A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Mitchell, Diamond DeShields

A’ja Wilson headlined the 2018 WNBA draft class as the No. 1 overall pick by the Las Vegas Aces, with Kelsey Mitchell going second to Indiana and Diamond DeShields rounding out the top three after she was selected by Chicago.

The trio stepped into the spotlight from the get-go, particularly Wilson, who earned Rookie of the Year honors. The former South Carolina star averaged 20.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.67 blocked shots in her debut campaign, with Wilson joining Seimone Augustus as only the second rookie in WNBA history to average at least 20 points per game.

Right now, Howard is on pace to join the pair, as she is averaging 20.5 points through six games.

For the Fever, Mitchell logged 70 three-pointers, a tally only surpassed by two other rookies in WNBA history. She averaged 12.7 points and 2.7 assists per game, and she notched 20 or more points on six different occasions.

DeShields dropped the second-most points by a rookie that season, averaging 14.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The Sky guard topped out at a then-career-high 28 points in one of the last games of the season, putting an exclamation point on her introduction to the league.

2020 draft class: Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, Lauren Cox

The New York Liberty had high hopes for Sabrina Ionescu when they selected the Oregon superstar as the No. 1 overall pick in 2020. The guard was one of the most exciting draft prospects in recent memory after her historic career with the Ducks.

The hype around Ioenscu’s WNBA debut, however, was dampened when the rookie injured her ankle in the Liberty’s third game, sidelining her for the remainder of the season. Ionescu averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists in her three games of the 2020 campaign.

Ionescu’s Oregon teammate Satou Sabally was selected second overall by the Dallas Wings, but her inaugural campaign also was plagued by injury, with the former Duck sitting out six games. When she was on the floor, however, Sabally made an impact, averaging 13.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists across 16 games.

Lauren Cox of Baylor rounded out the top three picks, going to the Indiana Fever. The forward played in 14 games with the team, starting in just one appearance, averaging 3.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists.

Ahead of the 2020 season, it seemed safe to assume one of the two Oregon stars would claim Rookie of the Year honors, but the award went to second-round draft pick Crystal Dangerfield of the Minnesota Lynx. The guard was the first player not drafted in the first round to win the award.

2022 Draft Class: Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith, Shakira Austin

So far, this trio has lived up to the hype, starting with top pick Howard. She has yet to score below double digits for the Atlanta Dream, and she dropped 33 points in her fourth game, which puts her in elite company.

Through six games, the guard is averaging 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals. While there’s still plenty of ball left to be played, if her scoring trend continues, Howard could be on track for one of the best rookie seasons in league history.

Smith is also having a standout campaign. She’s scored in double digits in all but one game while stacking up the rebounds, including a season-high 17 rebounds against the Liberty on May 13. As of Tuesday, she leads the WNBA in rebounds per game with 10.0, and she is also averaging 13.0 points, good for a double-double on the season.

Since 2008, just one player has averaged more than 10 rebounds per game as a rookie: Tina Charles, who posted 11.7 per game for the Connecticut Sun in 2010.

Austin has earned a starting spot in just three games for a veteran Mystics team, but she has started to come into her own. She has dropped double-digit points totals in each of the last three games, and she’s factored heavily on the stat sheet in each, especially in a 20-point, eight-rebound performance against Dallas on May 17.

She’s averaging 9.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.1 blocks through six games, but those averages could go up if she continues to garner more playing time.

All three of this year’s top rookies will take the court Tuesday night: Howard and Austin will face off at 7 p.m. as the Dream take on the Mystics, and Smith and the Fever will face Parker and the Sky at 8 p.m.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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