Napheesa Collier says WNBA needs to change single-elimination format
Collier and Wilson lament the WNBA's single-elimination games and playoff structure.
Over the weekend, the WNBA unveiled “The W25,” a list of the 25 greatest and most influential players in league history as voted on by media members and women’s basketball pioneers selected by the WNBA.
The list included ten current and 15 former players. The current players honored were Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner, Angel McCoughtry, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi. The retired players were Seimone Augustus, Swin Cash, Tamika Catchings, Cynthia Cooper, Yolanda Griffith, Becky Hammon, Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Maya Moore, Ticha Penicheiro, Cappie Pondexter, Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Lindsay Whalen.
We decided to approach the WNBA Top 25 from a different angle, asking those who have played, coached and been directly involved in the WNBA to select the 25 greatest players of all time. The 30 people we surveyed included former WNBA players as well as current and former WNBA head coaches, assistant coaches, general managers and team staff members.
Our voting process also differed from the official W25, which required candidates to meet a certain criteria to be included on the final ballot of 75 players. Ours listed players such as Candice Dupree and Vickie Johnson (who were absent from the WNBA ballot) and gave voters the option to write in the names of players they believed deserved recognition.
While the results of our survey had only one major difference from the W25 — the selection of Deanna Nolan over Swin Cash — the percentage of votes each player received sheds more light on the hierarchy. We’ve also listed the players who just missed out on selection into the top 25, some of whom might come as a surprise.
(Note: Players are listed by % of votes received and then alphabetically.)
Catchings’ unanimous inclusion was a no-brainer. The forward spent her entire 15-year WNBA career with the Indiana Fever. Named Rookie of the Year in 2002, she would go on to make 10 All-Star Game appearances and earn seven WNBA First Team selections. She also became the only player in the WNBA or NBA to win five Defensive Player of the Year awards. In 2012, Catchings led the Fever to their first and only championship and was named Finals MVP. Five years later, the Fever retired her No. 24.
In just eight seasons, Moore cemented herself as one of the most dominant players in the sport with the trophy case to prove it. Drafted first overall by the Lynx in 2011, she was named Rookie of the Year and was the driving force behind the franchise’s four championships in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. Before stepping away from basketball to focus on criminal justice reform and free Jonathan Irons from a wrongful prison conviction, Moore was a six-time All-Star, a WNBA MVP and a Finals MVP.
During her 12-year WNBA career, Swoopes was a four-time champion with the Houston Comets, a three-time MVP, a six-time All Star and a five-time First Team selection. Swoopes was also the WNBA’s first three-time Defensive Player of the Year in 2000, 2002 and 2003 and the first player ever to record a triple-double in the regular season and in playoffs. In 1997, Swoopes became the first women’s basketball player to have a Nike signature shoe, the “Air Swoopes.” (Fun fact: I still have mine.)
Taurasi and her warehouse of accolades left no room for debate as a unanimous Top 25 pick. The three-time WNBA champion, ten-time All-Star and former league MVP is also the league’s all-time leading scorer (and counting). In 2011, Taurasi was named one of the Top 15 Players of All Time. In 2016, she earned a spot on the WNBA Top [email protected] Taurasi has long been in consideration as the greatest women’s basketball player of all time, and she has my vote.
The most shocking result of this exercise was that Bird, a four-time WNBA champion and 12-time All-Star, did not receive 100 percent of the vote. Bird is the only player to have won a championship in three different decades during her 18-year WNBA career, which isn’t over yet. The current WNBA all-time assists leader is considered one of the greatest facilitators and floor generals in the history of the sport.
For all Cooper did for the game of basketball, I was surprised that this vote was not unanimous. At the age of 34, Cooper led the Comets franchise to four consecutive WNBA championships from 1997-2000. In three of those seasons, she also led the league in scoring. Cooper was named a four-time Finals MVP, two-time MVP and three-time All-Star during her five-year WNBA career.
Parker came onto the national basketball scene at a young age and rose to prominence quickly in the pros. In 2008, Parker became the first player to win the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in the same season. She is also the second player ever to dunk in a WNBA game. Parker, a six-time WNBA All-Star, led the league in rebounds three times and won the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year award. After 13 years with the Los Angeles Sparks, she signed with her hometown Chicago Sky this past offseason.
It is impossible to discuss the WNBA’s greatest players of all time without Fowles, who is still one of the most dominant players in the league in her 14th season. The 6-foot-6 center is a former MVP and two-time WNBA champion. In 2020, the seven-time All-Star became the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder.
During her 12 seasons with the Seattle Storm, Lauren Jackson was virtually impossible to defend. A two-time WNBA champion, seven-time All-Star, three-time MVP and one-time Finals MVP, Jackson left one of the most definitive legacies with a single franchise. She has been named to every possible all-time WNBA player list, including the All Decade, Top 15 and [email protected]
In 15 seasons, Augustus gave us one of the nastiest crossovers and mid-range pull-ups the game has ever seen. Augustus finished her career as a four-time WNBA champion with the Lynx, an eight-time All-Star and a 2011 Finals MVP. She also ranks 11th on the all-time scoring list with 6,005 career points. Augustus, now an assistant coach with the Sparks, deserves to be in the top half of this list for all she accomplished in the league.
The three-time WNBA MVP is well known as one of the first faces of the league. Leslie played a key role in the league’s inaugural game in 1997 and was the first player to dunk in a WNBA game in 2002. She is the career points and rebounds leader for the Sparks franchise, who in 2010 retired her No. 9 jersey. Leslie was voted to the list of the Top 15 Players of All-Time in 2011 and to the Top [email protected] in 2016. Leslie is another one I would have picked as a unanimous selection.
The Houston Comets selected Thompson in 1997 as the first draft pick in WNBA history. Thompson would go on to win four championships as part of the Comets’ dynasty. The nine-time All-Star was also named the All-Star Game MVP in 2000. After a 17-year career, Thompson retired as the league’s all-time leading scorer with 7,448 points, a mark Taurasi surpassed in 2017.
Smith finished her playing career as the eighth all-time leading scorer in the WNBA with 6,452 points. Before the WNBA, she led the ABL’s Columbus Quest to two straight championships in 1997 and 1998, the two years the league existed. Smith went on to play in the WNBA for 14 seasons and lead the Detroit Shock to two WNBA championships in 2006 and 2008. Smith, now an assistant coach with the Minnesota Lynx, has been named to the WNBA All-Decade, Top 15 Players of All Time and [email protected] teams. She was the 2001 scoring champion and a seven-time All-Star.
It’s hard to keep up with the pace of Stewart’s accomplishments since she joined the league in 2016. Stewart followed up a Rookie of the Year award that season with two WNBA championships, a league MVP and two Finals MVPs. She’s also a favorite to win the MVP award again this season. Stewart has quickly climbed the WNBA player ranks and, at 27 years old, has only scratched the surface of the prime of her career. Stewart has a legitimate shot to finish her career as the greatest WNBA player of all time.
The two-time league MVP led the Chicago Sky to the WNBA Finals in 2014 and the Washington Mystics to their first-ever WNBA championship in 2019. In that span, she was selected to six All-Star teams. In 2019, Delle Donne became the first and only WNBA player to join the 50-40-90 club, which means she shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the free-throw line during the season. Delle Donne’s health after two back surgeries could determine where she ends up on the all-time hierarchy at the end of her career.
Griner single-handedly took the WNBA to the next level with her imposing size, dominance in the paint and ability to throw it down. The 6-foot-9 center became the third player to dunk in a WNBA game and the first player to do so twice in a single game. Griner is a seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champion and a seven-time blocks leader. She won a championship with the Mercury in 2014 and is currently in the conversation for 2021 MVP.
Griffith could flat-out play. As one of the greatest rebounders, defensive players and efficient scorers in the history of the WNBA, she won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1999 and went on to set the single-season offensive rebounding record in 2001 with 162. In 2005, she led the Sacramento Monarchs to their first WNBA championship and was named Finals MVP.
Pondexter was named to both the Top 15 Players of All Time and the [email protected] following an impressive 13-year WNBA career. In 2009, she became the first player in league history to win three consecutive Western Conference Player of the Week honors. The two-time WNBA champion was named Finals MVP in 2007 and made seven All-Star Game appearances. Pondexter’s scoring dominance, especially in the early parts of her career, were undeniable, earning her a deserved spot on this list.
Whalen was the floor general for the Lynx during their dynasty years. The three-time WNBA single-season assists leader finished her career as the all-time playoff assists leader with 341. Whalen was also named to five All-Star Games and three WNBA First Teams. Now head coach of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team, Whalen had her No. 13 jersey retired in Minnesota following her playing career.
With nearly every possible individual accolade on her resume, Charles is just missing a WNBA championship. The No. 1 pick of the Connecticut Sun in 2010, Charles was crowned Rookie of the Year. Two years later, she won the league MVP award and is in the conversation again this season, leading the league with 24.8 points per game for Washington. Charles is an eight-time All-Star, five-time First-Team selection, two-time All-Defensive Team and four-time rebounding champion.
McCoughtry, the 2009 first overall draft pick and Rookie of the Year with the Atlanta Dream, is one of the most dominant scorers in league history. The five-time All-Star led the Dream to three WNBA Finals appearances but never quite had the pieces around her to win a championship. During her ten WNBA seasons, McCoughtry has averaged 19 points per game and currently ranks 15th on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list.
Hammon never won a championship during her 16-year WNBA career, but she led her teams to playoff appearances in 13 of those seasons. Hammon left her mark as one of the game’s greatest playmakers, currently ranked sixth in all-time assists with 1,708. The San Antonio Stars retired her No. 25 jersey in 2016. Now an assistant coach in the NBA, Hammon was recognized on the WNBA’s Top 15 and [email protected] teams.
Penicheiro, considered one of the best point guards in the WNBA, dazzled fans with her no-look, behind-the-back passes for 15 seasons. She led the Sacramento Monarchs to a WNBA championship in 2005, which makes me wonder how she didn’t end up higher on this list. A four-time All-Star, Penicheiro was named to the WNBA First Team twice in her career and is currently second on the all-time assists list. She led the league in assists for seven seasons during her career.
The lone difference in our Top 25 versus the WNBA’s, Nolan was a driving force behind the success of the Detroit Shock in the early 2000s. The guard led the franchise to three WNBA championships in 2003, 2006 and 2008 and was named Finals MVP in 2006. A five-time All-Star, Nolan was listed among the Top 20 Players of All-Time in 2016 despite playing in the league for just nine seasons.
Selected first overall in 2012, the Los Angeles Sparks forward went on to win Rookie of the Year. Ogwumike has since become a leader and spokesperson for the WNBA on and off the court as the president of the WNBA Players Association. In 2016, she was named MVP after leading the Sparks to their third championship in franchise history. The six-time All-Star has also earned four All-Defensive First Team selections in her ten seasons.
A’ja Wilson — 13/30 (43%)
Dawn Staley — 13/30 (43%)
Teresa Weatherspoon — 11/30 (37%)
Swin Cash — 10/30 (33%)
Rebekkah Brunson — 9/30 (30%)
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