Rookie Rankings: August 20, 2009

August 20, 2009 -- One of the more prominent storylines to come out of the 2009 WNBA Draft back in April was Maryland teammates Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver going back-to-back near the top of the draft. Coming out of college, Coleman and Toliver were both thought of as players that could pay immediate dividends for teams, as both had games said to be mature enough to make a smooth transition to the pro level. Coleman, a combo guard with a WNBA-ready body, went to the Washington Mystics at No. 2, while Toliver, an electric scorer from the point guard position, was selected by the Chicago Sky at No. 3.

But four months later, things haven't exactly worked out as well as all parties had hoped. Playing for Eastern Conference teams in the thick of the playoff race, both Coleman and Toliver have struggled to produce enough to garner significant roles in their teams' rotations. Toliver is averaging 6.9 points, 1.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 22 games while Coleman has posted numbers of just 5.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 19 games and shot only 30 percent from the field.

Of course, Coleman's rookie season comes with an asterisk. She actually got off to fantastic start before incurring a setback. Her WNBA debut against Connecticut saw her post 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-4 from three, while also grabbing five rebounds. She followed that up with nine points against Atlanta and 13 points and four rebounds versus Detroit. Through three games, Coleman was averaging 12.7 points on 54 percent shooting from the field and the Mystics were 3-0.

Then Coleman suffered an ankle injury during a team scrimmage that forced her to miss Washington's next six games. She returned to action on July 7, but quite frankly, she hasn't been the same player. After scoring in double figures twice in three games prior to the injury, Coleman has failed to do so in the subsequent 16 games.

Meanwhile, Toliver has shown flashes, but has yet to convince Chicago coach Steven Key that she can be a dependable asset in the backcourt night in and night out. The 5-7 rookie has scored 22 points in a game on two separate occasions this season, most recently on Tuesday in a loss to Phoenix, but has also racked up a couple of the dreaded DNP-CD's.

But all hope is not lost for Coleman and Toliver. There's precedent for players that had forgettable or so-so rookie years only to go on to become stars in the WNBA. The list includes Becky Hammon, Deanna Nolan, Katie Douglas, Jia Perkins, Nicole Powell, Janel McCarville, Shameka Christon, Asjha Jones, Sancho Lyttle, and Erika de Souza.

There's one more name we should mention, a player that Coleman and Toliver are very familiar with. Crystal Langhorne, who is currently a teammate of Coleman's and played alongside both Coleman and Toliver at Maryland, was selected by the Mystics with the sixth overall selection in the 2008 WNBA Draft. Like Coleman and Toliver, Langhorne underwhelmed during her rookie season, averaging 4.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 15.6 minutes in 34 games. But this season, Langhorne has been a force for the Mystics and made herself a top candidate for the league's Most Improved Player award. Langhorne, who started the year coming off the bench before earning a starting role, has averaged 11.4 points in 25 games this season and is third in the entire league in rebounding (7.6 rpg) and second in field-goal percentage (.585).

So the breakthrough for Toliver and Coleman could just be a season away.

No. 1: DeWanna Bonner, Phoenix Mercury (5th pick)
GP
MPG
PPG
FG%
3PM-A
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
26 21.6 11.3 .459 1-10 6.1 0.4 0.6 0.8
Skinny: Bonner maintains the top spot in our rankings, but it may have been a different story is she hadn't come through with a stellar performance in her last outing. After a couple of decent but not spectacular games to start the week, Bonner posted her fifth double-double of the season Tuesday with 14 points and 10 rebounds in Phoenix's win over Chicago. She shot a torrid 7-of-8 from the field and also collected three blocks. The Mercury guard/forward no longer leads rookies in scoring, however. That honor is now owned by...
Previous ranking: 1

No. 2: Shavonte Zellous, Detroit Shock (11th pick)
GP
MPG
PPG
FG%
3PM-A
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
23 22.1 11.6 .403 7-25 3.0 1.2 0.9 0.4
Skinny: Zellous reclaims the No. 2 spot in the rankings after an extended stay at No. 3 thanks to a superb week offensively. Zellous averaged 13.7 points in Detroit's three games, while shooting an uncharacteristic 61 percent from the floor. She also reached the free throw line 13 times, sinking all but one of the attempts. At 11.6 points per game for the entire season, Zellous now leads all rookies in that category, holding a slight edge over Bonner (11.3). Unfortunately for Zellous, her increase in productivity has coincided with a Shock slide, as the team lost all three of its games this past week.
Previous ranking: 3

No. 3: Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream (1st pick)
GP
MPG
PPG
FG%
3PM-A
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
24 17.6 10.4 .460 8-30 2.3 1.6 1.9 0.2
Skinny: Tough to bump down McCoughtry this week, but since she and Zellous are so close and the Detroit guard had the better week, the nod has to go to Zellous. That's not to say McCoughtry had a bad week. In fact, she turned in one of those games that shows us just how special a player she's capable of being. In the Dream's most recent contest -- a win over Seattle -- McCoughtry filled up the stat sheet in 25 minutes off the bench, collecting 16 points, five assists, three rebounds and four steals. And McCoughtry's team is going in a different direction than Zellous', having won two straight and six of seven.
Previous ranking: 2


No. 4: Renee Montgomery, Minnesota Lynx (4th pick)
GP
MPG
PPG
FG%
3PM-A
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
25 21.2 8.9 .426 25-77 1.6 2.0 0.8 0.1
Skinny: Montgomery's improving play in the latter half of the season has to be bittersweet since it has paralleled her team's drop in the standings. The Lynx have now lost four straight to fall to fifth in the West, one-half game out of a playoff spot. While she's been inconsistent, it's hard to blame Montgomery for the team's struggles. In the Lynx's recent setback to L.A., Montgomery was one of only two Minnesota players to score in double figures, leading the team with 16 off the bench on 4-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. She also collected four assists and three boards in the defeat.
Previous ranking: 4

No. 5: Briann January, Indiana Fever (6th pick)
GP
MPG
PPG
FG%
3PM-A
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
23 18.8 6.1 .336 14-53 1.7 2.2 1.2 0.1
Skinny: January snags the No. 5 spot this week for two reasons: 1.) Even though she's a backup January still plays a significant role on a team that owns the best record in the entire league and 2.) she just came through with her best game of the season. On Saturday, January put up a season-high 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field, including 2-of-4 from three, and 7-of-8 shooting from the charity stripe. She also totalled three assists, three steals and two rebounds in the Fever's 82-59 victory over Detroit. Sure, the numbers came in a blowout win, but there's no such thing as garbage time in league as chock full of talent as the WNBA.
Previous ranking: NR


Honorable Mention:
  • Megan Frazee, San Antonio Silver Stars (5.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 11.7 MPG)
  • Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, Connecticut Sun (7.4 PPG, 2.3 APG, 21.8 MPG)
  • Courtney Paris, Sacramento Monarchs (5.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 13.1 MPG)
  • Kristi Toliver, Chicago Sky (6.9 PPG, 2.1 APG, 14.3 MPG)
  • Shalee Lehning, Atlanta Dream (2.6 PPG, 3.1 APG, 18.9 MPG)
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