August 19, 2010 -- If past postseasons are any indication, fans will no doubt be treated to some surprises when the 2010 WNBA Playoffs tip off in less than a week.
Enjoy that because here at the WNBA.com Rookie Rankings we come with no shockers. This week's installment also represents the final one of the season in which we name our pick for the 2010 WNBA
Rookie of the Year Award, and in the most anti-climatic announcement of the year it's Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles.
Of course, this is by no means official. It's just WNBA.com's endorsement. It does not guarantee Charles the award.
The No. 1 overall pick in April's draft grabbed the top spot in the initial 2010 Rookie Rankings with nary a challenge and that never changed with each ensuing week. As the centerpiece of the new-look Sun, Charles recorded double-doubles in her first two WNBA games and three of her first four while every other rookie struggled to find their footing early on. Now with only two games remaining in her rookie season, Charles has raised that double-double total to a WNBA single-season record of 21, surpassing a mark that held firm for 10 years after Natalie Williams collected 19 in 2000.
No other rookie had even one double-double this entire season.
Charles also is a virtual lock to lead the entire league in rebounding during her first year after already having reached another WNBA milestone -- most rebounds in a season, passing Cheryl Ford's previous standard of 363 with Detroit in 2006. Charles stands at 11.8 per game (378 total) with the regular season set to conclude Sunday. Her closest competitor is Minnesota's Rebekkah Brunson, who owns a 10.6 rpg average.
Of course, the elephant in the room that we must address is that Charles' team, the Sun, failed to make the playoffs. While that reality hampered her chances of duplicating Candace Parker's 2008 feat of winning both the ROY and MVP awards in her initial campaign, it does not take away from her amazing accomplishments. And again, it's not like it's Charles' fault anyway, or that the pressure of the playoff chase got to her. During the last month of the season, Charles has averaged 16.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 blocks in 33.1 minutes while shooting .511 from the field.
Having played her college ball at storied UConn, which she led to back-to-back national titles in her junior and senior seasons, Charles is not used to missing out on the postseason party. But the silver lining is this: after putting together one of the best rookie seasons in WNBA history, she has been left with motivation to make herself and her talented but young team better. A scary thought for the rest of the league.
Skinny: Let's play the "What if?" game for a moment. What if the Minnesota Lynx had held on to the No. 1 pick and not traded it to Connecticut? Well, it's safe to say they would have selected Charles and she would have had a more productive season at the center position than Nicky Anosike has had (9.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, .372 FG%). And even though the Lynx would not have acquired veteran point guard Lindsay Whalen, Renee Montgomery would still be in the fold and as far as numbers go, she has virtually been just as effective as Whalen this season. Monica Wright and Kelsey Griffin would have probably switched locations as well with the teams swapping the No. 2 and 3 picks, but with Charles in the mix Wright's scoring prowess wouldn't be as valued. Add to it that the Western Conference has gone through a down year with only one team currently above .500, and it's looking like Minnesota might have been a serious contender, although still probably a tier below Seattle. Previous ranking: 1
Skinny: It was not easy deciding between Prince and Wright for runner-up honors. You can make a very strong argument that Wright should get it because her team still has a chance to make the postseason, while Prince's Sky have already been eliminated. However, Minnesota is not necessarily playing amazing ball and is benefiting from the aforementioned sub-par year by Western Conference teams outside of Seattle. The East, on the other hand, is loaded. The fact is that Prince has been more consistent over the course of the year than Wright and also more efficient, so those attributes give her the edge. And Prince has done it all without starting a game all year. Previous ranking: 3
Skinny: Wright's biggest asset in this race besides being the only rookie with the chance of playing a big role in the postseason is that she has grown the most as a player over the course of the season. Wright didn't start hitting her stride until late July when she finally started hitting shots at a decent rate. With the Lynx fighting for one of the remaining two playoffs spots out West, Wright has stepped up and been a key contributor. During the month of August she's averaging 13.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals while shooting .441 from the field, including .400 from downtown. Wright might be behind Prince in these rankings, but she's showing more potential for 2011. Previous ranking: 2
Skinny: The 2010 season is ending on a whimper for Griffin after such a promising start. Back in May, Griffin averaged 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in 23.8 minutes over her first five WNBA games while shooting .467 from the floor. This month? She's averaging just 3.3 points, 4.3 rebounds in 21.1 minutes over eight games while shooting only .370 from the field. On top of that the Sun have officially been eliminated from postseason contention. So there are some questions circling around Griffin as the Sun transition from 2010 to 2011. Does she fit in with a team that already has a slew of top-notch post players -- Charles, Sandrine Gruda and Asjha Jones? Or would the team be better off dealing her for a wing player, who can hit the three and play defense on the perimeter? Previous ranking: 4
Skinny: The final spot of the Rookie Rankings goes to Greene even though, like Griffin, she has been trending downward. The bad sign for Greene is that her slip has coincided with the Liberty's red-hot play, which means head coach Anne Donovan likely won't be needing Greene to play a bigger role anytime soon. With Cappie Pondexter logging heavy minutes and Leilani Mitchell, Nicole Powell and Essence Carson also taking up time, it's been hard for Greene to receive the same run she got back in June. But Greene has shown flashes over the course of her rookie season and the potential to be a presence in the backcourt. After all, she is a big, athletic guard, capable of checking some of the game's best on defense and scoring when the team needs it. Previous ranking: NR
Jayne Appel, San Antonio Silver Stars (3.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, .543 FG%)
Jana Vesela, Seatle Storm (2.9 PPG, .509 FG%, 10.7 MPG)
Last week, Lauren Hill of Mount St. Joseph University courageously took the floor for her first college game, refusing to let an inoperable brain tumor keep her from achieving her dream – and WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings were on hand to lend their support.