May 20, 2010 -- The first edition of WNBA.com's 2010 Rookie Rankings comes with the news that the race is already over. The Rookie of the Year award goes to the Connecticut Sun's Tina Charles. This column will henceforth be titled "The Race for Second Place." The WNBA will change its slogan to "Expect Charles."
Seriously though, even before having one WNBA game under her belt, Charles, the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft, was already being labeled as a lock to win ROY honors this season. And, after just one game, you really can't blame people for thinking it. After an impressive showing in the preseason, the UConn grad put up a double-double in the Sun's 74-61 season-opening victory over Chicago on Saturday, collecting 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting and 10 rebounds. Not only are her numbers outstanding, but her play seems insanely polished for someone only 21 years of age, already possessing post moves that rival the game's elite bigs, if not top them. And Sun coach Mike Thibault, regarded as one of the brightest coaching minds in the WNBA, appears to be running his offense through her. Hmmm.
There is precedence for this. Rookies have cruised to the ROY title before. In fact, it happened only two seasons ago when Candace Parker not only captured that award, but the league's MVP as well.
But let's take a step back for a second. It's only one game. Charles played in front of the home fans against a new-look Sky team no one knows what to make of yet. And she's currently playing without Sandrine Gruda (overseas) and Asjha Jones (recovering from surgery) in the lineup. Those are two established post players who figure to get their share of offensive looks and do their part on the glass once back in the fold, and that will affect Charles' production.
There's also the pressure for Charles to not only get the Sun back to the postseason, but to live up to the preseason hype and have Connecticut contend for a title. This just a month or so after completing a 39-game college season.
And for two months last year Phoenix's DeWanna Bonner appeared to be a ROY shoo-in herself before Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry got more minutes, and thus more of an opportunity to shine, which she did to capture the award. Can a fellow first-year player like Monica Wright, Epiphanny Prince or someone else do the same and provide Charles with a little competition? Hopefully, because otherwise we could have the most anticlimatic chase for Rookie of the Year award ever.
Skinny: Need another reason to believe Charles is on her way to coasting to Rookie of the Year? Charles admitted it's one of her goals this season, and she seems to do quite well at accomplishing goals, as evidenced by the two national championships and Wooden Award she racked up in college. Still, the next couple games will act as a nice barometer for Charles, as she faces Atlanta (Erika de Souza, Sancho Lyttle) on Friday and Washington (Crystal Langhorne, Nakia Sanford) on Sunday. Previous ranking: NA
Skinny: With Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins both out, Wright has been getting plenty of playing time and shots and has the best sample to pull from yet after already playing three games. Through those three contests Wright has been the prolific scorer many expected her to be, averaging a strong 14.0 points. But she's shooting only 34 percent from the field while she gets accustomed to the pro game, although she did make half of her attempts (8-of-16) in Minnesota's most recent affair -- a loss in Seattle on Wednesday. Wright is contributing in other ways though -- as a rebounder, distributor and defender -- and the opportunities aren't going away any time soon. Previous ranking: NA
Skinny: When you watch Griffin play, her game doesn't really jump out at you. That's because she's busy doing the little things that help her team win: work the boards, come up with loose balls, finish down low, find the open teammate, etc. Such contributions are great for the Sun and Griffin's final stat line, but you have to wonder if her blue collar approach will impede her chances in something like a Rookie of the Year race. And, of course, also working against Griffin is that she's playing on the same team as Charles, who should garner the bulk of the attention all year. Previous ranking: NA
Skinny: Give it up for Natasha Lacy, the rookie who isn't really a rookie. Lacy was selected by the Detroit Shock in the 2008 WNBA Draft out of UTEP, but had spent the past two years playing ball overseas. After impressing in Shock camp, Lacy made the final roster then went out and put up a well-rounded effort in Tulsa's first WNBA game, with 12 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. So far, Lacy is the wild card in the Rookie Rankings, with no one really knowing what to expect of her initial WNBA campaign. Stay tuned. Previous ranking: NA
Skinny: It was a tale of two games for Riley during the opening weekend, but since she turned in such a stellar one against the defending champs in the opener, we'll give her the nod at No. 5 this week. The Oklahoma State product scored 16 points versus the Mercury (second only to Parker's 24 on L.A.) and also collected four assists and four steals. Yeah, she didn't shoot all that well from the field (4-of-14), or specifically from three (2-of-10), but she did manage to get to the free throw line seven times, hitting six. Previous ranking: NA