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A’ja Wilson’s Rookie Year Rates Among Greatest In WNBA History

The final individual regular season award to be announced had the least drama surrounding the selection of the honoree. We’ve known A’ja Wilson was going to win Rookie of the Year for months at this point. And on Sunday, it became official as she was announced as the unanimous choice for the prestigious award.

The lack of debate surrounding the award is not a slight to the rest of the 2018 rookies class, but more a testament to Wilson’s greatness. She not only had the best season by a rookie in 2018, but she is in the discussion of having one of the best rookie seasons in league history.

Just take a look at these numbers:

20.7 points per game: tied for third in the WNBA and led all rookies by over six points per game (Diamond DeShields finished second at 14.4 points per game)

8.0 rebounds per game: sixth in the WNBA and led all rookies by over three rebounds per game (again DeShields finished second at 4.9 rebounds per game).

1.67 blocks per game: sixth in the WNBA and more than a half block more per game than any other rookie (Azura Stevens finished second at 1.15 blocks per game)

Only two players in the WNBA averaged at least 20 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game this season: Wilson and MVP runner-up Liz Cambage. Wilson finished with 11 points in the MVP voting, which tied her for seventh place with last year’s MVP Sylvia Fowles.

That’s why Wilson winning Rookie of the Year was a foregone conclusion. She was in competition for the best player in the league, not just the best first-year player in the league. She swept the three Rookie of the Month awards and was the only first-year player to be named as an All-Star this season.

To truly measure Wilson’s season against fellow rookies, we have to look back at the past winners of this award and see where Wilson’s season stacks up with the best rookie campaigns of all-time.

Highest Scoring Average, Rookie Season

Rank Player Team PPG Year
1 Seimone Augustus MIN 21.9 2006
2 A’ja Wilson LVA 20.7 2018
3 Cappie Pondexter PHX 19.5 2006
4 Tamika Catchings IND 18.6 2002
5 Candace Parker LAS 18.5 2008

 

Wilson just posted the second-highest scoring season by a rookie in WNBA history and the highest mark in a dozen years, trailing only Seimone Augustus, who entered the league as a scoring machine back in 2006 as she finished as the runner-up to Diana Taurasi for the scoring title.

Highest Player Efficiency Ranking, Rookie Season

Rank Player Team PER Year
1 Tamika Catchings IND 30.9 2002
2 Candace Parker LAS 27.4 2008
3 Elena Delle Donne CHI 25.2 2013
4 A’ja Wilson LVA 24.6 2018
5 Nneka Ogwumike LAS 23.8 2012

 

If we look beyond scoring and measure a player’s overall contributions while on the court, Wilson ranks fourth in Player Efficiency Rating at 24.6 trailing only Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker and Elena Delle Donne – three players that all have won league MVP honors during their career. Parker has two MVP awards, including being the only player in WNBA history to win MVP as a rookie back in 2008.

Here is a snapshot of where Wilson ranks among the 22 winners of the Rookie of the Year Award in league history.

Category ROY All-Time Rank Statistic
Points 2nd 20.7
Rebounds 7th 8.0
Assists 11th 2.2
Steals 16th 0.8
Blocks 4th 1.6
Turnovers 3rd 1.3
Minutes 12th 30.6
FG% 8th 46.2%
FT% 11th 77.4%
PER 4th 24.6
Win Shares 10th 4.4

 

While much of this comparison has been based on statistics, we must also look at the impact Wilson had on her team. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, becoming the Aces and drafting Wilson with the No. 1 overall pick, this franchise finished at the bottom of the standings for three straight seasons, accumulating just 23 wins in that time.

After winning just eight games in 2017 in their final season in San Antonio, the team won 14 games in their debut season in Las Vegas in 2018. With Wilson leading the way, the Aces were in playoff contention until the season’s final week. While they fell short of the playoffs, the Aces came up lucky again by winning the Draft Lottery to give them the No. 1 overall pick for the third consecutive season and the chance to add another impact player as a rookie.

Whoever that pick ends up being, they will face a tall task if they hope to match the rookie season that A’ja Wilson just put together. Not only was it the best in 2018, but it was one of the best of all-time.