After a one-year absence due to the Olympics, the WNBA All-Star Game will return this summer for a midseason clash of the world’s best players. The game will be played July 22 at KeyArena, home of the Seattle Storm.
Perennial All-Stars like Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles figure to be among the top candidates for selection. But which younger players in the league have the best chance to join them?
Here are some of most likely candidates to earn their first All-Star nods this year.
If Stewart can replicate her dominant rookie season from 2016, she will undoubtedly be representing Seattle in her home arena on July 22. And if history is any indication, she could be primed for a major leap with one year under her belt. Stewart set program records for single-season points (777) and free throws (147) as a sophomore at UConn after an up-and-down freshman year. She hardly struggled with adjusting to the pro level, but this season figures to be even better for the four-time NCAA champion.
Having always played second-fiddle to Angel McCoughtry in Atlanta, Hayes could be poised for a breakout year with McCoughtry sitting out for at least part of the season. At age 27, Hayes is in her prime and capable of building on her success from 2016, when she averaged a career-high 15 points per game. The lefty had multiple 30-point outings last season, and the Dream will need plenty of those from Hayes to keep pace in this year’s playoff push.
As a member of the Mystics, it could be difficult for Hill to earn enough recognition for an All-Star spot. Washington’s new-look roster features several players that were selected in the past, such as Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman and Kristi Toliver. However, while she may not have the ball in her hands as often as last year, perhaps the talent around her could help Hill improve her efficiency. The 26-year-old averaged 15.4 points a season ago despite shooting just 35 percent from the field.
Last season, Jefferson finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind former UConn teammate Breanna Stewart, who had maybe the greatest rookie season in league history. Jefferson ranked first among all rookies in assists (4.2 per game) and steals (1.6), and the speedy point guard also averaged about 14 points on 38 percent from downtown. With Jefferson and a pair of other dynamic guards – No. 1 pick Kelsey Plum and 2015 All-Star Kayla McBride – the Stars should be able to improve on their 7-27 record from last season.
After winning Rookie of the Year in 2015, Loyd took her game to a completely new level last season. The former No. 1 overall pick earned All-WNBA honors with averages of 16.5 points, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per contest. Loyd can create a shot for herself almost whenever she wants, and last year she displayed the ability to create points for her teammates, leading Seattle in assists on 10 occasions. With Sue Bird currently sidelined due to a knee scope, that aspect of Loyd’s game becomes crucial for the Storm.
Similar to Loyd, Rodgers received votes for the Most Improved Player award in 2016 and could have been an All-Star if a game was held. In her third season with the Liberty, Rodgers produced career highs of 14.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 41 percent from three-point range, which ranked among the league leaders. Rodgers was a key component of one of the league’s best teams, and that should remain the same this coming season.
Add Sims to the lengthy list of solid up-and-coming guards in the WNBA. She averaged 15.5 points and four assists in her three seasons with the Wings, and now the lefty will be tasked with running the point for the defending champion Sparks after Dallas traded her for the No. 4 pick in the draft. Sims is coming off a very productive campaign this offseason in Turkey, where she led the league with 20.9 points per game and averaged 5.6 assists.
Williams was the one that beat out Loyd, Rodgers and Hill, among others, for the Most Improved Player award in 2016. She ranked among the league leaders in rebounds (8.1 per game) and blocks (2.3) after struggling to crack the rotation as a rookie in Connecticut. Now that she has lived up to the hype as a No. 4 overall pick, can Williams take it even further and become the All-Star that Atlanta desperately needs with McCoughtry out of the picture?