Diana Taurasi has held the WNBA All-Time Leading Scorer record for a week now, so let’s take a look at who may end up challenging her career scoring total – whatever that may end up being.
As we discussed when she passed Tina Thompson for the top spot at 7,494 points, Taurasi just signed a multi-year extension and has discussed playing in the 2020 Olympics. She doesn’t sound like she’s going to hang up her Nikes anytime soon.
The record will surely surpass 8,000 points, and it will likely break 9,000. There’s a chance Taurasi sets the bar in five-digit territory and makes future stars need more than 10,000 points to catch her.
Wherever the record ends up, it will be a daunting task to claim the title of best WNBA scorer ever. But here are a few candidates that just may have a shot of getting there.
All stats through games played on June 22, 2017.
Elena Delle Donne
Only two players in WNBA history have a higher scoring average than Taurasi’s 19.9 points per game. The first is Cynthia Cooper (21.0), the WNBA’s first superstar, who played just four full seasons in the league and won four titles in the process with the Houston Comets. Keep in mind that when the WNBA debuted in 1997, Cooper was already 34 years old and had been playing professionally in Europe for years. Meanwhile, Taurasi just turned 35 and is in her 13th WNBA season. What numbers could Coop have put up if she had been able to play in the WNBA for her entire career?
The only other player with a scoring average greater than Taurasi is Washington’s Elena Delle Donne (20.5). The 2015 MVP already has one scoring title under her belt (23.4 ppg in 2015) and has surpassed 2,300 points in just 115 career games. One advantage Delle Donne has over the rest of the field that we’ll discuss is that she is the best free throw shooter in WNBA history at 94.0 percent. Everyone that hopes to challenge Taurasi’s record will need all the easy points they can get, and no one cashes in at the charity stripe better than Delle Donne.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Delle Donne will be her health and longevity. In her first four seasons in the WNBA, she’s played 30, 16, 31 and 28 games. Compare that to Taurasi, who has played at least 31 games in all but one of her first 12 seasons in the WNBA (eight games in 2012 due to an injury). Just as every free throw, layup and 3-pointer are crucial, so are the number of games played. Delle Donne has a higher scoring average than Taurasi, but due to missed games, would not be on pace to catch her if they played the same number of seasons.
Another challenger with an MVP and a scoring title – both in 2014 – to her credit is Minnesota’s Maya Moore. She’s already matched Taurasi in WNBA titles (three apiece), while Diana has the edge at UConn (three to Maya’s two NCAA titles). Can Moore match Taurasi in scoring?
When it comes to ability to get buckets? Yes. When it comes to opportunities to get those buckets? Perhaps not. Like Taurasi, Moore was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft, which usually entails going to a struggling team and the opportunity to carry a franchise. That is not the story of Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx. After an injury-plagued 2010 season, the Lynx won the draft lottery and the right to take Moore while already having a team loaded with talent. Since the Lynx got healthy and added Moore, they have been the best team in the WNBA over the past six seasons, winning three titles and appearing in five WNBA Finals.
So while Moore holds a career average of 18.5 points per game – the sixth highest in WNBA history – she has the ability to score more. She just hasn’t had to since she shares the court with the likes of Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen – the 13th and 14th leading scorers in WNBA history.
Moore is closing in on 4,000 career points, which would put her on the precipice of entering the all-time top 30 in just her seventh WNBA season.
Another UConn legend, Rookie of the Year winner and force that WNBA teams will have to reckon with for years to come is Seattle’s Breanna Stewart. Considering she’s only scored 794 career points heading into Friday’s game against Taurasi and the Mercury, we’re looking pretty far ahead here.
However, through her first 44 WNBA games, Stewart has averaged 18.0 points per game, which places her seventh on the all-time list. Stewart finished sixth in the WNBA in scoring during her rookie season (18.3 ppg). That average is greater than the rookie seasons of Taurasi (17.0), Delle Donne (18.1), Moore (13.2), Angel McCoughtry (12.8), Tina Charles (15.5), Brittney Griner (12.6) and even Storm legend Lauren Jackson (15.2).
Stewart’s rookie scoring is comparable with Candace Parker (18.5) and Tamika Catchings (18.6), but not quite as prolific as Cappie Pondexter (19.6) or Augustus (21.9). Pondexter just passed Katie Smith for fourth on the all-time scoring list, but is still over 1,000 points behind Taurasi in a similar number of games played. As for Augustus, she stormed the league by averaging over 21 points in three of her first four seasons. But those big scoring numbers came on a losing team. Once the Lynx surrounded her with more talent – such as Moore, as discussed above – Augustus’ scoring went down but her winning went way up.
McCoughtry has played eight full WNBA seasons, and we’re unsure when her ninth will start. Similar to Taurasi in 2015 and Parker in 2016, McCoughtry announced prior to the season that she would take some time to rest and has not set a timetable for her return.
When she does return to the Atlanta Dream, she will resume what has been a stellar WNBA career featuring two scoring titles (2012, 2013) and the fourth-highest scoring average of all time (19.5), just 0.4 ppg behind Taurasi. McCoughtry is also just 10 points away from becoming the 18th player in WNBA history to score 5,000 career points.
One aspect of the all-time scoring title that hurts McCoughtry is that playoff scoring does not count – it is for regular-season scoring only. McCoughtry has the second-highest scoring average in WNBA playoff history (22.8), as she trails only Cooper (23.3). McCoughtry is already the eighth-leading scorer in playoff history (751 points) despite playing just 33 games. No other player in the top 10 has played fewer than 47 games. It helps that McCoughtry owns four of the top seven scoring games in playoff history.
The Liberty’s All-Star center averaged a career-best 21.5 points per game in 2016 to capture her first scoring title. She became just the third player to ever lead the WNBA in scoring and rebounding in the same season. Her defense of that scoring title is off to a good start, as Charles (20.5) is the league’s third-leading scorer through the first six weeks of the season.
While Charles owns the eighth-highest scoring average in WNBA history (18.0 ppg), this would be just her second season averaging at least 20 points. That is something Taurasi has done six times in her WNBA career. A younger player like Delle Donne has already done it twice, and she’s working on her third in just her fifth season.
It’s rare to see a player reach her peak scoring average seven years in, especially given that Charles has been a starter since she entered the WNBA in 2010 and captured Rookie of the Year honors (15.5 points, 11.7 rebounds). While catching Taurasi’s scoring record would be a stretch for Charles, passing Catchings for the all-time lead in rebounds (3,316) is well in play. Charles already ranks 12th all-time (2,434 entering Friday’s game with Connecticut) and holds the highest rebound average in WNBA history (10.1).
Similar to Charles, Griner was not a dominant scorer from the beginning of her WNBA career. After averaging between 12.6 and 15.6 points per game in her first four seasons, Griner has made a breakthrough this season. She currently leads the WNBA in scoring at 23.1 points per game, an 8.6-point leap from her 14.5 average last season.
Of course, we’re only 12 games in, so we need to see if Griner can keep up this scoring pace for an entire season. And if she has any hope of catching her Mercury teammate’s all-time record, Griner will need to maintain this level of offensive production for years.
But at just 26, Griner is entering the prime of her career. If she is able to add elite scoring to her already elite defense (three-time Defensive Player of the Year), she will be a nightmare for opposing teams for years to come.