With the 2018 WNBA season tipping off Friday, one storyline to surely keep an eye on is how the rookie class will fare in their first few games with the WNBA jersey on, and the race toward the coveted Rookie of the Year award.
The 2018 rookie class is highlighted by former South Carolina great, A’ja Wilson, who was selected first overall by the Las Vegas Aces (formerly San Antonio Stars). Kelsey Mitchell, the NCAA’s second all-time leading scorer, went second overall to the Indiana Fever. There was also a trio of UConn products that went in the first round – Gabby Williams (Chicago Sky), Azurá Stevens (Dallas Wings), and Kia Nurse (New York Liberty).
The draft class also featured some well-known names from their college playing days selected in the later rounds as Stephanie Mavunga from Ohio State (Indiana Fever) and Monique Billings from UCLA (Atlanta Dream) both enjoyed great college careers and went in the second round.
As we look ahead to the tip-off of the 2018 WNBA season, here are five rookies to watch early and often in the regular season.
A’ja Wilson: Las Vegas Aces
The No. 1 overall pick in the draft came out looking sharp in the first preseason games for newly-relocated franchise. Wilson brings a versatile skill set to the team, and with the seemingly deep backcourt already established with Kayla McBride, Moriah Jefferson and last year’s No. 1 pick Kelsey Plum, she can balance out the starting five on the floor nicely.
Preseason Stats: 14.5 PPG, 2.0 APG, 9.5 RPG, 25.5 MPG – 2 games played
Jordin Canada: Seattle Storm
Canada was drafted fifth overall by Seattle, keeping her on the West Coast as she hails from UCLA during her playing days in college. The heir apparent to the legend Sue Bird, who is entering her 16th season, Canada brings a scrappy, defensive mindset to the Seattle backcourt, and will benefit greatly playing behind and learning from Bird this season.
Preseason Stats: 16.0 PPG, 3 APG, 3 SPG, 24.0 MPG – 2 games played
Kelsey Mitchell: Indiana Fever
Mitchell, the NCAA’s second all-time leading scorer from her time at Ohio State, joins an Indiana Fever team that is in desperate need of scoring help from the perimeter as they ranked 11th in the league in 3PT FG (30.9%) last year. She was one of two first round picks the Fever selected in the draft, as Victoria Vivians from Mississippi State was selected eighth overall. Mitchell struggled shooting the ball during preseason action, but with her talent offensively, she will undoubtedly find her rhythm early into the regular season.
Preseason Stats: 8.5 PPG (18.8% FG), 3 RPG, 23.5 MPG – 2 games played
Azurá Stevens: Dallas Wings
Stevens was the second of three UConn products drafted in the first round, going sixth to Dallas. The Wings are one of the teams with the most buzz surrounding them coming into the year with the return of international star Liz Cambage to the WNBA after leaving to play professionally in Australia in 2013. Cambage and Stevens join an impressive backcourt duo of Skylar Diggins-Smith and reigning Rookie of the Year, Allisha Gray. Stevens’ versatile game as a lengthy forward will compliment Cambage in the frontcourt, and should blend well with Diggins-Smith and Gray on the wing when needed.
Preseason Stats: 10.3 PPG (44% 3FG), 5.7 RPG, 26.3 MPG – 3 games played
Kia Nurse: New York Liberty
The third UConn product to be drafted in the first round, Nurse joins the New York Liberty where she will bring instant scoring to the squad led by All-Star forward Tina Charles. After going 22-12 last season, third in the Eastern Conference, the Liberty are poised to take the next step towards competing for a Championship. Nurse’s offensive skill set should help, by providing consistency from the guard position.
Preseason Stats: 14.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 17.0 MPG – 2 games played