The 2018 WNBA rookie class, thus far, is proving to be better than advertised. Azura Stevens is no exception.
In 21 games with the Dallas Wings, the No. 6 overall pick is averaging 8.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Understanding that her rookie campaign is a learning curve, Stevens is becoming more and more comfortable as time goes by.
“It is an adjustment coming into a league with the best players in the world,” the UConn product said. “Adjusting to the physicality and speed, and overall adjusting to being a professional athlete on and off the court. It has been fun.”
At 6-foot-6, Stevens is already a tough matchup in the paint for opposing post players, and this season she has been paired with one of the league’s most dominating post presences in 6-foot-8 center Liz Cambage. Though Cambage is playing in her first WNBA season since 2013, Stevens has been studying the way the big Aussie goes about her business like a vet.
“She (Cambage) is an amazing player, so she has helped me a lot with my mindset,” said Stevens. “But off the court she has helped me adjust and has been sharing experiences from her rookie season, and I have been able to draw from that and it has helped me so far in my rookie season. I have learned so much from her on and off the court, and that is one of the best things you can say about someone.”
“I think from my experience at college, I have experienced both starting games and coming off the bench. I have had experience at playing in both roles then, and I am seeing the same now with Dallas,” Stevens said.
Typically for a player of Stevens’ size, the comfortable spot on the floor is the paint.
Stevens, however, breaks the mold.
With a shooting touch from behind the arc (31.1% from 3-point range) consistent enough to keep defenders on their toes wherever she gets the ball, her combo of body type and skill set could develop into a nightmare for defenders for years to come.
All-Star point guard and teammate of Stevens, Skylar Diggins-Smith, acknowledges the uniqueness to the Wings rookie and is excited for what’s to come.
“She is a hard matchup on the defensive end since she is so versatile,” said Diggins-Smith. “Her offensive capabilities as she continues on and gets a few years under her belt remind me of a Breanna Stewart or Elena Delle Donne, players like that that make it hard to matchup on offense.”
Stevens appreciates the compliments, but grew up idolizing another versatile forward in the league.
“I think for me it would be Candace (Parker),” Stevens said. “I grew up watching her when I was in middle school and my friends and I would always dream about her. It is crazy that now we are going against each other. I think her versatility was always something that I looked up to. She is a player that you can’t really stop.”
So far for the Wings, it’s not just her size and versatility that is getting praise, but also her high basketball IQ.
“She has been taught how to play the game and is very smart. You can tell she is smart,” Diggins-Smith pointed out. “Somebody with her size at 6-foot-6, with the ability to play inside and outside, and guard all 5 positions and her athleticism combined with that high basketball IQ, makes it easy to plug and chug her into our system.”
Stevens is soft-spoken off the court, but as each Wings game goes by, a hungry attitude is emerging in the Dallas rookie.
“I think something that I am continuously working on is having an attacking mindset each game. Coming out and not letting up the pressure. Physicality is something that I have learned to embrace more, especially on this level,” Stevens said. “So I have worked at continuing to embrace the physicality so that I can use it to my advantage more and more.”
In a wide-open title race, Dallas is in a position to make some noise in the Playoffs. Stevens, who has made an immediate impact alongside the franchise staples of Diggins-Smith and Cambage, will be one of the players to watch as the season marches on.