We’re only halfway through the season and already two players are already miles ahead of where they were when the 2015 season ended.
One has nearly doubled her scoring average, while the other has improved her scoring production by a solid 5.5 PPG. One has increased her 3-point percentage by a whopping 11.5 percent, the other a slightly lower but equally impressive 9.9 percent.
Those players? Sugar Rodgers and Jewell Loyd — guards of the New York Liberty and the Seattle Storm, respectively — who faced of on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, with the Liberty emerging victorious, 78-74.
Both Rodgers and Loyd have become much greater offensive threats this season. Rodgers, who posed an average of 8.1 PPG last season, has emerged as a major scoring option for the Liberty and now boasts an average of 16.2 PPG—the 11th highest in the league as of July 6. Ranked slightly above Rodgers at 10th on the season leaders for points, Loyd is averaging 16.2 points a game — an improvement from the 10.7 average in 2015.
Their improvements don’t stop there. Rodgers and Loyd share another commonality in that their 3-point shooting has become significantly more accurate this season. In fact, when asked about an area of their game that they’re most proud of improving, both players spoke of shooting treys.
“Definitely my 3-point shot,” Loyd says, “I think it helps our team and spreads the floor that way, and it’s easier for me to drive if they (opposing teams) respect my 3-point shot.”
The Storm guard’s improved accuracy isn’t hard to see. Whereas Loyd shot 20.8% from the 3-point line last year, she’s been shooting a formidable 30.6% in 2016.
Rodgers responded in a similar way.
“Guess I’m proud of my 3-pointer, it goes in consistent,” Rodgers said.
Consistent it is. In the game against the Storm on July 6, Rodgers went 3-for-5 from behind the arc. On a larger scale, her 3-point shooting has improved to 43.5 percent –6th highest in the league as of July 6 — compared to the 32 percent from last year.
So how did Rodgers and Loyd improve their games so much, so fast?
For Rodgers, the Liberty guard shares that building her confidence has played a huge role. “Believing that I’m a good player in this league, well I’m a great player in this league,” she describes, has contributed to her growth as a rising star.
As for Loyd, she attributes her improvements to having a year of experience under her belt. It has helped her feel “really comfortable.” The Storm guard also talks about the importance of “getting [her] repetitions,” and expresses the desire to take what she learns at practice to help her team in any way she can.
When asked about specific people who have been instrumental in their improvement this season, both players share that they’ve been impacted by WNBA legends close to them. “Teresa Weatherspoon, Katie Smith,” Rodgers replies. She especially recognizes how her workouts with T-Spoon have molded her into the player that she is.
“I call [Weatherspoon] the Tasmanian devil,” Rodgers jokes, “When we get in [the gym], we working hard. We working game—like, no days off. She bet on me — if I miss a shot, well I’m going to make the next shot. And just believing and instilling that confidence in me.”
In Loyd’s case, the person who has significantly contributed to her growth as a player — besides the Storms’ “great vets” she speaks of –is Sue Bird. “She’s definitely my older sister,” Loyd says.
On the topic of Loyd’s improvement, Bird, the two-time WNBA champion and nine-time WNBA All-Star,
“The greatest thing about Jewell, she’s just constantly trying to get better,” Bird said. “From her rookie year to this year — it’s such a leap already — so I know the sky’s the limit for her.”
“Leap” is a fitting word to describe how far both Loyd and Rodgers have come this season, and it’s only been two months.
The next two months will reveal whether the Storm and Liberty guards stay as two of the top contenders for 2016’s Most Improved Player award.