Select Team

WNBA Decade In Review: 2018

League Champion: Seattle Storm (Third title in franchise history)

Top Draft Pick: A’ja Wilson (LVA, University of South Carolina)

 

Awards

 

Top Players

  • All-WNBA First Team: Liz Cambage (DAL), Elena Delle Donne (WAS), Tiffany Hayes (ATL), Breanna Stewart (SEA), Diana Taurasi (PHX)
  • All-WNBA Second Team: Skylar Diggins-Smith (DAL), Brittney Griner (PHX), Maya Moore (MIN), Candace Parker (LAS), Courtney Vandersloot (CHI)
  • All-Rookie Team: Ariel Atkins (WAS), Diamond DeShields (CHI), Kelsey Mitchell (IND), Azurá Stevens (DAL), A’ja Wilson (LVA)
  • All-Defense First Team: Alana Beard (LAS), Jessica Breland (ATL), Brittney Griner (PHX), Natasha Howard (SEA), Jasmine Thomas (CON)
  • All-Defense Second Team: Ariel Atkins (WAS), Rebekkah Brunson (MIN), Sylvia Fowles (MIN), Tiffany Hayes (ATL), Nneka Ogwumike (LAS)

 

Stats Leaders

  • Points Per Game: Liz Cambage (DAL): 23.0
  • Rebounds Per Game: Sylvia Fowles (MIN): 11.9
  • Assists Per Game: Courtney Vandersloot (CHI): 8.6
  • Steals Per Game: Maya Moore (MIN): 1.7
  • Blocks Per Game: Brittney Griner (PHX): 2.6

 

Regular Season

The 2018 season saw a breakthrough year for a young superstar, the return of a star center after a four-year absence, a historic rookie season from the top pick in the draft and more milestones reached and records broken along the way.

On April 12, a new crop of talent was added to the league at the 2018 WNBA Draft. For the second straight year the Las Vegas Aces franchise held the No. 1 overall pick and selected the consensus NCAA Player of the Year A’ja Wilson from South Carolina. Following Wilson, Kelsey Mitchell went to Indiana at No. 2, and Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams were selected by Chicago at No. 3 and 4, respectively.

Wilson was the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year after putting together one of the greatest debut seasons in the history of the WNBA. Wilson finished with averages of 20.7 points (tied for 3rd in WNBA), 8.0 rebounds (sixth) and 1.7 blocks (sixth) as she led the Aces to a six-game improvement as they nearly snuck into the playoffs. Wilson finished seventh in MVP voting and was the only rookie selected to the 2018 All-Star Game. Historically, she had the second-highest scoring average by a rookie (Seimone Augustus, 21.9 PPG in 2006) and the fourth-highest PER by a rookie (behind the trio of Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker and Elena Delle Donne).

After a four-year absence from the WNBA, Liz Cambage returned to the league and showed exactly why she was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 Draft. The 6-foot-8 center from Australia won her first WNBA scoring title as she averaged 23.0 points to go with 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game for the Dallas Wings. Cambage finished as the runner-up in Most Valuable Player voting as she reintroduced herself as one of the most dominant women’s basketball players in the world.

She showed off her full arsenal of talents in a July 17 win over New York as she set a new WNBA record for points in a single game with a 53-point performance. Cambage was simply on fire as she shot 17-of-22 (77.3%) from the field, 4-of-5 (80%) from 3-point range, and missed just one free throw in 16 attempts (93.8%). She summed up her performance best in her postgame interview: “I’ve had big numbers in China. I’ve had big numbers in Australia. I’ve heard a lot of people say I could never have big numbers here in the WNBA. So I guess this game was for y’all.”

As great as Wilson and Cambage were, the 2018 season belonged to Breanna Stewart and the Seattle Storm. The 2016 Rookie of the Year took her game to another level in her third WNBA season. Stewart finished second in scoring (21.8 PPG), third in rebounding (8.4 RPG), seventh in blocks (1.4 BPG) and tied for fifth in steals (1.4 SPG) as she led the Storm to a league-best 26-8 record that was the second-best in franchise history and the first winning season for Seattle since 2011.

Before the season began, Stewart discussed her disdain for losing – she went 31-39 in her first two WNBA season, more losing than she had experienced in her life – and how she was ready to get back to her winning ways.

“It’s time to start winning,” she said. “I don’t want to come off as crass or cocky or anything like that, but losing sucks. It does. That’s just how I feel about it. And, no, I won’t ever get used to it. I can’t. That’s not how I’m wired.”

Winning Most Valuable Player trophies is something that Stewart is definitely used to – she won four straight Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards at UConn – and she took home her first WNBA MVP award at the end of the regular season.

In the East, the Atlanta Dream had a remarkable turnaround in their first season under head coach Nicki Collen. The Dream went from 12-22 in 2017 to 23-11 and the top record in the Eastern Conference (second overall) in 2018. The 11-game improvement was rewarded with Coach of the Year honors for Collen, Executive of the Year honors for Chris Sienko and an All-WNBA First Team honor for Tiffany Hayes.

In Chicago, it was another record-breaking year for point guard Courtney Vandersloot. After narrowly breaking Ticha Penicheiro’s single season assist average mark in 2017 (8.1), Vandersloot topped her own mark in 2018 with a league-leading 8.6 assists per game.

After finishing with the top two records in the league for the first two years of the new playoff format (2016 and 2017), the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks both fell down the standings a bit. Both still qualified for the playoffs, but would meet in a first round single elimination game rather than the five-game championship round.

A bunch of milestones were reached in 2018 by some of the league’s all-time greatest players. Sue Bird became the all-time leader in games played – passing DeLisha Milton-Jones – as she eclipsed the 500 games mark on July 21.

Already the league’s all-time leader in career points and 3-pointers made, Diana Taurasi became the first player to ever reach 8,000 career points and 1,000 career 3-pointers made.

On July 5, Rebekkah Brunson – the only player in WNBA history with five championships – became the league’s all-time leading rebounder. She began the game against Los Angeles in third place but passed both Lisa Leslie (3,307) and Tamika Catchings (3,316) to reach the top of the leaderboard.

Mike Thibault became the first coach in league history to reach 300 wins. And his star player Elena Delle Donne became the fastest player in league history to reach 3,000 career points as she reached the benchmark in just 148 games.

Two WNBA legends got their call to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018, as Tina Thompson and Katie Smith became the sixth and seventh WNBA players inducted into the Hall. Thompson and Smith combined for six WNBA titles, five Olympic gold medals and 16 WNBA All-Star selections. At the end of the decade, the two remain ranked in the top five in both games played (Thompson 3rd, Smith 4th), career points (Thompson 2nd, Smith 5th) and career 3-pointers made (Smith 2nd, Thompson 5th).

 

All-Star

Minnesota hosted its first-ever WNBA All-Star Game and saw the introduction of a new format that removed the East vs. West matchup and had team captains from each conference select their own teams from the complete pool of All-Stars.

Maya Moore was the leading vote-getter but declined the option to serve as a captain, so the teams were led by Washington’s Elena Delle Donne and Los Angeles’ Candace Parker.

Moore may not have been a captain, but she was the best player on the court for the third straight All-Star Game. She finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists as she led Team Parker to a 119-112 win over Team Delle Donne and won her third straight All-Star MVP. She joined Lisa Leslie as the only three-time All-Star MVP and became the all-time scoring leader in All-Star history, passing Tamika Catchings’ mark of 108 total points.

In a nod to the record books, the second quarter began with the WNBA’s all-time leaders in points (Taurasi), assists (Bird) and rebounds (Brunson) all on the court together. Kristi Toliver of Team Delle Donne did her best to make it close at the end as she led all players with 23 points and shot 7-of-11 from 3-point range.

But the best 3-point shooting display came during halftime as Chicago’s Allie Quigley and Las Vegas’ Kayla McBride had an incredible shootout during the Three-Point Contest. Quigley earned the victory in a tie-breaker round with an All-Star record 29 points. It is the highest score ever posted in a three-point contest in either the WNBA or NBA.

 

Playoffs

 

  • First Round: Los Angeles Sparks def. Minnesota Lynx, 75-68
  • First Round: Phoenix Mercury def. Dallas Wings, 101-83
  • Second Round: Phoenix Mercury def. Connecticut Sun, 96-86
  • Second Round: Washington Mystics def. Los Angeles Sparks, 96-64
  • Semifinals: Seattle Storm def. Phoenix Mercury, 3-2
  • Semifinals: Washington Mystics def. Atlanta Dream, 3-2
  • Finals: Seattle Storm def. Washington Mystics, 3-0

 

The first round began with a rematch of the previous two WNBA Finals as the Los Angeles Sparks eliminated the Minnesota Lynx 75-68 to advance. However, the Sparks were knocked out by the Connecticut Sun, who advanced to the semifinals for the first time under the new format.

The Phoenix Mercury continued their remarkable run of winning elimination games. Since the new playoff format debuted in 2016, the Mercury went 6-0 in the first two rounds of single-elimination games. They advanced to the semifinals to take on Seattle in what turned out to be the best series of the 2018 postseason.

The best-of-five series between Seattle and Phoenix began with a 91-87 Storm home win behind a game-high 28 points from Breanna Stewart and served as an appetizer of the drama that was to come.

Game 2 was an absolute classic as the Mercury overcame a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. The Phoenix run including a jaw-dropping barrage of 3-pointers from Diana Taurasi, including one to tie the game with 3.6 seconds left to force overtime. In the extra session, the Storm were able to regain the lead and held on for a 91-87 win.

Facing elimination at home, the Mercury left little doubt that this series was not going to end in a sweep as they blitzed the Storm and won by 20. Game 4 once again saw the Storm build a 17-point lead like they did in Game 2 and once again saw the Mercury come charging back. Phoenix got a playoff career-high 29 points from Brittney Griner to force a winner-take-all Game 5 back in Seattle. In addition to losing the game, Seattle’s Sue Bird suffered a broken nose in the second quarter and was unable to return to the game.

Bird was back for the decisive Game 5, donning a protective mask over her broken nose – an injury she had suffered four previous times in her career. While it was Phoenix that played from behind for most of the series, this time it was the Storm that had to mount a comeback. And in the fourth quarter the Masked Bird caught fire. Bird scored 14 of her 22 points in the final six minutes of the game, making five of her six shots as the Storm overcame an 11-point first half deficit to earn a 94-84 win and their third trip to the WNBA Finals. In the process, the Storm ended one of the most remarkable streaks in league history as Diana Taurasi had been 13-0 in winner-take-all game before this Game 5 loss.

The other semifinal series also went five games and had its own drama surrounding the health of Mystics superstar Elena Delle Donne, who suffered a left knee bone bruise late in the fourth quarter of Washington’s Game 2 loss.

Delle Donne would miss Game 3 and the Mystics would fall to Atlanta to go down 2-1 in the series. With their season on the line in Game 4, Delle Donne returned to the lineup to give the Mystics everything she had while clearly being limited by the injury. Delle Donne posted a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) as all five Washington starters scored in double figures to defeat the Dream 97-76 and set up a winner-moves-on Game 5 in Atlanta.

With Delle Donne limited, the Mystics got big performances from rookie Ariel Atkins (20 points) and veterans Kristi Toliver (19 points) and Tianna Hawkins (17 points off the bench) to lead the Mystics to an 86-81 win. Delle Donne posted another double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) and her free throws in the final 12 seconds seal the down-to-the-wire win.

While the semifinals were packed with drama, the Finals were much more one-sided as the Storm swept the Mystics in three games to claim their third WNBA title in franchise history. The Storm were dominant in Game 1 as they led by as many as 27 points and got a combined 45 points from Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart.

The Mystics put up a much tougher fight in Game 2, as Game 2 was a back-and-forth affair with seven ties and six lead changes. The Mystics led by four at the half and by three at the beginning of the fourth quarter. But Stewart came up clutch for the Storm with her offense (game-high 25 points) and defense (a pair of key fourth quarter steals) to carry Seattle to a 75-73 win.

The series shifted to the DMV as the Mystics hosted their first Finals game in franchise history. Unfortunately for Washington, it was also their final game of the season as the Storm prevailed as they took the lead midway through the first quarter and never looked back. Natasha Howard (29 points, 14 rebounds) had the best game of her career and Finals MVP Stewart had a game-high 30 points in the Storm’s 98-82 championship-clinching win.