Inside the Numbers: WNBA’s No. 1 Pick Has Made Instant Impact

Fresh off an unprecedented four straight NCAA titles, UConn’s Breanna Stewart entered the WNBA a year ago amid sky-high expectations. Somehow, she met — or even exceeded — them.

But Stewart stuffing the stat sheet with historic numbers and leading the Storm back to the playoffs was nothing new for the WNBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick. In fact, it was almost par for the course.

The league’s first 20 seasons have been defined in large part by college phenoms becoming franchise-altering pieces. Tina Thompson (No. 1 pick, 1997) won a championship four months and two days after being drafted by the Houston Comets in the inaugural WNBA Draft — and three more in the three years that followed. Lauren Jackson (No. 1 pick, 2001) and Sue Bird (No. 1 pick, 2002) followed suit three years into their dual tenure with the Storm.

Just this past October, Candace Parker (No. 1 pick, 2008) and Nneka Ogwumike (No. 1 pick, 2012) formed a championship-caliber duo of their own and lifted the Sparks back to the promised land. They overcame Maya Moore (No. 1 pick, 2011), Seimone Augustus (No. 1 pick, 2006) and the Lynx to do it.

Now another record-setting college phenom is set to join the ranks. Kelsey Plum brings an illustrious resume to the WNBA, but with that resume will come lofty standards if she hears her name called first as anticipated.

In the league’s 20 seasons…

  • 11 of 20 No. 1 picks have won Rookie of the Year, including eight of the past nine.
  • No. 1 picks have captured nine of the 20 MVP Awards.
  • Nine of the 20 No. 1 picks went on to win a title with the team that drafted them.

To put that into context, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving became the third and fourth NBA players to win a title with the team that drafted them — a 13% rate since the advent of the NBA lottery (1985) compared to the WNBA’s 45%.

And over the past nine seasons, the team that selected No. 1 has improved its record by an average of 6.8 wins, reaching the playoffs in six of those years.

Team Win Totals Before & After No. 1 Pick
Year Team No. 1 Pick Previous Year’s Record Next Year’s Record Change in Win Total Postseason
2008 Los Angeles Sparks Candace Parker 10-24 20-14 +10 Conference Finals
2009 Atlanta Dream Angel McCoughtry 4-30 18-16 +14 Conference Semiinals
2010 Connecticut Sun Tina Charles 16-18 17-17 +1 Did not qualify
2011 Minnesota Lynx Maya Moore 13-21 27-7 +8 Won Finals
2012 Los Angeles Sparks Nneka Ogwumike 15-19 24-10 +9 Conference Finals
2013 Phoenix Mercury Brittney Griner 7-27 19-15 +12 Conference Finals
2014 Connecticut Sun Chiney Ogwumike 10-24 13-21 +3 Did not qualify
2015 Seattle Storm Jewell Loyd 12-22 10-24 -2 Did not qualify
2016 Seattle Storm Breanna Stewart 10-24 16-18 +6 First Round