The 2017 WNBA season is only weeks away as the league will tip off its third decade of hoops on Saturday, May 13. After 20 seasons, the WNBA record book is stacked with current and future Hall of Famers. But it’s about to get some younger company this season.
Let’s dive into the all-time leaders in WNBA history and see where some of today’s stars stand as they get set to suit up for another season, with more opportunities to climb the ranks and set themselves among – and sometimes above – such great company.
Diana Taurasi trails Tina Thompson by just 177 points as the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader. If the Phoenix guard replicates her 17.8 points per game average from a year ago, she would need exactly 10 games to surpass Thompson as the WNBA new scoring standard-bearer. Taurasi enters the season ranked third behind Thompson and Tamika Catchings, but should bypass them both in far fewer games. Thompson (496) and Catchings (457) rank second and sixth, respectively, in games played in WNBA history. Taurasi is on track to score more points than both in just 377 games.
Taurasi’s former teammate and current Chicago Sky guard Cappie Pondexter enters the season ranked fifth all-time in scoring, but is nearly 1,000 points (999 to be exact) behind Diana. While Cappie won’t be able to crack the top three this season, passing Katie Smith for fourth place is in reach as Smith leads by just 140 points. Pondexter’s scoring has dropped off in recent seasons – her 12.9 ppg in 2016 was a career-low – but with the departure of Elena Delle Donne, she may assume a larger scoring role this season for Chicago.
Not only is Taurasi on pace to become the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader this year, she’s also a virtual lock to pass Smith for the all-time lead in 3-pointers made. Taurasi trails Smith by just six treys entering the 2017 season. Taurasi has averaged 2.45 3-pointers per game in her career, but has made at least six in a single game 13 times, including two last season. There’s no doubt this record will fall, the only question is how many games will it take for Diana to do it. She’s made seven 3s in a game five times and has a career-best of eight 3s in a game, which she has done twice (May 25, 2010 and Aug. 10, 2006).
Sue Bird, who currently ranks fifth all-time in 3-pointers made with 736, knocked down a career-best 72 treys last season. While that would easily be enough to pass Thompson (748) for fourth all-time, it would fall short of Becky Hammon (829) for third place.
Rebekkah Brunson enters the season just 15 rebounds shy of being the fifth player in WNBA history to accumulate 3,000 career boards. She needs just 86 boards to climb past Taj McWilliams-Franklin (3,013) and Thompson (3,070) for third on the all-time list. Considering she corralled 240 boards last season and has 200 or more rebounds in six of her last seven seasons (the only exception was 2014 when she was limited to 11 games due to injury), that is a pretty safe bet. She would need 323 boards to pass Lisa Leslie for second place and 332 to pass Catchings. With a career-best of 310 boards in a season (in 2010 with the Lynx), it’s unlikely Brunson will climb past third this season.
Two players that will crack the top 10 in rebounds this year are Tina Charles (12th at 2,335) and Sylvia Fowles (14th at 2,272). Charles is the WNBA’s all-time leader in rebounds per game at 10.2 over the first seven seasons of her career, with Fowles not far behind at fourth with an average of 9.5 boards over nine seasons. If Charles can repeat what she did a year ago (317 rebounds), she would reach sixth all-time in just eight seasons. Compare that to the top five – Catchings (15 seasons), Leslie (11), Thompson (16), McWilliams-Franklin (13) and Brunson (entering 14th season) – and Charles could end up shattering the record if she has the same type of longevity.
There are currently four active players ranked among the top eight all-time in career assists, led by last season’s assist leader Bird, who enters the 2017 season second all-time behind Ticha Penicheiro. Bird has a realistic shot of passing Penicheiro for the all-time lead this season; she trails by 188 assists and had 196 last season. However, that was Bird’s highest total since her second season in the WNBA back in 2003; she has only surpassed 188 assists in a season four times in her 14-year career. Of course, Bird’s pursuit is contingent on her returning to the lineup healthy to start the season. It was announced that Bird underwent knee surgery and will miss training camp and the preseason.
Lindsay Whalen is locked into the No. 3 slot: she enters the season 255 assists behind Bird and has never cracked 200 assists in a season in her career. Taurasi may catch Hammon for fourth place, as she trails by 132 assists and had 128 last season. If Pondexter can replicate her 90 assists from 2016, she would climb from eighth to sixth place as she passes Shannon Johnson and Catchings.
Jia Perkins (598), Alana Beard (582) and Bird (581) rank sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively, on the all-time steals list entering the 2017 season. Beard, who collected 59 steals last season on her way to being named to the All-Defensive First Team, is well within striking distance of passing both DeLisha Milton-Jones (619) and Katie Douglas (623) this season, which would put her on the precipice of the top three of Catchings, Penicheiro and Sheryl Swoopes. Bird and Perkins had 34 and 31 steals, respectively, last season. Perkins would also pass Milton-Jones and Douglas if she can repeat her effort in 2017, which would land her in the top five all-time.
Sylvia Fowles (463), Brittney Griner (422) and Candace Parker (413) enter the 2017 season ranked seventh, ninth and 10th in career blocks, with Griner cracking the top 10 in just four WNBA seasons. Fowles, who had 61 blocks last season, needs 42 to pass Ruth Riley for sixth, but likely won’t climb higher than that this season. Griner should easily pass McWilliams-Franklin and Riley this season and could pass Fowles as well. Griner, who has led the WNBA in blocks in each of her first four seasons, had 107 blocks a year ago. She is already more than halfway to Margo Dydek’s all-time record of 877.
Bird can climb as high as No. 4 if she plays at least 33 games; again keep in mind that she just had knee surgery. If Bird plays all 34 – as she did last season – she would be one behind Smith for No. 3. She opens the 2017 season just 52 games behind Milton-Jones for first all-time, easily reachable if she plays two more seasons.
Whalen can overtake Catchings for sixth if she plays at least 32 games, the exact number that she played last season. She has played at least 32 games in all but three seasons in her 13-year career.