With less than three weeks remaining in the 2019 WNBA regular season, conventional wisdom suggests the Rookie of the Year race has essentially come down to two players – Dallas guard Arike Ogunbowale and Minnesota forward Napheesa Collier.
After going back-to-back in last April’s draft – Ogunbowale at No. 5 and Collier at No. 6 – the rookies have made significant, although different, impacts for their teams.
Collier came out of the gates hot, dropping 27 points in her WNBA debut that still remains her career-high 27 games later. She also added six rebounds, three blocks, three 3-pointers and two steals as she showcased her versatility from day one.
On the other hand, Ogunbowale started a bit slower and has grown as the season has unfolded. She just dropped a career-best 35 points – tied for the fifth-highest scoring game by a rookie in league history – last Wednesday in Dallas’ upset win over Los Angeles.
Most Points In A Game By A Rookie, WNBA History
|Candace Parker||LAS vs. HOU||7/9/08||40|
|Odyssey Sims||TUL at SAS||7/22/14||39|
|Breanna Stewart||SEA vs. ATL||6/28/16||38|
|Danielle Robinson||SAS at TUL||9/11/11||36|
|Cappie Pondexter||PHO at DET||7/6/06||35|
|A’ja Wilson||LVA at IND||6/12/18||35|
|Arike Ogunbowale||DAL vs. LAS||8/14/19||35|
The Wings needed all 35 of those points from Ogunbowale to pick up that win over the Sparks as the rookie has been the team’s primary scoring option all season long. While Dallas added Ogunbowale, the hero of the 2018 Final Four in the draft, it also lost their two top scorers from last season with Liz Cambage requesting a trade and Skylar Diggins-Smith out after giving birth to a child. Those two combined for 40.9 points per game last season – making them the second-highest scoring duo in the league, accounting for 47.2 percent of Dallas’ points.
With all of that scoring gone, the Wings had to lean on Ogunbowale to generate offense on a nightly basis and had to deal with the consequences that come with a rookie learning a new league with a new coach and new teammates and playing a new position as point guard.
The result was a bit of a roller-coaster ride that saw great highs like the 35-point game against L.A. and some lows, like her 2-for-23 shooting performance against New York in late June. That game did nothing to help her shooting percentages, which sit at 37.0 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range entering Thursday’s game. Those numbers are not where Ogunbowale wants them to be, but they are on an upward trajectory.
When we look at her season in 10-game increments, we can see the progression she’s made as a player, particularly as a scorer who has become more and more efficient as she’s gained more experience.
Ogunbowale was named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday in what may be the first of many to come. Not only does she lead all rookies in scoring at 16.4 points per game, but her average also ranks seventh in the entire league. She has posted 11 20-point performances in her first 26 games in the WNBA, including six in her last seven games.
While Ogunbowale has caught fire in the second half of the season and has a highlight reel full of electrifying moments, Collier has been the more steady, consistent and efficient rookie of this year’s class.
The versatile forward out of Connecticut has done a little bit of everything for the Lynx this season – she can play both forward positions, score inside and out, rebound in traffic, and has quickly built a reputation as a strong defender than can guard multiple positions. She leads all rookies and ranks fifth in the WNBA in steals (1.9 per game) and also blocks 0.8 shots per game, while playing alongside Sylvia Fowles, who ranks ninth in the category (1.3 per game).
There’s a reason Collier was in Las Vegas for All-Star last month as the injury replacement to Aces forward and reigning Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson. Collier’s ability to contribute across the board sets her apart from the rest of the 2019 rookies and puts her in some great company league-wide.
She is one of just six players to average at least 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal and half a block per game this season. The others: DeWanna Bonner, Natasha Howard, Nneka Ogwumike, Alyssa Thomas and Candace Parker have a combined 17 All-Star selections and plenty of end of season hardware.
Collier had a clear advantage over Ogunbowale in terms of the team she walked into to begin her professional career. While Ogunbowale was asked to carry the lion’s share of Dallas’ offensive load – as evidenced by her 27.3 percent usage rate, which ranks fourth in the entire league, compared to Collier’s 17.3 percent that ranks sixth among rookies – Collier had veterans like Fowles, Odyssey Sims and eventually Seimone Augustus to help share the load for the Lynx.
But when we look at Minnesota’s on/off court summary, it is Collier that stands out the most. The Lynx are 16.9 points per 100 possessions better when Collier is on the court (4.6 net rating in 914 minutes) compared to when she’s off the court (minus-12.3 net rating in 206 minutes). Minnesota’s offensive rating drop by nearly 11 points with Collier on the bench and their defensive rating climbs six points when she’s not in the game.
And similar to Ogunbowale, Collier has not hit a rookie wall, but rather seen her scoring and efficiency at their best over the past month.
Both players have a great case to make for the award, but only one can take home the honor. So who will it be? The scoring machine that is a threat to drop 25 or more every time she steps on the court or the versatile and efficient player that may not be as flashy but impacts the game on both sides of the court every night?
Thursday night gives us one last chance to see them share the court as rookies and an opportunity to showcase their talents for the award voters. Regardless of who ends up taking home the trophy, the past few months have proved that we’ll be seeing both Ogunbowale and Collier are set to be stars in this league for a long time.