There are three correct answers for this year’s WNBA rookie

Sitting on the bench on the Barclays Middle in Brooklyn in late June, Atlanta Dream coach Tanesha Wright did not suppose a lot of my query once I requested her in regards to the 2022 WNBA award winner.

“I imply, I do not suppose it is a query,” Wright mentioned, frankly as she has been in all of our interactions through the years. “Are you?”

For Wright, the reply was apparent: the beginning guard, Ryan Howard, and Greatest general choice From draft April and The scoring chief among the many juniors To this point this season. Wright’s certainty prolonged far past even her different notable starters, Kristi Wallace and Naser Helmon, whereas additionally trying past two of the highest three picks within the 2022 WNBA Draft, Nalissa Smith of the Indiana Pfeiffer and Shakira Austin of the Washington Mystics.

However throughout the league, an rising variety of individuals are taking a look at this as a three-person race between Howard, Smith and Austin. The three current considerably totally different profiles in each the type of their productions and the reveal of their seasons.

Howard has began notably sturdy this 12 months, A mean of 20.5 factors per sport Throughout her first six WNBA competitions, she shot 43.7 p.c, together with 46.5 p.c of three. Whereas her abusive productions have declined considerably since then – they’re Averaged solely 13.1 factors per sport and 35.4 p.c of pictures from the sphere in her final 16 video games – Howard stays an actual two-way menace to Atlanta, if the season ends in the present day, He might be joined within the play-off.

The primary cause for that is the Atlanta protection – which is ranked third place within the WNBA Howard’s potential to disrupt opponents is central to this work. she He leads all juniors in thefts with 32and amongst gamers with not less than 100 possessions, the factors allowed per possession on protection (0.708) is the fourth-lowest participant within the league, in response to Synergy Sports activities.

“When my mother coached me rising up, she emphasised protection too [as offense]Howard mentioned, sitting in her closet after beating Liberty final month. “So I’ve all that size, so I’d as properly use it,” she added with a smile.

But when the protection is to final, the case could possibly be even stronger for Austin, who has now He jumped in entrance of Howard In basketball reference earn inventory amongst juniors this 12 months. Based on Synergy’s defensive factors scale per possession, Austin is now the second finest participant amongst all WNBA gamers, at 0.635, trailing solely teammate Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.

Austin is an actual menace on the offensive aspect of the ball as properly. She repays 55.6 p.c of the sphere and has a Eclipse of double digits eight occasions Already this season.

“I feel Austin, he is getting higher in assault,” Liberty coach Sandy Brundello mentioned in June. “And that actually works for her and for Washington.”

Whereas Wright known as for her star participant to get the very best billing, Austin made her personal case for the award. “Clearly I am going to go along with myself [as Rookie of the Year]Austin mentioned earlier this month. “I feel I’ve the arrogance, I come right here and play for an important staff. We want to construct a championship now. So I’m simply attempting to have that impression and proceed to indicate what I’ve this 12 months.”

Then there’s the 6-foot-4-inch Nalissa Smith, who does not play for a contest like her award-winning rival however catches the attention together with her fashionable, outsized sport.

Smith leads the WNBA in Restoration amongst juniors with a rating of 163 – proper forward of her teammate, fellow rookie Queen Igbo, who has 152 – and she or he combines that with a variety of strikes within the put up that permit her Ends on the edge with a 61 p.c syllable. It additionally shoots triples, practically three of that are sport, and has a conversion price of 37.7 p.c.

“There’s one factor to admire about Lyss – all of our rookies however particularly Lyss and Queen – they’ve this actually huge chip on their shoulder, but it surely’s efficient,” guard Fever (and all star unjust) Kelsey Mitchell instructed me on Monday. “And I like him. Like, it is an inexplicable relationship I’ve about how they method the sport relating to being aggressive.”

Some Smith’s numbers have surpassed Howard’s in latest weeks – they’re As much as 13.7 factors per sport Over her final seven competitions, she’s made 41 p.c from the sphere and 44 p.c from three. (Howard With a mean of solely 12.6 factors and taking pictures 32 p.c from the bottom on the identical distance.) Nonetheless, it ought to be famous that Smith tracks each Howard and Austin by massive margins in additional superior stats resembling earn inventory And the Participant Effectivity Score.

All of for this reason so many consultants (together with Brondello) see a possibility for every of the three rookies to cross the sphere within the second half.

“It is enjoyable. It is nice for the league,” Brundello mentioned. “It’s extremely aggressive. I feel they’re all three totally different gamers. So I would not say which one is best than the opposite.”

Which brings me again to Wright, who stored difficult me. Did you get this 12 months’s Rookie Decide? It was an affordable line of questioning, contemplating that I had the proper to vote and subsequently an opinion on the matter.

Nicely, I mentioned, there are three newbies placing in huge numbers proper now. “I am going to put it this manner: I am keen to ask the query.”

Wright did not personal it.

“Yeah, I do not suppose it is a query,” Wright mentioned. “I feel Ryan Howard is – up to now – the Rookie of the 12 months.”

“To this point”—sure, even Wright, the franchise’s most vocal supporter, added that caveat. That is how aggressive the Rookie of the 12 months race is getting.

Take a look at the most recent WNBA Predictions.