2015: Jewell Loyd
There are columns to be written on how the 2015 WNBA Draft’s early entrants shook up the entire field, and — at the risk of sounding dramatic — the course of the league. Jewell Loyd was the surprising early entry out of Notre Dame, taken No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm, who had fully entered rebuilding mode. A slew of future Sixth Woman and Most Improve candidates followed, with Kiah Stokes selected 11th by the New York Liberty.
This is one of the most interesting Rookie of the Year races for three reasons: (1) the two leading vote-getters could not be more different, (2) their two teams were on opposite ends of the standings, and (3) neither got off to a great start.
Both were starters early on but found their stride while coming off the bench that year. Loyd caught fire late in June, scoring 21 points over Tulsa, and consistency came late in the season, when she finished the season with 10 of her final 14 games in double figures. She finished averaging 10.7 points per game on 41.1% from the field.
Stokes, on the other hand, found her groove producing off the bench. Never a prolific scorer, she averaged 5.8 points per game, but her true impact was on the defensive end. She averaged 6.4 rebounds, second on the team only to Tina Charles’ 8.5, and she led the team with 2.0 blocks per game, good for third overall in the league and earning her an All-Defensive Team nod.
Ultimately, the Liberty finished atop the league at 23-11 in the regular season, while the Storm hovered near the bottom at 10-24, ahead of only the San Antonio Stars. Voting results were very close, with Loyd getting 21 votes and Stokes getting 16. The Indiana Fever’s Natalie Achonwa rounded out the group with two votes, garnering respect for her productive season back to basketball after injury kept her out in 2014.
After their rookie season…
Loyd went on to an All-WNBA Second Team selection in 2016, followed by All Star nods in 2018 and 2019. She was a key part of the Storm’s 2018 championship starting lineup, putting up 15.5 points per game with a career-high 3.7 assists.
Stokes and Achonwa continue to be consistent contributors for Liberty and Fever squads who are working to rebuild their rosters to get back to the WNBA Playoffs.