Checking in on the WNBA Rookie of the Year race

Rhyne Howard (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Rhyne Howard (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Among the end of season recognitions for the 2022 WNBA season, Rookie of the Year seems to be one of the easiest decisions to make. It’s almost a certainty that Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard will take home the award.

She’s currently 12th on this year’s scoring leaderboard, averaging 15.6 PPG. Not only is she getting it done on the offensive side of the ball, but she’s having success defensively as well. Howard’s 1.5 steals per contest are good enough for ninth best in the league, tied with Dallas’s Arike Ogunbowale and Chicago’s Rebekah Gardner. She’s also pulling down 4.6 boards a game.

To put into perspective how good of a rookie season Howard is having in terms of getting buckets, it’s important to look at the previous award winner.

Last year, Michaela Onyenwere of the New York Liberty was named the Rookie of the Year. She dropped 8.6 PPG, the 48th highest average in the league. That’s seven points less than what Howard is averaging this season.

In elite company

A Rookie of the Year win for the former Kentucky guard would add her to a list of the league’s best from past and present. The other former first overall picks to win the award include A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi, and Candace Parker.

In fact, first overall picks have been Rookie of the Year exactly 50% of the time (12 out of 24 years).

On the off chance…

If for some unforeseen reason Howard isn’t the recipient of the award, the most likely candidates would be Indiana Fever forward and second overall pick NaLyssa Smith, and Washington Mystics forward and third overall pick Shakira Austin.

Smith is having success as part of the Fever, averaging 13.6 PPG and 8.3 RPG. With Kelsey Mitchell done for the year, expect Smith to continue to improve and give Indiana fans excitement for the coming years.

Surprisingly enough, only one other second overall pick has won the award. That would be Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne.

Speaking of forwards on the Mystics, Shakira Austin is just what Washington wanted her to be — a force down low. She’s averaging 8.0 PPG and 6.3 RPG in only 21 minutes, while serving as an important piece on a title contender.

What Austin has going for her that Howard and Smith don’t is team success. The Mystics are 19-12 and have already clinched a playoff berth. The Dream are fighting for more basketball, currently 12-18 and ninth in the W. The Fever are dead last in the league with a 5-27 record. If the race was closer, Washington’s success might give Austin the edge.

Although winning the award as the third overall pick is rare, it has happened before. Three times, to be exact. Those selected as the third pick that also have a Rookie of the Year award to their name are Tamika Catchings, Cheryl Ford, and Armintine Price.