Moving Up the Leaderboard

Moving Up the Leaderboard

The WNBA season tips off in a little over a week, and one thing to keep an eye on this abbreviated regular season is movement up the WNBA leaderboards. To continue my feature on WNBA players, I’ll focus first on players’ career milestones. Over the next week I’ll also take a look at franchise and coach milestones before the season officially starts.

Of course, there are a number of statistics to potentially dig in to, but I’m going to focus today on the big 5: points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals. Additionally, I’ll hone in on regular season statistics, so preseason and playoff numbers do not factor in. This will not cover every active player’s career stats but will instead focus on players who are at the top of the respective leaderboards and/or are reaching major milestones.

Points

The current all-time leader in the WNBA in career points scored in the regular season is Diana Taurasi, who has scored all of her 7,867 points with the Phoenix Mercury since being drafted first in 2004. In her 13th season — Taurasi sat out the 2015 season to rest — she passed Tina Thompson‘s 7,488 points (17 seasons) to lead the pack. Thompson is followed by Tamika Catchings, who scored 7,380 points in her 15 seasons with the Indiana Fever.

Taurasi will continue to put space between her and second place this season, and she will very likely pass Katie Smith‘s all-time professional scoring total of 7,885 points early in the 2018 season.

There are a handful of other active players who are likely to hit new scoring milestones, and in some cases move up the leaderboard:

  • Cappie Pondexter currently sits at fourth all-time with 6,591 points. It would take a monster season to move in to third, but a full season averaging just under 13 points a game could get her to the 7,000-point mark. She enters her 13th season with her fourth team, the Los Angeles Sparks. On her career she has averaged 17.1 points-per-game, and last season she averaged 9.6 points in 29 games played.
  • Sue Bird, with 5,840 points, currently sits in ninth place overall. With her first score she could tie or pass Becky Hammon, who is currently in eighth place with her 5,841 points. Bird will likely also eclipse the 6,000-point threshold and pass longtime Seattle Storm teammate Lauren Jackson, who sits at seventh with 6,007 points. If she averages over 12.4 points-per-game in a 34-game season, she could also reach Lisa Leslie‘s mark of 6,263 points and take over sixth place. On her career she has averaged 12.2 points in her 15 years. Last season, she averaged 10.6 points in 30 games played.
  • Candice Dupree enters her second season with the Indiana Fever and 13th overall with 5,602 points, sitting just behind Bird in 10th place. She will likely also pass Hammon and could pass the 6,000-point threshold and even pass Jackson. To get to 6,000 points, she would need to average just over 11.7 points in 34 games. For her career, Dupree has averaged 14.7 points-per-game, and she did slightly better than that last season at 15 points-per-game in 33 games.
  • Angel McCoughtry returns to the WNBA after a season off to rest. After eight seasons, she has reached 18th place with 4,990 points. Her career average is 19.5 points-per-game, meaning she will likely hit the 5,000-point mark in her first regular season game. She will likely pass Taj McWilliams Franklin (5,013), Tangela Smith (5,048), and Swin Cash (5,119) while battling for positioning with still-active veterans Lindsay Whalen (5,341) and Seimone Augustus (5,479).
  • Currently in 20th place all-time, Tina Charles will likely also hit the 5,000-point mark, as she enters her ninth regular season with 4,772 points. She will likely pass Sheryl Swoopes (4,875) early in the season. Charles has averaged 18.1 points-per-game through her career and had 19.7 points-per-game last season in her fourth season with the New York Liberty.

Assists

Bird became the all-time leader in assists last season, when she passed Ticha Penicheiro’s mark of 2,599 career assists. Sue finished out the season with a career mark of 2,610 assists in her 15 seasons. Like Taurasi in the Points category, Bird will continue to build the new mark to hit this season. Whalen is the next closest active player in third place with 2,249 assists. Because assist totals don’t build like points, there aren’t as many major milestones to hit, but there are a number of players likely to move up the leaderboard this season:

  • Taurasi (1,659) will likely pass Hammon (1,708), taking over fourth place. Last season, Diana averaged 2.7 assists in 31 regular season games, which is down from her 4.2 assist-per-game career mark.
  • Tanisha Wright returns after a season of rest to join the Minnesota Lynx. In 16 seasons, Wright has 1,231 assists, good for 18th place. In front of her is Katie Douglas, who had 1,258 assists on her career. Harder to reach this season are Dawn Staley (1,337) and Teresa Weatherspoon (1,338). In her last season in the league (2016), Wright averaged 3.6 assists-per-game in 29 games played.
  • Courtney Vandersloot set the WNBA record for assists-per-game in a season with 8.1 per-game in 2017 and totaling 218 assists in 27 games. She sits at 16th overall with 1,127 assists, but with a similar season she could go over 1,300 assists and potentially pass Staley and Weatherspoon.
  • Alana Beard will likely go over 1,000 assists early in the season. She currently has 988, good for 23rd overall. She averaged 2.2 assists-per-game last season for the Sparks. Renee Montgomery (925) and Kristi Toliver (921) could also reach the 1,000-assist mark this season.

Rebounds

The remaining categories are still led by retired players. In fact, the top two in rebounds are Catchings (3,316) and Leslie (3,307). The current active leader is Rebekkah Brunson, who enters her 15th season overall and ninth with the Lynx. She is poised to become the all-time leader in rebounds, currently in third place with 3,187. She has averaged 7.4 rebounds-per-game in her career and had 6.7 per-game last year in 30 regular season games. She needs just over 3.8 per-game in a full season to take over the top spot. Several other players could make moves this season:

  • Charles is currently in sixth overall with 2,653 rebounds. With a big season, she could pass McWilliams-Franklin (3,013) and even Tina Thompson (3,070). She holds the record for rebounding average at an even 10.0 per-game for her career, and she averaged 9.4 per-game in 34 games last season.
  • Sylvia Fowles is next in line in seventh place with 2,626 rebounds entering her 11th season. She had 10.4 rebounds-per-game playing in all 34 games last season.
  • Dupree will likely move up to eighth overall in her first couple of regular season games, entering the season with 2,569 rebounds, just behind DeLisha Milton-Jones (2,574). Dupree averaged 5.8 rebounds-per-game last season and has 6.8 per-game over her career.
  • Sancho Lyttle enters her 14th season with 2,447 rebounds, good for 12th place overall. Her first board of the season will break her current tie with Lauren Jackson, and she has a good opportunity to at least pass Michelle Snow (2,482) and Cash (2,521). She could move up even further if she matches her season average of 7.1 rebounds-per-game from the 2017 season.
  • Candace Parker comes in to 2018 at 16th with 2,295 rebounds, likely to pass up Tangela Smith (2,295) and Yolanda Griffith (2,444), and she has a good opportunity to move even further up the board. Last season with the Sparks she averaged 8.4 rebounds-per-game in 33 games played.
  • Crystal Langhorne enters her 11th season with 2,243 rebounds, just behind Parker. Averaging 6.1 rebounds-per-game last season with the Storm, Langhorne will likely also make at least a couple moves up the board.

Blocks

The top-five all-time leaders in blocks in the WNBA are no longer active in the league:

  1. Margo Dydek (877)
  2. Lisa Leslie (822)
  3. Lauren Jackson (586)
  4. Tangela Smith (557)
  5. Tammy Sutton-Brown (555)

Dydek and Leslie will almost certainly maintain their spots this season, but Jackson, Smith, and Sutton-Brown are all likely to be overtaken by two of the most prolific post defenders in the WNBA:

  • Sylvia Fowles enters the season sixth in blocks with 532. She averaged 1.9 blocks-per-game in 34 games played last season with the Lynx. If she matches that mark, she would move up to third overall.
  • Brittney Griner set the single-season mark with 4.0 blocks-per-game in 2015 in 26 games played and enters this season in eighth with 487 blocks. She averaged 2.5 blocks-per-game in 26 games played last season and 3.1 blocks-per-game in 2016. It is likely she will move up to at least fourth place and battle for positioning with Fowles by the end of the season, assuming both players are able to play a full season.
  • Candace Parker is just behind Griner with 468 blocks. She has a good opportunity to move past at least Ruth Riley (505). Parker averaged 1.7 blocks-per-game last season with the Sparks.
  • Nearing the 300 block mark are Tina Charles (294), Taurasi (285), Dupree (274), and Brunson (271), though only Charles is likely to hit that mark, as the others average under 0.5 blocks-per-game.

Steals

Catchings also leads the career board for steals with 1,074. She put a huge gap between her and Penicheiro (764) and Swoopes (657) before retiring at the end of the 2016 season. The current active leader is Beard, who enters the season in fourth with 654. Averaging 2.0 steals-per-game last year, Beard will likely pass Swoopes in the first few games of the season. Other players with opportunities to move up the board are:

  • Bird, currently in eighth place with 617 steals, is just two behind Milton-Jones (619) and six behind Douglas (623). She averaged 1.2 steals-per-game last season, and a similar mark could also move her past Jia Perkins (634) and possibly Swoopes.
  • Sancho Lyttle is just behind Bird at 603 steals. If she matches her 2017 average of 1.6 steals-per-game, she could move up the board alongside Sue throughout the season.
  • Her former Atlanta Dream teammate McCoughtry is in twelfth place with 559 steals. averaged 1.5 steals-per-game in 2016. With a similar mark this year, she could move past Tully Bevilaqua (573) and McWilliams-Franklin (580) while continuing up as far as ninth place.
  • The next active player on the board is Whalen, sitting at 479 for her career. Last year she had 0.5 steals-per-game in 22 games-played, so she’s unlikely to hit 500 steals, but in the first several games she’s likely to pass Penny Taylor (480) and has a chance to compete with the marks of Hammon (488), Nykesha Sales (490), Leslie (492), and Shannon Johnson (494).
  • Brunson currently sits at 439 steals. She averaged 1.1 steals-per-game last year, so she has a good chance of passing Tina Thompson (453), Tangela Smith (456), and Weatherspoon (465).
  • Camille Little enters the season tied with Katie Smith with 408 steals. She averaged under a steal per-game last year, so after passing Smith her only other potential target is Sheri Sam (438).
  • Lastly, Pondexter currently sits at 30th with 394 steals. Over her career she averages a steal each game and had 0.6 per-game last season. She will likely eclipse the 400-steal mark while moving up the board.

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