Dishin & Swishin 08/06/15 Podcast: WNBA newcomers include surprising Rookie of the Year frontrunners

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WNBA fans are spoiled when it comes to rookie. Check out this list of number one overall picks since 2008: Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Nneka Ogwumike, Brittney Griner, and Chiney Ogwumike. Quite a collection of All-Stars and fans are used to the top draft choice coming into the league and making a huge impact.

Fast forward to 2015, where the results are not the same.  Only two of the first round picks have gotten the majority of their playing time as starters, plus one that did not get to play last year due to injury. Some of rookies that are making an impact were not top picks.

Seattle had two of the top three choices in the draft. Jewell Loyd, who left after her junior year to become the number one pick, has been a success. With a half season to go, she is among the the frontrunners for Rookie of the Year honors. She started slowly, getting used to things, but is now in the starting lineup. Loyd is the leading scorer among rookies, and playing alongside Sue Bird in the Storm backcourt, is improving as the season progresses.

In San Antonio, Dearica Hamby surprisingly slid to the Stars at number six in the draft, when many expected her to go as high as number three. Until suffering an ankle injury right before the All-Star break, Hamby was the most consistent rookie. She started all except one game, is fourth in scoring and second in rebounding. The ankle injury has slowed her of late, but you have to figure Dan Hughes will get her right back into the starting lineup when she gets healthy.

Two teams had the foresight last season to draft injured players, and they are having strong rookie campaigns this year. In Connecticut, Chelsea Gray is a strong backup point guard, a counter to starter Jasmine Thomas.

Indiana selected the player that, if not for missed games due to international play, might be the favorite at this point to be rookie of the year, Natalie Achonwa. She is right behind Loyd in rookie scoring, and is at the top in rebounding as well. Like her days at Notre Dame, however, Achonwa’s intangibles make her special; she screens, blocks out, defends, and, she has to lead the league in most flagrant fouls committed against a player (Stefanie Dolson, Charles, and Kelsey Bone all committed flagrant fouls on Achonwa). Unfortunately, between the Pan Am Games and FIBA Americas tournaments Achonwa will be missing for a half-dozen games this year. Will the voters overlook that?

Perhaps the most surprising candidate for rookie of the year is the New York Liberty’s Kiah Stokes. What she brings to the Liberty should be no surprise. Coach Bill Laimbeer suggests Stokes should be considered for defensive player of the year, as her shot blocking ability has been amazing. Stokes’ ability to play inside allows Charles to play forward, and return to MVP format on the offensive end. Stokes is still not a legitimate offensive threat, but she shows signs of being able to score when needed. The sky is the limit for Stokes, if she continues to work as hard as she has thus far.

It is a pleasure to welcome Jewell Loyd, Natalie Achonwa, Dearica Hamby and Kiah Stokes to this week’s Dishin & Swishin podcast. Each has their own take on their rookie year and their own story, and it is great to hear it direct from the players themselves, and also what they think of their “competition.”

Then, who else to put a wrap on this topic than the entertaining and charismatic winner of last year’s rookie of the year prize, Connecticut Sun injured forward Chiney Ogwumike. She talks about what her first pro year was like, her current year on the sidelines, and her thoughts on the rookie of the year candidates.

Enjoy the podcast!

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