By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
Who’s the top rookie in the WNBA this season?
For starters, consider Phoenix’s Brittney Griner, Tulsa’s Skylar Diggins and Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne. They were the top three picks in the league’s 2013 draft, and each has played well. Just ask the Seattle Storm, who has faced each at least once, and will get another taste of Diggins today when they face the Shock for a third time this season.
Still, it’s hard to tell which of the three, if any of them, have a leg up on the others.
“They all bring something different,” Storm forward Camille Little said. “So it’s hard to say who got the best pick. Each team needed something different. You can’t compare Skylar to Brittney. They aren’t even close to the same player. I think each team got what they needed and I’m sure they are going to use them to the best of their advantage.”
The Storm are looking for their first win against Diggins and the Shock tonight at KeyArena. Diggins, a point guard, has played well in both previous games, scoring 12 points and dishing three assists in the Shock’s 67-58 victory at KeyArena on June 7 and finishing with 11 points and six assists in a 92-70 victory in Tulsa on June 22.
The Storm’s Temeka Johnson started at point guard for the Shock last season before signing with Seattle as a free agent in the offseason. So far, she is impressed with her successor.
“It’s a growing process and a learning experience,” Johnson said. “I think she is stepping into it as best she can. As an athlete, you grow. You get better every year. You always find something within your own game that you want to get better and work on. As of right now, she needs to get this year underneath her belt and allow herself to build from there.”
Little said Diggins gives the Shock a different pace than they have had in the past.
“She is a good point guard for them,” Little said. “She runs their team well. She brings something different because they had a lot of small point guards that were quicker and really fast and it made their tempo really hectic. I think she calms them down and she runs their offense at a little bit of a slower pace. They have two speeds now. Their speed isn’t just one speed all the time. She is a good player.”
Of the WNBA’s top three draft picks, Diggins statistics are the most mediocre. She averages 8.6 points and 4.8 assists per game. But statistics don’t always tell the entire story.
“Skylar’s (impact) might be more from a leadership role,” Agler said. “You can’t measure it all by numbers. Time will tell on that one as well.”
Most recently, the Storm defeated the Sky 69-60 and held their fledgling star, Delle Donne, to a career-low 12 points and just 3-for-13 shooting from the field.
But overall for the season, Delle Donne has statistically been the most impressive of top three picks. She has started all 14 games she has played, averaging 19.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. She has scored 20 or more points in eight of her 14 games.
“Elena Delle Donne is definitely a very versatile 6-foot-5,” Johnson said. “She can put the ball on the floor. (She is) methodical. She is not going to do too much. She is going to take what you give her and she plays the game very well.”
Delle Donne had done well enough that Agler threw several double teams at her in order to slow down her offensive production in the earlier season meeting between the two teams.
“She impressed us enough to really tweak our defense,” Agler said. “She is obviously very skilled offensively. She is very versatile and she has great instincts for the game. I guess I was impressed, playing against her, of her awareness of the floor and what’s going on around her. She is more than just a scorer.”
The Storm first faced Griner, the No. 1 overall pick, while defeating Phoenix 75-72 in the home opener at KeyArena on June 2. Griner finished the game with 17 points and seven rebounds, but her shots faltered late in the second half.
The 6-foot-8 center who starred at Baylor for four seasons, gives other teams fits with her size and her surprising quickness.
“She is not the normal 6-foot-8 player,” Johnson said. “She runs the floor well. She can obviously dunk it and will definitely be a game-changer.”
Little, who is listed at 6-foot-2, said facing Griner’s height was nothing new for her.
“To me, she is just tall like everybody else because I’m a small post player,” she said. “Her length is not anything different because everyone is taller than me already.”
Griner’s height and ability to block shots is one of the reasons why there was never a doubt she’d be the top pick in the draft. With Diana Taurasi already in the fold in Phoenix, some thought the addition of Griner would mean an instant championship.
However, Storm head coach Brian Agler said he the expectations placed on the rookie might have been a little unfair.
“I think it is (unfair),” he said. “That’s not any disrespect to her in any kind of way. It’s just more of a respect towards our league and some of the better players in our league. Being 6-foot-8 and having her mobility, she’s got a tremendous amount of upside and she will still keep getting better, but they’ve played against 6-8 players before and they do year round over in Europe. It’s probably unfair towards Brittney, but I still do think she is having a very good rookie year.”
Griner has started all 12 games she has played in this season and is averaging 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest.
Agler said having a player like Taurasi can help keep some of the pressure off of Griner.
“The pressure is off of her in regards to having to carry the load,” Agler said. “Diana Taurasi is still one of the better players in the league.”
Statistically, Griner might not have the numbers some expected in her first season. So, can she still live up to the enormous expectations?
“We are going to see,” Johnson said. “But as of right now, she is where she needs to be and going in that (championship) direction in doing so.”
While it might take years to know which of the WNBA’s top three picks will have the biggest impact on their team and the league, with the surrounding pieces the Sky already have in place, it appears Delle Donne has had the most immediate impact.
“I think Delle Donne has probably impacted Chicago as much as anybody,” Agler said. “Although I do think the other two have impacted their teams in a positive way as well. If you just look at the biggest jump in regards to success — and I don’t really judge last year’s Phoenix team in any kind of way just because of how injured they were — Chicago I think is the one that has been impacted.”
Aaron Lommers covers the WNBA’s Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.