There’s a difference in opinion around the WNBA and all the fans who watch the league as to who the Rookie of the Year is. Many say it’s a wrap and that the award is Napheesa Collier’s award already, but of course the Dallas fans think otherwise and many around the league acknowledge that the race is quite close. It’s time to break down just how close it is.
Applying the Pressure
When debating the ROY award, you can pull for one candidate without tearing down the others. Of course, if you’re a fan of the Minnesota Lynx, you’re pulling for Collier and if you’re a Dallas fan, you’re pulling for Arike Ogunbowale. Understandable for fans and even media alike to be on the side of the team they root for or cover and their rookie, but only their on court performance will give a player that award.
The top two candidates for ROY are Collier and Ogunbowale as we all know. Both are rookies, but each are in very different situations with different roles. One is on a team who won a WNBA Championship as recently as 2017. Now of course, they don’t have their former MVP and 2013 Finals MVP in Maya Moore this season and Lindsay Whalen has retired from the league. But 2011 Finals MVP Seimone Augustus and 2017 MVP and Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles still remain. Augustus has been out the entire WNBA season up until her recent return on August 6 so she hasn’t been much of any contribution to the Lynx season so far. On the other hand, Fowles has been here the entire season and is an All-Star and remains dominant as their #1 option.
In late-April before the season began, the Lynx made a trade with the Sparks and acquired Odyssey Sims in place of the retired Whalen. Sims has burst on the scene and has had a great year. She made her first All-Star team and is averaging a career-high in assists at 5.5 per game. With two other All-Stars in the mix, there’s no real pressure on Collier to perform or put this team on her back and propel them into playoff contention. She can lean on these league veterans and play her game as the third option on the roster. Keep in mind that Collier only got that nod due to an injury to A’ja Wilson before the All-Star game in Las Vegas.
On the other hand, Ogunbowale has had a much different situation. She was drafted onto a team who last year had two All-Stars and for the past two seasons had scraped and clawed their way into the WNBA playoffs by the hair of their chinny chin chin. In both of those playoff appearances, they were bounced out in the first round. Going into this year, they still had two All-Stars on the roster. But one of them, Liz Cambage, had requested a trade and was later dealt to the Las Vegas Aces before the season began. One All-Star remaining on the roster, so Arike should be good, right? Wrong.
Dallas’ lone All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith was pregnant in the off-season and birthed a newborn baby boy just a month before the season began. As just about everyone would guess, she wouldn’t be back on the court for a good while. Though there was much speculation that she would return sometime this season, it has yet to happen and I don’t believe it will in 2019.
Ogunbowale joined the Dallas roster with a National Championship in her trophy case at home, but as we all know, the WNBA is a different animal. Her situation this season is one that maybe even she didn’t expect that she would be in coming into this year. A situation where as a rookie is asked to take over the reigns of a team and be their go-to player. Playing the position of point guard that she was semi-familiar with on the college level, but it is not her natural position. And she has to do it against the best players in the world. That, is no easy task. By any means.
“Arike is really developed,” Head Coach Brian Agler said on Ogunbowale’s development. “She’s doing things she did in college except now she’s doing it against the best in the world. I think all of you guys that watched us play have scene from day one to where she is at now…it’s just amazing how she has grown as a player. She has a chance to be a star in this league and she is putting up all-star type numbers right now.”
By The Numbers
When I bring up the discussion of ROY, I always seem to get numbers and percentages thrown in my face. But a lot of times it is without acknowledging that these two players competing for this award play different positions on the court: The point guard and the small forward. Among rookies alone, the two players are neck-and-neck. If you do not factor in rebounds (because a 5 foot 8 guard is not going to out-rebound a 6 foot 2 small forward), Ogunbowale has just as good of a case, if not a better one than Collier.
Ogunbowale leads all rookies in points per game at 15.3 per game, Collier is second with 11.7 per game. Collier leads all rookies in minutes per game at 32.2 per game, Ogunbowale is second with 30 per game. Ogunbowale is third in assists at 2.7 per game, Collier is fourth at 2.4 per game. Collier is first in steals at 2 per game, Ogunbowale is second at 1 per game. And just because you probably want to know out of curiosity, Collier is second in rebounds at 6.5 and Ogunbowale is eighth at 2.3 per game.
Now that you’ve seen the rookie comparisons, let’s put things on a bigger scale and really look at Ogunbowale’s case. In the entire WNBA, Ogunbowale ranks ninth in scoring at 15.3 points per game and second among all guards on the season. The top 15 scorers in the league were all All-Stars, minus Ogunbowale. Of the top 10 scorers in the league, she ranks second in assists. If you don’t think of Elena Delle Donne as a forward AND guard, then she would be the league leader in scoring among guards. For reference, EDD will factor in all of these guard rankings.
Ogunbowale is shooting 35.7 percent on the year from the field and 31.3 percent from three. She is also sixth in usage rate in the league. Arike garnishes a whopping 29.4 percent of her teams points and that is good for seventh in the WNBA. So far this year, Ogunbowale has posted eight games with 20+ points (3 in 5 games since the All-Star break) and is one game shy of tying All-Star guard Diamond DeShields rookie total of nine from last season. If she continues at this pace, at the rate she’s going she could surpass former WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne’s total of 13 games with 20+ from her rookie year in 2013.
— Dallas Wings (@DallasWings) August 11, 2019
Since the beginning of July, Ogunbowale ranks fifth in points at 16.8 per game which ranks second among guards. Shooting 38.1 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three. Ogunbowale has been on quite a tear since returning from the All-Star break posting 19.2 points per game, good for fifth in the league and third among guards. Shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from three. Also putting up four assists per game, tied for 12th in the league among guards with teammate Allisha Gray.
Obviously offense isn’t everything, but Ogunbowale is no slouch on the defensive end. She won’t get All-Defensive honors, but she can hold her own. Prior to the All-Star break, Ogunbowale allowed no opposing point guard to score more than 16 points against her and has allowed no more than 18 points from an opposing point guard all year.
I’m not saying to eliminate Collier from the ROY conversation, but to put some respect on Ogunbowale’s name. She is very much in this conversation more than many may realize, especially being in elite company in the scoring department. The conversation is not over and there are still ten games in the regular season left to decide who will walk away with the award. Keep your minds open and eyes peeled. It’s not over yet.