Since 2006 the WNBA has established a five-year habit of naming a list of all-time top WNBA players: the All-Decade Team, the Top 15 Players, the Top 20@20, and in 2021, the W25.
In 2021, I talked through my lengthy process and eventually published my W25 list prior to the league publicizing the official W25.
Presumably the next list of top players won’t be decided until 2026, but with three WNBA seasons having concluded since that last list, let’s check in on the process and try to put together what the list might look like if it were named every year, what we'll call a hypothetical “W28.”
Based on the last set of criteria for nominations, who’s newly eligible? Who has significantly added to their résumé? Let’s dive in.
Previously on… Volunteering for an Unenviable Task
During the W25 selection, to be eligible for selection a player must have played in at least two seasons and meet at least four of the following seven criteria:
So how did the W25 shake out?
|WNBA's Official W25||My W25|
|Seimone Augustus||Seimone Augustus|
|Sue Bird||Sue Bird|
|Swin Cash||Swin Cash|
|Tamika Catchings||Tamika Catchings|
|Tina Charles||Tina Charles|
|Cynthia Cooper||Cynthia Cooper|
|Elena Delle Donne||Elena Delle Donne|
|Sylvia Fowles||Sylvia Fowles|
|Yolanda Griffith||Yolanda Griffith|
|Brittney Griner||Brittney Griner|
|Becky Hammon||Becky Hammon|
|Lauren Jackson||Lauren Jackson|
|Lisa Leslie||Lisa Leslie|
|Maya Moore||Maya Moore|
|Nneka Ogwumike||Nneka Ogwumike|
|Candace Parker||Candace Parker|
|Ticha Penicheiro||Ticha Penicheiro|
|Cappie Pondexter||Cappie Pondexter|
|Katie Smith||Katie Smith|
|Breanna Stewart||Breanna Stewart|
|Sheryl Swoopes||Sheryl Swoopes|
|Diana Taurasi||Diana Taurasi|
|Tina Thompson||Tina Thompson|
|Lindsay Whalen||Lindsay Whalen|
Angel McCoughtry was the first player out (effectively in my top 26) when I went through this process in 2021, but Deanna “Tweety” Nolan to me was a sure-thing. McCoughtry has played just under 20 minutes since the W25 was announced so has added nothing new to her on-court qualifications, so it will be interesting to see if she has fallen more than two spots on my list.
Since there isn't an official list to be named just yet, there will be fewer breakdowns here. However, the cases for a lot of players haven't changed too drastically, so refer back to the W25 selection process for more detailed explanations.
Three Years of Accomplishments
It’s important to point out how the WNBA itself describes the basis for the top players lists, which is to honor “…the WNBA’s 25 greatest and most influential players since its inception in 1997, …based on their overall contribution to the league and community.” That includes “factors such as on-court performance and ability, leadership, sportsmanship and community service, and contributions to team success and the overall growth of women’s basketball.”
It’s not just about statistics and awards. At least not in theory.
Note: The WNBA is not transparent about what constitutes a “major individual award,” so there’s a possibility some awards discussed below are not included in the league’s criteria. The WNBA has not made it clear how they consider the 2020 Community Assist Award being awarded to “All Players” as pertains to this list, so I’m treating that literally.
As I detailed last time, Dawn Staley did not meet the W25 qualification criteria, and I still think that's a shame. As I said in 2021:
The WNBA did rework eligibility rules this year, and I generally agree that as the years go by, the eligibility rules need to be stricter to hone in on the top players. However, the only player affected by removing the "appearance on past top players list" criterion is Staley.
She was not voted on to the Top 20@20 despite being a finalist, so it's reasonable to think she may not have gotten enough votes this time around either, but if the WNBA wants this list to reflect the league's "greatest and most influential players" based on both on-court factors as well as "leadership, sportsmanship and community service, and contributions to team success and the overall growth of women's basketball", Staley should be in this process.
In particular, is there a former player who has been on a more impactful trajectory since 2016 (the year of the Top 20@20)? An NCAA championship and perennial spot among the elite in college basketball and her ascent to head coach of the women's senior team for USA Basketball have both resulted from and extended her influence in women's basketball and basketball culture more broadly. She can't change her on-court case, but does anyone have a greater off-court case?
— from My W25 (August 25, 2021)
I suppose the WNBA's "defense" might include that their Community Leadership Award is named in Staley's honor. On the other hand, in a league which has just a couple of awards named after their former players (there should be more!), doesn't that speak even more to her impact?
Regardless, she's likely not going to be eligible for this list either, so I'll move on.
The following players are newly eligible for selection to the Top Players list:
|Alysha Clark||2023 Sixth Player of the Year|
|Natasha Cloud||2022 Assists Leader|
2022 All-Defensive First Team
|Kahleah Copper||2021 Finals MVP|
|Stefanie Dolson||2021 Champion|
|Dearica Hamby||2022 Champion|
|Sabrina Ionescu||2x All Star|
2x All-WNBA Second Team
|Brionna Jones||2021 Most Improved Player|
2021 All-Defensive Second Team
2022 Sixth Player of the Year
|Ezi Magbegor||2023 All Star|
2x All-Defensive Second Team
|Kelsey Plum||2021 Sixth Player of the Year|
2022 All-WNBA First Team
2x All Star
2022 All Star MVP
|Allie Quigley||2021 Champion|
|Satou Sabally||2023 Most Improved Player|
2023 All-WNBA First Team
|Kiah Stokes||2x Champion|
|Jackie Young||2022 Most Improved Player|
2023 All-WNBA Second Team
2x All Star
Just one player has fallen out of eligibility: Jennifer Gillom is no longer in the top 40 in points per game, leaving her meeting just three criteria.
There are a few players who were already eligible who have added significantly to their cases:
- Chelsea Gray: Since 2021, Gray has become one of the most decorated players in league history: now a three-time champion and one of few to win in back-to-back years, Gray was Finals MVP in 2022 and an All Star and All-WNBA Second Team this past season. Now in to the top 10 in both total and average assists, she’s cemented a legacy as one of the league’s greatest point guards and clutch players.
- Becky Hammon: I made my case for Hammon’s off-court influence and impact post-playing career breaking barriers as a coach in the NBA back in 2021. Returning to the WNBA and winning Coach of the Year (2022) and two championships in her first two years makes her case even stronger.
- Jonquel Jones: Since the W25, Jones has added a regular season MVP and multiple All-WNBA and All-Defensive Team selections, another season leading the league in rebounding (2021), and Commissioner’s Cup MVP (2023).
- Breanna Stewart: Another MVP, three more All-WNBA First Team selections, three All-Defensive Team honors, and two more All Star selections add to an already strong case for Stewart.
- Alyssa Thomas: There’s no award for it, but Thomas is certainly top-of-the-top when it comes to triple-doubles in the WNBA. She led the league in rebounds this past season and since 2021 has earned her first two All-WNBA honors and added a pair each of All-Defense and All Star selections.
- A’ja Wilson: Another MVP, multiple Defensive Player of the Year honors, a Finals MVP, three All-WNBA honors, two All-Defensive First Team selections, two All Star selections, and two titles all in the past two-and-a-half years might make one of my new selections very obvious.
I see 19 locks, players that I can’t see much of an argument against their inclusion here.
|Seimone Augustus||Sue Bird||Tamika Catchings||Cynthia Cooper|
|Elena Delle Donne||Sylvia Fowles||Becky Hammon||Lauren Jackson|
|Lisa Leslie||Maya Moore||Candace Parker||Cappie Pondexter|
|Katie Smith||Breanna Stewart||Sheryl Swoopes||Diana Taurasi|
|Tina Thompson||Lindsay Whalen||A’ja Wilson|
In 2021 I had 16 players as locks, and they are all represented here, plus three new shoe-ins: Becky Hammon, Breanna Stewart, and A’ja Wilson.
- Becky Hammon: Last time Hammon was mostly left in for discussion purposes, as her case both on-court and off-court is unique. With what she’s added as a coach (which to me qualifies under both the “contribution to the league” and “contributions to team success and the overall growth of women’s basketball” portions of the description), there’ll be neither hemming nor hawing this time.
- Breanna Stewart: Stewart was a member of the W25, and her accolades since then elevate her case to inarguable.
- A'ja Wilson: As for Wilson, what an incredible two-and-a-half years it has been. In 2021 I called her a “victim of timing” who wasn’t far off the W25, as she was playing just her fourth season on a team that was quickly climbing to the top. Now she and Lisa Leslie are the only players in league history with multiple MVPs, multiple DPOYs, and a Finals MVP to their names. Yeah, Wilson’s a lock.
That leaves us with about 75 remaining eligible players and nine open spots in the top 28. I’ve pared that down from 75 to 25 that seem like reasonable candidates.
|Janeth Arcain||Alana Beard||*DeWanna Bonner||Rebekkah Brunson||Swin Cash|
|*Tina Charles||*Skylar Diggins-Smith||Katie Douglas||*Candice Dupree||*Chelsea Gray|
|Yolanda Griffith||*Brittney Griner||*Natasha Howard||*Jonquel Jones||*Jewell Loyd|
|*Angel McCoughtry||Taj McWilliams-Franklin||DeLisha Milton-Jones||Deanna Nolan||*Nneka Ogwumike|
|Ticha Penicheiro||Penny Taylor||*Alyssa Thomas||*Courtney Vandersloot||Teresa Weatherspoon|
*Active players since W25
I can cut a few out who haven’t significantly improved their case since the last list:
- Ring-leaders: Rebekkah Brunson (5), Janeth Arcain (4), and Penny Taylor (3) are at or near the top of the list in terms of WNBA titles as players. I wouldn’t blame them for preferring their championship rings over a spot on my hypothetical list.
- Long-timers: DeLisha Milton-Jones (17 seasons), Candice Dupree (16), and Taj McWilliams-Franklin (14) will remain atop the statistical leader boards for a while still given their longevity in the league, and all were key parts to title-winning teams.
- Two-way players: Alana Beard and Katie Douglas are two of the greatest two-way players the league has seen, and both finally won a ring late in their careers. Both retired even before the W25, so they don’t have any new qualifications this time around.
Alright, fine, there are some more fairly easy picks to include in the W28:
- Tina Charles: She has an argument to be considered the greatest WNBA player to never win a WNBA championship. 2012 MVP, two-time scoring leader, four-time rebounding leader, nine-time All-WNBA Team, four-time All-Defensive Team, eight-time All Star, top-five in points and rebounds and top-15 in total blocks all-time – she’s on the list.
- Yolanda Griffith: An MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in her first year in the WNBA (coming over from the ABL for her age-29 season) and a Finals MVP in 2005, Griffith was a seven-time All Star and five-time All-WNBA selection and is still top-25 in total rebounds, blocks, and steals despite having not played since 2009.
- Brittney Griner: One of few players to win multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards, she has led the league in scoring twice, is a nine-time All Star, a seven-time All-Defensive Team selection, six-time All-WNBA selection, and top-25 all-time in total points, rebounds, and blocks.
- Deanna Nolan: “Tweety” likely won’t even qualify for the next list statistics-wise, in large part because her career in the WNBA was much shorter than others. However, in just nine seasons she won three titles in Detroit, was Finals MVP in 2006, and was five times All-WNBA and five times All-Defense. She didn’t make the official W25, so there’s a good chance she won’t make the list of 30 in a couple years, but once again she’s on my list today.
- Nneka Ogwumike: I’ll list her accolades, but I don’t want to understate how much her tenure as WNBPA President has meant to the league. The evolving nature of the player-league relationship and the CBA as a codification of that means there are always issues to iron out, but the growth has been tremendous, and Ogwumike is a massive part of that. On the court, she has been an MVP, an eight-time All Star, a six-time All-WNBA selection, a six-time All-Defensive Team selection, a three-time Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award winner, and a champion in 2016. She is top-15 in points, rebounds, and steals all-time and just broke in to the top 40 in blocks.
Four left. Let’s break down the criteria for the remaining candidates. I’ve left out the Community Assist Award and All Star appearances because the remaining candidates are all essentially even in those categories.
|DeWanna Bonner||14||6POTY (3x)||1st: 2015|
|2nd: 2015||2x||PTS: #6|
|Swin Cash||15||Sportsmanship||2nd: 2x||2nd: 2011||3x||REB: #14|
|Chelsea Gray||9||Finals MVP||1st: 2019|
|1st: 2019||1st: 2x||3x||BLK: #27|
REB Leader (3x)
PTS Leader (2x)
|Ticha Penicheiro||15||AST Leader (2x)||1st: 2x|
|1st: 2008||2005||STL: #2|
|Alyssa Thomas||10||REB Leader||1st: 2023|
|Courtney Vandersloot||13||AST Leader (7x)||1st: 2x|
|Teresa Weatherspoon||8||DPOY (2x)||2nd: 4x||AST: #17|
My final four picks:
- Swin Cash: Cash won three titles split between two franchises and is still top-40 in four of the five major statistics due in large part to a longevity few have rivaled. I think it comes down to how much you value her post-retirement impact both on-air and in the NBA; for me, it's enough to keep her on the list once again.
- Jonquel Jones: The only regular season MVP that wasn’t yet on my list, this past season Jones passed Angel McCoughtry as the player with the most WNBA Finals games played without a title to their name. A three-time rebounding leader, four-time All-WNBA, three-time All-Defensive, and four-time All Star, at this time I can’t find 28 players more worthy of a spot on this list.
- Angel McCoughtry: When I got down to my final picks in 2021, McCoughtry was ultimately my last cut, while the official voters had McCoughtry in and left out Nolan. I don’t think anyone has surpassed McCoughtry in the time since. A two-time scoring leader, six times All-WNBA and seven times All-Defense, I wouldn’t have been upset if anyone was upset that I didn’t have her in the W25 two years ago. She’s in my W28 now.
- Ticha Penicheiro: The accolades don’t pop off the page (or screen?), but there’s no denying the trailblazing influence of Penicheiro. Her game flashed in a way that redefined the entertainment potential of an effective point guard, a mantle Chelsea Gray has taken over in the current game. Penicheiro is still top-three in both assists and steals, her defense still often overshadowed by the panache of her offense.
Based on that breakdown, here’s where I have the current W28, in alphabetical order:
- Seimone Augustus
- Sue Bird
- Swin Cash
- Tamika Catchings
- Tina Charles
- Cynthia Cooper
- Elena Delle Donne
- Sylvia Fowles
- Yolanda Griffith
- Brittney Griner
- Becky Hammon
- Lauren Jackson
- Jonquel Jones
- Lisa Leslie
- Angel McCoughtry
- Maya Moore
- Deanna Nolan
- Nneka Ogwumike
- Candace Parker
- Ticha Penicheiro
- Cappie Pondexter
- Katie Smith
- Breanna Stewart
- Sheryl Swoopes
- Diana Taurasi
- Tina Thompson
- Lindsay Whalen
- A’ja Wilson
Looking Ahead to the W30
If you feel like a player is missing here, I’ve got two pieces of good news: (1) I have no vote!, and (2) there are still a couple seasons to play before the next list is to be decided. That said, I think there are a few players who were very close to this list of 28 and have good opportunities to build on their cases for the Top 30 over the next couple of years:
- DeWanna Bonner: The Connecticut Sun are perennially near the top of the league, and Bonner continues to defy her age in the league. If she continues to produce on the court at the level she did in 2023, some of her standings will be hard to overlook.
- Skylar Diggins-Smith: Six seasons as an All-WNBA player and six seasons as an All Star plus a career that has her in the top 25 in assists all-time, another Diggins-Smith post-pregnancy renaissance may be just around the corner. She still has a ton of time to cement her on-court legacy, and it may only be years from now we realize just how much of an impact she has had by branding herself and illuminating how mothers have been treated by some WNBA teams.
- Chelsea Gray: Gray was the toughest player to leave off this list, and I’d be surprised if she’s not on the actual W30 in a couple years. (I went back and forth a dozen times on Penicheiro vs. Gray.) We’ve yet to hear the impact of the injury she suffered in the Finals, so that would be the only threat to her adding on to her accolades. I don't have them officially here, but Gray's teammates Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young could also have compelling cases if the Aces continue to win like they have the past two years.
- Jewell Loyd: Loyd is likely to be the best player on the Storm for the foreseeable future, and if she continues to put up numbers like she did in 2023, she’s certain to be a perennial All Star and likely All-WNBA Team honoree as well.
- Alyssa Thomas: Thomas is right there with Gray in my estimation, with a lack of championships being her major detraction. If her triple-double trajectory the past couple of seasons continues and even gets the Sun back to the Finals, she has a great shot to win an MVP or a Defensive Player of the Year and possibly make her way on to the W30.
- Courtney Vandersloot: Vandersloot is just solid. A seven-time assists leader and one of the great Finals runs on the way to that 2021 championship with the Sky, Vandersloot is one of the greatest point guards the league has seen. She has a good chance to pass Sue Bird as the all-time assists leader, and the opportunity to add another ring with the Liberty gives her a great shot at the W30.
- Teresa Weatherspoon: After falling out of the top players list last time around, Weatherspoon is probably a long-shot to ever get back in, but if she's able to even come near Becky Hammon's trajectory as head coach, it should add to her case for impact on the game and league.
That'll do it for this year's edition of Making Impossible Choices. See you next year, with a whole new set of accolades and accomplishments.
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