With opening night of the 2015 WNBA less than a week way, let’s take a look at five players that are poised to have breakout seasons this summer, from the obvious to the overlooked. (Note: List is alphabetical and not ranked in any specific order.)
Alex Bentley (3rd Season) – Connecticut Sun
I don’t think any player has had a better preseason than Alex Bentley. I know it is just the preseason, but if it proves to be any indication of what is to come this summer, than Bentley is poised to have a breakout season. The former Penn State standout has averaged 16 points per game over the course of the Sun’s three preseason games.
Now in her third year in the WNBA, Bentley’s scoring average has consistently increased with each passing season. As a rookie, Bentley averaged 8.3 points per game and 2.8 assists per game and in her second year in the league, Bentley increased her production substantially to 12.2 points per game and 3.7 assists per game. She also ranked 10th in the WNBA in assists with 126 in 2014.
Bentley only serves to benefit from the additions of Chelsea Gray and Elizabeth Williams to the mix in Connecticut and will need to help fill the scoring void left by Katie Douglas’s retirement and Chiney Ogwumike’s injury. Look for Bentley to become a breakout star in the WNBA this season.
Tiffany Hayes (4th Season) – Atlanta Dream
After winning two national championships at UConn in 2009 and 2010, Hayes was overlooked in the 2012 WNBA Draft, and had to wait until the second round to finally be drafted by the Atlanta Dream. She was overlooked in the draft and she has been overlooked throughout her three seasons in the WNBA.
In the 2014 season, Hayes ranked first in the entire WNBA in offensive efficiency (121.0), a stat that represents the number of points produced by a player per 100 individual possessions. Hayes ranked higher in this category than Elena Delle Donne, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi. Hayes also ranked eighth in the WNBA in win shares (4.8) as she averaged 16.3 points per game in the 2014 WNBA season.
Hayes has the talent, experience and the pedigree to become a breakout star in the WNBA and I think she will become one this summer. Furthermore, Hayes’s evolution and ability to take that next step will be vital to Atlanta if the Dream hope to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals, a place they have not been since 2013.
Jewell Lloyd (Rookie) – Seattle Storm
The number one overall pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft comes into her rookie season as one of the most talented and athletic point guard prospects in recent memory. She also is one of the few women’s college basketball players ever to declare for the WNBA Draft while still possessing collegiate eligibility.
However, she had accomplished almost every single thing she could at the college level being named a First-Team All-American, ACC Player of the Year and leading her team to three National Championship game appearances in as many years. Lloyd gave up her chance at wining a National Championship her senior season, pretty much conceding that even she thinks no one will beat UCONN next season.
That being said, she is the most decorated, individually accomplished and talented rookie in the WNBA and should prove just that in the 2015 season. She also will get the opportunity in Seattle to share a locker room with the legendary Sue Bird, allowing her the coveted opportunity of learning from and playing with one of the greatest point guards to ever play in the WNBA. Lloyd is a virtual lock for the WNBA Rookie of the Year and quite possibly could even be involved in the MVP discussion this season.
Kayla McBride (2nd Season) – San Antonio Silver Stars
The number three overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft did not disappoint in her rookie season. She played in and started all 34 regular season games for San Antonio and helped lead the Stars to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. McBride averaged 13 points per game in 2014 while shooting over 40% from the floor and an impressive 39.6% from three-point land, good for sixth in the league.
However, what impressed me the most about McBride last season was how she performed in her first WNBA playoffs. In the Stars’ two playoff contests, McBride’s scoring average increased from 13 to 22.5 points per game and she shot 60% from behind the arc. She rose to the occasion to say the least, increasing her points per game by a whopping 73.1% in the postseason.
As long as McBride can get healthy and stay that way (she did not play in the preseason as she is recovering from foot surgery), look for McBride to have a breakout year for San Antonio and prove she is an elite offensive player in the WNBA.
Alyssa Thomas (2nd Season) – Connecticut Sun
Anybody who follows ACC basketball knows that Alyssa Thomas is exceptionally talented, and was one of the most complete players to ever play in the conference. Maryland’s all-time leading scorer and three-time ACC Player of the Year (2012, 2013, 2014) earned herself the nickname of the “female LeBron James” in college, because of her versatility and ability to do almost anything on the court.
She was drafted fourth overall in the 2014 WNBA Draft and had a solid rookie campaign, averaging 10.1 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43.6% from the field. She was named to the 2014 WNBA All-Rookie team.
Much like teammate Alex Bentley, Thomas’s role will need to increase from last season as the Sun are in need of offensive production with the loss of Kate Douglas and the current injury status of Chiney Ogwumike. Also like Bentley, Thomas had an excellent preseason, averaging 12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 3.3 apg while only playing 21 minutes per game.
Look for Thomas to not only have a breakout season this summer but to fill the stat sheet to its fullest night in and night out.