Top 5 WNBA Breakout Stars in 2010
These players are ready to take the next step.
by Ben York
In 2010, there will only be about 132 players in the WNBA. Of these 132, there are a select few who are preparing themselves for a breakthrough season in the W. Some of these players have already established themselves in the league, but will elevate their game to an even higher level. Others will emerge from a lesser known bench player into a consistent and valuable contributor. To be classified as a breakout player, you simply need to make a noticeable improvement in your overall game; whether it’s points, minutes, rebounds, or any other stat, a breakout star sets themselves apart and/or differentiates themselves from the rest of the league.
Here are my top 5.
5. Crystal Langhorne
It wouldn’t be wrong to classify 2009 as Crystal Langhorne’s breakout year as a member of the Washington Mystics. After all, she won the 2009 Most Improved Player Award and nearly tripled her scoring average. Still, I think 2010 will solidify Langhorne as a bona-fide star in the WNBA. With the Mystics on the rise in the East, Langhorne’s combination of power and finesse blends perfectly with perennial All-Star Alana Beard. Even Beard herself has acknowledged how important Langhorne is to the success of the Mystics as a team. For the Mystics to compete with the Fever, the new-look Sun, and the surging Atlanta Dream, Langhorne will need to build upon her successful 2009 campaign — and I have no doubt she will. Her team-first mentality and work ethic simply won’t allow anything less. She was 3rd in the league in rebounds in 2009 (7.9) and I’d put that number closer to 9 in 2010. Langhorne is a consistent double-double threat on any given night, and will help lead the Mystics back into the playoffs in 2010.
4. Shavonte Zellous
Zellous will, unquestionably, be the Tulsa Shock’s main scoring threat and option in 2010. With Katie Smith gone and Deanna Nolan likely skipping the 2010 season, Zellous will be an invaluable piece for Nolan Richardson’s team. As a rookie in 2009, Zellous averaged almost 12 points a game (2nd among rookies) and was 3rd on the team in scoring (only Nolan and Smith had higher scoring averages). Zellous displayed a tenacious attitude on defense (something Richardson will certainly love) and an ability to create her own shot on the offensive end of the floor. Her speed and athleticism stood out in 2009, and I anticipate her to dazzle even more in 2010. In fact, you heard it here first — Zellous will be named to the All-Star team this season. In Richardson’s methodical system, Zellous will be able to get to the free-throw line often (she led the Shock last year with over 5 attempts per game) and force teams to collapse on her. No problem there; she’s also a solid passer and will be able to find the open person if they do. Perhaps more important than anything, Zellous is tough both physically and mentally. Under Nolan Richardson, this asset is almost mandatory if you want to be effective. Look for averages of about 16-17 points, 4-5 rebounds, 2-3 assists, and a steal on a nightly basis for Zellous in 2010.
3. Ketia Swanier
If you’ve followed Ketia’s Twitter account, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. Quite simply, Ketia is more dedicated than ever to improving all facets of her game. She’s worked consistently this offseason with a personal trainer to strengthen her core, improve her stability, and enhance her conditioning. I’ve stated before that Ketia has some of the best footwork (both offensively and defensively) of anyone I’ve ever seen (male or female), and this will only get better in 2010. We really started to see Swanier blossom towards the end of the 2009 season and into the playoffs as a member of the Phoenix Mercury, and that momentum provided Ketia with a renewed sense of self-confidence. In the Mercury’s fast-paced system, Swanier will be counted on to provide a spark on the offensive end as well as lock down their opponent’s guard on defense. In 2009, Swanier increased her scoring average, shooting percentage, free-throw percentage, assist average, and total rebounds from her 2008 season in spite of averaging just 2 more minutes a game. With a firmly established role on the Mercury (something she didn’t have in her rookie season), Swanier is ready to take that next step. Perhaps more accurately, she wants to.
2. Angel McCoughtry
If you thought she was scary-good as a rookie, you’ll be in for a major treat in 2010. The addition of McCoughtry to the Atlanta Dream helped Atlanta go from just 4 wins in 2008 to 18 wins in 2009, good for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference and the 2nd best single-season turnaround in WNBA history. In her rookie year, McCoughtry only saw about 20 minutes of action a night but that number should be closer to 30 minutes in 2010. Not only will the increased playing time help her get to that next level of stardom, so will an increased role on the Dream. She can do it all — shoot, drive, pass, defend, and handle the rock. McCoughtry led all rookies in points per game (12.8), steals (2.2), was fifth in assists (2.1), and made the WNBA All-Defensive Second Team. As the leading scorer in Louisville history (male or female), we saw how incredibly versatile she is and her innate ability to beat you in multiple ways. Overseas, McCoughtry is currently 2nd in the EuroLeague in points per game to Diana Taurasi (19.3), 1st in free-throws attempted (6.4), 2nd in free-throws made (4.5), 1st in steals (3.4), and 9th in rebounds (7.9). If she even comes remotely close to those numbers in the WNBA, she’ll earn her first birth in the All-Star game in just her 2nd season.
1. Sylvia Fowles
Now fully healthy, the rest of the WNBA should look out. Honestly, I could just post this picture and any debate should be put to rest. Fowles is absolutely killing it overseas this year. Averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds a night while shooting 62 percent from the floor on a team with Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Janel McCarville is quite an accomplishment. While nursing multiple injuries, Fowles never played more than 24 games a season in her two years in the WNBA with the Chicago Sky. Now that she is as healthy as she’s ever been, her averages of 11 points and 7 rebounds a game should look more like 16 and 9 in 2010. Fowles will be more of a focal point offensively for the Sky in 2010 to accompany Candice Dupree and Jia Perkins. We all saw how dominant of a player she was during her time in college at LSU, and I have no doubt we’ll see the true essence of Fowles’ game flourish in 2010. If she can stay healthy, Fowles could become the most dominant player in the post since Lisa Leslie.
What do you think? Who are your breakout stars in 2010?