Top 20: Lauren Jackson, no. 3
The definitive ranking of the WNBA’s best players.
Some of you won’t care, and we’re about 99 percent positive we’ll get a few of the traditional “what is the WNBA?” comments we usually do. But this is long overdue – SLAMonline’s first ever in-depth player rankings for the WNBA.
Why just the top 20 and not the top 50? Simple. There are 18 fewer teams in the WNBA than the NBA and roster sizes are limited to 11 players. Thus, the NBA has hundreds of more players than the WNBA does – and this list needs and deserves to be competitive.
This list is based solely on projected performance in the 2011 season. Traditional player statistics are taken into account but being a successful and effective player in The W is so much more than that. It’s what each player means to the team – in terms of responsibility, leadership, management and all-around game.
We know you’ll see players you think should be on the list but aren’t. Conversely, you’ll also see players on the list that you’ll vehemently disagree with. Maybe you agree with the entire top 20. Just be sure to let us know in the comment section.
Also, check out Ben’s weekly podcast at WNBA.com.– Ed.
No. 3 – Lauren Jackson
Looking back, I realized I already started writing this post back in October of 2010 in an informal email.
I had given one of my writing brethren (who asked to remain anonymous) the Top 20 list that same month (just a couple weeks before No. 20 went live) to get his honest opinion of the rankings. He writes about the NBA for a national publication but has followed the WNBA closely since 2000 and is a big supporter of the league.
“What do I think? I think if you put Lauren Jackson at No. 3 you’re an idiot,” he ever-so-lovingly explained. “The rest of the list I totally agree with. But, I’m having a hard time fathoming why, after winning a WNBA Championship and MVP, you would put her that low. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe she had five Player of the Week honors and three consecutive Player of the Month Awards last year…and she is No.3? I’d rethink that one, buddy. You’re going to get a lot of crap for putting her that low.”
Now, before I begin, let’s state the obvious – Lauren Jackson is one of the greatest women’s basketball players the world has ever seen.
In fact, I wrote an article last year (before the 2010 season) making the case that she could very well be the best ever. Thus, landing at No. 3 on this list shouldn’t be considered an insult and certainly isn’t meant to be. Indeed, I almost feel bad for putting her there. However, for comparisons sake, the No. 3 player on SLAMonline’s Top 50 NBA Players list heading into the current season was Kevin Durant…who now leads the NBA in scoring.
Not bad company, right?
I’ve said before that you could make a legitimate case for any of the top six to hold the No. 1 spot. Furthermore, this list is based on how we anticipate these players performing during the 2011 season. And, if I’m honest, there is a major concern for me in 2011 for Lauren Jackson – her health. Suffering an acute Achilles tendon injury in December of 2010, Jackson is supposed to miss, at the very least, three months of basketball if all goes according to plan. That would put her back on the court around May.
I don’t doubt that Lauren Jackson will be back in generally good health for the WNBA season. However, this type of injury can flare up at anytime and there is no denying that Jackson, over the course of her illustrious career, has suffered through multiple injuries that have kept her out for a significant period of time.
It is important to remember this isn’t a Top 20 list of all-time; this is simply where we project their game to be in 2011. Had this been a Top 20 list of all-time, obviously Jackson would’ve been higher. Jackson had, arguably, her best all-around season in 2010 averaging 20.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, shot 46 percent from the field and 91 percent from the free-throw line en route to the Storm’s second WNBA Championship. Throughout the season, the Storm managed to stay healthy as a collective unit and everything just seemed to gel for them at the right time. More importantly, they were better prepared (more so than any other team in the league) for a grueling playoff run. Jackson played 993 minutes in 2010 which was the most she has played since the 2007 season when she played 1,020 minutes – that’s a lot of wear and tear.
Can Lauren Jackson return to the Seattle Storm in 2011 (her 11th in the league) fully healthy? More importantly, can she stay healthy throughout the entire year after such a serious injury? It is becoming increasingly difficult to accurately define how significant of an impact she continues to have on the success of the Storm. Perhaps there is no better evidence than their first-round exit in 2009 (sans Jackson) and their WNBA Championship in 2010 (with Jackson).
At this point, if we are honest with ourselves, we still aren’t sure if she’ll start the 2011 WNBA season 100% healthy; thus, it would be a mistake for me not to factor this into the positioning of the final three players on our list. Of course, I could be totally wrong and injuries won’t be a factor at all.
I truly hope she proves me wrong.
By now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Didn’t he make this list in October 2010…before Jackson was injured?” You’re absolutely correct. That would mean I had Jackson as No. 3 on the list back in October when her injury hadn’t occurred yet. Hence, you can reasonably assume that we believe the final two players on the list (No. 2 and No. 1) will do more for their team in 2011.
You’ll have to check back next week to find out why.