Cheyenne Parker, Sydney Wiese Lead WNBA’s Most Underrated List
Welcome to the 2020 WNBA All-Stars (with a twist).
After an enthralling season in Bradenton, the Seattle Storm have reached the mountaintop yet again! Taking advantage of the double bye to the semifinals earned through a top-two regular season record, they rattled off six-straight playoff wins to secure their fourth title.
The Storm have now been solidified as a dynasty, becoming the first franchise to win a championship in three different decades. Hats off to them on a tremendous season.
Now, while the Wubble went mostly without a hitch, it took a lot to get to this point.
With the coronavirus pandemic compromising the W back in May, many people assumed there wouldn’t even be a season. However, a couple weeks later, we received word from the WNBPA and the league’s key stakeholders that there would be a season, and it would be held at IMG Academy in July. Just like that, we had a date set and were back in business.
Between the announcement and season start, we witnessed bubble-like settings work with sporting events such as The Basketball Tournament and the MLS is Back Tournament, which only increased the overall confidence that this plan would work. Without a doubt, this year has been one of the most memorable seasons we have ever seen.
Stars around the league opted out of the season for various reasons: most notably, some for health concerns and others to raise awareness of social justice issues and to continue fighting against racial inequality. As a result, we watched as players around the league embraced new roles and took advantage of increased opportunities. So, who has landed a spot on this list of the Wubble’s most underrated all-stars? One rule: if a player made an All-WNBA, All-Defense, or All-Rookie team this season, or if they won an individual accolade for their play, they are ineligible for selection here. Phenomenal players, all of them, but they have received enough recognition! This list is for the unsung stars and hidden standouts. With that being said, let’s get started.
Sydney Wiese, Los Angeles Sparks
Derek Fisher’s decision in early August to move Sydney Wiese into the starting lineup was by far one of the shrewdest personnel decisions made around the league. After the Sparks selected her in the first round back in 2017, Wiese spent her first two years getting acclimated to the league. A sprained knee in 2018 didn’t help her adjustment, but in 2019, she started 16 games and really began to find her stride.
Back in March, Wiese tested positive for coronavirus, and no one really knew how she would play. After all, other professional athletes, like Rudy Gobert and Von Miller, gave their personal experiences with the virus, saying how hard it was to breathe after they recovered. It seemed like after a year where she improved significantly, all her hard work would be lost. Once the season started in Florida, however, Wiese had other plans.
She came off the bench at the start of the year with Riquna Williams in the starting lineup. After a tough loss to the eventual champion Seattle Storm on Aug. 1, Fisher made the move to start Wiese and slide Williams to the bench. Instantaneously, it was like a domino effect. Now, Williams was free to come off the bench as the Sparks’ version of Lou Williams, a microwave scorer. Also, it offered the Sparks another ball-handling option in the backcourt, because Wiese spent some time in the offseason working on her handles. Te’a Cooper took on more responsibility with this shift in the rotation and responded with a remarkable rookie season as well.
Most importantly, Sydney Wiese found her stroke and then some. She had a three game span in August where she averaged just fewer than 17 points per game on a blistering 66 percent mark from beyond the arc. With all the attention on Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike or Chelsea Gray, Wiese was lethal throughout the year as a spot-up shooter and attacked hard closeouts more aggressively.
While the season did not end the way the Sparks would have liked, Wiese still had an exceptional year. She became a willing scorer and found her niche in the Los Angeles offense. Her efficiency skyrocketed to unforeseen levels as she finished with the fourth-best true shooting percentage in the league among qualified scorers. On top of that, Wiese qualified for a 50/40/90 season with 50/47/92 shooting splits (albeit she didn’t make nearly enough free throws to officially meet that distinction). I would say that’s more than enough to merit a placement on this list.
Bridget Carleton, Minnesota Lynx
I remember exactly what I was doing the night Bridget Carleton became a national story. It was Wednesday night, Aug. 5, Lynx versus Liberty. I was busy typing out my story on the Mike Conley trade and the ripple effect it had on Utah and Memphis, which you can find here. I saw earlier in the day that Sylvia Fowles was sitting out that game to rest her calf, and as the Liberty were winless and there were other games that night featuring the Aces and Sparks, I figured I’d finish my article and get my priorities straight for once.
Well, that plan lasted all of one quarter, as Bridget Carleton, who started in place of Fowles, came out in the first quarter establishing a new career high with nine quick points. Just like that, I put my writing to the side (for the umpteenth time) and turned on the game. I watched in awe as Carleton, in her first WNBA start, dominated New York and put the league on notice.
With 25 points and seven rebounds in a spot start for one of the greatest players in league history, in what could have easily been a trap game for Minnesota, she killed it. Scoring from every level with ease, Carleton decimated the Liberty and helped the Lynx pick up a dominant blowout victory. Now, Minnesota had unearthed a diamond in the rough and some added production in the backcourt to go along with eventual Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield and rising star Lexie Brown.
Carleton started 14 more games after that, 17 counting the playoffs. As soon as she entered the starting lineup, it seemed like she flipped a switch. As her minutes doubled, her advanced stats soared. She averaged more than eight points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field and a 48 percent mark from three-point land. She even dueled with Sue Bird in a playoff game (which is just insane to think about and sums up the Wubble perfectly):
All in all, Bridget Carleton has arrived in the WNBA. From a second-round pick in 2019 who was waived by Connecticut, to a seven-day contract with the Lynx later that summer, to a crucial piece of a playoff team the very next season, she has seized every opportunity afforded to her. Make no mistake about it, Carleton is here to stay.
Cheyenne Parker, Chicago Sky
Here we have our highest drafted player on the list in Cheyenne Parker. Now, you might be thinking: “How did a player drafted fifth overall become underrated?” Or, “What took Parker so long to pan out as a high-profile lottery pick?” Quite simply, she got drafted to the Sky in 2015, joining a crowded frontcourt including Elena Delle Donne, who ended up winning MVP that season. Delle Donne was there again in 2016 before getting shipped to the Mystics in 2017, so it finally looked like Cheyenne Parker would get a real shot to contribute.
Unfortunately, a nagging ankle sprain throughout the season, plus the presence of Tamera Young and Jessica Breland in the frontcourt, halted the development of Cheyenne Parker yet again. In the next two years, she played all 68 possible games and had her best seasons to that point. With Cheyenne Parker developing three-point range and tenacity on the glass, it was clear that the sky was the limit.
Both 2018 and 2019 were solid seasons for Cheyenne Parker, but the numbers she put up in 2020 were just outstanding. Let me put them into context.
Rounding down for conveniency purposes, here’s a list of players who matched or exceeded these stats – PPG (13.0), RPG (6.0), and APG (1.5) – around the league: Dearica Hamby, Courtney Williams, Satou Sabally, DeWanna Bonner, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Myisha Hines-Allen, Candace Parker, Napheesa Collier, Alyssa Thomas and Cheyenne Parker herself. When you add her absurd three-point percentage (46.9 percent) and her strong mark at the line (85.3 percent), only Hines-Allen and Collier even come close!
In other words, that’s a list full of All-WNBA, All-Defense, and All-Rookie caliber players, plus Hamby, who won Sixth Woman of the Year, and Williams, who is no slouch either. It was the first year Cheyenne Parker started double-digit games, and she took her play to another level; her and Kahleah Copper (who would’ve made a fine choice for this as well) both increased their scoring from last year to make up for Diamond DeShields missing most of the season. Cheyenne Parker finally found her rhythm on the court as an uber-efficient, rebounding juggernaut, and now she looks more than worthy of that top-five draft selection. Her play warrants some immense praise.
Brionna Jones, Connecticut Sun
This was supposed to be the season for the Connecticut Sun, the year where they finally reached the top of the mountain and put all the pieces together to win a championship.Sure, they lost Shekinna Stricklen and Layshia Clarendon in free agency, but they also made one of the biggest offseason transactions in the league with their sign-and-trade for DeWanna Bonner. Curt Miller built the squad he wanted, and it looked like the league was in trouble.
Sadly, the pandemic threw a wrench into Miller’s season outlook when Jonquel Jones, who finished third in MVP voting in 2019, became the first player to opt out specifically for reasons related to the coronavirus. Now, the Sun had to integrate Bonner into the gameplan while finding players to make up for the lost production with Jonquel Jones’ decision.
Enter Brionna Jones, a former top-10 pick back in 2017, who was thrust into the starting lineup for the first time in her career and proceeded to have a breakout season to remember.
Her minutes per game tripled from the previous year and she finally looked comfortable on the court. Her scoring numbers surged with her increased role (3.5 PPG to 11.2 PPG), and she established herself as a menace on the offensive glass, averaging 2.8 offensive rebounds per game, tied for second in the league. This number increased in the playoffs, jumping to 3.6 offensive boards a night. For reference, in the NBA Playoffs in Orlando, only Steven Adams and Jarrett Allen snagged more! Defensively, she finished in the top 10 in steals per game, using her length and reaction time to her advantage. Against Las Vegas in the semifinals, Brionna Jones demonstrated she could be a vital part of the rotation once Jonquel Jones returns.
Somehow, despite starting 0-5 in a 22-game season while having to adjust to life without their star player, the Sun made it within one game of the WNBA Finals as the No. 7 seed in the playoff bracket. Sure, Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas and Bonner had excellent seasons, but Connecticut does not get to where it was this season without the massive improvement of Brionna Jones. Her much-needed progression this year lands her a spot here.
Allisha Gray, Dallas Wings
Now here we have an interesting selection to this list. After all, Allisha Gray has had individual success of her own, winning Rookie of the Year in 2017. It might be a pretty tough sell to bill someone with that on their resume as unsung or overlooked. However, I think with the emergence of Arike Ogunbowale as the WNBA’s next great scorer for the next decade, plus Satou Sabally’s dominant unicorn-like numbers her rookie season despite injury, Gray has found herself in that underrated tier.
For Dallas, this year was one full of question marks. They traded Skylar Diggins-Smith to the Mercury in a three-team deal, then they acquired Katie Lou Samuelson, Astou Ndour and Marina Mabrey to address the team’s various needs. Due to the Phoenix trade, the Wings had three top-10 picks and used them on Sabally, Bella Alarie and Tyasha Harris.
Dallas made a flurry of moves this offseason to address some glaring holes in the makeup of the team. Who on this youthful squad would be able to step forward and consistently contribute (besides Ogunbowale)? Allisha Gray answered that question handily by turning in arguably the best campaign of her career.
Gray started the season coming off the bench for Moriah Jefferson. This didn’t faze her in the slightest as she kicked off her time in Bradenton with an electric 19 points on 62.5 percent shooting from the field. Gray had started 97 of 102 games in her career to that point, so the shift to the bench required a bit of an adjustment period. However, unfortunately due to another injury to Jefferson, Gray was back into the starting lineup in the seventh game of the season. She remained there through the end of the year.
In the starting lineup, Gray averaged 15 points per game while continuing to be the Wings’ best guard defender. In September, she finished strong with 18 points a night on a 58 percent clip from the floor, showing her skill and shot creation inside the arc.
So, Ogunbowale might have led the league in scoring. Sabally might have put up stats this year that only four other rookies have done in league history. But Allisha Gray also managed to turn in her best season to date despite playing fewer minutes per game than in 2019. It’s clear that even in an offseason full of overturn, Gray has established herself as a constant in Dallas, and she’s earned this distinction as a slept-on standout.