The top WNBA draft steals are players that got lost in the weeds on draft day, falling out of the first round.
Oftentimes basketball fans view late round WNBA draft picks as throwaways when discussing fake trades and cosplaying as WNBA GMs. First round picks? Hot commodities! Second and third rounders? Filler, an adornment to the more essential pieces of the hypothetical package.
Here’s the fault in that logic: smart teams separate themselves by drafting prudently even after the first round has concluded. Scouting is a daunting task. Talent margins between prospective professional players are thin. It’s easy to gloss over collegiate players in favor of other collegiate players since there are so many names to track.
Inevitably, good players get lost in the weeds. Thus, the following list consists of players taken outside the first round of the WNBA Draft.
Discover the top WNBA draft steals
Ranking the greatest WNBA Draft steals of all time was a nearly impossible task, far more difficult than our recent attempt to name the best top overall selections in league history. There were far more players to consider this time around, and they all were drafted in different slots. So, someone drafted 20th overall would get the nod over someone drafted 15th overall with all other factors being equal.
Naturally, “all other factors” will never be equal. With that in mind, we split each player’s candidacy into three sections: stats, impact, and skillset:
- Stats are self explanatory.
- Impact dissects how effective a player was within the context of the teams they played for. Did they win Championships? Were they team-first, or did they care more about individual accolades?
- Skillset highlights the elements of each player’s game that earned them consideration. Someone like Natasha Cloud (keep reading to see if she made the cut!) may not wow you in the stats department, but her impact and her skills are too solid to ignore.
All statistics used and mentioned in this piece are courtesy of Basketball Reference, unless otherwise noted.
Lastly (and though it may seem counterintuitive), we did not take into consideration which team drafted each player. Many of the players you are about to read about did not provide a whole lot of value for the team that drafted them. Oftentimes, second and third round “steals” don’t become steals until later in their careers. Such players were not docked any points for failing to become a “steal” until playing for another team.
Now that we have the housekeeping out of the way, let’s dig into the top ten!
10. Myisha Hines-Allen, 2018
A stretch, you say? Getting ahead of ourselves? Outright blasphemy?
Hear us out! The majority of players you will read about on this list are either retired or in their thirties. Almost every other player on this list has already established their professional basketball legacy. That’s why we were inclined to take a gamble here in the early going.
Many of the steals we’ve identified in this article took a handful of years playing in the league to prove that they were indeed draft-day steals. The payoff was far from immediate and, oftentimes, not reaped by the team who actually drafted them. Myisha Hines-Allen – drafted 18th overall by the Washington Mystics – is a more complicated case. Perhaps this selection will look foolish ten years from now. Perhaps we will look like geniuses. Such is the beauty of subjective analysis.
Let’s dig in.
Myisha entered the perfect basketball situation … or a rotten one, depending on how you look at it. On one hand, the Louisville alum was immediately part of a contender. She got to learn from some of the best players in the world and some of the best coaches in the world. On the other hand, playing time was sparse her first two professional seasons. The Mystics were simply too deep to incorporate Myisha Hines-Allen into the rotation in any meaningful way. Thus, Myisha averaged 10.5 minutes and 3.8 points in 2018, and 7.8 minutes and 2.3 points in 2019 when Washington won the WNBA Finals.
Opportunity arose in 2020. With Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and Tina Charles all opting out of the Bradenton, Florida “bubble” season, Myisha stepped up in a major way. This wasn’t your normal breakout season. This was a player going from the end of an (albeit stacked) bench to one of the ten best players in the league in the blink of an eye.
Take a gander at Myisha Hines-Allen’s 2020 per game averages: 17.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals in 30 minutes. She shot 51 percent from the field, 43 percent from three-point land, and 83 percent from the free throw line. She finished 4th in the WNBA in rebounds and 8th in points. Myisha didn’t miss a game. She was pretty clearly Washington’s best player. The numbers speak for themselves.
Despite missing so many key contributors, Washington snuck into the playoffs where they were ousted by the Phoenix Mercury in a single elimination thriller. Without Hines-Allen, the Mystics would’ve found themselves in the lottery. She was voted to the All-WNBA Second Team a year after averaging just over two points per game. Imagine that!
To give you an idea of the company Hines-Allen kept last year, here’s a rundown of the other nine All-WNBA selections: A’ja Wilson, Candace Parker, Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Arike Ogunbowale, Napheesa Collier, DeWanna Bonner, Diana Taurasi, and Skylar Diggins-Smith. That’s a who’s who of WNBA elites.
Myisha Hines-Allen logged a Player Efficiency Rating of 22.6, good for 8th in the league. For scale, 15.0 denotes a replacement level player. Anything above 20 and the rest of the league is immediately on notice. What made Myisha’s jump all the more impressive was that she really didn’t require an acclimation period following her insertion into the starting lineup.
Within the first week of the 2020 season, folks were talking about Myisha Hines-Allen and how dominant she was looking. This after hardly receiving any reps against opposing starters during her first two seasons in Washington. It’s pretty clear that if Washington wasn’t as deep in 2018 and 2019, head coach Mike Thibault would’ve enjoyed key contributions from Myisha. The opportunity just wasn’t there … until it was.
Myisha’s skillset is the reason she made the list over players who barely missed the cut, such as 1999’s 20th overall pick, Sheri Sam. The numbers Myisha Hines-Allen posted in 2020 were staggering and her impact was immense. But a 23-game sample isn’t all that sizable. Her skill set suggests that 2020 was no aberration.
Myisha Hines-Allen is an ideal modern power forward. Historically, scouts would look at a 6-foot-1 player who operated from the 4 or the 5 with skepticism. How would they fare against lengthier opponents? In 2021 however, Hines-Allen’s height could be spun as an advantage.
The 24-year old has a speedy first step that makes her almost impossible to guard. By knocking down three-pointers at a high clip, defenders must respect her range. So Myisha Hines-Allen simply blows by her opposition on the perimeter, then uses her strength to create separation and finish with accuracy in the lane. A capable passer, Myisha can operate out of the post or face up on the elbows and the wings. Her variety often stymies her opponent’s coaching staff.
Defensively, Myisha’s toughness makes up for what she may lack in height. She makes taller opponents uncomfortable around the basket, pushing and pestering them until they rush a bad shot or call upon a teammate for help. Myisha is incredibly switchable, allowing Mike Thibault much lineup flexibility on both ends. Although she’s more comfortable defending the post, Myisha more than holds her own defending guards and wings. There’s little she can’t do on a basketball court.
Myisha Hines-Allen is not a flash-in-the-pan; she’s here to stay.
9. Tammy Sutton-Brown, 2001
Standing 6-foot-4, Tammy Sutton-Brown was selected 18th overall by the Charlotte Sting out of Rutgers. Her story follows a similar script to many of the greatest draft steals ever: slow and steady wins the race. Tammy’s Basketball Reference profile doesn’t wow you. Yet her career spanned more than a decade, and her impact was immense.
Tammy Sutton-Brown organized many-a-block party over her 12 years in the WNBA. She entered the league as a rookie averaging 1.1 blocks, bumped that number to a career high 2.1 in 2004, and finished her career averaging 1.4 blocks per game. 10 of Sutton-Brown’s 12 seasons culminated in her finishing top ten in blocks per game. She is 7th on the WNBA career blocks leaderboard. She is 6th all time in block percentage. Few were more dominant swatting shots than Tammy.
Tammy’s defensive prowess earned her many starting nods. She came off the bench in just 25 of her 388 career games. She kept that starting spot by steadily producing on the other end of the ball. Tammy averaged 11.9 points and 6 rebounds in 2002, shooting 53 percent from the field in under 28 minutes per game. One of her strongest offensive attributes was her ability to crash the offensive glass. She is 17th in career offensive rebounds.
Tammy Sutton-Brown was named to two All-Star teams, in 2002 and 2007. Her efficiency as a “sophomore” in 2002 was outstanding, Tammy finishing 7th in effective field goal percentage and 8th in true shooting percentage. She was extremely reliable on both ends of the ball, providing amazing value for a second round draft pick.
After spending her first six seasons in Charlotte, Tammy spent the second half of her career as a member of the Indiana Fever. She helped the Fever reach the WNBA Finals in 2009, where Indiana fell in five games to Phoenix. Though her role was reduced by the time the Fever made it back in 2012, this time Indiana came away victorious, giving Tammy a ring in what turned out to be her final season. Sutton-Brown decided to retire a champion, despite the fact that she had been effective in her limited minutes during the title run.
Tammy Sutton-Brown used her strength on both ends to get the most out of her game. Defensively, she positioned herself in the lane with an eye on whoever might loft a shot over her outstretched arms. She was tough to get by in the post, extremely hard to out-maneuver.
Offensively, she used that same strength to bully opponents on the block. Sometimes, defenders would front Tammy, trying to deny entry passes from reaching her hands. They often would anyway, as Tammy was able to nudge her defender, corral the lob and put it in for two.
8. Crystal Dangerfield, 2020
Sure, Crystal Dangerfield has only logged one professional season, whereas many others on this list have collected a career’s worth of feats and accolades. But it was abundantly clear last summer in Bradenton, Florida, that this UConn graduate was already a star.
Taken 16th overall in the second round by the Minnesota Lynx, fans across the globe were perplexed as to why Crystal fell so far. Sure, her 5-foot-5 frame may have scared teams off, but the talent and drive had been on display for years. Apparently, the Lynx were the only club to recognize it.
Crystal Dangerfield was the clear 2020 Rookie of the Year, outperforming the 15 players taken before her. She averaged 16.2 points per game, 47 percent from the field, and 33 percent from behind the arc. Her 92 percent mark from the free throw line was good for 3rd in the WNBA. In other words, this rookie was unflappable, hitting shots with the calm of a veteran. Crystal added 3.6 assists and 0.9 steals per game, running the show for a Minnesota team that outperformed expectations.
It’s also worth noting that Crystal shouldered a 24.6 usage percentage, a very high number for a rookie. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve trusted Crystal to be a primary part of Minnesota’s attack, and Crystal Dangerfield delivered.
Entering the 2020 season, many were unsure whether Minnesota would even make the playoffs. When Sylvia Fowles went down with an injury in the first half of the season, those questions persisted. Yet the Lynx didn’t just make the playoffs – they finished with a top four seed. Crystal’s 30 minutes per game were a massive reason why Minnesota outperformed expectations. Folks had high hopes for her professional career despite her draft position. But few could’ve expected the immediate impact she provided.
In a single elimination thriller against Phoenix, Crystal Dangerfield once again proved more comfortable than her age might indicate. In the first half of her first ever professional playoff game, Crystal struggled to find her groove. However, in the second half, she appeared cool as a cucumber, scoring 15 of her 17 points after intermission and helping lead Minnesota to a thrilling 80-79 victory. Though the Lynx were swept by eventual champion Seattle in the semifinals, Crystal again proved frisky, scoring double digits in two of the three games.
Crystal Dangerfield makes up for her lack of size with quickness and intelligence. She is extremely decisive on the offensive end, knowing when to burst into the lane and attack (often with a sick hesi), and knowing when to slow things down and dish to one of her veterans. Crystal is an extremely versatile scorer, able to finish among the trees, loft floaters above outstretched arms in the paint, hit step-back and stop-on-a-dime transition mid-range jumpers, and launch from three-point land.
The scary part? Crystal can do all this after just one season as a pro. Players often add tricks to their arsenal as they gain more experience at the top level. If Crystal begins to debut other moves, watch out.
7. Natasha Cloud, 2015
The Washington Mystics selected Natasha Cloud 15th overall in 2015. It was a decision that changed the franchise’s path immensely. The 29-year-old still has plenty left to offer on and off the basketball court. Natasha opted out of the 2020 season to fight for racial equality, a truly selfless move befitting of one of the best leaders in the WNBA. But it’s Natasha’s on court acumen that earned her a spot on this list.
Natasha is not a stat chaser. She doesn’t launch tons of shots, she doesn’t drop dimes at Courtney Vandersloot-esque rates, and her totals rarely pop off the page. Still, this is “The Stats” section, and Natasha has consistently raised her averages year after year.
It’s somewhat remarkable that Natasha can be called one of the great draft steals in WNBA history, when she averaged less than two made field goals per game in the first three of her five professional seasons. Only in 2018 and 2019 did she reach that plateau, averaging 8.6 points on 3.3 made field goals in 2018 and 9.0 points on 3.2 field goals in 2019.
Dishing the rock has always been Natasha’s calling card on the offensive end. She averaged 3.4 assists as a rookie and has since bumped that number all the way up to 5.6 dimes in 2019. Natasha Cloud finished top ten in assist percentage in 2015, 2016, and 2018, and is 18th on the WNBA’s all-time leaderboard.
It’s hard to quantify Natasha Cloud’s immense impact on the success of the Washington Mystics. Some players are simply the stabilizing force needed for a team to reach its fullest potential. Natasha fits that mold.
In 2019, she averaged 32.1 minutes per game, good for 5th in the league. This is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Mystics were blowing teams out left and right in 2019. Secondly, Washington boasted a deep bench. Even with all the pieces in place to get Natasha and her fellow starters a bunch of rest throughout the regular season and keep them fresh for the playoffs, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault felt Natahsa’s on-court presence was too essential to mess around with. That says a lot.
Not only did Natasha reach her offensive peak in 2019, but also she was named to the All-Defensive team for her stout perimeter guarding abilities. Washington consistently stomped its competition in 2019, authoring one of the most dominant seasons in league history. While Elena Delle Donne rightfully received much of the fanfare for the Mystics’ success, none of it would have been possible without the sturdy two-way play of Natasha at the point guard position.
Natasha Cloud’s athletic skillset may not wow viewers in the same way some of the other names on this list might. But her basketball IQ is extremely high and informs everything she does on the court. Natasha rarely over-extends, always making the right read that minimizes risk for her team. Mike Thibault can trust she will find the most potent scorer when the ball is in her hands. Though Natasha isn’t a knock-down shooter, she’s plenty capable of connecting from deep, forcing opposing defenses to stay attached at all times.
Before we move on, we must mention another 2015 draft steal who just barely missed the cut. Taken two slots after Natasha Cloud at 17th overall by the Chicago Sky? 2020 breakout star Betnijah Laney. Alas, there was only space for one 2020 breakout on this list. Regardless, 2015 was a good year to own a second round pick.
6. Tangela Smith, 1998
Drafted 12th overall in 1998, Tangela Smith qualifies for this list because the WNBA Draft didn’t expand to a 12 pick per round format until 1999. Thus, Tangela was a second rounder, taken by the Sacramento Monarchs out of Iowa. She wasn’t the lowest selection on this list. Her stats aren’t the gaudiest. But Tangela put in tons of work year after year, carving out a spot for herself in the league and authoring one of the sturdiest, most impressive careers in WNBA history.
Let’s begin with Tangela Smith’s longevity. It’s only natural to think about points, rebounds, and assists when first considering a retired player’s statistical profile. However, imagine the consistency and effort required to place 8th all-time in games played, and 13th in minutes played. That’s where Tangela stands after 15 professional seasons split between Sacramento, Charlotte, Phoenix, Indiana, and San Antonio.
Tangela was an immediate contributor in the W. In her rookie season she posted averages of 9.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks while playing over 25 minutes per game. Tangela Smith’s ability to swat shots was one of her calling cards over the course of her career. She is 6th in WNBA history with 556 blocks, finishing top ten in the stat seven times and leading the league with 57 blocks in 2009.
From 2000 through 2008, Tangela Smith averaged double digit point totals while providing above average production in the rebounding and block departments. As she progressed in the league, Tangela began to refine her outside shot, adding an element to her game that perhaps allowed her to last longer as a WNBA rotation player. In 2009 for the Mercury, Tangela shot over 45 percent from deep on nearly three attempts per game.
Tangela Smith was one of those players who coaches rave about, someone who raises the ceiling of one’s team considerably, even if their excellence isn’t properly reflected in the box score. Her ability to stay on the floor and play 34 games a season for her team made her an invaluable member of many front courts.
Tangela made it to her only All-Star Game in 2006, the one season she was recognized for her above average play. No milestone compares with what Tangela achieved a year later in 2007, however. As a member of the Mercury in 2007, Tangela was an essential playoff ingredient, averaging 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds during Phoenix’s postseason run, which culminated with the WNBA Finals trophy. Tangela Smith would reach the mountaintop a second time in 2009, securing her legacy as a winner at the highest stage.
Defensively, Tangela Smith was able to change the dynamic of the game. Her prowess blocking shots deterred opposing players from entering the paint and testing her. Sometimes, defensive specialists struggle to carve out playing time for themselves due to subpar production levels on the other end of the floor. Tangela Smith was never that way.
Her post play on offense was extremely reliable and lasted her entire career. Tangela may never have been an effective number one option on offense, but she didn’t have to be. Providing sturdy defense while serving as a secondary scoring option on elite teams was more than enough.
5. Allie Quigley, 2008
Players like Allie Quigley were tough to rank, because their careers unfolded very gradually. It wasn’t instantly apparent that Allie would be a key rotation piece, nevermind an All-Star. Now, she’s widely regarded as the best shooter in the game.
Taken 22nd overall out of DePaul, the Seattle Storm didn’t know what they had in their second round pick and ended up cutting her. Though she would return to Seattle for one season in 2011, it wasn’t until she landed with the Chicago Sky that she truly took off.
From 2008 to 2011, Allie appeared in games for Phoenix, Indiana, San Antonio, and Seattle. She received hardly any playing time and had a relatively negligible impact. She was cut by Seattle following the 2011 season. Out of the league in 2012, Allie Quigley returned the following year, signed by Chicago general manager Pokey Chatman because of her play overseas.
It took Allie a season to get acclimated, but she began to soar in 2014. Her playing time ballooned to nearly 25 minutes per game. And she averaged over 11 points, knocking down 39 percent of her three-point attempts. This would set the tone for the rest of her career. In 2017, Allie Quigley averaged career highs in points per game (16.4) and assists per game (3.6), all while shooting 43 percent from deep.
For a high volume shooter, Allie’s efficiency is off the charts. She has finished top ten in three-point percentage four times and top ten in true shooting percentage twice.
The spacing Allie Quigley provides opens up everything for Chicago’s offense. Per WNBA.com, the Sky were 2nd in offensive rating in 2019 and 4th in 2020. They are a perennial playoff team with a bright future. Allie is a core part of that. She is Chicago’s go-to player in clutch situations, and is incredibly reliable on a night-to-night basis.
Allie Quigley was named to the All-Star team in 2017, 2018, and 2019. She was named 6th Woman of the Year in 2014 and 2015. For someone who is known largely because of a single skill, that’s quite an impressive assortment of hardware.
That single skill we just mentioned happens to be perhaps the most important one in the modern game. Allie Quigley’s shooting prowess changes the geometry of the court for the Sky, and for their opponents. Allie doesn’t require much time to get her shot off. She’s able to fire at all angles, even if her feet aren’t properly set. That allows Chicago to run Allie off of flare and pin-down screens with regularity, the Sky relying on Allie’s gravity to suck defenders into her vortex and open up driving lanes elsewhere on the floor.
Allie Quigley can do other things on the basketball court, but she has built her career largely around one elite skill. That’s wildly impressive. Sometimes, it takes years before a draft steal is allowed to fulfill her potential. It may sound cheesy, but Allie Quigley is a fantastic representation of the motto, “never give up.”
4. Alysha Clark, 2010
Like Allie, Alysha Clark took a while to make her on-court value known. Drafted by San Antonio in the second round (17th overall), Alysha didn’t make a WNBA roster until 2012 when she was signed by Seattle. Unlike Allie, Alysha stuck in Seattle and hasn’t left – until this year when the Mystics finally acquired her. The Middle Tennessee alum has built herself into a spectacular role player on the best team in the league. The scary part? She just keeps getting better.
If you’re looking solely at statistical profiles, you may be confused as to why Alysha Clark slots in one spot above Allie Quigley. We’ll get to that. Also, a list like this one requires the writer to split hairs. Anyhow, Alysha Clark’s statistics don’t jump off the page, even if they are remarkably steady. Averaging just over ten minutes per game as a rookie, Alysha Clark took fewer than one three-pointer per game, hitting 45 percent of them. It was the only season of her career in which she attempted less than a three-pointer per game.
2020 was Alysha Clark’s best statistical season. She notched career highs with 10 points per game, 1.5 steals per game, a 56 percent mark from the field, and a sterling 52 percent mark from downtown. Alysha is a beacon of efficiency, having finished in the top ten in Effective Shooting Percentage five times and top ten in True Shooting Percentage four times. In Bradenton during the “Wubble” season, Alysha led the league in True Shooting Percentage and finished top ten in both offensive and defensive win shares. Simply put: she was one of the most effective players in the league on both ends of the floor.
What does two-way excellence on the wings get you? In the case of Alysha Clark, two championship rings and counting. The Storm reigned supreme in 2018 and 2020, and Alysha Clark was a key member of the starting lineup both times.
Many think about offense first when considering the Storm. But elite defense has been a major part of their success that past handful of seasons. Alysha was named to the All-Defensive team in 2019 and 2020, and almost always guards the opponent’s best perimeter threat.
When the Storm face the Mercury, it’s Alysha who is tasked with tracking Diana Taurasi. This frees up the other above-average defenders on the roster – Jewell Loyd, Breanna Stewart, and Natasha Howard – to pester other, less threatening members of the opposition.
Alysha is also sturdy as the come in the clutch. In Game 1 of the 2020 WNBA Semifinals against Minnesota, it was Alysha who made the game-winning tip-in. Playing over 30 minutes per game in the 2020 playoffs, Alysha averaged 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game.
Elite 3-and-D players will always be coveted by general managers across the league. Alysha Clark at once doesn’t take up a lot of space while creating tons of it. She is as elite as they come as a spot-up threat from behind the arc. Yet she is also incredibly comfortable operating out of the post.
Alysha carries with her a bevy of old-school moves that continue to flummox opposing defenders. This variety in her offensive game allows her to blend in perfectly with her higher usage rate teammates. Where players like Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd like to have the ball in their hands, Alysha is dynamite off the ball, drawing defenders towards her as they fear a three-pointer being launched.
Defensively, she not only guards perimeter threats but also is more than capable of switching onto bigger players. Alysha is strong in the post on both ends, leading the charge for an elite defensive team.
Alysha Clark just signed with the Washington Mystics. What will she bring to the 2019 champions? Only time will tell.
3. Tiffany Hayes, 2012
How do players like Tiffany Hayes slide so far in WNBA drafts? How do UConn graduates fly under the radar? Tiffany Hayes was taken 14th overall by the Atlanta Dream. The Dream acquired the pick from Washington. If one were to perform a 2012 re-draft knowing what we know now, Tiffany would almost assuredly go 2nd, following Nneka Ogwumike. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. Instead, Tiffany slid to the second round and a chip seemed to materialize on her shoulder. The rest is history.
Over her 8 professional seasons, Tiffany Hayes has been one of the more consistent scorers in the WNBA. She averaged 8.6 points in 23.1 minutes her rookie season, the only year she scored in single digits. Her scoring numbers ascended every year, reaching a peak in 2018 – her best statistical season. That year, Tiffany put up 17.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 steals. The last number is key. Many associate Tiffany’s game with offense, and understandably so. But she’s never slouched on the defensive end, pestering opposing guards and wings to the tune of 1.1 steals per game for her career.
One way Tiffany Hayes is so proficient at getting buckets is by getting to the foul line. She finished in the top ten in free throws made four straight seasons, from 2015 to 2018. In 2016 and 2017, she finished third. Tiffany performs a difficult and impressive balancing act, being both aggressive and under control with the ball in her hands. Her numbers dipped slightly but not precipitously in 2019 as she shouldered the largest usage percentage of her career (27.1%, good for 7th in the WNBA).
Tiffany Hayes opted out of the 2020 season.
Unlike most players on this list, Tiffany Hayes has spent her entire career with the same team, meaning that Atlanta actually reaped the rewards of their wise second round selection. And while the Dream are currently rebuilding around young talent, it was only a few years ago that they were a game away from reaching the WNBA Finals. Atlanta fell to Washington in a riveting five game semifinal series back in 2018 – the best season of Tiffany’s career. It’s no coincidence that her mettle nearly propelled Atlanta to the ultimate destination.
Tifaany Hayes was named to the All-WNBA First Team and the All-Defensive team in 2018. Her spark carried on throughout the playoffs, and her impact wasn’t limited to the scoring column. Tiffany averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in Atlanta’s five postseason contests in 2018. She carried a large defensive burden, per usual, and shot 38 percent from behind the arc. Even as the Dream saw their title hopes slip away in Game 5 against the Mystics, it was clear that Tiffany had definitively established herself as one of the league’s best players.
A lefty, Tiffany Hayes exhibits bursts of speed on the court that leave opponents hunched over, gasping for breath. She’s dynamic in transition, pushing the pace as she drives left and looks to get to the rim. Tiffany is an acrobatic finisher and quite shifty maneuvering through clogged areas. She’ll slither one way, jolt the other way, and then finish through or around contact from players far taller.
Crossovers? Tiffany has plenty of those in her bag. Pump-fakes? Tiffany has a lightning quick first step and loves to pump one way before bolting in the other direction, toward the hoop. When Tiffany is cooking, she’s one of the most electric offensive players in the WNBA.
Though she’s never put up hefty block numbers due to her 5-foot-10 frame, Tiffany Hayes displays some serious bounce on the defensive end. She’s swatted shot attempts from players like Brittney Griner, seemingly launching off a trampoline to get her hands on the basketball. Her quickness gives her a serious advantage stealing the rock from opposing ball-handlers. Lazy dribblers stand no chance if Tiffany is in the vicinity.
If Tiffany suits up for Atlanta in 2021, it will be fascinating seeing her coalesce with the Dream’s younger bunch of players. One thing is for sure: the Dream desperately need both the skills and the leadership Tiffany Hayes provides.
2. Emma Meesseman, 2013
Emma Meesseman was selected 19th overall by the Washington Mystics in the 2013 WNBA Draft. She was the first overseas player taken in her draft, the top 18 selections all having attended college in America. Emma, a native of Belgium, had been playing in France when the Mystics nabbed her in the second round. Washington had high hopes for Emma Meesseman, but few (if any) could forecast just how franchise-altering this draft pick would turn out to be.
Emma Meesseman’s rookie campaign was the only season of her WNBA career in which she wasn’t an integral rotation piece for the Mystics. She averaged under 15 minutes per game in 2013 and was limited to 4.4 points per contest. Emma’s statistical profile shifted drastically in year two. She nearly doubled her minutes total, bumping her averages to 10.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1 block per game. Emma has averaged double digit point totals every year since, while consistently contributing in other areas.
Emma Meesseman’s efficiency is astounding. She has finished top ten in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, turnover percentage, win shares, and true shooting percentage twice. She has finished top ten in Player Efficiency Rating three times, including 2019 when she placed second. Somehow, despite all this production, Emma has only made one All-Star game: in 2015.
Nowhere was Emma Meesseman’s impact more evident than in the 2019 WNBA Finals. Let’s paint the picture: Washington was facing the Connecticut Sun, a team loaded with front court talent including All-Defensive mastermind, Alyssa Thomas, and All-WNBA superstar, Jonquel Jones. Emma Meesseman, meanwhile, was playing alongside the 2019 WNBA MVP, Elena Delle Donne. This was a heavyweight bout set on a basketball court.
Despite the immense amount of talent taking part in this riveting five game series, it was the 19th overall pick from 2013 who took home Finals MVP honors. Emma was brilliant, scoring a team-high 22 points to go along with 2 blocks and 2 steals in Game 5. While the Sun were preoccupied trying to slow Elena Delle Donne, nevermind Washington’s cadre of perimeter threats, Emma pounced, slicing and dicing the Sun.
Emma Meesseman is so valuable because she does just about everything on the court. Obviously a capable scorer, Emma gives teams fits because she presents a dual-threat on the offensive end – able to shoot and pass at an above average level. Emma is deadly at the elbows, finding cutting teammates and open three-point shooters with ease. She logged a career-high 4.5 assists per game in 2020, a massive number for a power forward.
Emma Meesseman’s defense often goes ignored, but she is plenty valuable on that end as well. She has finished top ten in blocks per game three times and ended two seasons among the top ten in defensive win shares.
Whatever the Mystics need Emma to do, she will do it.
1. Taj McWilliams-Franklin, 1999
With the 32nd overall pick in the third round of the 1999 WNBA Draft, the Orlando Miracle selected Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Little did they know that over 20 years later, Taj would be topping lists as the greatest draft steal in league history. Taj McWilliams-Franklin played 14 seasons in the WNBA, fantastic longevity for a physical big who played considerable minutes year in and year out. You may not have heard much about Taj, but make no mistake, she is a true great.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin entered the league at age 28. Yes, that means she entered her final season at age 41. Imagine how her career statistics would look if the WNBA had been around for the entirety of her 20s?!
You could start a number of places when discussing Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s statistical profile, but we choose to begin on the boards. She is 8th on the WNBA’s career rebounding list, having snatched 3,006 boards. Taj McWilliams-Franklin was effective on both ends of the floor when shots were missed, finishing 4th in offensive rebound percentage in 2001.
Defensively, Taj was a force. She logged nine seasons in which she averaged at least one block and one steal per game. She is 10th all-time in total blocks and 11th in total steals. The advanced stats were just as friendly. Taj finished five seasons in the top ten in defensive win shares, good for 9th all-time.
Oh, and yes, she could score, too! Taj McWilliams-Franklin was efficient and consistent, averaging double-digit point totals in ten of her 14 seasons. She ended nine seasons in the top ten in field goal percentage. Not too shabby for a premier defender and elite rebounder.
What elevates Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s career to truly astonishing levels given her draft position was how she impacted the teams she played on. Taj’s WNBA career features no shortage of high-stakes games, and she nearly always delivered.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin first made the playoffs with Orlando in 2000 and posed a serious problem for her opposition, putting up 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in three games. She became a postseason mainstay with Connecticut, and reached her first WNBA Finals in 2004 where the Sun fell to Seattle. Connecticut suffered a similar fate in 2005, this time falling to Sacramento in the WNBA Finals. No one could blame Taj for the loss. She was essentially unstoppable in the 2005 postseason, putting up 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in over 35 minutes per game.
The playoff experience that Taj McWilliams-Franklin accrued early in her WNBA career paid off in a major way once Detroit nabbed her from Washington at the 2008 trade deadline. Taj was the perfect addition for a Shock squad looking to get over the hump. The fact that Taj was 38-years-old and playing nearly 33 minutes per playoff game for the world champion Shock is staggering.
Somehow, she wasn’t done. Three years later, Taj McWilliams-Franklin again reached the mountaintop. This time playing a key role for the 2011 champion Minnesota Lynx. She averaged over 10 points and over 30 minutes during Minnesota’s playoff run, and she was in her forties! If that doesn’t scream “greatest draft steal of all time,” we’re not sure what does.
Oh, and in case you doubted Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s impact based solely on team success, her accolades back up the championship rings. She made six All-Star games and twice was selected to the All-WNBA Second Team, in 2005 and 2006.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin had the type of skillset that every team cherishes. She was incredibly crafty as a finisher around the rim, always figuring out ways to get her shot off, even in traffic. Taj had plenty of post moves and would release unconventional shots that caught her opponents off guard. She loved to loft little quasi-hook shots and push shots from both her right and left hands, making it incredibly difficult to scheme against her.
Defensively, her skills were more straightforward: great rim protection and menacing rebounding abilities. Taj was super tough to box out and so strong that occasionally she’d simply nudge her way into boards. Even if she wasn’t racking up blocks, her presence in the paint deterred folks from attempting shots around the rim.
Two-way excellence, multiple championship rings, a number of accolades and the stats to match? All while entering the WNBA just a couple years away from her thirties?
Taj McWilliams-Franklin is the greatest draft steal in league history.
Now you know the greatest WNBA draft steals
Up next, learn more about the WNBA’s top scorers.
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