Instead of relying on stats and personal opinion I reached out to the WNBA's decision makers to see who they thought has been the best new comer through the first half of the season. Over the past week I polled the coaches and general managers (some are one in the same) on what they think as well as the factors thst help make those types of decisions.
It is an embarrassment of riches when a loaded team gets to draft high and is nothing short of ironic when another (potential) star falls in their lap. The 2012 WNBA Draft gifted the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury each with just that. Despite the gap between their draft position - first and sixth respectively - rookies Nneka Ogwumike and Samantha (Sammy) Prahalis have been in a dead heat all season as the best young talent in the league.
"She's a dynamic playmaker," said a Western Conference coach about Sammy. "(She) Plays with a lot of energy and improves everyone around her on the floor. Very exciting style of play."
To each their own as Nneka and Sammy are two vastly different players, but each has been uniquely effective on the court for their respective teams.
"It appears that her transition to the pro game has been relatively easy," said one Eastern Conference coach about Nneka. "Her speed and athleticism in the post already puts her in the top tier of the WNBA 4-5's."
Nneka is a supremely athletic forward that was labeled a once in a generation talent. There was buzz at the draft that even if perceived phenom Brittney Griner was on the board in April that Nneka would have been the pick.
Her resume is quite impressive as a starter on the third best team in the Western Conference that is just one game off being the best team in the WNBA. She is first among rookies in points (14.1 per game), rebounds (7.6), and second in minutes per game at 28.9.
On the other hand Prahalis has fought through team injuries, missing superstars, and more of a disappointing season from a team perspective. She is first among rookies in assists (4.7 per game) and minutes per game at 31.9. She is also the second highest scoring rookie at 12.4 per game showing her versatility.
Winning and losing is an interesting debate in the conversation of rookies. It is also fairly relevant this year in particular. At full power the Phoenix Mercury could be one of the best teams in the west. The absence of Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor are as much the reason behind the teams 4-15 record as the presence of Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver are the reason the Sparks are 15-6 this season.
Winning seems to be important in evaluating a rookie as 60% of decision makers said it is very important. Another 20% said it was not important at all and the other 20% stated it has some value, but not a lot.
In the end Nneka was a unanimous vote for the first half rookie of the year as she received praise and applause for how well she has adapted to the WNBA game. Prahalis was the unanimously the runner-up mainly due to the teams success this season.
It is easy to be biased about something like this, but Nneka is having a great season and would deserve to be named Rookie of the Year for 2012. That is taking nothing from Sammy as she has fought tooth and nail to be in this conversation and is worthy, but unlikely competition based on pre-season evaluations.
If the roles were reversed and Sammy was fortunate enough to not have half her roster injured I wonder if the voting would have been different.