Napheesa Collier’s WNBA career is off to a strong start.
The Lynx’s first-round draft pick has more than lived up to expectations, averaging 11.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game this season.
To put that in context, Collier is first among rookies in steals, second in points, rebounds and blocks and fourth in assists. This kind of all-around production is unique among her rookie peers. There isn’t an area of her game that hasn’t been excellent.
In perhaps the most surprising turn, Collier has been extremely efficient, including from the three-point line. Only three rookies are currently averaging double-figures—Collier, Arike Ogunbowale and Asia Durr. Collier leads those players in field goal percentage and in three-point percentage. She’s already proven that she is headed towards an extremely productive career and we’re not even halfway through the season.
“I think how quickly she gets things. Is it surprising, probably. There’s not many rookies that get things so quickly. You tell her one time, and just even her working on her three-point shooting which was kind of labeled as a shortcoming of hers in terms of her game, often times it takes that repetition of the year and maybe go overseas, but she just gets things very quickly.”
Before the draft, Collier was not expected to be a three-point shooter. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but knowing what we know now it’s ridiculous that everyone was so quick to write off Collier’s ability to develop her shot.
“One of my goals coming in, was I never want to be a liability,” said Collier. “I want to be somebody that my teammates and coaches can count on and so that’s what I try to strive for every day.”
That is a very mature attitude for a rookie, but it completely makes sense with who Collier is on and off the floor. She isn’t fazed by challenges. Even when she isn’t productive in one area, she makes up for it in another. Having trouble scoring? She grabs rebounds or gets steals. If she’s getting beat on defense, she tries extra hard to make it up on the other end.
“I think it’s a mindset. I think Maya [Moore] was like that, you never knew if she was having a bad game, she was always going to shoot it,” said Reeve. “Obviously Phee is similar, so I don’t know if it’s a Jefferson City thing in the water, if it’s a UConn thing, I’m not sure. But it is nice that she looks unfazed no matter what’s happening.”
That unfazed nature has translated especially well to the defensive end, where Collier has probably been the best rookie this season (Tierra McCowan has also been excellent). Sometimes it takes rookies some time to adjust on the defensive end where all of a sudden, every player is elite and athletic advantages are often minimized compared to college. Collier has stepped up right away and produced excellent defensive performances right away against some of the best players in the league.
“You have to be locked in every single time. There are 144 people in this league and they’re all the top players,” said Collier. “Everyone’s really good so you have to know personnel. You have to know people’s tendencies and you have to be locked in every day because every night there’s a chance for you to lose because everyone’s so good.”
Fans have taken notice of Collier. When All-Star returns were released last week, Collier was No. 9 among all players. That’s an exciting thing for a rookie to see. She is still working to prove that she has a place in the league (even though it is evident that she does) and to see that kind of instant reaction to her work is very validating. It’s a rarified group of players who make All-Star teams in their rookie season.
“It’s something that everyone strives for every year, and to be able to get it my rookie year, would be awesome,” Collier said. “The support that I’ve been given is amazing and I would just try to go there and play well and have fun.”
If you want to see Collier representing the Lynx in Vegas, vote now!