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WNBA Top 25

As the monumental 25th WNBA season nears, let's start thinking about the Top 25 Players.

Kurtis Zimmerman Across the Timeline November 30, 2020

Year 25.

The upcoming 2021 WNBA season will be the league's 25th. Along with that milestone will likely come a number of celebrations and reflections on the history of the league, including one that started with the league's 10th season.

Back in 2006, the WNBA named an All-Decade Team to celebrate the league's 10 "best and most influential players," and that has continued every five years since, expanding the list by five each time. In 2011 it was the Top 15 Players, in 2016 the Top 20@20, and if that trend continues, it will be time for a Top 25 in 2021.

The original All-Decade Team was chosen by a vote from fans, media, players, and coaches from a list of 30 nominees initially chosen by a combination of media, coaches, former players, and league personnel.

To determine the pool of nominees, it was required that each player have played at least two seasons in the WNBA and meet at least three of the following criteria:

It's important to note that the last criterion ensures that a player who is named to at least one of these lists will always be eligible for future lists, assuming the criteria do not change, since the only criterion they could lose in the future is by falling out of the top 30 of every major statistic.

While the WNBA has not yet officially announced their intention to name a Top 25, nor is this data officially endorsed by the league, this offseason is a perfect time to start perusing who will likely be eligible and who might have the best case to be considered among the league's all-time 25 best players.

Based on the league's past advertised eligibility requirements, the following interactive tool allows you to quickly explore the players eligible for, nominated for, and voted to each of the past lists, as well as the players projected to be eligible for the Top 25. Click any list name along the top to travel back in time to the time of that list's selection, and filter the players down using the buttons along the left side ("eligible," "finalists," and "the list"). From there, clicking a player's name reveals their WNBA career information as of that year.

Take some time to explore, and then scroll down for more quick facts about the league's top players.

      ↑ return to listTamika Catchingsas of Jan. 2021

      It's worth keeping in mind that players from the league's first several years are at a bit of a disadvantage since All Stars and several awards were not instituted at the start of the league:

      HonorFirst Year
      Rookie of the Year1998
      All Star1999
      Most Improved Player2000
      All-Defense Teams2005
      All-Rookie Team2005
      Sixth Woman of the Year2007
      Dawn Staley Leadership Award2008
      Player of the Month2010
      Rookie of the Month2010

      The Peak Performer awards have been offered in various forms over the years, settling on awards for leaders in scoring, rebounding, and assists late in the 2000s.

      You can also head over to the Top Players tool to get the full table of players projected to be eligible for a future Top 25 nomination. Past selections would dictate that list of 94 players is pared down to a final list of nominees who are then voted on to determine the final 25 on the list. That tool also allows you to alter inputs like the date and other criteria to see who would have been eligible at various times and who might be close to meeting the mark.

      Okay, let's break down some quick facts about the top players lists.

      Napheesa Collier's emergence

      Of the 94 players projected to be eligible for the Top 25, Napheesa Collier is the freshest in the league. Picking up Second Team placement for both the All-WNBA and All-Defense teams in 2020, her second season, she finds herself meeting enough of the stated criteria after just two seasons played.

      Only 12 other players have been eligible after just two seasons played since the first list was set in 2006, and it's a who's who of All Stars, champions, and legends of the WNBA:

      Seimone AugustusTina CharlesElena Delle Donne
      Skylar Diggins-SmithBrittney GrinerJonquel Jones
      Angel McCoughtryMaya MooreCandace Parker
      Cappie PondexterBreanna StewartDiana Taurasi

      Of them, only Cappie Pondexter and Maya Moore made the first lists they were eligible for (Top 15 and Top 20, respectively). Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones could join them in that feat if they make the Top 25.

      17 new players

      By virtue of championships, All Star appearances, and MVP awards, 17 players join the pool of players eligible for nomination starting with the Top 25.

      Jessica BrelandLiz CambageNatasha CloudNapheesa Collier
      Chelsea GrayTiffany HayesNatasha HowardJonquel Jones
      Jantel LavenderJewell LoydEmma MeessemanEpiphanny Prince
      Sugar RodgersBreanna StewartJasmine ThomasElizabeth Williams
      A'ja Wilson

      Of these new additions, four players were not in the league in 2016 when the last Top Players list was released: Napheesa Collier, Jonquel Jones, Breanna Stewart, and A'ja Wilson.

      Kelly Miller, the WNBA's Most Improved Player in 2004 and champion with the Phoenix Mercury in 2007, is the only player to fall out of eligibility since 2016. When the Top 20 was named, she was 25th overall in assists (929), but having not played since 2012, she is now 35th in assists, no longer meeting enough criteria to be eligible.

      Dawn Staley's drop

      As the list has expanded every five years, the previous members have largely carried over, with fresh faces being added. Dawn Staley is the lone exception. After being named to both the All-Decade Team and the Top 15 Players, Staley was a finalist for the Top 20@20 but did not make the final cut, making her the only player to make it at least one list without making all future lists (so far).

      All-Decade Team

      Sue Bird
      Tamika Catchings
      Cynthia Cooper-Dyke
      Yolanda Griffith
      Lauren Jackson
      Lisa Leslie
      Katie Smith
      Dawn Staley
      Sheryl Swoopes
      Tina Thompson

      Top 15 Players

      Sue Bird
      Tamika Catchings
      Cynthia Cooper-Dyke
      Yolanda Griffith
      Becky Hammon
      Lauren Jackson
      Lisa Leslie
      Ticha Penicheiro
      Cappie Pondexter
      Katie Smith
      Dawn Staley
      Sheryl Swoopes
      Diana Taurasi
      Tina Thompson
      Teresa Weatherspoon

      Removed

      Dawn Staley

      Top 20@20

      Seimone Augustus
      Sue Bird
      Swin Cash
      Tamika Catchings
      Cynthia Cooper-Dyke
      Yolanda Griffith
      Becky Hammon
      Lauren Jackson
      Lisa Leslie
      Maya Moore
      Deanna Nolan
      Candace Parker
      Ticha Penicheiro
      Cappie Pondexter
      Katie Smith
      Sheryl Swoopes
      Diana Taurasi
      Tina Thompson
      Teresa Weatherspoon
      Lindsay Whalen

      Staley's last season playing in the WNBA was 2006, so there was nothing she did after 2011's Top 15 to bring her legacy down, by any means.

      On the other hand, two players have been added to the Top Players list despite not playing since the previous Top Players list. Teresa Weatherspoon was an All-Decade Team Honorable Mention in 2006, and despite not having played since 2004, she was named to the Top 15 Players in 2011. Deanna Nolan was first added in the Top 20@20, despite not having played since 2009 and not being a part of the Top 15 in 2011.

      All Stars dominate

      Of the 94 players projected to be eligible, only four appear on the list without at least one All Star selection in their career: Tully Bevilaqua, Natasha Cloud, Temeka Johnson, and Tanisha Wright. Cloud is still active and has a good shot at a future All Star team. None of the four has been a finalist in past votes.

      Overlooked mainstays?

      There are six players who, as of the end of 2020, are eligible for the Top 25 and have played 15 or more seasons but have not been named to any Top Players lists.

      Player# SeasonsEligible for
      DeLisha Milton-Jones17All-Decade Team
      Top 15 Players
      Top 20@20
      Rebekkah Brunson15Top 15 Players
      Top 20@20
      Candice Dupree15Top 20@0
      Sancho Lyttle15Top 20@20
      Plenette Pierson15Top 20@0
      Tangela Smith15Top 15 Players
      Top 20@20

      Brunson, Dupree, Lyttle, and Pierson have each played since the Top 20 list was named, with Brunson and Pierson adding a championship and other accolades to their profiles, and Dupree has added a couple more All Star appearances as she continues to move up the statistical leader boards.

      • • •

      What are your initial thoughts on a potential WNBA Top 25? Who should be added? Should anyone be dropped? Tag the @WBBTimeline account with your thoughts on Twitter.

      • • •

      All career statistics made possible through the Across the Timeline WNBA database. Several publicly-available tools make this information easily accessible, including the Top Players, WNBA Records, and WNBA Awards tools. Full player data, including awards won, All Star appearances, career stats and game logs, and more is available in the WNBA Player Database. For further inquiries, contact mail@acrossthetimeline.com