The WNBA announced on Thursday that Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard has been named the 2022 Kia Rookie of the Year.
Howard received 53 of 56 votes for the award, with Shakira Austin of the Washington Mystics receiving two and NaLyssa Smith of the Indiana Fever receiving one.
Howard was drafted No. 1 overall by the Dream and is the first No. 1 overall pick to win the award since A’ja Wilson in 2018. She is the 13th of 25 rookies of the year to be a No. 1 pick; the award was not given out in the WNBA’s inaugural season of 1997. A No. 1 pick has now won just twice in the past six years; in the nine years before that, a No. 1 pick won eight times with the one exception being the year of the “Three to See” (2013) when No. 1 Brittney Griner, No. 2 Elena Delle Donne and No. 3 Skylar Diggins-Smith were all No. 1-pick-caliber and Delle Donne won the award.
Howard averaged 16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks this season. She shot a solid 34.3 percent from three with 85 makes. She entered the league with all the tools to be an amazing all-around offensive player and did not disappoint. She also played some great defense.
Winning didn’t come easy for Howard at Kentucky, as the program never made it to the Sweet Sixteen in her tenure. But she immediately impacted winning in Atlanta, helping the team get off to 4-1 and 7-4 starts through five and 11 games, respectively. In just the fourth game of her career, Howard scored a season-high 33 points to help the Dream defeat the Indiana Fever. She scored 20-plus 11 times, hauled in a season-high nine rebounds on July 21, dished out seven assists twice, grabbed a season-high five steals on Aug. 3 and rejected a season-high four shots in her debut on May 7.
The WNBA also announced the All-Rookie team on Thursday:
- Rhyne Howard
- Shakira Austin
- NaLyssa Smith
- Rebekah Gardner
- Queen Egbo
Austin was the No. 3 pick, taken by the Mystics, who were content trading away the No. 1 pick knowing they would get Austin at No. 3. Austin averaged 8.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 54.7 percent from the field — higher than any single season of her college career, which was split between Maryland and Ole Miss. She shot 46.3 percent from the field as a senior Rebel (38.8 percent in the postseason). She really cleaned some things up about her game as a first-year pro and is incredibly dangerous if she’s scoring efficiently because she can create a lot of good looks with her ball-handling and agility as a 6-foot-5 center.
Smith was the No. 2 pick and was talked about as a potential No. 1 pick for some time. She averaged 13.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.3 blocks, while shooting 41.9 percent from the field and an impressive 38.1 percent from three with 37 makes. She made just 13 threes her entire college career at Baylor. A 76.8-percent free throw shooter in college, Smith was uncharacteristically poor this year at 61.8 percent. But overall, a great season for the Fever rookie.
Gardner went undrafted out of UCLA in 2012, only to get her opportunity with the Chicago Sky 10 years later. She averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocks while leading all WNBA guards with a field goal percentage of 54.2. She shot a solid 35.7 percent from distance with 15 makes. Gardner is in the running for All-Defensive Team honors as well.
Egbo was selected by the Fever at No. 10 and averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.2 blocks. She was a pleasant surprise to a lot of people; she was projected by ESPN to go at No. 19. She showed off some of the shot-blocking abilities she had in college, when she was Smith’s teammate at Baylor.