Even the most talented rookies usually need a few weeks to acclimate to the WNBA, but not Rhyne Howard. This year's No. 1 overall pick walked in and put up 16 points, three rebounds, four assists, two steals and four blocks in her very first game, and has looked at home ever since.
Earlier this spring, the Atlanta Dream pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Washington Mystics, sending the No. 3 overall pick, the No. 14 overall pick and a future first-round pick swap in exchange for the No. 1 overall selection. The move was widely praised at the time, and looks even better a few weeks into the season.
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Howard recently dropped 33 points in a win over the Fever, and is averaging 20.8 points -- good for fourth in the league -- 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, while shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point land. There's still a long way to go, of course, but she appears to have a real chance to join Cynthia Cooper, Seimone Augustus and A'ja Wilson as just the fourth rookie in WNBA history to average 20 points.
"I'm super comfortable," Howard told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "[The Dream] got me for a reason. I have to come out, make an impact and help us get a team win. I'm not surprised, and I feel great. There's no reason to be surprised."
What makes Howard's hot start even better is that it's leading to wins. After a disastrous season on and off the court in 2021, the Dream made a concerted effort to rehaul the entire organization. So far, the early returns are promising. With Howard helping lead the way, the Dream are off to a 3-1 start that has them tied for first place.
1. Chicago Sky (2-1) -- Last week No. 1
If not for a poor refereeing decision in the closing seconds of regulation on opening night, the Sky would be undefeated and sitting in first place. As it is, they'll have to settle for a tie for fourth and the best net rating (plus-11.6 points per 100 possessions) in the league. Emma Meesseman looks like a perfect fit in her supporting role, and Finals MVP Kahleah Copper should return soon after completing her overseas commitments. All in all, a nice start for the champs.
2. Las Vegas Aces (3-1) -- Last week No. 4
Even though everyone expected new head coach Becky Hammon to introduce a more modern offensive style, it's still a bit jarring to see this Aces group running and gunning to such an extent. They're playing with the fastest pace in the league (100.5), are third in 3-point attempts per game (22.8) and first in 3-point percentage (44.0). The result: a 3-1 record that has them in a tie for first place.
3. Connecticut Sun (1-1) -- Last week No. 3
Due to a scheduling quirk, the Sun have only played two games so far, and have been without DeWanna Bonner (overseas) and Courtney Williams (suspension) in both of them. As such it's hard to read too much into their 1-1 start. By far the most encouraging sign for the Sun is that Alyssa Thomas has been awesome and appears to be fully past last year's Achilles tendon surgery.
4. Washington Mystics (3-1) -- Last week No. 6
There's always going to be some concern about a veteran who's had as many back problems as Elena Delle Donne, but so far she looks healthy and is putting up 20 points, seven rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game on 50 percent shooting. With EDD back to her pre-injury form, the Mystics are off to a strong start that includes three double-digit wins, including one over the Aces.
5. Seattle Storm (1-3) -- Last week No. 2
A 1-3 start isn't what the Storm wanted, but there's little concern considering how shorthanded they've been. Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince missed the last two games (both losses) after they were placed in health and safety protocols, and Mercedes Russell hasn't played yet due to a non-basketball injury. Once they get Stewart and Co. back on the court, they should turn things around quickly.
6. Phoenix Mercury (2-1) -- Last week No. 5
It's hard to know exactly what to make of the Mercury's 2-1 start. They were super shorthanded when they were crushed by the Aces in their season opener. And when they bounced back with two straight wins, they both came against a Storm team missing a number of key pieces of their own, including Breanna Stewart. With two road games against the Aces coming up, we should learn a lot about the Mercury this week.
7. Atlanta Dream (3-1) -- Last week No. 11
The Dream's decision to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick to take Rhyne Howard looks even better now than it did at the time. Howard put up 33 points in their recent win over the Fever and is currently fourth in the league in scoring at 20.8 points per game. She's had no problem making the transition to the pros, and has played a big part in the Dream's surprise 3-1 start.
8. Dallas Wings (2-1) -- Last week No. 9
The Wings' season-opening loss to the Dream, in which they shot 24.3 percent from the field and turned the ball over 19 times, was one of the worst team performances you'll see all summer. Since then, however, they've won two straight, and handed the Mystics their only loss of the season. With Satou Sabally expected to make her season debut later this week, things continue to look up for the young Wings.
9. Los Angeles Sparks (2-2) -- Last week No. 8
After all the moves the Sparks made this winter to juice their offense, the player leading them in scoring through four games is the one they brought in for defensive purposes: Jordin Canada. The fifth-year guard has been one of the main bright spots in the Sparks' up-and-down start. Perhaps as expected, they haven't found much consistency yet with all their new pieces.
10. Minnesota Lynx (0-4) -- Last week No. 7
Even acknowledging that they're missing a bunch of key players, this has been a disastrous start for the Lynx in Sylvia Fowles' final season. Not only are they 0-4, but they've made some confusing roster decisions. There's still a lot of talent in Minnesota, and they should settle in once they have their full team, but WNBA seasons are short and they've dug themselves a deep hole.
11. Indiana Fever (2-3) -- Last week No. 12
Even at just 2-3, the Fever have been a pleasant surprise. At the very least, it's clear they're going to be far more competitive than they were last summer, when they started out 1-16. No. 2 overall pick NaLyssa Smith was off to a strong start, averaging a double-double before she tweaked her ankle over the weekend, while many of their other draft picks have been contributing as well.
12. New York Liberty (1-3) -- Last week No. 10
An impressive opening night win over the Sun has given way to a three-game losing streak. The Liberty have looked completely out of sorts at times, especially on offense where they have a league-worst 89.2 offensive rating and are turning the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions. On a positive note, Sabrina Ionescu has been terrific to start her third season.