ESPN’s ranking of the 25 greatest players in WNBA history will likely spark much debate long after the WNBA’s 25th anniversary season is over. Our own voting panel of experts had plenty to say once the list was finalized.
ESPN analysts Rebecca Lobo and LaChina Robinson, as well as ESPN writers Katie Barnes, Kelly Cohen, Kevin Pelton and Mechelle Voepel, and The Undefeated’s Sean Hurd, weigh in and make their case for why some WNBA players — such as Ticha Penicheiro and Swin Cash — should have made the rankings. They also address which players should have landed higher on our list, reveal some of the players they voted for who were omitted and look ahead to other players who might make the ranking down the line.
The experts also give us their best ranking “hot takes” and bold claims — one of which predicts Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart taking over the top spot in the future.
See more: Ranking the WNBA’s 25 greatest players
Who got snubbed in our ranking of the greatest 25 players in WNBA history?
Lobo: Perhaps because I saw her every day in practice for five years, I think Teresa Weatherspoon belongs on the top 25 list. Her impact is greater than her offensive stats. She was the heartbeat of a very successful New York Liberty team in the early days of the league. She was the best defensive guard in the WNBA and was the energetic force in driving sellout crowds at MSG. She always put her team first, and her scoring numbers suffered as a result. I once made the mistake of tweeting or saying something about Spoon not being able to score. She replied something along the lines of, “Choosing not to score in order to get others the ball is different from not being able to score.” Her point was real. She made her team a consistent winner and helped make her teammates better.
Robinson: It is extremely disrespectful that Ticha Penicheiro is not on this list. She is the greatest passer to ever play in the WNBA, in my book. Most people will look at her scoring and underestimate her contributions. You could take 2-4 points off her teammates’ stats every night and add that to her totals if that’s what you are looking for. People also don’t know how hard it is to be an exceptional passer when you’re not a big-time scorer. Defenses are constantly playing you for the pass, yet Ticha found a way to deliver dimes night in and night out in the most exciting way we have ever seen. This is a huge miss.
Hurd: I completely agree with LaChina on Penicheiro being a huge miss. On paper, she’s a champion, a four-time All-Star, has multiple All-WNBA nods and led the league in assists more than any other player in league history (seven times!). I also look at Penicheiro’s contributions in terms of influence and impact. She pushed the game stylistically, which cannot be understated. You see her influence all over today’s top point guards. Chelsea Gray has said many times how much of an influence Penicheiro had on her own game. Deanna Nolan is another player I had on my list who didn’t make the final cut.
Pelton: Taj McWilliams-Franklin was the one player I had on my ballot (in 25th) who didn’t make our collective list. McWilliams-Franklin stood out to me from a group of deserving candidates because she was at her best in the playoffs, including two Finals trips in Connecticut and a title run with the Lynx in 2011 at nearly age 41.
Barnes: A’ja Wilson not being on this list has me ready to fight. Yes, she’s missing a championship, but she is the face of this generation of players and embodies the future of the league. I understand that her youth works against her in a list such as this, but despite her lack of longevity, I have a hard time making a credible argument that she is not a good enough and accomplished enough basketball player to be on this list. I put her at 25. She deserves to be on this list today, not in five years.
Voepel: Ticha Penicheiro and Swin Cash are the two players who will prompt the most rocks thrown at us by fans for leaving them off the list. I totally get that. LaChina and Sean correctly sang the praises of Penicheiro. But Courtney Vandersloot is also a wizard passer; she broke Penicheiro’s single-game assist mark with 18 last season and will lead the league in assists this season for the fifth consecutive year and sixth overall. She has also been a significantly better shooter and scorer than Penicheiro was. An edge would go to Penicheiro as a defender, and for having a WNBA championship. But if you’re going to be furious about Penicheiro’s omission, perhaps save some rage for Vandersloot.
Then there’s Cash, who was recently inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. How can she be left off? Well, it’s really hard, and many will disagree with that. But let’s do a quick exercise. Consider these three forwards:
Player A: 13 seasons, 3 WNBA titles, 13.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 46.6 FG%, 38.2 3-pt%, 86.8 FT%
Player B: 17 seasons, 2 WNBA titles, 11.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 44.0 FG%, 32.5 3-pt%, 79.0 FT%
Player C: 15 seasons, 3 WNBA titles, 10.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 40.7 FG%, 27.6 3-pt%, 75.7 FT%
Only one of them, Player C, made the WNBA’s “W25.” And only one, Player A, made our ESPN list. And Player B? I voted for her for both lists, but she didn’t make it. (I also voted for Player A.)
Here’s who they are: Player A is Penny Taylor, Player B is DeLisha Milton-Jones and Player C is Swin Cash. Now, stats can’t tell you everything, but they’re interesting to study. I think Taylor and Milton-Jones are two of the WNBA’s most consistently underrated players.
Which player was the most underrated on the top-25 list and should have been higher?
Robinson: Angel McCoughtry (at No. 20) should be higher. She’s in my top 15, and an argument could be made that she deserves to be even higher. She changed the way the game was played the minute she arrived in the WNBA, with an ability to attack the defense in transition, play in the air with an acrobatic athleticism and make difficult shots. Not to mention defensively, she was a pest, twice leading the WNBA in steals and getting named to the league’s all-defensive team seven times. Angel also carried Atlanta to three WNBA Finals appearances with starting lineups that were way inferior to other teams on paper. She absolutely shocked the WNBA by putting the Dream in the ring to win a championship so early in their existence. It had everything to do with her playing style, her attitude, her competitiveness and her relentlessness.
Sheryl Swoopes talks about her election into the Basketball Hall of Fame and getting to share that moment with her mother.
Lobo: Ranking Lisa Leslie at 5 and Sheryl Swoopes at 6 is ridiculous (I had them 3 and 4). While it’s only two spots for each of them, it’s a slight. They were both dominant offensive and defensive players. Lisa won two championships and was MVP three times. Swoopes had four championships and three MVPs. They were the faces of the league and had players coming for them every single night. I don’t agree with the notion that there are four players better than these two.
Voepel: I had all three of the three-time MVPs — Swoopes, Leslie and Lauren Jackson — in the top five. It especially pains me to see Swoopes out of the top five. She could score from anywhere, and I don’t think any player ever disrupted the passing lanes better. Jackson’s ability to step outside and hit the 3 yet also be an incredibly dominant low-block player on offense and defense made her a marvel, and her being seventh is too low for me.
Hurd: I had Cappie Pondexter higher on my list. I think the run she had from her rookie season in 2006 through at least her first season with the Liberty in 2010 was ridiculous. Her accolades are there — two-time WNBA champ, Finals MVP, seven-time All-Star, top-five all time in scoring. Combine all of that with her performances in the postseason — just seems to warrant a higher spot than No. 21.
Pelton: Kudos to us for getting Penny Taylor on the list, since she didn’t make the W25, but I still think 25th is too low for such an efficient scorer and versatile contributor to multiple championship teams. I had Taylor 19th on my ballot.
Barnes: I agree with Pelton here. Penny Taylor should be a few places higher. I had her at 21.
Who should have been lower?
Pelton: Cynthia Cooper is the toughest player to rank, by far, because she played so briefly in the WNBA — which began when she was already 34 — but shined so brightly in that span (four championships, two MVPs). In terms of peak value, third is appropriate for Cooper, but considering longevity, I would have had her a little lower on the list through no fault of her own.
Barnes: This is likely to be controversial, but for me, Breanna Stewart is ranked way too high. Before everyone throws tomatoes at me, let me explain. I think Stewart is ranked so highly because of her two championships and her obvious talent. She’s a great player, and when she retires, she may be the best ever! Heck, in five years, she could top this list. But No. 12 on this list when A’ja Wilson isn’t even on it? I can’t accept that at face value. I had her at 24.
Which player missed this year’s list but is a lock to make the 30th anniversary team?
Lobo: A’ja Wilson.
Pelton: As the only MVP who’s not on the list, Wilson is the easy choice, but she’ll likely soon have company from current front-runner Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun. Because Jones has played longer than Wilson, there’s a reasonable case she already belongs in the top 25 after this dominant regular season.
Hurd: I think, especially if the Sun’s core remains intact, we could see both Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner on a 30th anniversary team.
Robinson: A’ja Wilson will 100% be on this list in five years. A championship is the big thing missing from her résumé right now. I know not everyone on this list has a title, but the players that haven’t were in the league long enough to make a historical mark. A’ja hasn’t been in the league long enough to do that. But the minute she wins that first championship, she’s there. And I feel like it’s coming soon. After watching her in the Olympics, I’m convinced that one day she could be the best to ever play in this league.
Barnes: Y’all already know what I’m going to say. A’ja Riyadh Wilson.
Voepel: We all fully agree on A’ja Wilson. But Jewell Loyd is a terrific talent on both sides of the ball, too, and I think she could be a lock in five years. I hope it’s 30 players for the 30th anniversary, though, because it’s already nearly impossible to keep this list to 25.
Cohen: I will join in with everyone else on A’ja Wilson, but I want to add one more name: Arike Ogunbowale. Anyone who knows me knows she’s one of my favorite athletes to watch, and I think she will soar to become one of the best WNBA players we have ever seen in the next few years.
A side note about adding in Jonquel Jones: If she continues to elevate from year to year like she did from a non-playing 2020 to 2021, she will certainly make the list.
Give us your best “hot take” or bold statement about this year’s ranking.
Lobo: The W has been around for 25 years. No hot take or bold statement. I’m just going to keep enjoying letting that sink in.
Pelton: When we do this again in five years, Breanna Stewart will top the list. Remember, Stewart just hit age 27, putting her in the middle of her prime. Another MVP and championship or two could solidify her résumé as compared to Taurasi (who won MVP only once) and Catchings (who was part of only one championship team).
Robinson: 1. History and homework are important in the GOAT debate. 2. We need to respect the defensive end of the floor. 3. When you’re having a GOAT debate and you lose, suck it up and get back in the ring. 4. Swin Cash not being on this list means we can throw it in the trash. And 5. Let’s have a great WNBA playoffs!
Barnes: This is less of a hot take and more of an appreciation. The WNBA has been around long enough for fans (and us reporters) to have intergenerational debates. That will never not be cool to me.
Hurd: I think this list looks very different if we place more emphasis on influence and impact, which should be requirements, in my opinion, for how this list is assembled.
Voepel: Our list is wrong. I say this chuckling because any list of the 25 top players at this point in the WNBA’s history will be wrong to a significant portion of fans, no matter who’s on it. There is no definite right list. There are just too many good players, and you’re forced to leave off some players you strongly believe should make it. That’s a great thing, because it shows how much talent there has been in the past, is here now and will be in the future.
The voters for our ESPN list ranged in age from their 20s to their 50s. There are writers, broadcasters, analysts and, in Rebecca Lobo, even someone who played in the league. The voting panel represents a cross section similar to WNBA fandom, and we all see things just a little differently. That’s OK, because as my colleagues have said, the debate on 25 seasons of great players is fun to have — and we hope this is just the beginning.
Cohen: I love that there are so many talented players, current and former, young and old, who make this list controversial and fun. The future of the league is so, so bright.