Caitlin Clark versus the greats so far — Sandy Brondello talks New York Liberty, Australia

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, June 5, 2024

Happy Basketball Wednesday, presented by The BIG EAST Conference. It’s been quite a week in WNBA discourse, and the less attention paid to the loudest, dumbest voices, the better, though I did provide an emergency podcast survival guide to handling this moment here.

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But what interests me far more than what one dummy or another who views the WNBA right now as a shortcut to clicks and engagement as opposed to an incredible league worthy of deep, sustained coverage is what we know about Caitlin Clark, the player, so far. And the best way to truly evaluate that is to compare her to her peers through 11 games.

Let’s do that, shall we?

Clark’s numbers don’t jump off the page so far. She’s shooting 46.2 percent from two-point range, 29.7 percent from three, hitting 89.4 percent of her free throws — solid numbers, but nothing extraordinary. The assists are at 6.4 per game, but the turnovers are at 5.4 per game.

Comparing her to her peers doesn’t mean 2024 A’ja Wilson or 2024 Diana Taurasi or 2024 Breanna Stewart, though. It’s looking at her relative to the most productive rookies in WNBA history through their first 11 games. Accordingly, thank you Stathead, let’s take a look.


Stathead Stat of the Week

Caitlin Clark has scored 242 points and had 93 assists so far this season. She is the only player in WNBA history with more than 240 points and 90 assists through their first 15 games.

Stathead is your all-access pass to the Basketball and College Basketball Reference databases. Our discovery tools are built for women’s basketball fans like you. Answer your questions in a matter of seconds.


Clark’s 70 total assists ranks her second among any WNBA player ever in her first 11 games, behind only Susie McConnell Serio’s 78 for the 1998 Cleveland Rockers. She’s the most prolific rookie WNBA playmaker so far this century. Saying that true thing was right there for anyone who wished to talk about her! (It feels like something that should’ve been in a Powerpoint about her, right?)

She’s scored 172 points in those 11 games, which not only is far ahead of McConnell Serio’s 100, but is higher than any of the top 18 on that assist list. That combination of scoring and distributing? It’s evident, and right away, for Clark.

Notably on that list: Sue Bird, with 55 assists in her first 11 games, but almost as many points as Clark, with 170. She was significantly less efficient from two, making 39 percent, though she did hit 36.4 percent of her threes and a Birdian 94.7 percent from the line. The mix made for a comparable true shooting percentage to Clark’s, 54.7 percent, Clark checking in at 52.4 percent. They were both well ahead of Skylar Diggins-Smith‘s 42.8 true shooting percentage, in direct comparison to the point guard part of “Three To See”.

Diana Taurasi, the best direct comparison for Clark’s game upon entering the WNBA in my opinion, started off her career hot from three, knocking down more than 41 percent through 11 games. It made for a true shooting percentage of 58.2 percent, and Taurasi outscored Clark through 11 games, 202-172. But Clark’s 70 assists dwarfed Taurasi’s 42 in that initial span.

Clark has also logged 11 blocked shots so far. Of the top 30 in assists, only two other players in their first 11 games even reached double figures: Candace Parker with 23 and Tamika Catchings with 14.

Depending on how you want to value these component parts of their games, you can rank some players ahead of Clark, some behind Clark. The point is, though, look at the folks on this list: this is the absolute apex of WNBA history, rookies though 11 games. (I intentionally focused on players who came directly from college, or in the came of Catchings, with a brief stopover due to injury.)

There’s this part, too: none of them, save Taurasi (barely, 6-5) and Parker had winning records through 11 games, either. And none of them played as remotely difficult a schedule as Clark just did, while all of them played those first 11 games in dramatically more time than Clark did. Adjusting for all of that likely more than makes up for any statistical gaps in production. Her head coach, Christie Sides, pointed this out to me when I asked about the shooting — tired legs. It was true Sunday night in Indiana’s loss to New York, but really, it’s been true all season.

That’s something we’re likely going to see now that the schedule reverts to a more normal WNBA campaign. It’s important to reiterate that this did not happen because the WNBA intended to make things uniquely difficult for Clark, or a conspiracy to get her on television as often as possible early. The schedule was created before Indiana even secured the number one pick, was released eight days later, months before Clark had even decided to enter the WNBA Draft.

Aren’t you curious to see what Clark does under normal conditions? I sure am! But playing as well as she has, into the teeth of that schedule, still gives us more than enough data to understand this: Caitlin Clark is talented enough to fit comfortably among the rookie seasons of the very best to ever play in the WNBA. What happens next is not guaranteed, but it’s certain to be fascinating. And it’s probably going to be great.


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This week in women’s basketball

Maggie Hendricks on Ezi Magbegor? Click!

The Chicago Sky need to learn how to be covered, Steve Greenberg writes.

Tamika Catchings weighs in on Caitlin Clark.

Appreciate Jordan Robinson’s work here connecting the dots between Commissioner’s Cup and the social justice impact it has.

No.

Always read Lindsay Gibbs.


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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.