The biggest breakout stars of the 2024 WNBA season (so far)

Each WNBA season has the expected performances — like two-time MVPs A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart showing out year in, year out, and all-WNBA talent such as Alyssa Thomas and Napheesa Collier proving some of the toughest competitors in the league.

But the fun of the WNBA season really comes from the unexpected: the breakout players who maybe switched teams in the offseason and are now having a career year; or who took on larger roles and are helping their squads reach new heights.

Along the way, they might earn their first (or another) All-Star bid or the league’s Most Improved Player award. They might even receive newfound MVP consideration.

Editor’s Picks

2 Related

It’s far too early to decide on such honors. But we’ve already seen several players hit the ground running through the first week and a half of the 2024 WNBA season. As we head into the second weekend of games, these are the breakout stars who have made sizable jumps from 2023 and are asserting themselves early on.

Some are former All-Stars leveling up; others are assuming starting spots for the first time, and showing they deserve the move up.

There’s a lot of the season still left, but we expect these players to continue to make an outsized impact on their teams.

2023 stats: 18.7 PPG, 44.8% FG, 40.4% 3FG at Chicago
2024 stats so far: 31.3 PPG, 50.6% FG, 46.7% 3FG

It may seem counterintuitive to include a former Finals MVP as a breakout player, but in her limited time in the Valley, Copper — whose trade to Phoenix following a career season with the Sky was one of the most shocking moves of the offseason — has been nothing short of sensational. Case in point: Her (quite efficient) 28.5 points per game is the top scoring average in the league through Thursday’s competition and marks the highest PPG mark through the first four games of a season in Mercury history.

Copper’s consecutive games with 38 and 37 points — the former a career high, the latter coming against the defending champion Aces — put the league on notice. Only one other player, Liz Cambage, had ever recorded back-to-back 35-point games in the WNBA. And, although Copper’s slashing ability has long been a feature of her game, her hot shooting in a system that prioritizes 3-point looks has also been huge, especially with Brittney Griner out indefinitely with a broken toe. She’s recorded at least three 3-pointers in her first four games to start the season, tied for the longest streak to begin a season in WNBA history.

“My offseason was big. I took pride in being a three-level scorer, but I wanted to be more consistent,” Copper said after Phoenix’s win over the Aces Tuesday. “And off the court, it’s like we’ve been together forever… We’re having fun in these games together and I think that’s where we’re getting our separation.”

Copper, who started her career in Washington and Chicago mostly as a role player off the bench, has never earned an all-WNBA nod, but that could change this year if she keeps up this level of play.



Dearica Hamby gets the and-1 to fall for the Sparks

Dearica Hamby gets the and-1 to fall after an offensive rebound vs. the Aces.

2023 stats: 8.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG
2024 stats so far: 22.0 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 2.0 SPG

Hamby’s comeback last season after giving birth to her second child in March 2023 was remarkable: She was the only Sparks player to appear in all 40 games. This year, the former two-time Sixth Player of the Year aims to get not only an All-Star bid, but MVP votes. If she continues to play like she has so far, both could be possible.

Hamby has recorded double-doubles in two of the Sparks’ first three games. In the third, she had a career-high 29 points against her former team, the Aces.

The No. 6 pick in 2015, Hamby’s previous career highs were 13.0 PPG (2020) and 7.6 RPG (2019) with the Aces. She is also currently leading the league in rebounding (13.7 RPG) and shooting a blistering 59.1% clip from the field, which ranks fourth in the WNBA.

Sparks head coach Curt Miller credited her mentality and mindset for her improvement this season. “She has a lot of goals for herself personally,” Miller said. “She wants to be counted on as the go-to person. Her motor has always made her special in this league, but she’s playing with a determination and confidence right now.”



Alanna Smith fights through traffic for and-1

Alanna Smith fights through traffic for and-1

2023 stats: 9.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.3 BPG at Chicago
2024 stats so far: 16.0 PG, 6.7 RPG, 3.7 BPG

Smith emerged as a candidate for Most Improved Player following a career 2023 season in Chicago, her first as a full-time starter. She is now part of the Lynx’s powerful frontcourt duo, with Napheesa Collier.

Smith’s efficiency from the field overall as well as the 3-point arc are notable (56.3% from the field and 62.5% on 3-pointers), but she’s making her presence felt in other ways, especially on the defensive end. In Minnesota’s second game against Seattle, a double-overtime victory, the Australian Olympian had 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 6 blocks and 2 assists.

“She just competes so hard,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said after the contest. “She was big.” And she is a critical reason the Lynx have established themselves as a top team in the league early this season.

Collier spoke earlier this week about how she wanted Smith as a teammate because of how tough she was to play against in past years — so much so that she went to dinner with Smith for three hours when they were playing overseas in Turkey to recruit her.

“She’s really strong, she never quits, she’s aggressive, she makes really smart moves and that’s exactly what she’s doing with us,” Collier said. “She’s doing so well and I’m happy that we got her.”



DiJonai Carrington finishes through contact

DiJonai Carrington finishes through contact, 05/17/2024

2023 stats: 8.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 17.2 MPG
2024 stats so far: 14.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 31.8 MPG

Carrington made headlines on opening night for her defense on Caitlin Clark, but she has assumed a large role in Connecticut’s offense this season after landing a full-time starting role: She’s averaging the second-most shots on the team so far (13.8 attempts per game), scoring while her 21 points against Washington last week marked her second career 20-point outing.

Last year she showed she could be a spark off the bench with her defensive energy and ability to get downhill, but her consistency and discipline this year, Sun coach Stephanie White has said, will be key for a team whose guard play has long been the X factor in its championship hopes.

Top stories of the week from

Get exclusive access to thousands of premium articles a year from top writers.
• Can the Cavs keep Donovan Mitchell? »
• Offseason awards: NFC’s best, worst deals »
• Real or not? Unexpected MLB contenders »
More ESPN+ content »

“This is what we expect from her. The growth from her, to be able to come into the starting lineup, to be able to understand that expectation and be able to do it consistently is the challenge, and she did that,” White said after the Sun’s season-opening win. “This was Step 1 for her, and she’s going to have that challenge every night. Some players just wait for the opportunity, and then they think it’s going to be theirs and they don’t just take it. She’s taken it and she’s taken ownership of it.”



Kia Nurse drills the trey

Kia Nurse drills the trey, 05/21/2024

Kia Nurse, G, Los Angeles Sparks

2023 stats: 5.9 PPG, 35.0% 3FG, 19.7 MPG at Seattle
2024 stats so far: 16.3 PPG, 45.0% 3FG, 31.9 MPG

Nurse has flourished so far in Los Angeles, currently second in the team in scoring behind Hamby and sporting an efficient 54.5% clip, including 45% from 3 on 6.7 attempts per game. Compare this to her previous career highs: 13.7 PPG (2019), 40% FG (2018), 35.3% 3FG (2019, 2021). The Canadian Olympian returned from her fall 2021 ACL injury with the Storm last season, where she started half their games, but has said she didn’t feel like herself mentally.

Now with more confidence under her belt and a larger role in Los Angeles, she “looks like a completely different player” than last year, Miller said, and could help the Sparks make some noise this summer. Miller has also complimented Nurse’s leadership and voice, key for this young team.

Games to watch this weekend

Indiana Fever (0-5) at Los Angeles Sparks (1-2)
Friday, 10 p.m. ET (ION)

The 2024 Nos. 1, 2 and 4 picks take the floor in this one, with Caitlin Clark facing off against Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson in Los Angeles. This may be the Fever’s best shot at getting their first win after starting 0-5. The Sparks meanwhile are coming off their first win of the season on Tuesday and hosting their first home game of the season at Arena. They’ll be looking to show they’re a tough out after nearly knocking off the defending champion Aces.

New York Liberty (4-0) at Minnesota Lynx (2-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

New York and Minnesota are coming off crushing losses on Thursday night, the Liberty at home to the Sky and the Lynx in overtime on the road at the Sun. And neither will want to drop two contests in a row. Both teams were two of the league’s three final undefeated squads heading into Thursday, so this matchup figures to be one of the most compelling of the young season, especially with the Lynx surpassing so many early expectations.

Connecticut Sun (3-0) at Chicago Sky (1-1)
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)

The Sky, led by first-year coach Teresa Weatherspoon, showed they are for real by knocking off the then-undefeated Liberty in Brooklyn on Thursday. They’d really turn some heads if they are able to follow that by beating the Sun, the sole undefeated team remaining in the league and a perennial WNBA title contender. And Chicago will likely have plenty of juice for this contest given it’ll be the Sky’s home opener nearly two weeks since the season tipped.

Leave a comment