The WNBA's 25 all-time greatest players, according to the stats

What is the statistical ranking of the WNBA's top players?
In an effort to answer this question, and in conjunction with Tuesday's top 25 player ranking as part of the league’s 25th anniversary season on Tuesday, I am unveiling for first time a WNBA version the championships added metric that I introduced five years ago for the NBA (and ABA).

The concept of the NBA is the same. You need to quantify how statistical contributions a player made in order to increase their chances of winning a title over the average for all teams. This means that a MVP-level season is worth more than several All Star campaigns. This allows for a balance between longevity and peak contributions when it comes rank careers.

The WNBA version has a few differences. First, because we have full box score stats for the W's entire history, I'm using my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric rather than Basketball-Reference.com's win shares. Second, playoff championships are added based on individual game performance (as measured using Game Score), rather than total postseason stats.

The addition of championships is based on regular-season WARP and playoff performance. Awards (MVP, All-WNBA, and All-Star honors), are then adjusted based upon league quality for that season. League quality fluctuated with expansion and the incorporation of former ABL players in its first four years, before steadily improving in the current 12-team era. These seasons are then added together to give a final estimate of the number of championships that a player would have contributed to average teams' total.

Let's have a look at the rankings.

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1. Tamika Catchings (3.3 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 2

This conclusion is identical to the one I reached last season, when Catchings was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Nobody has ever had a better WNBA experience. Catchings is the No. Catchings is No. 1 in regular-season championships, adding nearly one more than any other player. Because of her excellence and postseason longevity, she is second in playoff titles.

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A look back at the greatest players of league history will show us how little Catchings had to help the Indiana Fever. When Griffith was 39 years old and nearing retirement, she only played three games with other top-25 players on ESPN. Only Becky Hammon ((0)) played with top-25 players less often than the rest of the W25 players.

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2. Candace Parker (3.0 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 9

Parker's playoff performance is what makes her second. Only Cynthia Cooper had a higher average WARP per playoff game than Parker, who did it in twice the number of games (48 to Cooper’s 19). Parker, despite only winning one playoff title with Sparks, is now the leader in playoff championships.

AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

3. Diana Taurasi (2.6 championships added)

ESPN panel ranking: 1

Our rankings ranked Taurasi as the top player and she is our favorite to win WNBA's GOAT vote. She is the league's all time leading scorer and a 10-time All-WNBA First Team selection. However, her advanced stats are not as impressive. Taurasi is No. Taurasi is No.1 in awards championships, and No. 4 in the playoffs but only sixth in regular-season titles added.

Partly, her strong teammates are more than worthy of the championships added method. Taurasi was able to play for long periods of time with four players who were in the top 25. She also scores less in WARP than elite players at both ends.

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4. Maya Moore (2.2 championships added).

ESPN panel ranking: 4

Moore finished second in playoff WARP in just eight WNBA seasons and third in postseason championships. She was able to accumulate playoff value quickly, winning four titles and reaching the Finals twice. She is also fifth in regular season championships.

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5. Lisa Leslie (2.1 championships added)

ESPN panel ranking: 5

Leslie, a three-time MVP and two times Finals MVP, was at the top of the rankings in 2009 when she retired. She was then overtaken by players who performed as well during a more competitive period of league history. She's still in the top 10 for all three measures of championships, and is second to Taurasi in the awards category.

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6. Lauren Jackson (2.0 championships added).

ESPN panel ranking: 7

Jackson is second to Catchings in regular season championships. Jackson's 14th-place playoff performance makes her drop a little. Unfortunately, Storm did not advance beyond the first round in 2005-2007 and Jackson missed the 2008 and 2009 postseasons because of injuries. She returned to win Finals MVP 2010 however.

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7. Sheryl Swoopes (1.8 Championships added)

ESPN panel ranking: 6

Three-time MVP is now third in regular season championships added. Surprisingly though she has won numerous awards, Swoopes ranks ninth in awards championships added (ninth), due to her late start collecting them. Swoopes, who was 27 when she played her first WNBA season in 1998 after having given birth to Jordan in 1997, was only 27. Cooper also gets less credit than Swoopes for her four Houston Comets titles runs.

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8. Cynthia Cooper (1.6 championships added).

ESPN panel ranking: 3

Cooper managed to climb this high in a career that lasted only four years. Cooper retired in 2003 after playing four games as a player and coach for two years. Cooper's four-year record of winning 1.6 championships suggests that an average team would have a 50-50 chance of winning a title if Cooper is there. Cooper won two MVPs and is now fourth in regular-season championships, with 124 career games.

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9. Sylvia Fowles (1.75 championships added).

ESPN panel ranking: 10

Fowles' WNBA career has been one of the most balanced. She ranks in the top 12 for all three categories of championships, as well as being a regular-season MVP and a two-time Finals MVP. Fowles isn't finished yet. She will be putting together another stellar season at 35, after she was limited to seven games in 2020 due to injuries.

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10. Breanna Stewart (1.75 championships added).

ESPN panel ranking: 12

Stewart, who has only five WNBA seasons under her belt, is already in the top 10, and there's still time to climb up the ranks. With the quality of play adjustment, her 2020 playoff run was ranked second in league history. Stewart scored 25.7 points, 7.8 rebound and 4.0 assists per game on 62% true shooting. The Storm won the postseason 6-0.

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11. Elena Delle Donne (1.4 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 11

Delle Donne is unable to add to her record since leading Washington Mystics in the 2019 title. She opted out of the last season because she was concerned about COVID-19 and was only able to play three games in 2021 after back surgery. Even though Delle Donne has never played another game, her record of excellence is unquestionable with two MVPs.

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12. Yolanda Griffith (1.4 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 13

Griffith was named MVP in 1999 her first WNBA season, after she had played in the ABL. She is currently 19th in the awards category. This is understandable as Leslie largely prevented Griffith from making it to the All-WNBA Second Team. Griffith was unable to make it to the All-WNBA First Team in 2005 and 1999. Griffith is ranked in the top 10 for both playoff and regular-season championships. This is despite Griffith not making her debut in the WNBA until she was 29.

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13. Angel McCoughtry (1.3 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 20

McCoughtry was a strong contributor in the regular season. She has elevated it to a new level in the playoffs. McCoughtry ranks seventh with 0.9 adjusted championships. McCoughtry was the driving force behind Atlanta's three Finals appearances. She averaged 26.7 PPG in 2010.

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14. Sue Bird (1.3 championships added).

ESPN panel ranking: 8

Bird isn't given enough credit because of how championships work. She doesn't get the credit she deserves for putting together more seasons than any other player in WNBA history. Despite her longevity, she is seventh in the awards category. She is easily the best player who has never been awarded MVP.

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15. Tina Charles (1.1 Championships added)

ESPN panel ranking: 18

Charles, a Christ the King alumnus, is the only player to have won an MVP in addition to her eight All-WNBA appearances (5 on the first team), and is currently ranked sixth in the awards category. She is 23rd in regular season championships, 26th in playoffs, but not as high in statistical production.

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16. Cappie Pondexter (1.1 championships included)

ESPN panel ranking: 21

Pondexter would rank just outside the top 25 based on regular-season value. However, her exceptional playoff runs in 2007 (when the Liberty lost the Finals MVP) as well as 2010 (when Pondexter averaged 28.4 points per game with strong shooting percentages) elevate her to the top 10 in postseason championships.

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17. Brittney Griner (1.0 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 17

Griner is the most consistent player across all three categories. She ranks 15th in regular season, 16th in playoffs and 16th in awards. Griner could improve her awards score by being named to the All-WNBA First Team this year, which would allow her to jump Charles and Pondexter.

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18. Nneka Ogwumike (1.0 championships added). 18.

ESPN panel ranking: 22

Ogwumike's 2016 MVP campaign was her only All-WNBA First Team appearance. Ogwumike is 28th in the awards category. She is now a stronger 12th in regular-season championships, and her playoff play (19th) is about the same as her overall ranking.

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19. Becky Hammon (0.9 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 23

Hammon was one of the WNBA's greatest late bloomers. She contributed 0.8 of her 0.9 championships after she was traded to the San Antonio Silver Stars at the age of 30. Hammon would be on two All-WNBA First Teams in San Antonio and lead the Stars to their 2008 Finals.

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20. Tina Thompson (0.9 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 15

Thompson, the WNBA's most successful scorer until being overtaken by Taurasi in 2017, was a significant contributor to the league from its inception through her retirement at 38 in 2013. Because her shooting percentages have dropped from the regular season, she is 34th in playoff value.

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21. 21.

ESPN panel ranking: NR

WARP has rated Bonner well because of her 3-point shooting volume and strong combination blocks and steals. She's not in the top 25 for awards (32nd), which is how she's likely to be perceived by fans, but she's in the top 20 for regular-season championships.

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22. Penny Taylor (0.8 championships added).

ESPN panel ranking: 25

Bonner and Taylor have a nice symmetry in their careers. They were teammates for a long time and are favourites of advanced stats. Taylor finishes 35th in awards, but is 18th in playoff championships. This is largely due to Taylor's hyper-efficient title runs of 2007 and 2009.

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23. Lindsay Whalen (0.8 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 19

Whalen was an All WNBA First Team pick from 2008 to 2014, when Bird and Taurasi were still at their peak. Two additional second team appearances pushed her to 15th place in awards championships.

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24. Sophia Young-Malcolm (1.88 championships added).

ESPN panel ranking: NR

Young-Malcolm was a productive starter in the WNBA for 31 years and played in 10 WNBA seasons. She's now outside the top 50 for regular-season championships, but she rises to the top 25 because of her playoff contributions. Young-Malcom's scoring average increased every season that the San Antonio Stars reached the playoffs, while also increasing her scoring efficiency.

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25. Seimone Augustus (0.7 championships)

ESPN panel ranking: 14

Surprisingly Augustus is not in the top 25 for the awards category (26th), because five of her six All-WNBA appearances on the second team and eight All-Star appearances aren't much in terms championships added. Because of her 0.5 playoff titles, she's still on this list. This helped the Lynx win four titles.

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