The Atlanta Dream knew who they wanted in the 2022 WNBA draft and made a deal to ensure it. Now they can officially say they have the Rookie of the Year.
Rhyne Howard, the No. 1 pick out of Kentucky, was awarded the honor on Thursday with 53 votes from a panel of 56 WNBA media members and broadcasters. She's joined on the all-rookie team by Indiana Fever forwards NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin and Chicago Sky guard Rebekah Gardner.
Austin received two Rookie of the Year votes and Smith received one. Howard is the second Dream player to win the honor, joining Angel McCoughtry in 2009.
How Rhyne Howard became Rookie of the Year
The Dream obtained the No. 1 pick in a trade with the Washington Mystics, who received their No. 3 pick days before the draft. Atlanta wanted Howard, a 6-foot-2 athletic wing viewed as one of the best in the draft. But it came with the caveat from some experts that she didn't have the passion or motor for big games.
"I think the ceiling for her is very high, and I think a lot of people would agree with that," first-year Dream general manager Dan Padover said ahead of the draft. First-year head coach Tanisha Wright echoed that afterward, adding she has "tons of potential that really hasn't even been tapped into yet."
Howard went on to prove those words correct. And the Dream soared past a rough two years to come within one spot of the playoffs. Howard started every game she played.
In her professional debut, Howard neared a historic outing. The following week she dropped 17 in a quarter, a WNBA record for a rookie, and went on to score the most points by a rookie in her first four games. She was named the league's Eastern Player of the Week.
Howard was named an All-Star reserve, which is voted on by coaches in the league rather than a combination of fan, player and media vote. She had 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal for Team Wilson in 15 minutes off the bench.
By season's end, she won every Rookie of the Month award from May to August. In late July she had already passed the mark for most 20-point games by a rookie in Dream franchise history. Angel McCoughtry, Brittney Sykes and Chennedy Carter all had six. Howard finished with 11.
She led all rookies with 16.2 ppg, a mark that ranks 12th in the entire league, and ranked fourth in the league in both 3-point makes (2.5 pg) and attempts (7.3). Those numbers trail only Kelsey Plum, Diana Taurasi and Arike Ogunbowale. Howard added a rookie-best 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Her 4.8 rebounds per game ranked sixth amongst rookies.
2022 WNBA All-Rookie team
NaLyssa Smith (Fever): The Fever drafted Smith with the No. 2 pick, kicking off a big draft class for the rebuilding franchise. Smith, who won a national championship at Baylor as a freshman in 2019, led all rookies with 7.9 rebounds per game, ranking sixth in the league behind four former MVPs and Alyssa Thomas. She averaged 13.5 points, second for Indiana behind Kelsey Mitchell, and 1.4 assists.
Shakira Austin (Mystics): The Mystics were fine with swapping picks because it meant they could add Austin, a Maryland native, alongside Elena Delle Donne. The Ole Miss star averaged 8.7 points on 57% efficiency and 6.4 rebounds per game, ranking second amongst rookies. She scored 12 points in 25 minutes in her playoff debut last week.
Rebekah Gardner (Sky): There is a large asterisk next to Gardner's name here because she's a 10-year professional veteran who spent her career overseas after leaving UCLA. But it's the 6-1 guard's first season in the W and her numbers, as well as her defense, easily places her on the all-rookie team. She averaged 8.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 apg and 1.4 spg in 21.7 minutes off the bench. Her 54.2% shooting percentage trailed only forward Emma Meeseman for the Sky.
Queen Egbo (Fever): The Fever added Egbo, a 6-4 forward out of Baylor, with the No. 10 pick in the draft. Egbo averaged 7.2 ppg (sixth among rookies), 6.3 rpg (third) and 1.2 bpg (first). She played an average of 21.8 minutes a game and started 31 of 33 contests. She missed time early in the season with an ankle injury.