Michaela Onyenwere first Liberty player to win Rookie of the Year, headlines All-Rookie team

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Michaela Onyenwere is the 2021 WNBA Rookie of the Year, making her the first New York Liberty player to earn the honor, the team announced Tuesday. 

The former UCLA star was listed on 47 of 49 ballots submitted by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. Teammate Didi Richards and the Atlanta Dream's Aari McDonald each earned one vote. 

The three were all named to the 2021 All-Rookie team announced by the WNBA. They are joined by No. 1 draft pick Charli Collier of the Dallas Wings and Dana Evans of the Chicago Sky. The Sky are the only of those teams still in the playoffs and could become the first team not seeded Nos. 1-3 to reach the WNBA Finals. 

The All-Rookie team was a tough selection this season as none of the rookies took on large roles. It is the first time in the league's 25-year history that four All-Rookie selections averaged fewer than 17 minutes per game. All but Onyenwere fell below that mark and Evans, Richards and Collier averaged the fewest minutes of an All-Rookie selection of all time, per Across the Timeline.

Onyenwere named Rookie of the Year

Didi Richards and Michaela Onyenwere
New York rookies Didi Richards and Michaela Onyenwere were named two of the five best of the year. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was a less-productive rookie class than in most years, and Onyenwere shot out to the front of the race early. She swept the monthly rookie honors for the season after being selected No. 6 overall out of UCLA. 

Onyenwere played in all 32 regular-season games for New York, starting 29 of them, and played in the team's single-elimination playoff game. She averaged 8.6 points (first among rookies) and 2.9 rebounds (second) in 22.5 minutes per game. She ranked first in field goals made (91) and 3-pointers made (37). 

“Michaela is one of the most unselfish, hardest working young players I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said in a team release. “Winning our franchise’s first ever Rookie of the Year award is a massive accomplishment in its own right, but the most impressive part is the fact that Mic never chased stats or sought recognition.”

Hopkins added: “She was able to get herself to this point by simply doing what her team needed her to do every single day. We couldn’t be more proud of her, and we’re beyond thankful to have her with us on this journey.”

Her production early lifted the Liberty to a hot start, but it cooled at the end of the season, creating opportunities for players like McDonald or Richards to come into the conversation. 

Onyenwere's rookie-best was a 29-point outing against the Atlanta Dream on May 29, and she produced her first double-double against the Minnesota Lynx on Aug. 31 with 11 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. 

WNBA 2021 All-Rookie team

McDonald, the Arizona Wildcats superstar, played bigger minutes later in the season and finished averaging 6.3 points, 2.0 assists, 1.6 rebounds and 0.8 steals in 16.4 minutes per game. Her 59 assists were first among rookies (Evans was second with 30) and her 25 steals also led the first-year players. She ranked second in field goals made (56) and 3-pointers made (32). 

Richards, out of Baylor, averaged 2.3 points and 1.1 rebounds in 11.2 minutes per game. Her impact was felt most on the defensive end, and she was one of the top defensive guards, per Pivot Analysis. She had 17 total steals, second among rookies. 

Collier led all rookies in rebounding with 3.6 per game after leaving Texas a year early. She also started out with a hot stat line by recording a double-double in her debut. She had 11 points and 10 rebounds to open the Wings' season against the Los Angeles Sparks. But she saw limited time on the court as the young team played with rotations under first-year coach head Vickie Johnson. 

Evans averaged 3.3 points and 1.0 assists in 7.6 minutes per game playing behind one of the league's all-time greats in Courtney Vandersloot. She hit one 3-pointer and has four defensive rebounds over the four playoff games she's seen time in for the Sky.

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