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A Shorter WNBA Season Could Keep Some Records Safe

The WNBA, like all professional leagues, is attempting to find its way back amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as circumstances change daily on the ground in the United States. Still, commissioner Cathy Engelbert and the league are moving steadily toward a plan to play a 22-game schedule beginning on July 24 at IMG Academy in Florida — albeit without, as of yet, player buy-in.

The women’s basketball world will cheer the return to action, provided there are no health setbacks as a result. But fewer games played also means missed opportunities for some players, including shots at the record books.

[Related: It’s Time To Give Basketball’s Other GOAT Her Due]

The 2020 WNBA universe includes some of the greatest players in league history. And for many of them, their places in the historical record are going to be affected by missing valuable time to set new marks. (That this comes in a year when the WNBA was set to increase the number of games in a season to 36 from 34, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, only exacerbates the level of loss.)

So which pursuits of stats am I most attuned to? Glad you asked.

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Let’s start with win shares. Tamika Catchings holds the high mark for career win shares with 93.65, 28 percent more than Lauren Jackson’s second-place total. Catchings’s record is unbeatable for the moment, but Jackson’s mark is within reach. Diana Taurasi, even at her advanced basketball age, looked like she had a chance to make a run at Jackson after a 2018 season with 5.6 win shares. But an injury-marred 2019 and, now, a reduced 2020 may have ruined Taurasi’s opportunity.

A shorter season would also mean reduced opportunities for Sylvia Fowles, currently fourth in career win shares at 62.44, to make a run at the top of the leaderboard. Fowles is just 34, and she took an already-impressive peak to another level when she joined Cheryl Reeve and the Minnesota Lynx. She’s just two years removed from her best single-season win shares mark of 9.2, and she overcame a genuinely odd shift in how centers were refereed in the 2019 WNBA season, posting 5.3 win shares.

Age typically drags down performance, but as mentioned, Fowles has actually been better in her 30s than she was in her 20s. Were she to simply match her 2019 win shares over each of the next six full seasons, she would have passed Catchings late in the 2025 season. If she posted something like her average win-share production over the past three seasons from Minnesota going forward, or just over 7 win shares per season, she would have passed Catchings midway through the 2024 season. Daunting math, to be sure, but the top of leaderboards are filled with players who prove exceptions to the aging rules.

Fowles is facing the same issue in her effort to reach the top of the WNBA’s list in career blocks. Fowles is currently fourth with 621 blocks in her WNBA career, while the late Margo Dydek leads the way at 877. Fowles blocked more than 60 shots each in 2016 and 2017, while finishing above 40 in both 2018 and 2019. If we assume that the latter represents her new typical performance — an average of 44.5 blocks over the past two campaigns — Fowles would have needed around 5¾ seasons to catch Dydek.1

That’s asking Fowles to keep on being Fowles until age 40. Again, that’s not impossible, but it is asking a lot.

A more realistic new record-holder does exist on the blocks leaderboard, just above Fowles, in Phoenix’s Brittney Griner, who is already third in all-time blocks at 636. Griner is just 29, and while her 100-plus-block seasons may be behind her — she had three of the seven such seasons in WNBA history in 2014-2016 (Dydek had the other four) — she still averaged 71.3 blocks per season over her past three seasons. If she managed that over her the next four seasons, she’d match Dydek before the fourth full season had finished. Put another way, she would set a new record before reaching Fowles’s current age.

Then again, it’s rare to find aging curves like that of Fowles — only three of the top 10 win-share seasons for centers were from players in their 30s. Griner is in her prime right now, so losing time this year will have a greater effect than if it came when she was, say, 35.

One record should be easy for Fowles to break, at least: the career mark for rebounds at 3,356. Fowles is second all-time with 3,332 rebounds and right behind her former Lynx teammate, Rebekah Brunson, who holds the record. She needs just 2.5 games of her typical board work to break the record, and the only loss here is that there probably won’t be fans in the stands to cheer her for it.

Notably, many of the more perimeter-oriented records are either already accounted for in this class of WNBA stars or likely out of reach for them. Taurasi already set the mark for most career points and 3-pointers, while her former UConn teammate and longtime friend Sue Bird did the same for assists.

As for steals, Catchings sits atop the leaderboard with 1,074. No one else in league history has managed even 800 steals. Among active players, Bird leads the way, fifth all-time, at 652.

Bird has averaged just over 40 steals per season in her career, and she’s recorded 34, 36 and 35 steals over the past three seasons. If she averaged 35 per season going forward, she would have passed Catchings … early in the 2032 season, Bird’s age-52 campaign.

Now, that gets delayed a bit.


  1. If she played the full season or slightly less than that, given that she would have had 36 games instead of 34 to accumulate counting stats.

Howard Megdal is editor-in-chief of The Next, a women’s basketball site, and founder of the women’s sports newsletter The IX.