The top two picks in the 2022 WNBA draft went head-to-head for the first time in their careers on Sunday and showed out until injury ended the battle prematurely.
No. 1 overall pick Rhyne Howard led the Atlanta Dream with 33 points in a 85-79 win against the Indiana Fever at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. She joins six players in league history who have scored at least 30 within their first four games in the league.
No. 2 pick NaLyssa Smith, who left in the fourth after turning her ankle, had 18 points for the Fever. Emily Engstler, the No. 4 pick in the draft, stepped in for Smith after the injury and scored back-to-back buckets to bring the Fever within two late. Queen Egbo, the No. 10 overall pick and Smith's Baylor teammate, put another huge block on the rookie's highlight reel.
Rhyne Howard joins elite company
Howard's 33 points is one of the highest marks of any rookie in WNBA history and she joins six players in scoring at least 30 within their first four games in the league, according to Across the Timeline. The Dream (3-1) traded up to take her No. 1 last month.
Candace Parker had 34 in her debut for the Los Angeles Sparks on May 17, 2018. Yolanda Griffith (31 points, 1999) and Sabrina Ionescu (33, 2020) did it in their second games. Danielle Adams (32, 2011) did it in the third game for the San Antonio Silver Stars. And Cappie Pondexter (30, 2006) and Kia Nurse (34, 2018) did it in their fourth professional games.
No. 1 draft pick Rhyne Howard had her first WNBA 30-piece in the Atlanta Dream's win against the Indiana Fever 😤 pic.twitter.com/wjH8VgeE4g
— espnW (@espnW) May 15, 2022
Howard was 9-of-18, including 3-of-8 from 3-point range and 12-of-17 from the free-throw line. The Kentucky All-American added three rebounds, three steals and two assists in 32 minutes. Her 17 points in the first quarter are the most by a rookie in league history, the second-most by any player in Dream history and the third-most by any WNBA player, the Dream said.
Her offensive rebound with under 30 seconds helped the Dream secure the win. Indiana's defense had the Dream in a bind, but Kristy Wallace's missed 3-pointer came down in her hands. Howard made both free throws to make it a two-possession game, 83-79.
Howard has 83 points through four games (20.8 PPG), joining five rookies in scoring at least 80 in that span, according to ESPN Stats and Information. They are Nikki McCray (94), Ruthie Bolton (86), Augustus (85), Pondexter (85) and Diana Taurasi (83).
No. 2 pick NaLyssa Smith injures ankle
Smith also reached a career-high before what the Fever called a right ankle injury she sustained with 6:29 left in the fourth. While running back down the court she turned her ankle near halfcourt in a way reminiscent of Ionescu her rookie year. The former Baylor forward was seen by a trainer on the bench and did not return to the game.
Smith scored 18 point shooting 6-of-16, but hitting 3-of-5 3-point attempts. She was 3-of-7 from the free-throw line with six rebounds and three assists.
Engstler came in for Smith after the injury and scored four points within 50 seconds of each to get the Fever back within a possession. The Fever came within one, 77-76, with 2:10 on the clock. Parker put it back to a five-point difference, Kelsey Mitchell made all three free throws and Howard added her two to put it away for good.
Kelsey Mitchell paced the Fever with 27 points. Destanni Henderson, the South Carolina star who dropped to No. 20 in the draft, played 12 minutes off the bench and hit a 3-pointer with three assists and a steal. Lexie Hull (sixth overall) also hit a 3-pointer in eight minutes off the bench.
The Fever dropped to 2-3, but haven't lost by more than 10 since the opener against the Washington Mystics.
Queen Egbo's sick block
Egbo is already making noise with her highlight-reel stunning blocks. The Fever's first-round pick had another big one in the final four minutes as the Fever forced a tight game. She swatted Billings' layup and the defense forced a shot clock violation that resulted in Engstler's layup on the other end that made it 75-73.
Give us all the angles.
Egbo had nine rebounds, four points, two blocks, two steals and an assist in the starting lineup. She's averaging 1.8 blocks per game, fourth-most in the league behind Wilson (3.8), Ezi Magbegor (3), and Liz Cambage (2.0).
The Fever host the Dream back at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Tuesday.