The WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) has seen many excellent female basketball players come and go since the league began in 1997.
The question is, how do you rank the top women’s basketball players of all time? After all, prominent player Cynthia Coopers was already 34 years old in her first season.
In compiling this list of the baddest WNBA players, we wanted to take into account their overall talent, individual statistics, awards, and championships.
We tried to include a balance between past and present players. So here is our list of the top 10 best female basketball players in WNBA history.
1. Diana Taurasi
Guard, Phoenix Mercury 2004- Present
Taurasi was a star at UConn before being selected first overall by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2004 draft. She averaged 17 points per game as a rookie and made her first of ten All-Star appearances the following season. She went on to win her first WNBA Championship in 2007, with two more championship wins coming in 2009 and 2014.
Taurasi is the league’s all-time scoring leader with 9,693 points and has averaged at least 20 points per game six times, leading the league five times. Taurasi has finished in the top five in scoring nine times and has been money in the clutch.
In addition to winning league MVP (Most Valuable Player award) in 2009, Taurasi was named MVP of the finals, doing so again in 2014.
Although she doesn’t hold the record for most championships, most MVPs, most flair and flash, Taurasi has been remarkably consistent. Other players in league history may have had a longer period of time at the top of their game, but no player has had the combination of performance and longevity.
Case in point, there is a 16-year span between her first All-WNBA team and her last. That says it all.
2. Cynthia Cooper
Guard, Houston Comets 1997 – 2000, 2003
Cooper was a star at USC, but what is more impressive is that she was a WNBA rookie at the age of 34 (back in 1997). She averaged 22.2 points per game in her first season and averaged at least 20 points per game in her first three seasons in the league.
She led the Comets to four consecutive WNBA championships and was the first two-time MVP of the league. Although she only played five years in the league, Cooper is the all-time leader in scoring – averaging just under 21 points per game.
Cooper is one of the top offensive threats in WNBA history and was the master of the pick-and-roll. At her best, she was unstoppable, leading the league in scoring three times. When not scoring, Cooper was an excellent passer and defender, averaging nearly five assists and 1.6 steals per game.
While her statistics alone put her among the best players in league history, Cooper entered the league with a polished game after playing overseas for several seasons. Her basketball IQ was off the chart. She redefined the position and set the model for the women’s game moving forward.
3. Lisa Leslie
Center, Los Angeles Sparks 1997 – 2009
Leslie was a standout player at USC before earning a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games – the first of four Olympic gold medals.
She then began a fantastic 13-year professional career with the Los Angeles Spark, winning titles in 2001 and 2002. Leslie earned three MVP awards and is in the top 10 all-time in scoring, rebounds, and blocked shots.
Leslie wasn’t only a strong offensive player; she was phenomenal on the defensive end – winning Defensive Player of the Year twice. She made her first of eight All-WNBA First Team in 1999. Leslie averaged over ten rebounds per game three times and over two blocked shots per game nine times.
During her career, Leslie averaged 17.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.3 blocked shots per game. She was a dominant scorer in do-or-die situations and was the first female basketball player to dunk in a WNBA game. She is recognised as the best center in WNBA history.
4. Tamika Catchings
Forward, Indiana Fever 2002 – 2016
Catchings was the third pick overall in 2002 out of Tennessee. She made her first of ten All-Star appearances as a rookie, averaging 18.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. She won a WNBA championship in 2012 and was named MVP of the Finals.
Catchings ranks in the top ten All-Time in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. In addition, she was “Defensive Player of the Year” five times.
The ultimate professional, few female basketball players were as consistent at both ends of the floor for a longer period. Catchings never led the league in any major statistical category, but the totality of her career places her among the best to ever step on the court.
Her determination remains unmatched, playing hard until the horn sounded in the final game of a storied career. Catchings retired as a professional basketball player with averages of 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game.
5. Lauren Jackson
Forward, Seattle Storm 2001 – 2012
The Australian-born Jackson was the first overall pick in the 2001 draft at the age of 20. She was an All-Star as a rookie and was named to seven All-Star teams over the course of a 12-year career.
The period of dominating play from 2003 through 2010 goes nearly unmatched. During that stretch, she won two titles, three MVP awards, and a Defensive Player of the Year Award. She averaged over 20 points per game five times and at least two blocked shots per game five times. Jackson is tenth All-Time in scoring and fifth in blocked shots.
Jackson could have ranked higher on this list had she not suffered a hamstring injury that required surgery in 2013. She also missed the 2014 season after surgery on her left Achilles tendon and right knee.
Jackson attempted a comeback in 2005 but once again needed knee surgery. She officially retired while preparing for a return to the 2016 Summer Olympics. Jackson retired with scoring averages of 18.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocked shots per game.
6. Maya Moore
Forward, Minnesota Lynx 2011-2018
Another UConn star, Maya Moore, was selected first overall in the 2011 draft.
In her first season she made an immediate impact, earning an All-Star appearance. While her career was cut short due to her deciding to focus on criminal justice reform in 2019, Moore’s resume is remarkable.
Moore won almost every award imaginable, including Rookie of the Year, Finals MVP, league MVP, a scoring title, and multiple All-WNBA First Team selections. Moore led the Minnesota Lynx team to six WNBA Finals over a seven-year span.
She averaged over 20 points per game twice and finished her career with averages of 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Moore would have easily been a top-five selection of all time had she not retired at the age of 28.
7. Candace Parker
Forward/Center, Los Angeles Sparks 2008-2020, Chicago Sky 2021-Present
Parker was the first selection overall in the 2008 draft out of Tennessee. She shot over 52% from the floor as a rookie – while averaging 18.5 points per game. Parker took the league by storm, winning the “Rookie of the Year” award and MVP in the same season.
Although she played mainly forward and center, Parker has the skills to play any position on the court. She won a WNBA championship in 2016 while named MVP of the Finals.
Parker is among the top ten all-time in field goal percentage, rebounds, and blocked shots. She has been named for All-WNBA First Team six times and two times made the all-defensive team. She is still one of the most popular players in the league as she completed her 13th season.
Parker also holds the distinction of being the first female on the cover of the NBA 2K game. She enters her 14th season with averages of 16.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.5 blocked shots, and 1.3 steals per game.
8. Sue Bird
Guard, Seattle Storm 2002-2022
The top 10 best WNBA players of all time list continue to be dominated by players who attended UConn.
Bird played her entire 21-year career with Seattle, earning All-Star honours in her first and last season – with 11 other times in between.
Her longevity was unmatched, playing in more games than any player in league history. While doing so, she managed the point guard position as well as or better than anyone. A case in point is her four championship wins while leading the league in career assists with 3,234.
Not only great at distributing the ball, but Bird was also a competent scorer, ranked seventh all-time in points and in the top 10 in field goals made.
What is more, Bird was a defensive gem, ranked 4th in career steals with 725. Her consistently high play is clear to see as she won titles in three different decades. Bird retired with a career scoring average of 13.5 points, 6.4 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game.
9. Sheryl Swoopes
Forward/Guard, Houston Comets 1997-2007, Seattle Storm 2008, Tulsa Shock 2011
Swoopes took her game from Texas Tech, to a season in Europe, then onto three gold medals as part of Team USA in the Summer Olympic Games.
She was named WNBA All-Star for the first time in 1999 when she averaged 18.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Swoopes was part of the Comets’ team that won four straight titles from 1997 to 2000. She was also named league MVP three times and “Defensive Player of the Year” three times. Swoopes was the first player to achieve an NCAA title, WNBA Championship, and Olympic gold medal.
While other players had more impressive overall statistics, she is one of the original league faces – and played with an intensity on both ends of the floor like few others. Swoopes retired with averages of 15 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game.
10. Sylvia Fowles
Center, Chicago Sky 2008-2014, Minnesota Lynx 2015-2022
Fowles was the second pick overall in 2008 out of LSU. She became an All-Star in her second season and two more times during her seven seasons in Chicago.
It wasn’t until her first year with the Lynx that Fowles won a championship and earned MVP honours in the Finals. She won a second title and league and Finals MVP in 2017.
She is the career leader in rebounds, field goal percentage, and double-doubles – and is in the top 5 for blocked shots.
Fowles displayed a high level of play and consistency throughout her career, as demonstrated in 2021, averaging a double-double (16 points, 10.1 rebounds) at age 35. She was named to the all-defensive team nine times and an all-star eight times.
Fowles retired after a storied career in 2022 with averages of 15.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocked shots per game.