Starting Five: Thoughts and musings on WNBA All-Star 2022 in Chicago

In roughly a month, the Windy City will become the center of the basketball universe as the best of the WNBA converge on Chicago for this year’s All-Star festivities.

It is the first time that the WNBA’s All-Star events will emanate from the City of Broad Shoulders and will also be occurring during a time where a number of AAU girls basketball events will also take place in and around the city.

As we get closer and closer to All-Star weekend, the hype both inside and outside of Chicago will surely build. Here are five thoughts we have as July 10 draws ever nearer.

Rhyne Howard

The positive story of the 2022 season has unarguably been the Atlanta Dream.

Atlanta won only a mere eight games for the entire 2021 season. It is not even the halfway point of the 2022 WNBA campaign and the Dream are one victory shy of eclipsing its win total from the previous season.

One of the biggest reasons for Atlanta’s seemingly overnight turnaround has been rookie sensation Rhyne Howard. The No. 1 overall draft pick out of Kentucky has averaged 16.2 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, 2.3 assists per game and 1.5 steals per contest.

While many a WNBA pundit is rightfully putting Howard at the center of the Rookie of the Year conversation, her sneakers need to be touching the Wintrust Arena court in July.

Sabrina Ionescu

While the New York Liberty have not achieved the success early on that the Atlanta Dream have, the Liberty still do have a Rhyne Howard of its own.

That, of course, is Sabrina Ionescu. Following a 2020 season in the bubble where she only took to the court in two matchups before rolling her ankle and a 2021 that saw her go through rookie-esque growing pains, Ionescu has resembled the Ionescu many figured she would be when New York drafted her first overall two years ago.

Ionescu is averaging 16.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.2 steals per matchup this season for the seafoam, black and copper. There was a hype machine around Ionescu around the time she was drafted and that hype machine is sure to get her to Chicago next month.

Rookies vs. Sophomores

One of the things that the WNBA has done in recent seasons is turn the All-Star Game from merely a standalone contest to a full-scale weekend’s worth of events. When All-Star weekend was staged in Las Vegas in 2019 and 2021, it automatically became an event because … Vegas, baby…Vegas!

With the addition of a skills competition, the return of the 3-point shooting contest and a halftime concert to the All-Star slate, its status as a marquee event on the basketball calendar is certainly on the rise.

This would also be the perfect season for the WNBA to have a Rookie-Sophomore game. Among the star rookies from the 2021 class were Aari McDonald (Atlanta Dream), DiJonai Carrington (Connecticut Sun), Dana Evans (Chicago Sky) and Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere (New York Liberty).

As deep as the 2022 rookie class was, such would be an occasion where the rookies may actually get the better of the sophomores.

The First Time…

Another thing that the WNBA has done well with recent All-Star renditions is expand it to new cities.

There was once a period in WNBA history where it appeared All-Star was essentially a tennis match between Mohegan Sun Arena and Madison Square Garden – the former home court of the Liberty.

In past years, the All-Star Game has been brought to Seattle, Minnesota and Las Vegas – three places that previously never hosted. Now, Chicago will be added to that list and one has to believe cities such as Los Angeles and Washington may not be too far behind as first-time hosts.

Allie Quigley

After Allie Quigley won last year’s 3-point shooting contest at WNBA All-Star weekend in Las Vegas, Quigley said she was finished with the competition.

If All-Star this year was being held anywhere except Chicago, we would agree. But Quigley will surely be one of the grand marshals for this year’s All-Star festivities being one of the defending champion Sky.

As one of the W’s premier deep threats and given the game will be played in front of her home fans, something tells us Quigley may renege on her retirement from the 3-point contest and give us one more defense of her crown just to put on a show for the fans in Chicago.