2021 Final WNBA Draft Board

Natasha Mack blocks shot

As before, for my draft board I focus on ten players I feel have the best chance of making a substantial contribution to the WNBA. Why 10? From 2007-2017, that is the average number of players from those draft classes who played at least 15 minutes per game for 3 seasons. For a team with a top 10 first round draft pick, it is a reasonable hope that they will reach that bar. 

This is a ranking of how good these players will be roughly in their age 25 season. This is particularly worth noting when comparing someone like Shyla Heal, who will not be 23 until 2024, and Aari McDonald, who will be 23 this year. 

I will use what I think the players’ most likely best outcome to put the players in tiers. My draft philosophy is that teams should draft first for talent, but if a team tiers a draft and there are similar options available, then taking fit into account makes sense. This is not a mock draft so team needs have no bearing on my order.

First Team All WNBA potential

  1. Awak Kuier F/C  6’4”  Virtus Eirene Raguse 

Since putting the Finnish Kuier as my #1 overall prospect in January, Kuier showed at the qualifications for Eurobasket why I, and to be clear lots of others for longer than me, have been high on her. Kuier has all the attributes necessary to potentially be a top 5 player in the WNBA. While that is not the most likely outcome, it is a testament to just how skilled she is. She can provide rim protection like a center, but has the foot speed to defend on the perimeter. She can shoot 3s and is a good passer for a young big. A bit wild shooting off the dribble, but shows flashes of potential there as well.

Her main issue right now is lack of strength and youth. While her playing so well at 19 is a great sign for the future, it does mean that she is less likely to step in right away and contribute than her peers who are anywhere from 3 to 4 years older. Her lack of strength will likely lead to foul trouble as will her youth. It also means that she will likely mostly play the 4. Eventually she should be able to at least play high leverage minutes at the 5 and provide a match up nightmare, but that will be unlikely as a rookie.

Defensive Player of the Year potential

  1. Natasha Mack 6’4″ Oklahoma State

Another player who played well to end the year and solidify her place in the top of the draft. Much was made of Mack’s shot blocking at over 4 a game. But if anything, her steal rate at 2 steals per game was even more impressive. Blocks are not a great measure of defensive ability, but her stock rate, steals + blocks, is outrageous. Here is her compared to Collier and the college numbers for a few other bigs in the W.

Offensively it will be an adjustment for her to have to shift from someone who can take as many shots as they want to someone who will be relied on to set solid screens and dive to the rim. But her speed and decent passing ability will be an asset as a roll player in the pick and roll. Think a better more explosive Elizabeth Williams as a possible outcome.

Starter on playoff team potential:

  1. Arella Guirantes G/F 5’11 Rutgers

Guirantes will benefit from being the second or third creator on a team. It is possible her strength and savvy will allow her to be a primary scoring option at the next level, but she will no longer have the same edge in strength she did against younger college opponents. She lacks the burst to really puncture defenses. Her pull up game is good, but she relied on it heavily in part because she struggled to make it all the way to the rim.

While not a primary wing scoring option, she has all the tools to be a 3 and d plus wing, someone who can knock down open 3s, run a functional pick and roll, and defend other wings. As a secondary creator who can guard tough opponents, she can be really good.

Solid regular season starter potential

  1. Dana Evans G 5’6” Louisville

A cold shooting stretch towards the end of the season brought Evans’ 3 point percentage down to 35% from the high 30s it had been. While a mild concern, her track record the prior two years, where she was at 39% and 43% is why I am optimistic about her shooting. She will also likely not be asked to take such difficult attempt as the main offensive threat in the W, which should help her shooting numbers. Her ability to get into the paint is also valuable and should translate to the W.

Evans is merely a good athlete, not a great one, so her shot does need to be good to have success. She competes defensively but is a bit on the small side, so another way in which her presence as a starter in the W will be dependent on her being able to score. 

  1. Charli Collier C 6’5” Texas

Every write up of Charli Collier after the NCAA tournament but before the upcoming draft has followed the same pattern. Acknowledged that Collier struggled when facing WNBA level talent in the front court, but pointing to how well she played when she was significantly bigger than her opponents. Now in Collier’s favor it was clear that while Vic Schaefer may have designed an offense effective enough to pull off a couple of upsets in the tournament, it was not designed to highlight Collier’s offensive game. 

On the flip side though, nothing I saw fully assuaged the concerns about her ability to be good enough on offense when facing WNBA level centers to make up for her defensive struggles, particularly defending in space. To recycle a line I used in this piece comparing Mack and Collier, using a #1 draft pick on a player with the distinct feel of Alaina Coates but who can occasionally hit a 3 and never ever passes, is a risky move. 

Solid backup/ spot starter potential

  1. Aari McDonald G 5’6” Arizona

Based on McDonald’s NCAA tournament performance, she looks like a top 3 pick in this draft. Someone who could start on a team competing deep into the playoffs. Shooting over 40% from 3 on a difficult diet of step back 3s, she could then use her explosiveness to get anywhere she wanted. However, WNBA teams ought to be wary of relying on how a player plays in a handful of games in March versus the entirety of their body of work. 

McDonald is not a 40+% shooter from 3. She is likely somewhere between the 34% from 3 shooter she ended the year and the 27% she shot her junior year. Her upside, if she can actually get her shot to go in enough to force teams to guard her at the 3 point line in the more wide open WNBA is so tantalizing a 6th pick is worth it. But downside risk exists that she tops out at a change of pace backup guard who can not score enough in the half court to be more. Her relative lack of touch on floaters and midrange shots is almost as concerning as her 3 point shooting. And at 5’6” her defense has utility, but she isn’t guarding 3 positions in the W.

  1. Renna Davis F 6’2” Tennessee

While Davis and McDonald are completely different players, they share the fact that their WNBA ceilings will be dictated by their 3 point shooting. Davis is tall and long enough to potentially play some small ball 5. She also has quick feet and can hold her own guarding quicker guards. She may not be big enough to battle the Liz Cambage, but will be able to guard almost any other player.

But her lack of shooting will make it hard to play her in a playoff setting. She does not yet have the ball handling or passing to make up for a lack of shooting the way Alyssa Thomas does.

  1. Shyla Heal G 5’6” Townsend Fire

Of the players in this draft, Kuier has faced the highest level of competition, going against Natasha Howard in a recent game. After her, the Australian Heal is probably next. For anyone curious in watching her play, her games with the Townsend Fire are available on the FIBA youtube channel and quite fun. Heal is a decent athlete who is a good passe and a confident shooter. She shot in the low 30s from 3, but I am confident that with time and better shot selection as she gains experience more of her shots will go in.

While comparing her to her fellow Aussie Leilani Mitchell is maybe too easy, it is also fairly accurate. If Heal can develop her shooting like Mitchell, she could be a starter in the W.

  1. Jasmine Walker F 6’2” Alabama

Walker’s WNBA future rests on two things. She is 6’’2” and shot 40% from 3 on 7 attempts from game even though the opponent knew she was going to shoot every time she got the ball. Bridget Carleton type contributor would be the best case, a low usage wing who can slot in and play off of more ball dominant players. Will need to focus on her defense, as she may struggle to defend quicker wings and guards.

  1. Kysre Gondrezick G 5’9” West Virginia

Gondrezick is the player I am most out on a limb on. Other people have her going in the third round. But solid shooting guards with well rounded games can be tough to find. She is the only one really available in this year’s draft. She is unlikely to be an Arike Ogunbowale ball dominant guard, but she can hit open shots and is a decent defender. Not exceptional in any one part of the game, but is solid in every area.

Quick thoughts on a few other players who have a shot at the top 10:

Michaela Onyenwere: The one player who was on my draft board in January but is now not. This is not because of how she played since then. It is more based on my growing more concerned about the limitations I mentioned at the time. She ended the season at 33% from 3, which is ok, but she still has work to do to show she can play the 3 full time at the next level.

Chelsea Dungee: A very effective college player at drawing fouls and shot well from 3, but I’m not convinced that she can do enough to make it. Nearly twice as many turnovers per game as assists, in a system at Arkansas designed for guards to put up gaudy numbers, is not good. 

Kiana Williams: Really struggles to get in the paint and while she competes hard on defense, is slight and will struggle against bigger guards and wings. In particular on offense, if her step back is not going in, she does not really have another move. And unlike other players on teams with no shooting, Stanford played with good spacing and so the paint was open, she just could not get there.

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