2020 WNBA Preview: Minnesota Lynx

WNBA teams have cut down their teams to their official roster, should a new season happen. From now forward we at least will have some clarity on who teams are going to be carrying into a season.

Minnesota played well last year, given the talent they lost from their championship winning team. Lindsey Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson retired. Seimone Augustus played much less because of injury. Augustus has now signed with the Los Angeles Sparks, which will take some getting used to.

Maya Moore also sat out, and will sit out this year as well, as she focuses on fighting mass incarceration and successfully freeing Jonathan Irons. While I would love to see Moore play basketball again, as one of my favorite players of all time, her advocacy off court has been impressive, on an issue very important to me. Particularly in a pandemic, bringing attention to unjust prison sentences is more important than basketball.

Back to this year’s Lynx, this is a team that has question marks at the guard spot to be answered, though their front court is among the strongest in the league. Napheesa Collier had one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in recent history, Sylvia Fowles is still very effective.

The defense should once again be good, as the team had the second best defensive rating in the league last year and returns the key components of the defense. The offense was ok, but was a bit hit or miss, given the lack of shooting from guard, with Danielle Robinson starting at point guard much of the year.

This is a team that was hurt by the league’s use of single elimination games in the playoffs. They had a better net rating than a Seattle Storm team that had a great game to knock them out, and would have had a chance to win a series. Single elimination games are a terrible way to run a playoffs in the WNBA. They should at least be given a best of 3, if not a best of 5.

Roster Breakdown:

Notable Additions:

Rachel Banham, Shenise Johnson

Notable Losses:

Seimone Augustus, Stephanie Talbot, Jessica Shepherd (suspended for season, still rehabbing a knee injury)

Draft Picks:

1st round: Mikiah Herbert Harrigan

2nd round: Crystal Dangerfield

Guards: Odyssey Sims*, Crystal Dangerfield, Lexi Brown, Rachel Banham

Wings: Napheesa Collier, Cecilia Zandalasini, Bridget Carleton, Karima Christmas-Kelly, Shenise Johnson

Bigs: Sylvia Fowles, Damiras Dantas, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, Kayla Alexander.

*Odyssey Sims is returning from pregnancy, and starts the season on the inactive list.

Playing Time Breakdown:

Sylvia Fowles is still one of the most effective centers in the league, so center is taken care of.. While she was down a bit from her incredible peak a few seasons ago, she is still very effective, scoring .995 per post up per which was in the 74th percentile on a healthy number of attempts per Synergy .

I am curious to see is whether the team incorporates more pick and rolls using Fowles as screener, given that a play in which Fowles finished in the pick and roll was worth 1.093 points per possession, though on a smaller number of attempts. They may lack guards who are particularly adept at running them, for as long as Sims sits out, but it still may be a better option than asking Fowles to do the shot creation herself.

Napheesa Collier had one of the more impressive rookie years one will see. Especially given that she was moving from the 4 in college to the 3 for Minnesot. Her shooting, 38% from 3, and ball handling, were better than I expected moving out on the perimeter. That she would eventually get there was believable, but not right from the first game. Those shooting numbers may not hold up this year, which would reduce her effectiveness, but even without it, she still has the chance to be the best player from the 2019 draft, an incredible get for the Lynx with the sixth pick. 

I would like to see more of Collier at the 4 more this year, to see if the Lynx can improve their offense. But Damiras Danta played well at the 4 last year, and does provide spacing from there. She just is much less of a threat off the dribble than Collier, and is not much of an upgrade on defense. Another interesting wrinkle would be Dantas at the 5 and Collier at the 4, and go five out, when Sylvia Fowles has to sit. Dantas is big enough to defend most backup 5s, and would be a tough cover at the other end. Could stagger Dantas and Fowles, to make up for the lack of a backup center that is particularly effective.

Guard is the big question mark for this team. Odyssey Sims had a decent 2019 season, though she had the bad luck of her worst game of the year coming in their playoff game against Seattle. Sims was very good in transition. The Lynx hope she can be more efficient in the half court. She is now out, and it is unclear if she will be back this year. 

Lexie Brown played back up point last year, but seems like she might be overmatched in that role as a starter. Rookie point guard is a tough position to play, and Crystal Dangerfield will need to overcome doubts about her size on defense at only 5’5”, but she has shown the ability to be a quality point guard in her time at UCONN. Dangerfield in particular can play off ball and shoot off screens, a wrinkle the Lynx did no really have last year, except sometimes with Lexi Brown.

Rachel Banham was also brought in, but she is more of a theoretical shooter at this point, compared to Brown. Brown has shot better for her career, at 37% compared to 32% for Banham, and Brown was at 40% last year, her first where she played real minutes. Neither player got to the basket much nor shot particularly well there, with Brown at 39% on shots in the half court at the rim, and Banham at 40%, but Brown did get there nearly 4 times as often. 

Shooting guard should go to Cecilia Zandalasini. At 6’2” she would be the tallest shooting guard in the league. Defensively she might struggle with the quickness of opponents in the wrong matchup, but given her shooting combined with her size, would be a tough cover at the other end. She, after Collier, is the player with the upside to help this team over perform expectations.

Minnesota is going to live and die by their guard play this year. My prediction is for an 8th place finish and to squeak into the playoffs, but Cheryl Reeve is a Hall of Fame coach and may be able to maximize this roster. Also, it is possible that Collier is able to shoot as well or better than last year, and takes a step forward as many second year players do, in which case she could drive this team to win even more games, as a big wing with her skill is the biggest driver of winning.

2020 WNBA Season Preview: Phoenix Mercury

The Phoenix Mercury have brought in talented players, though how good they are going to be will ride on Diana Taurasi’s health. A middling team in both offense and defense a year ago, Sandy Brondello will have more offensive talent, but how to improve the defense is going to be a challenge. 

Even maintaining the defense at the level it was at last year may prove to be a challenge, given that two of the more effective defenders on the team have now moved on to other teams, in Briann January and DeWanna Bonner. While January did slip a bit, DeWanna Bonnner is a big loss. While offensively, she is better at the 4, more on that in my Sun preview, she is very valuable in her ability to ability to guard both 3s and 4s.

The Mercury were able to upgrade their point guard position with the trade for Skylar Diggins-Smith. Diggins-Smith was a no-brainer of a trade for 3 draft picks with the Dallas Wings, given their time to win is now.

While point guard is settled, they do not seem to have addressed the hole at the 3 left by Bonner leaving. Bria Hartley got the most perplexing free agency deal in the offseason. She seems prime to be an example of the winner’s curse, where the team that got her services ends up overpaying. Good for Hartley, but maybe not so good for the Mercury. It leaves the Mercury with options for the 3 who are too small, inexperienced, or not good enough.

Shatori Walker-Kimbroughis a good player, but I would have kept Jocelyn Willoughby, a rangy athlete to play on the wing. Walker-Kimbrough will likely be better than Willoughby, as a player who has already proven she can hang in the league, but she plays a position the Mercury already have depth at.

The Mercury have high hopes and are often listed as one of the new super teams. I am skeptical. This team should make the tail end of the playoffs, the 7 or 8 spot. However, unless Diana Tuarasi is able to return and still be the player she was, it is hard to see this team climbing in the standings. 

Roster Breakdown:

Notable Additions:

Skylar Diggins-Smith, Bria Hartley, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Jessica Breland, Nia Coffey

Notable Losses:

DeWanna Bonner, Leiliani Mitchell, Briann January, Camille Little. Kia Vaughn, Essence Carson.

Draft Picks:

2nd round: Te’a Cooper

3rd round: Stella Johnson

Guards: Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Bria Hartley

Wings: Nia Coffey, Sophie Cunningham.

Bigs: Jessica Breland, Alanna Smith, Britney Griner, Kia Vaughn. Brianna Turner. 

The Mercury only have enough space to carry 11 players, instead of 12 that they could. The Bria Hartley contract and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough trade were both somewhat befuddling moves, and this is one area where that is the case. The opportunity cost of being able to carry one more young player to potentially develop is another drawback to the Mercury’s approach. Coffey is most on the bubble, should a better wing option come available, though as the hardest position to fill in basketball, unclear who the Mercury would want. Teams have to cut down their rosters by March 26th, so this will be updated once that happens. 

Playing Time Breakdown:

Brittney Griner is the starting center. While only 29 years old, her game has been in a slow decline of effectiveness the past few years. She is still a top center, and should remain effective for as long as she wants to play and stays healthy, given that her two main skills, height and touch, don’t diminish with age. The main thing I will be watching with her is the way in which the modern basketball emphasis on shooting and spacing hurt how dominant she is, as she was quite good last year, and the team still struggled.

Skyler Diggins-Smith at point guard is the other guarantee of player and position on this roster. While a center who thrives in the half court and a point guard who likes to get out and run is a bit of an awkward fit, Diggins-Smith has experience playing with Liz Cambage and there are other other players, like Walker-Kimbrough, who can get out and run on the roster. Diggins-Smith has had an up and down career shooting the 3, but given the attention Griner draws, a better year is possible

As an aside, my personal hope is for Griner to shoot 2 threes a game. She has a nice looking shot on the 1 made three she had all last season. The image of Griner blocking a shot, Diggins-Smith sprinting to the other end, and then Griner strolling up and into a wide open trailing 3 and nailing it is wonderful. Griner is a career 80% foul shooter, she has a solid midrange game, and having her shoot 2 threes per game is absolutely doable. I definitely don’t want her to stand 25 feet from the basket whole possessions, but a couple of times a game, she should let it fly. 

What happens in between Diggins-Smith and Griner is up in the air and is where I have some questions about the roster construction of this team. Assuming health, Taurasi will play, and will hopefully be close to the Taurasi we saw in the 2018 playoffs, one of the most dangerous offensive players in WNBA history. But that is a lot to ask of a player who will be 38 whenever we have a season, should a season happen. A healthy Taurasi improves the offense in almost every category.

Who Taurasi will be asked to defend is one of the key questions, should she prove able to play. Taurasi is 6 foot, whereas Bria Hartley is 5’8” and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough is 5’9”. Against quite a few teams, Taurasi will be able to handle guarding the three, or one of Hartley or Walker-Kimbrough will be able to guard a bigger player, but there are teams, such as the Sky with DeShields, or Minnesota and Napheesa Collier, where that seems unlikely to work well. Not to mention whatever kind of jumbo lineups Washington goes with, should Emma Meesseman make it over for the season.

If Taurasi is played at the 2, her natural position, that leaves Nia Coffey and Sophie Cunningham as the only two wings on the team. Modern basketball rewards having more wings, not fewer. Of course the Mercury were not going to get the kind of elite wings that have won championships in the past few years, such as Elena Delle Donne or Breanna Stewart, but I’m still confused as to their vision for this position. This is where the cost of giving Bria Hartley such a large deal comes in for me.

While based on pure production, Kahleah Copper’s contract was even less justified than Bria Hartley’s per herhoopstats, the reason I have Bria Hartley as least justifiable contract of this past offseason is because Copper is 6’1”, vs. Hartley’s 5’8”. Copper provides more defensive versatility, not to mention she is 2 years younger. Not that this was an option, but Copper on this roster makes a lot more sense.

Impossible to know if Skekinna Stricklen was open to going to Phoenix, but Stricklen is making $15,000 less this year than Hartley. Stricklen is a much better shooter, has the size to play the 3 and even some of the 4. While Stricklen is older, and not the swiftest on defense, she would have been a great fit on this roster. They are trying to win now. Brondello is a good enough coach to find a solution that I am not seeing. Let’s hope so, for the Mercury, cause Diamond Deshields ran them off the court twice in the final games last year, and I see little that changed.

Brianna Turner played fairly well towards the end of the year at the 4 for the Mercury, though she really plays like a 5, so I am penciling her in there. Alanna Smith was the Mercury’s 2019 number one draft pick, and Jessica Breland is there. Breland has the defensive reputation, though she had a rough year last year in Atlanta and at 32, may have lost a step. Alanna Smith provides the most shooting, based on college numbers, so may get a look at some point, since to maximize Griner one would want 4 shooters around her.

Phoenix has two positions sewn up, but a bunch of questions up and down the roster elsewhere. Diana Taurasi is one of the greatest players in WNBA history, but she is also turning 38 soon and coming off a year of injuries.  The lack of wings and 4s that complement Griner, make me skeptical of this team’s ceiling. Playoffs are doable, advancing will be a challenge. 

2020 WNBA Season Preview: Indiana Fever

The Indiana Fever had a better year in 2019 than 2018, going from 12th to 9th, and just missing the playoffs. The next step, making the playoffs, will likely need to wait another year or two. While the Fever have some good pieces, it is unclear if this is a team with a player who can be a top 10 player in the W, much less top 5. That will define how this rebuild goes, and I am not hopeful.

While Pokey Chatman knew basketball well, Marianne Stanley will hopefully bring the style of the Washington Mystics with her. More 3s and better spacing on offense. Indiana does not have Elene Delle Donne, so the results won’t be as good, but the style should be playable.

Though the offense should be more dynamic, it was league average at 7th in 2019. The defense, at 11th, was even more of a struggle. In time, Lauren Cox will be able to help with this, but asking a rookie big to make a big difference on defense is a tall order. Year 2 Teaira McCowan should be better, as well, especially near the basket.

The Fever have lots of cap space, according to Richard Cohen, and so should a disgruntled star want out they could be a destination. The difficult part is convincing said player to want to go to Indianapolis. Indianapolis is an underrated city, and is the WNBA city I live closest too, but needless to say it is no LA or Las Vegas. 

Speaking of the difficulty of getting a star, this is why I would have taken Chennedy Carter over Lauren Cox. Lauren Cox’s floor is higher than Carter’s, as a solid big she should have a good WNBA career, but her upside is not nearly as high. For a small market team like Indiana, drafting is the only way to build a championship contending team, and sometimes risks need to be taken.

Unless Cox starts shooting threes at a high volume and increases her shot creation, which is possible, if not likely, it is hard to envision her becoming the kind of star a team can build around. Even a number 2 on a championship team seems like a stretch. Carter may not figure out her shooting to reach her potential, but if she does, watch out. 

The team seems to be in about the same position as last year. Major growth from Teaira McCown and Kelsey Mitchell are the best hope for a better than expected year, but this team is likely to finish in the same spot as last year, if not lower.

Roster Breakdown:

Notable Additions: 

Julie Allemand

Notable Losses: 

none

Draft Picks: 

First round: Lauren Cox 

Second Round: Kathleen Doyle

Third round: Kamiah Smalls (already cut)

Projected Depth Chart:

Guards: Erica Wheeler, Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell, Kathleen Doyle, Julie Allemand

Wings: Victoria Vivians, Bitnajah Laney, Kennedy Burke

Bigs: Teaira McCowan, Candice Dupree, Natalie Achonwa, Stephanie Mavunga. 

Julie Allemand is a 23 yr old point guard with high level experience in Europe. Given the Fever’s options at point are unsettled, she is worth a look. Kathleen Doyle and Stephanie Mavunga are the players I am least confident about making the team. 

Playing time breakdown:

Teaira McCowan is the one player guaranteed to be starting. She was an effective center last year who generated fouls at a higher rate than comparable centers like Sylvia Fowles and Liz Cambage. She shot only 57% in the restricted area, so a main goal should be to get that up into the mid 60s, where comparable top centers finish. 

She is so big at 6’ 7” that she is a deterrent at the rim, but will continue to need to work on defending in space, and the rest of the roster will need to play a style that minimizes her lack of mobility. But she is a key piece of the Fever’s future.

The swing spot for this team in terms of style of play is going to be the 4. Will Candice Dupree finally take two steps back and shoot 3s? Can Lauren Cox up the number of attempts she takes from 3 to make teams honor her out there? Either way, finding a way to add more shooting to the lineup will maximize Teaira McCowan’s effectiveness rolling to the rim and should be a priority long term for the Fever. 

My vote is for more playing time for Cox. Dupree is a smart player who has had a wonderful career, but she can be an effective backup and mentor for Cox, while Cox learns to play with McCowan. Cox will make more mistakes on defense, but also provide more rim protection.

Some analysts ($) have Candice Dupree playing the 3, but at this point in her career, her lack of foot speed and the lack of 3 point shooting makes that unworkable. A healthy Victoria Vivians would be ideal for this spot. At 6’1” Vivians was a phenomenal shooter in 2018, shooting 40% on 5 attempts per game as a rookie, before missing all of last year with an ACL injury. When healthy, she has the athleticism and size to guard the top wing scorers in the W, which would be big for a Fever team that was limited in two way players at wing in 2019.

Kelsey Mitchell will almost certainly start. The question that the Fever should be trying to answer this year is whether long term she is their point guard or shooting guard. Her assist % was low for a point guard at 19%, compared to her teammate Erica Wheeler at 35%. Her shooting and shot creation are valuable skills that are hard to find. Should she improve her pick and roll decision making, she has the outlines of a dynamic modern point guard who can shoot 3s off the dribble in the pick and roll. The hope for the Fever is in year 3 she is set for a breakout, a la Kelsey Plum last year.

Erica Wheeler is a solid point guard, especially if she shoots like she did last year, at 37% on a decent number of attempts per game. At 29 she is the second oldest player on the team, and as an undersized guard who relies on athleticism might not age well. But for this year, she and Kelsey Mitchell will likely play a lot of minutes together.

Tiffany Mitchell quietly received, after Bria Hartley, the most curious deal in the most recent free agency at $140,000 over 3 years, per High Post Hoops. She is the highest paid player on the Fever, and will likely not start this year. As previously discussed, they have the cap space to add a new player, and pay their players on rookie deals, so it might not cost them other opportunities, but I’m not sure her leaving for Atlanta would have been the end of the world. It seemed like Atlanta made out better when their offer was matched by the Fever. She would be, what, the fifth guard on the Dream?

Mitchell has more offensive ability than Laney or Burke, so she might be able to play backup minutes at the 3 as well as the 2, against certain matchups, but she lacks the size for that to be a long term option, at only 5’9”. She attacks the basket fairly well, but has shot under 30% her 3 years in the league who tends to get tunnel vision on drives.

Year 2 of Teaira McCowan and year 3 of Kelsey Mitchell give Fever fans something to look forward to. I am lower on the long term outlook of this team than some comparable teams. One of their players popping and showing unexpected growth would solve their lack of a star player. Until then, this is a team with a lower ceiling than is ideal. The rebuild continues. 

2020 WNBA Season Preview: Dallas Wings

The Dallas Wings are up next. WNBA franchises don’t get the level of scrutiny or reporting that NBA teams do, obviously, and as such it would be nice to have a better handle on organizations like the Dallas Wings. 

Given these limitations, the Wings seem to have the most dysfunctional WNBA front office in the league, with stars in back to back years forcing trades. Liz Cambage is now in Vegas and Skylar Diggins-Smith is in Phoenix. Cambage reportedly was unhappy with the decision to fire Fred Williams and wanted to play in a bigger market. Diggins-Smith criticized the organizations support of her during her pregnancy, among other concerns.

On the court, they are set up to be exciting and potentially quite good in a few years. Arike Ogunbuwale had a successful rookie year. Satou Sabally has the potential to be the best player from this draft, and at minimum should be a solid WNBA starter. If even one of their other 2020 draft picks hit, that is the foundation for a promising team that should make the playoffs in a few years. 

Cambage’s reasons don’t necessarily mean the organization is dysfunctional. Wanting to work in Las Vegas or LA instead of Dallas is reasonable and not necessarily the fault of Dallas. Though one wonders why moving on from Fred Williams was so necessary, given they will be lucky to develop a player as good as Cambage and he was a decent coach. 

Diggins-Smith’s criticisms are more serious, and Dallas ought to be looking into where they could have provided better service. Also, the new CBA should help WNBA players who become mothers, which is good. 

There’s also the coach, Brian Agler. While the accusations in Penny Toler’s law suit about Agler are from his days coaching the Los Angeles Sparks, it is still notable how media averse he has become. It will be interesting to see what happens when WNBA games begin and he has to answer questions from the media.

For all the off court issues, the on court product is quite promising. The team now has to figure out how to put themselves in the best place to keep their high draft picks, should any develop into true stars. Dallas will never become LA as a destination, but it is still best practice to build a professional organization that players want to play for. Seems obvious, but organizations from across sports struggle with this every year.

This season, though, may not see many wins. For all the exciting young talent on this team, it is hard to win without many veterans who will contribute. Allisha Gray will and Astou Ndour should she come over from Europe, but unclear who else will. If Sabally is pro ready and comes out playing well that pushes their ceiling higher, but is a lot to expect of a rookie. Offensively this team should be better than  second from the bottom as they were in 2019, but the defense will be interesting. Most stats per basketball-reference.com and PIPM per Jacob Goldstein.

Roster Breakdown

Notable Additions:

Katie Lou Samuelson, Astou Ndour, Mariah Jefferson

Notable Losses:

Kayla Thornton, Azura Stevens, Glory Johnson

Draft Picks:

1st round: Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, Tyasha Harris

2nd round: Luisa Geiselsöder 

Projected Depth Chart:

Guards: Arike Ogunbuwale, Moriah Jefferson, Tyasha Harris, Allisha Gray,

Wings: Kayla Thornton, Satou Sabally, Katie Lou Samuelson

Bigs: Isabelle Harrison, Astou Ndour, Bella Alarie, Megan Gustafson, Kristine Anigwe

Luisa Geiselsöder is unlikely to come over this year. The 6’3” German center is only 20 years old and is a draft and stash player. Twelve names are listed here as definites for the roster, with Anigwe the most on the bubble of the players here. One more spot could open up should Ndour not come over, and the choice wil likely then be between Marina Mabrey and Karlie Samuelson.

While Ndour is the only international player who may not come over, she is also the position they would have the hardest time replacing.

Playing time breakdown:

The guard spot is the most stable at this point for the Wings. Ogunbuwale is starting. Probably moving to the 2 and not at the point guard like last year. She can play point, and maybe long term that will be her role, but between signing Jefferson and drafting Harris, Dallas has other options now. 

Ogunbuwale was productive in raw numbers, but an EFG% of 44% was less than ideal. She will hopefully be more efficient in an off ball setting, for instance by improving her 3 point shooting with easier attempts, given she was a much better shooter in college than she showed last year. Her ability to playmake from the shooting guard will be a benefit, as an assist to turnover ratio of 1.5 was good given she was thrown into the fire with limited talent around her.

For point guard, either Harris or Jefferson will get that spot, with the edge going to Harris. Though I was lower on Harris for her limited upside than where she was drafted, she should be a steady player. She also provides more size than Jefferson and could cross match on defense with Ogunbuwale and guard 2s. Will Harris shoot enough to keep defenses honest and can she finish at the rim against WNBA size and length are key questions for her future. 

Allisha Gray was the Wings best player last year. She played shooting guard last year, but the question will be can she shift up a position. She has the size at 6’0” to play the 3, but may be a bit overmatched defensively. Her playing time will depend on where Satou Sabally is expected to play. She is too good to be a backup, interesting to see if Dallas looks to trade her long term as she enters restricted free agency after this season.

Satou is the long term answer at the 4, while sometimes playing the 3.. But in the short term, she will likely play the three. At 6’4” she has good size, but is also athletic and will likely not be overmatched guarding opposing 3s athletically, as many 4s are. It would also save her some pounding.

One of the big spots will go to Astou Ndour should she come over. She can play either the 4 or 5, and provide shooting and some rim protection. Isabelle Harrison competed hard for the team last year, but was among the least effective starting centers in the WNBA, by both win share and PIPM. Still, the team is without many other options unless Gustafson figures out defense and/or shooting, or Anigwe wows. 

Bella Alarie was a gamble on potential, as it is harder to get a read on midmajor players. Still, she offers good size at 6’4” and shot blocking. It would be very fun to get a look at her and Sabally together early on. While unexpected for Agler to play both rookies together much, the team may not have better options and is the outcome I am rooting for, as a neutral observer.

Takeaway

The pieces are here for a good team in a couple of seasons, but this year might be a rough one. Still, a team with exciting young players and one more top draft pick next year is a positive outcome. Provided the organization can improve its relationships with its top players, the future is bright in Dallas

.

Abolish the WNBA draft. At least the third round.

Sports drafts restrict the labor rights of athletes in ways that no other endeavor in professional life does, as Kevin Arnovitz has written about for ESPN. When a software engineer graduates, they are not forced to work for Facebook, though they would prefer to work at Google or another of the frightful five.

Only in sports does a worker have to work somewhere regardless of how incompetent or dysfunctional a given workplace is. Sabrina Ionescue lucked out with a new ownership group in New York, instead of James Dolan, the worst owner in professional basketball.

However, Satou Sabally and Bella Alarie may very well have chosen to play elsewhere had they been given the choice. Having two stars, Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins, in two years force their way out and a coach who is currently named in a lawsuit around a relationship with a former player, does not inspire confidence.

Maybe a player is very political and they would prefer not to play for the Atlanta Dream, with an owner who is a conservative politician accused of engaging in insider trading while ignoring the early days of a pandemic.

To be clear, none of these examples are digs at players currently playing for their teams. Atlanta is likely to be my #1 League Pass team, but it would be better for players to have options. And it would not hurt interest in the league. A three hour event on ESPN including Sabrina Ionescue announcing the team she has chosen to sign with would be incredibly compelling. 

The salary cap would still exist, (abolishing that is a topic for another day) such that it’s not likely Ionescue would be signing with the Mystics if a WNBA team had to bid closer to what she she would be worth, not holding down her pay through a draft. Though really, how many people would complain at getting to see Ionescue and Elena Delle Donne play together. I certainly wouldn’t.

But the chances of the WNBA abandoning the draft entirely is unlikely. However abolishing the third round, something the NBA does not have, seems far more plausible. 

How many third round picks are expected to make their team’s rosters this year? Mikayla Pivec has a chance with Atlanta. Any others? What is the purpose of having a round of a draft that ties a player to a particular team, but does not give the player even a 50% chance that the player will play for that team?

Over the past two years, not a single third round pick is with the team that picked them. In each draft three players got cups of coffee with the team that drafted them in the third round. 29 minutes total for players drafted in 2018 and 96 minutes in 2019, by my count. Temi Fagbenle was a third round pick in 2016 and has had a good WNBA career, but likely she would have anyways had she signed with Minnesota as a free agent.

With no third round, players who were picked in the third round would have options on where to sign training camp deals. Juicy Lundrum has real talent and a team that was light on guards might give her a serious look, but what are the odds she actually makes the Connecticut Sun? A team that just made the finals is not likely to take a third round guard.

The WNBA should reconsider tying up a player’s labor rights for minimal benefit even to the teams, who simply bring the players in only to cut them. Making the WNBA is hard enough as it is. Tying up a player’s choice in the third round should end.

2020 WNBA Season Preview: New York Liberty

New York Liberty is the next team up in my preview of the 2020 WNBA season, assuming it happens in some fashion. No team in the WNBA has gone through as radical a reshaping (link trade grades for Tina Charles) of their roster as the New York Liberty. With multiple draft picks in the 2020 first round and the first half of the second round, this is going to be the team to watch for the next few years as they play out their vision of the changing dynamics of the WNBA. Lots of wings, few bigs.

Last year’s Liberty team struggled on both defense and offense, but especially defense, ranking last in defensive efficiency per wnba.com. This year’s team may not be much better on defense, but they will hopefully not rank third from the bottom in offensive efficiency. Sabrina Ionescue + a bunch of shooters are promising, even given their youth.

Roster Breakdown

Notable additions:

Layshia Clarendon

Key losses:

Tina Charles, Brittany Boyd, Bria Hartley, Tanisha Wright. 

Draft picks:

1st round: Sabrina Ionescue, Megan Walker, Jazmine Jones, Jocelyn Willoughby (via trade)

2nd round: Kylee Shook, Leonna Odom. 

Projected depth chart: 

Guards: Sabrina Ionescue, Layshia Clarendon, Aysia Durr, Marine Johannes.

Wings: Kia Nurse, Megan Walker, Jazmine Jones, Rebecca Allen, Jocelyn Willoughby.

Bigs: Amanda Zahui B, Kylee Shook, Han Xu, Kiah Stokes

There are 13 players listed here. The max a team can have in the WNBA is 12, so something will have to give. If a 2020 season happens, it is likely that at least some of the international players on the roster will not come. So as long as one of Zahui B, Johannes, Han Xu, Allen does not play this year, that makes things easier. Though it will be interesting to see where the team goes next year. Kiah Stokes has a nonguaranteed contract, so could an option to be cut.

As Gabe Ibrahim points out, second round picks are going to struggle to make rosters this year, nevermind third round picks, so Odom will have to really impress or hope quite a few international players don’t make it over.

Playing time breakdown:

This team has their point guard and center down. Sabrina Ionescue should start from day one. Rookie point guard is the hardest position to learn in the WNBA, so Ionescue may struggle at the start, but she is the long term bet and will get all the playing time she could want. 

While it is unclear to me why Clarendon still plays with Team USA given other options, she is a solid backup who was hurt by an ankle injury last year and likely would have played more without them. I am excited to see if the Liberty use Ionescue off ball at all, given her shooting. Her running off screens and bending defenses will add variety to her excellent on ball skills. I’m as excited to watch Ionescue as I have ever been for a basketball player. 

For center, Amanda Zahui B was the second best player on the team last year after Kia Nurse. While the Liberty should be careful to not overpay Zahui B after this year and hamstring their flexibility going forward, she is a good player, especially given her ability to shoot from deep. Backup center is going to be interesting. If the team keeps Kiah Stokes, she is the most reliable. Kylee Shook provides a stretch factor, but may struggle against bigger opponents, and defense as a big is hard for most rookies.

Han Xu will hopefully get more playing time at center. She showed flashes last year in limited minutes. At only 20 years old, she is a 6’9” center who has a pretty looking shot from 3. Should continue to get stronger and improve her mobility on defense. It will be interesting to see what kind of appetite the Liberty have for a long term project. But given the importance of growing the Chinese market to the WNBA and the Liberty, and Hu’s own real basketball skills, bet on her staying on the team.

Kia Nurse is a guaranteed starter. What will be interesting is whether she plays the three, as she did much of last year, or if she is slid down to the 2 to make way for one of the many wings the Liberty drafted. If Nurse stays at the 3, Marine Johannes would make sense based on production for the 2, but Asia Durr for the future, as the Liberty’s #2 pick from last year. Might see some combo Clarendon + Ionescue lineups as well.

The Liberty appear to be all in on switchable wings for the three and the four. Kia Nurse may play the 3, but if not her, then pick 2 of the Megan Walker, Rebecca Allen, Jocelyn Willoughby, and Jazmine Jones grouping to play the 3 and 4. Allen and Walker together provides a ton of shooting, but will they be able to handle playing defense against bigger players. Who of this group is the least overmatched against A’Ja Wilson will be a key task for Johnathan Kolb to figure out.

Kylee Shook has the size and possibly the shooting. I’m less familiar with her game, good piece on her here by Ben Dull. She would be an interesting option at the four.

Takeaway:

Offense, offense, offense. Offense will be the reason to watch this team. . It is hard to play so many young players and have a competent defense, so the playoffs are unlikely. But the offense should be fun. This will be my #1 League Pass team should the season come to pass.

The value of centers in the WNBA

Only one center was drafted in the first round in the 2020 WNBA draft, Ruthy Hebard to the Chicago Sky at 8. Tina Charles was traded for less than one would think given her resume. These raise a question of what is the value of a center in the WNBA?

Inspiration for this post came from Kevin Pelton from ESPN who wrote about centers in the context of the NBA ahead of the 2018 draft. I was curious if this held up in the WNBA, and it looks like it does.

One can look at how productive centers were using win shares, a stat from Basketball Reference meant to sum up how many wins a player contributed to their team’s total. To get a sense for the value of different positions, I averaged the win shares of the 12 starters at the five positions in the WNBA for the 2019 season. This is an imperfect method, but works as a quick check.

PG: average win share: 2.1

SG: average win share: 2.2

SF: average win share: 2.0

PF: average win share: 2.5

C: average win share: 3.7

Centers are over represented in the most win shares in the league, and this is true up and down the league. What this shows is that production is easier to find at the center position, and thus is more replaceable.

The gap between Jonquel Jones, who led the league in win shares for center with 5.6 and Mercedes Russell, 8th in WS for centers at 3.1 WS, is not large. Compare that with Napheesa Collier at 5.2 and the 8th best small forward, Jackie Young at 1.3 WS. 1.4 is the lowest WS for a center in the WNBA, from Amanda Zahui B, whereas other positions the lowest point ranged from -.1 to .5.

Centers producing high WS across the league extends to backups as well, with Chiney Ogwumike posting a 3 WS, Natalie Achonwa posting a 2.7 WS and Tiana Hawkins a 2.7 WS.

Single stat summations of basketball players do have their limitations. Good defenders who don’t rack up steals and blocks tend to rank lower than their actual value on the court. For instance, I would value Latoya Sanders higher than Mercedes Russell, though their win shares are pretty similar. But for broad purposes, I thought this was illustrative of how teams should be, and in quite a few cases are, looking to build.

This also shows that if anything just looking at a stat like win shares understates Elene Delle Donne’s dominance last year. While her 7.7 WS was the highest by a decent margin in the WNBA regardless of position, when you consider that she was able to play at both small and power forward, both positions that it is hard to find productive players at, her importance really stands out compared to her competition, 3 centers who all performed similarly.

While it matters to have a center, over investing in the position is a mistake, given productive centers can be found outside of the top of the draft and in free agency, where many of the best players at other positions are taken.

Two main changes in the WNBA have caused this. The rise of the 3 point shot has placed a premium on shooting and spacing the floor, while also opening up the floor for a wide variety of centers to post good numbers. Also, changes in rules and strategy for defense has made it much harder for post players to be efficient enough to justify running post ups.

An exception to not paying the max to a center is the very best who can have an offense run through them, like Liz Cambage and Brittney Griner. Even then, it’s no accident both lost to Breanna Stewart and Elene Delle Donne in back to back years in the playoffs.

The replaceability of centers can be seen in the past 3 drafts, in both how teams are drafting and the outcomes of the centers that were drafted in the first round. 

For 2020 only 1 center was picked in the first round, Ruthy Hebard at 8. And Ruthy may end up playing the 4 some of the time for the Sky, at least defensively, next to Stefanie Dolson. Otherwise, teams went elsewhere, drafting wing players in particular that surprised draft observers. 

The 2019 draft featured 3 true centers in the first round, but only Teaira McCown is guaranteed a spot in the 2020 season. Kalani Brown will probably make the Atlanta Dream roster, but Kristin Anigwe is going to have competition in Dallas. Both are also already on their second teams. Players who bounce around can later on thrive, but often it is not a great sign when a player is traded within a year of being drafted.  

The 2018 draft had Azura Stevens drafted 6th. She is also on her second team. She is also not a true center, as she can play power forward, given she is fairly mobile for a 6’6″ player and can shoot the 3. The final two picks of the first round were both centers, Maria Vedeeva and Marie Gulich. Vedeeva in particular was a good pick. Even there one can see that center is replaceable as she was often stuck behind both Ogwumike sisters, or awkwardly playing with one of them in a front court that could not stretch the floor.

Kalani Brown was also on the Sparks, but then traded for Gulich, cause apparently the Sparks can not have enough centers. Chiney does play a lot of power forward, but how effective I think that is will have to wait for my Sparks preview. Put me down as skeptical for now.

In contrast to the Sparks, the New York Liberty appear to be taking this logic and running with it. They invested first round picks in guards and wings, and are only carrying two centers, one a second round pick from the 2020 draft. The Liberty are the most interesting team for the next few seasons for me for this reason, even beyond Sabrina Ionescue, who of course I am dying to actually see play WNBA basketball. Look for my preview of them coming this Tuesday. 

2020 WNBA Season Preview: Atlanta Dream

The 2020 season is hopefully still going to happen in some fashion this year. Here begins my preview of each team. This is not going to be an exhaustive preview, but more a look at the key questions facing each team. I will not mention most third round picks, since it is unclear why the WNBA has a third round at all given how few make the team that drafted them. I am going in reverse order of the 2020 standings. Players are grouped as guards, wings and bigs to denote where they mostly play. Within that, 1 = point guard, 2 = shooting guard, 3 = small forward, 4= power forward, and 5 = center. Positions mostly by who a player guards, not where they play on offense. Stats per stats.wnba.com.

The Atlanta Dream struggled last year, finishing last in the league at 8-26. This was a surprise after losing in the semi finals the prior year. The defense had carried them in 2018 but for 2019 it slipped, going from 1st in defensive efficiency to 8th. Pair that with some of the ugliest offense one will see in the WNBA and you get why they ended up in last place. Their 89.8 offensive rating was the second worst in the past 5 years. Playing 1 consistent three point shooter in Renee Montgomery was not a successful strategy. Coach Nikki Collins thankfully will be coaching a reshaped roster that brought in shooting and consistent playmaking, so the offense should be better. Still somewhat limited in true two way players, particularly in the frontcourt, but the Dream should be much more fun to watch. 

Roster breakdown

Notable additions:

Courtney Williams. Shekinna Stricklen. Glory Johnson

Notable losses:

Angel McCaughtry. Brittney Sykes. Jessica Breland. Alex Bentley 

Draft picks: 

1st round: Chennedy Carter

2nd round: Brittany Brewer

Projected depth chart:

Guards: Chennedy Carter, Courtney Williams, Renee Montgomery. 

Wings: Tiffany Hayes, Shekinna Stricklen

Bigs: Glory Johnson, Monique Billings, Elizabeth Williams, Kalani Brown

These nine players are favored to make the team and play the bulk of the minutes this year. This is a team that at least one of the remaining 3 spots could go to a third round pick. I’m particularly interested to see how Mikayla Pivec, a guard out of Oregon State pans out. 

One more center will likely make the team, either Alaina Coates or Brittany Brewer. Edge to Brewer, as this year’s 2nd round draft pick with the potential to maybe stretch the floor, though 67% free throw shooting leaves me less optimistic than some. They have the cap space to carry 12 players, so maybe Maite Cazorla, a guard who was their 2019 second round pick, gets more time to develop. 

Playing time breakdown:

The biggest unknown is going to be who plays the 3 and 4. For both 3 and 4, most of the options come with sharp trade offs between offense and defense. Shekinna Stricklen has the longest history of playing the 3 and the best combination of size (6’2”) and shooting (38% on 6 attempts per game), but lacks footspeed on defense to keep up with more athletic wings. 

Glory Johnson is 6’3” and has the speed to guard smaller players, but is only a 32% career 3 point shooter. She did shoot 34% last year, close to average. If she can keep that up, maybe the Dream can use some bigger lineups with Johnson at the 3, which would make them huge on defense. 

My preference is they try to go the other direction, with Tiffany Hayes guarding bigger players, in order to maximize the shooting and playmaking on the court.  Hayes at 30% is a worse shooter than Johnson but is a much more decisive slasher and playmaker. Outside of super big Washington lineups, I’d take the trade off of a team trying to post up Hayes, to give her a speed advantage on the other end.

This would also allow them to play Johnson at the 4, to ease some spacing concerns that come with their other players. Chennedy Carter was the best player in the draft at Atlanta’s spot, but the main position holding this team back is the four and the five. Glory is the only big on the team who can and will shoot 3s. While better shooting from the guards should help, it is still hard to see this team being a top 6 offensive team as currently constructed. An interesting experiment would be to see if Shekinna Stricklen can hold up at the 4. 

For center, size and potential vs production. Playing professional defense is hard for young players, but I hope the Dream give Brown time to see what they have. Brown running pick and rolls with Carter could be fun, as Brown uses her size (6’7”) to rim run, assuming there is sufficient space to roll into. 

Elizabeth Williams is a consummate professional, but outside of rim protection is not offering much more than average production as a center. Part of the team’s 2018 success was driven by unsustainable shooting by Williams from the 2, and she fell back to earth last year. 

Glory Johnson is the same height as Elizabeth Williams, both 6’3″, but typically has not provided the same rim protection. She would allow for a defense more able to switch pick and rolls, and play 5 out on offense, so would at least be interesting for small stretches.

Courtney Williams is the one guaranteed starter on the roster at the 2, as the team’s main free agency signing.  A driving factor in the Sun making the 2019 finals was Williams turning some of her long 2s into 3s. She went from the regular season attempting 1 three a game, to 3.6 a game in the playoffs, while not losing efficiency, shooting an excellent 41% in the playoffs. If Nicki Collens can get Williams to shoot even more 3s in the regular season, Williams might be the signing of the off season. Williams competes on defense and typically does not get taken advantage of, even given her size, 5’8″.

For the 1, Chennedy Carter starting with Renee Montgomery backing up both guard spots would be the most fun to watch. Starting Carter from the beginning, similar to how Dallas handled Arike Ogunbowale last year, is my hope. 

Montgomery slipped from 3 last year, and is entering her 12th season, but given she will no longer be the only consistent three point shooter on the floor for most of her minutes, should still be effective. Though the end can come quickly for shorter players, shooting and passing both age well, and she should be able to provide solid back up guard minutes.  

This team has the talent to be a better team than in 2019, but it is hard to see them getting back to the playoffs. For that to happen, Chennedy Carter would likely need to step in as a positive force right from the beginning. Possible, but rookie guards usually struggle. Or maybe a big on the team makes strides. What can Kalani Brown do when not buried behind future Hall of Famers and #1 draft picks as she was on the Sparks?  Courtney Williams will bring it, but she has never had to carry a team by herself. However, even if the Dream do not win that many more games, thankfully for Dream fans this will be a more fun year after last year’s ugliness. 

Grades for Tina Charles Trade

The Tina Charles trade was not unexpected, but many did seem surprised by the return the New York Liberty received. This year is going to provide at least some insight into whether Charles’ issues last year were a function of the players around her, particularly guard play, or if Charles is not the player she was, or some combination of both. I have combined the draft night New York Liberty trade with the Phoenix Mercury and the three team trade involving Tina Charles to cover all the recent transactions. I am writing as if this season is happening, as I so dearly hope it does.

For my trade grades, I grade as follows. 

A= great trade that the team clearly should do.

B= good trade that makes sense.

C= trade I would not have done, but not terrible.

D= Bad trade. 

Trade Details:

New York Liberty get: Tayler Hill, 2020 Aces (via Wings) No. 9 pick (Megan Walker), 2020 Mercury No. 10 pick (Jocelyn Willoughby) 2020 Mystics No. 12 pick (Jazmine Jones), 2020 No. 15 pick (Leaonna Odom), Mystics’ 2021 2nd and 3rd round picks. 

Washington Mystics get: Tina Charles

Dallas Wings get: Mystics’ 2021 first round pick, Liberty’s 2021 second rick pick. 

Phoenix Mercury get: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough

New York Liberty: A-   

Given the timelines for building a championship caliber team around Sabrina Ionescue and Charles’ remaining quality years, moving Charles makes a lot of sense. Charles had her worst season last year, posting career low numbers of efg% of 39% and a career low for win shares of -.01 both per Basketball Reference. Her production began to slide the year prior, when her rebound rate fell and turnover rate rose. Charles has been a great player, but is an unrestricted free agent after this year, and has not been nearly as good the last two years.

Given Charles struggles relative to her lofty standards, the Liberty did a good job collecting assets to help get players to put around Sabrina Ionescue. Tayler Hill will likely be bought out, coming off of a couple of injury plagued years and at a position the Liberty are now deep, given she was not particularly efficient even in her best years. The benefits are the draft picks. The Liberty will hopefully hit on at least one of the wings they took with the picks they got. Wing is a position that is hard to fill and is needed next to Ionescue. If 2 or 3 turn out to be rotation level players, or one blossoms into a solid No. 2 next to Ionescue, they will really have had a good trade.

If the Mystics can get Charles back closer to prime Charles, then the Liberty may have gotten too little in return. Then again, given how many good 4s and 5s there are around the league, it’s not clear anyone else was offering anything more. 

Washington Mystics: B-

If a fully healthy and present Mystics team were guaranteed, this would have been a c grade from me or maybe lower. However, given that Charles is a durable player and is guaranteed to be here in the US, Charles does provide insurance against Elene Delle Donne being injured, or Emma Meesseman not being able to play this season given travel restrictions around the coronavirus. Charles gives them someone who can soak up minutes and compete hard each night and which will benefit the Mystics in the regular season.

Playoffs are different. In a playoff matchup with their full team, I am concerned that the Mystics are giving up shooting and playmaking for inefficient post play. It will be harder to bench Charles in key moments, or play her fewer minutes in the playoffs, than it was Latoya Sanders. And at this point, Latoya Sanders provides more rim protection than Charles. Charles has preferred not to have to bang with bigger centers, like Griner and Cambage, so how will Washington play Meesseman, EDD, and Charles together? Meesseman at the 5 on D? That worked well enough last year, but only because of the advantages it brought on offense, advantages that will be lessened with Charles’ lack of shooting and playmaking from the perimeter. Big lineups will tower over other teams, but it will be interesting to see if there is enough space inside for EDD or Meeseeman to take advantage with Charles also on the floor.

A few seasons ago Charles showed some ability to shoot the 3, but topped out at 35% on low volume and declined from there the past two years. The WNBA is moving more and more towards shooting at four or five positions on the floor and more modern offenses (outside of the Aces, at least). If Charles has lost a step, and teams are moving towards more shooting, the league might be moving past her. It is hard to see how she will match up against Brenna Stewart and Natasha Howard and a Seattle team that is my favorite to win it all this year. To be clear, Charles should still be a good player, but there is a difference between a good power forward and 7x all star Tina Charles. 

Washington clearly hopes that they will be able to get more out of Tina given how much more shooting and effective guard play they have than last year’s Liberty. If she can use the added space on offense to improve her post efficiency, and/or shoot closer to that 35% mark from 3, this grade will be too low. I am so excited to see how this plays out, definitely a situation I would be happy to be wrong.

Dallas Wings:  B+

Giving up the 9th pick in this year’s draft for a likely slightly worse draft pick next year to salary dump Tayler Hill is a reasonable decision. It is unlikely that the Wings would have gotten a better deal. Especially given how many picks they had, and the roster crunch they will be facing, this is a deal that helped them punt some of the picks they had down the road. Tayler Hill was unlikely to be in their future plans, especially as they picked Arike Ogunbowale and Tyasha Harris in back to back drafts, along with signing Moriah Jefferson. 

Phoenix Mercury: C

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough is more ready to contribute this season than Jocelyn Willoughby or whoever the Suns might have taken at 10 had they intended on keeping the pick.  A win now move makes sense, given even Diana Taurasi won’t play forever. However, given the curious signing of Bria Hartley, the presence of Diana Taurasi and Skyler Diggins-Smith, a bigger wing seems an area of need. Willoughby at 6’0” seems like she might have been more valuable than another guard shorter than 5’10”. Or who else was available, besides Walker-Kimbrough? Who are the Mercury starting at the 3 and 4 right now? Nia Coffey? Jessica Breland? Decent players, but interesting that the Mercury got another guard rather than wing, given the loss of DeWanna Bonner, who thrived at either 3 or 4 spot and was so important to the team.

Three guard lineups with Taurasi will work against quite a few teams, but interesting to see if that carries over to the playoffs when teams can more effectively target mismatches. Mercury are not known for developing young players. This is a case I would have liked them to try, especially since they will still have Griner to build around even once Taurasi retires.

WNBA Draft Board 2020

My first post on the WNBA. The goal with this blog is for there to be articles twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. Please follow me on twitter on the right to debate my rankings.

The WNBA draft is happening tomorrow night on ESPN. Thankfully they moved it off of ESPN 2. As we all deal with the coranivirus pandemic, I am looking forward to the draft more than I have ever looked forward to any sporting event that was not an actual playoff game. I am excited to see these players start their professional careers, hopefully in 2020.

This is a list of my personal ranking of the players and where they are likely to be in 4 or 5 years in the WNBA. This does not take into account team needs. I tend to think teams should draft in tiers, only taking into account team needs between somewhat similar players, so I have grouped players in tiers. Stats for 2019 season and height from herhoopstats. If anyone knows where to find players’ wingspans, let me know. Wingspan matters when projecting defensive ability. 

Tier 1: Potential Franchise players.

1. Sabrina Ionescue

5’10” guard, Oregon (51.8 FG / 39.2 3PT / 92.1 FT)

 While there is a chance Satou Sabally has a better career in the W, Sabrina is the real deal. Pick and roll dynamo who can shoot 3s off the dribble with good efficiency. Really impressed with her improved finishing at the rim, something that really stood out in Oregon’s win over Team USA. There are some questions on how she will handle teams switching athletic 3s and 4s onto her 1 on 1. Shooting should allow her to be valuable off ball. Decent size and fight to at least hold her own on defense. 

2. Satou Sabally

6’4” wing, Oregon (46.4 FG / 33.8 3PT / 79.2 FT)

Big wing is the most valuable position in basketball, as they are the hardest to find and impact winning in so many different ways. For recent WNBA champions, each was led by someone who played on offense as a big wing. Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Breanna Stewart and Elenna Delle Donne. Satou has all the tools and has shown the potential to be just this kind of franchise player. Good scorer at all levels, though more of an adequate 3 point shooter than a great one. 80% from the line is a good sign, as free throw shooting is more indicative of long term shooting ability than three point shooting. Fouls a fair amount and turns the ball over more than ideal, but both of those are paradoxically not bad signs for young players as both generally improve with experience. Not a liability defensively, though will be interesting to see whether she simply holds her own or is a plus in time on that end.

Tier 2: 1x or 2x all stars

3. Chennedy Carter

5’7” guard, Texas A&M (45.2 FG / 25.3 3PT / 72.9 FT) 

After big wing, the next most important position is shot creating guard, particularly one that can shoot from 3 off the dribble (see also, Sabrina Ionescu) This is a bet that Chennedy can be that kind of player. Is a better three point shooter than she showed this year, 35% over the course of her three years at Texas A & M. But she is a dynamic enough scorer she just needs to keep the defense honest with the 3, not be Allie Quigley. Undersized, can she guard other 2s or will she have to cross match with a bigger point guard. Or play point guard, which might be her best position long term. With W spacing and more talent around her, she certainly has the ability to be more of a passer and improve on her already pretty good 27% assist rate. Turns the ball over too much, though may be able to do less in the W than on a Texas A & M team that relied on her so much and raise her pedestrian 1.25 assist to turnover ratio.

Tier 3: Solid WNBA starters

4. Lauren Cox

6’4” big, Baylor (46.5 FG / 40.0 3PT / 62.5 FT)

Center is a position that it is hard to justify a high lottery pick with, unless the player can be an offensive hub a la Liz Cambage. Can she defend other 4s and shoot well enough to stretch the floor to play full time at the 4? There are competent centers who can finish at the rim and block shots to be had for relatively cheap in free agency and later in the draft. Look at the Sparks and how many centers they had last year. Lauren has some upside in this area of being a plus offensive player, if she improves her jumper and passing. Her floor is higher than many other players in this draft, but has less upside.

5. Bella Alarie

6’4” big/wing, Princeton (47.4 FG /35.6 3PT / 74.4 FT)

Alarie’s offense should translate. Good shooter, fluid ball handler for a big. Good shot blocker. Among the many losses of no March Madness this year is not seeing Alarie against better opponents, particularly on defense. She played well against Iowa, the best team Princeton faced this year, but more data points would have been great. Moves her feet well defending guards in space at the Ivy League, but may struggle in the W. Still, a lot of potential upside with her offensive ability and rim protection.

6. Kitija Laksa

6’0”, South Florida. (39.9 FG /38.2 3 PT / 96.5 FT)

Shooting shooting shooting. The WNBA is moving forward more and more with the realization that 3 > 2 each year. Seattle and Washington both one shooting the lights out, and Las Vegas showed the limits of talent and size overcoming a lack of shooting. Kitija Laksa is the best shooter in this class, when taking into account both volume and accuracy. Has some ball skills, isn’t just a stand still shooter. Decent size. Defense may not be a strength at first but has decent size. Allie Quigley but taller is a possibility. Needs to improve finishing and shooting in the paint.

Tier 4: Borderline starters, valuable backups

7. Ruthy Hebard

6’4” big, Oregon (68.5 FG / NA / 69.5 FT)

Being the third option on a loaded college team can create difficulties in projecting to the next level. Devin Booker the classic example from the men’s side of the game.  Hebard says she can shoot more than she has shown. Would be more valuable if she could even stretch out to 15 feet. Even without a shooting touch though, her elite efficiency at the rim stands out. Not the biggest center, but should be able to bang with bigger centers, a la Latoya Sanders. Not a back to the basket player, but given how much more efficient pick and roll is than posting up, used right could be a force. High to draft a center, but has a clearer path to effectiveness than players after this. 

8. Crystal Dangerfield

5’5” guard, UCONN (46.3 FG / 41.0 3PT / 86.0 FT)

Shoots and passes like a WNBA level point guard. Runs off screens well, knows how to set up bigger defenders and run them off of picks. Issues are size on defense and finishing over wnba length. Finishing an issue, though shows touch on floaters. Competes on defense and gets steals, but 5’5” is generous. Because of that, she is a floor raiser in the regular season and at worst a good back up point guard, but the question is if she is good enough to justify hiding her on defense, particularly in the playoffs when teams search out mismatches. 

9. Tyasha Harris

5’10” guard, South Carolina (42.6/38.4/85.7) 

Good at everything one wants from a point guard, but is she great at anything? Similar to Jasmine Thomas, at her peak. Career high 38% this past year from 3, up from 30% the prior 3 years. If that is real does provide the ability to play off ball. Is a good defender and has good size, could cross match and guard 2s to protect a smaller shooting guard teammate. Dangerfield has a longer history of shooting better. Harris has better assist numbers, but particularly this past year, much more dangerous teammates.  Basically a coin flip between the two with slight edge to Dangerfield’s ability to score off screens and be more dangerous on offense.

10. Megan Walker

6’0” wing, UCONN (47.7 FG /45.1 3PT / 82.1 FT)

    Similar to Laksa, her value will be shooting. But she took half as many attempts this past year as Laksa did in her most recent full NCAA season. Can she ramp up her shooting, especially off the dribble? Average at best athlete. Does she have the athleticism to hang on defense and attack off the dribble? May not be big enough to play more than spot minutes as a small ball 4, where UCONN played her quite a bit this past year. Though does fight and rebound fairly well at the 4.

11. Te’a Cooper

    5’8” guard, Baylor. (43.8 FG /41.5 3PT / 73.0 FT)

    Good defender against pgs, but may not have the size to defend bigger shooting guards. Good at the simple pass, but not an exceptional passer. Swing skill will be the 3 pointer, which was much improved this past year. Given average free throw shooting, might be closer to a low 30s three point shooter. Good burst, particularly in transition, but not a great finisher.

12. Beatrice Mompremier

Big 6’4”  (52.1 FG/ 30.8 3PtT / 70.5)

Has the potential to be an excellent center at the pro level. Will be helped if surrounded by shooting. Good shot blocker and rebounder. Too upright defending on the perimeter, gets blown by too easily. Could stand to improve finishing at the rim. Face up game only useful when she can use speed advantage, not much craft. Given that decent centers are easier to find,  taking a gamble on another wing might be a better use of draft pick in this range. 

Also receiving consideration:

Mikiah Herbert Harrigan big, South Carolina

Kiah Gillespie wing, Florida St.

Joyner Holmes big, Texas