Friday will bring us one of the few scheduled events in the sports world that has not been canceled or delayed by the coronavirus: the WNBA draft. In fact, it will happen much like previous years, except that the top prospects will watch from their couches instead of congregating in New York. Teams will call in their picks to the league office, commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce them, and draft picks will be interviewed via video conference.
We don’t know yet whether these rookies will actually debut this year, as the WNBA season has been postponed indefinitely. But that shouldn’t dampen the excitement when 36 players realize their dreams of being drafted. “I’m just excited that it’s still going to happen,” Baylor star Lauren Cox told The Dallas Morning News. “I’m a little disappointed that we won’t get to go up to New York and be around the other players and experience that, but I understand why it has to be virtual.”
Mock drafts abound online, projecting where each player is likely to land. But we want to know what each team needs the most — and which college players would best plug those holes. We’re still on the lookout, though, for last-minute predraft news that might change the composition of a team — like Wednesday’s three-team trade that sent New York Liberty stalwart Tina Charles to the Washington Mystics for a flurry of draft picks.
Atlanta Dream (picks 4, 17, 25, 27)
Atlanta made several big offseason moves to try to climb out of the WNBA cellar, including adding forward Glory Johnson and guards Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen. In particular, Stricklen — a 38 percent career 3-point shooter — should help boost the Dream’s league-worst 29 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 2019. But Atlanta also ranked last in the league in offensive rating, points per game and field-goal percentage and should look to add more scorers.
Atlanta head coach Nicki Collen indicated on a pre-draft media call that her team’s primary positions of need are point guard and small forward. For the No. 4 pick, the Atlanta front office has discussed Satou Sabally (Oregon), Bella Alarie (Princeton) and Megan Walker (UConn) at small forward and Chennedy Carter (Texas A&M) at point guard, among others, as possible selections. In particular, Carter seems to be a good fit: She finished her three-year career just 6 points shy of becoming the Aggies’ all-time leading scorer and scored at least 20 points a whopping 62 times.
New York Liberty (1, 9, 12, 13, 15, 26)
It’s all but official: Oregon point guard Sabrina Ionescu is headed to New York. She is the best player available and also fills a need for the Liberty: steady ball-handling. Guards Brittany Boyd and Tanisha Wright each turned the ball over on more than 28 percent of their possessions last season, which ranked fourth- and fifth-worst1 in the league, respectively. Throughout her college career, Ionescu never had a turnover rate above 17.6 percent despite regularly playing against top-25 teams. Beyond the on-court fit, ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo believes that Ionescu has the ideal temperament to play in New York. “She fits in high-pressure moments,” Lobo said. “She lives in them. She craves them. She comes through in them. And there’s nothing bigger than being in New York City.”
Alongside the No. 1 pick, the Liberty now have two more first-round picks after trading away Charles, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. New York desperately needs to add frontcourt talent and shore up its defense. It had the worst defensive rating in the WNBA last season, tied for last in blocks per game and committed the most fouls. Ionescu and free-agent signing Layshia Clarendon will help the defense just by taking care of the ball: New York gave up 17.6 points off turnovers last season, the most in the league. In the frontcourt, South Carolina’s Mikiah Herbert Harrigan or Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard could make sense as first-round picks, and New York could also target players like ACC Defensive Player of the Year Kylee Shook of Louisville or Big East Defensive Player of the Year Chante Stonewall of DePaul with its later picks.
Dallas Wings (2, 5, 7, 21)
Dallas head coach Brian Agler recently told High Post Hoops that his draft wish list includes “more playmakers,” more length and more offensive firepower. The Wings are likely to take Cox or Sabally at No. 2, both of whom check the boxes for length and offense. After that, Dallas will probably look for a point guard. The Wings ranked last in the league in 2019 in assists per game and assist percentage as starting point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith missed the season after giving birth to her son, then asked out and was traded in the offseason. Moriah Jefferson seems to be the heir apparent, but she has struggled with injuries over the past few years. She also needs a backup if Agler wants to use second-year players Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey primarily as shooting guards. Conveniently, this draft has a lot of strong point guards after Ionescu, including Tyasha Harris (South Carolina), Crystal Dangerfield (UConn) and Te’a Cooper (Baylor).
Beyond the needs Agler identified, the Wings will be an extremely young team and could benefit from trading for a few veteran leaders for the team. With veteran Tayler Hill going to New York as part of the Tina Charles trade, only three remaining players have been Wings for more than one season, and Dallas’s most experienced players have played in the WNBA for just four seasons. The Wings roster will benefit from having new player development coach Camille Little, who retired last season after a 13-year WNBA career, but it could use some experience like Little’s on the court, too.
Indiana Fever (3, 14, 28)
Indiana is likely to pick whomever of Cox and Sabally is still available at No. 3. Either player will instantly upgrade the Fever’s offense, which was seventh-best in the league last year. The 6-foot-4 Cox would give the Fever a terrifying tandem inside with 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan, much like how she paired with Kalani Brown on Baylor’s 2019 national championship team, while Sabally would make the Fever’s offense more versatile and give McCowan more space to operate.
With its later picks, Indiana may look to shore up its defense and add talent on the perimeter. Despite McCowan’s 44 blocks, which ranked ninth in the league last season, Indiana’s defense ranked second-to-last, in part because it allowed opponents to shoot the highest percentage from 3-point range of any team. Indiana’s guards also had questionable shot selection at times: The Fever took the second-lowest share of 3-pointers (24.4 percent) but the highest share of midrange shots (22.1 percent) in the league. A high-IQ, 3-and-D guard like Maryland’s Blair Watson could be just what the doctor ordered.
Phoenix Mercury (10, 18, 29)
After the 2019 season, Phoenix lost three starters, one part-time starter and two veteran reserves. Accordingly, the team was active in the offseason: Diggins-Smith is the headliner, while forward Jessica Breland pairs nicely with returning center Brittney Griner and Bria Hartley adds depth on the perimeter. The Mercury’s offseason goal was to get “more athletic, [add] more play making, [and] have more shooting,” Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello said during a Monday press conference. “We just needed to get better all around.”
The Mercury will extend that mindset to the draft, but they could particularly use some help on the wing. Nia Coffey, another new addition, might provide good minutes there, but the Mercury could stand to add more depth and size beyond her. If UConn’s Megan Walker is still available at No. 10, she could be a good fit. Maryland’s Kaila Charles, Duke’s Haley Gorecki, Drake’s Becca Hittner and Washington State’s Borislava Hristova could also be good candidates to play the wing as professionals.
Minnesota Lynx (6, 16)
Minnesota also needs a point guard, which creates some intrigue at that position among the Nos. 5 through 7 picks. Last year, the Lynx finished last in the league in turnovers per game and turnover rate; they turned it over on more than 20 percent of their possessions, which led to 16.1 points off turnovers and 8.7 fast break points per game for their opponents. Then Minnesota lost two of its point guards from last year: Odyssey Sims to pregnancy and Danielle Robinson to free agency. The Lynx will need to find a point guard among their young combo guards, trade for one or draft one.
However, head coach Cheryl Reeve said on her podcast that Minnesota will take the best available player at No. 6. “That’s the overriding philosophy no matter where [we’re] picking,” she said. The best available player could be a point guard like Harris, a center like Miami’s Beatrice Mompremier or Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard or a stretch-4 like Princeton’s Bella Alarie. If Alarie is the pick, that would seemingly give Minnesota a crowded frontcourt, including 2019 WNBA Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier and fellow second-year pro Jessica Shepard. But Reeve is a coach who always seems to figure it out.
Seattle Storm (11, 19, 31)
At first glance, the Storm look like they need help on the glass, as they finished last in the league in rebounding in 2019. But the return of former WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, who missed all of last season with a torn Achilles, likely solves that problem. The Storm will also add 2019 draft pick Ezi Magbegor, who did not play in the league last season, and they can likely expect even more out of third-year center Mercedes Russell.
Seattle may look to draft one more post player to compete with Magbegor, Russell, Crystal Langhorne and Morgan Tuck. Hebard or Florida State’s Kiah Gillespie could be first-round options, but the Storm may instead prioritize their backcourt at No. 11. Depending on how long they think ageless point guard Sue Bird will play, a draft with several talented point guards could give the Storm the perfect opportunity to draft Jordin Canada’s future backup.
Chicago Sky (8, 30, 32)
The Sky traded for forward Azura Stevens in the offseason, adding depth to what was a thin frontcourt, but they could still look for reinforcements at the 4 and 5 positions. Chicago played at the fastest pace in the WNBA last season, so head coach and general manager James Wade is probably looking for mobile forwards such as Maryland’s Charles, Princeton’s Alarie, Miami’s Mompremier or Texas’s Joyner Holmes. Oregon’s Hebard could also be a strong option to pair with All-Star point guard Courtney Vandersloot because Hebard excels in pick-and-roll situations.
Drafting a back-up for Vandersloot may also be a goal of Wade’s, depending on how he intends to use Gabby Williams. (Williams is a 5-11 forward who Wade played at point guard for much of last season, but the position wasn’t always comfortable for her.) Oregon’s Minyon Moore, North Carolina State’s Aislinn Konig or Iowa’s Kathleen Doyle could be good options in the third round, but don’t rule out a combo guard such as Louisville’s Jazmine Jones.
Las Vegas Aces (33)
The Aces traded away their first- and second-round picks in last year’s deal for Liz Cambage, leaving them with a single third-round pick for 2020. They will likely take the best available player at that time as long as she fits the Aces’ style. As general manager Dan Padover described it on the Locked On WBB podcast, “We’re obviously an inside-out team and we’re an attacking team. … We’re going to try to jam it inside, we’re gonna try to get foul calls, and we’re just going to just try and keep coming and try to wear teams down.”
To that end, Padover could draft a center to replace the retired Carolyn Swords or a 3-point shooter to provide better spacing for star forwards Cambage and A’ja Wilson and depth behind Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum. Shook (Louisville) or Peyton Williams (Kansas State) could be good replacements for Swords, while Abi Scheid (Northwestern), Kelly Campbell (DePaul), Jaylyn Agnew (Creighton) and Davion Wingate (FGCU) are all sharpshooters who should be available late in the draft.
Los Angeles Sparks (20, 22, 34)
Like Las Vegas, Los Angeles does not have a first-round pick after sending its pick to Connecticut in last year’s trade for Chiney Ogwumike. (That pick was later traded to Phoenix.) On a conference call with the media on April 6, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher said that one of his offseason priorities was “adding players that had some talent and some ability but also really understand winning,” so Los Angeles may look to draft players who have won at the college level as well.
Fisher suggested that the wing position will be the most competitive for a starting spot, as veteran stars fill the other four positions for Los Angeles. And when it comes to simply getting minutes, it might be easier for a draft pick to crack the backcourt rotation than the frontcourt, which already features Candace Parker, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Maria Vadeeva and Marie Gülich. Maybe there is room for a third Ogwumike — guard Erica (Rice) — in Los Angeles? If not Erica Ogwumike, players like Stella Johnson (Rider) or Ciara Duffy (South Dakota) could be good backcourt options.
Connecticut Sun (23, 35)
Connecticut has seen a lot of changes since its WNBA Finals loss to the Mystics, most notably the veteran additions of forward DeWanna Bonner and guard Briann January. This gives the Sun an eye-popping starting lineup of Jasmine Thomas, January, Bonner, Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones. But the Connecticut bench has more question marks. The Hartford Courant’s Alexa Philippou recently reported that the Connecticut staff “had to cast a wider net” with its scouting because of its late-round draft position and will likely select the best available player. However, per Philippou, head coach Curt Miller did not rule out trading up in the draft.
If Connecticut keeps its current picks, it may focus on a backup point guard and a backup post player after adding 3-point shooter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis in an offseason trade. Oregon’s Moore and Baylor’s Juicy Landrum could be options to run the point, while Texas Tech star Brittany Brewer and DePaul’s Stonewall could help the Sun in the post.
Washington Mystics (24, 36)
After the Charles trade was announced, Mystics coach Mike Thibault indicated that his roster was set for 2020. “We just got one of the best players in the draft,” he told the media, referring to flipping the No. 12 pick for Charles. “… I [am] glad to be done doing draft interviews and move on and know who our team’s gonna be.” The Mystics are left with a second-round and third-round pick and will take the players they think are the best bets to develop in the long term.
A point guard might be particularly handy, as backup Leilani Mitchell will turn 35 this June, but Thibault also has a reputation for surprising everyone with his picks, and in the past two years he’s done that by drafting wings Ariel Atkins and Kiara Leslie. He values the 3-point shot as much as anyone, and going with Atkins in particular has paid off.2 It wouldn’t be shocking to see him take another wing in this year’s draft as well, perhaps a player like Drake’s Hittner or Maryland’s Watson. Notably, Washington surrendered all three of its 2021 draft picks in the Charles trade, so getting these later picks right could be important in a few years’ time.