With only the four worst teams in the league allowed to participate each season, just how important is winning the WNBA Draft Lottery you might ask?
Let's put it this way: The last five winners of the No. 1 pick in the draft are all in the WNBA playoffs this season. Los Angeles (2012-Nneka Ogwumike, 2008-Candace Parker), Minnesota (2011-Maya Moore), Connecticut (2010-Tina Charles) and Atlanta (2009-Angel McCoughtry) are all top-tier teams thanks in large part to the influx of major talent they received with the top picks they acquired through the draft lottery. In fact, the eight teams that progressed to the playoffs this season sport 11 of the 16 No. 1 picks in league history on their rosters.
Or to look at it another way, only one team with a top pick on its roster failed to make the playoffs this season; that team is the Phoenix Mercury who picked up Diana Taurasi with the No. 1 selection in 2004, and a big reason the Mercury will be hoping to hit the jackpot in this year's lottery is that Taurasi, citing injuries, played in only eight games this year.
That's why WNBA fans will be glued to the TV on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. when the draft lottery airs on ESPN's Sports Center because this year's bottom-feeding teams, the Washington Mystics, Phoenix Mercury, Tulsa Shock and Chicago Sky, all have a chance to dramatically alter their future. The grand prize in this year’s draft is Baylor star Brittney Griner. She has already led the Bears to a national championship, cleaning up every major college award along the way, and is poised to become the best shot-blocker and dunker in the history of women’s basketball. After Griner come Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame and Elena Delle Donne of Delaware, both players who could make a huge and immediate impact, and it's fair to say this is one of the deepest drafts in WNBA history.
The next question is who has the best chance of grabbing that top pick? That would be the team that put in the worst performance this season -- the Washington Mystics.
The Mystics, who just fired head coachTrudi Lacey, posted a WNBA-worst 5-29 record this season and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row -- giving them the most balls in the lottery. The Mystics have a staggering 44.2 percent chance of winning the top draft pick, nearly double that of Phoenix. Right now it’s unclear who would be making draft decisions since Lacey, who was also serving as General Manager, has yet to be replaced, but that's a question that need not be answered until the 2013 WNBA Draft takes place next spring.
If the Mystics were to draft Griner, it would be a reunion of sorts in the nation's capital with Baylor alumnus Robert Griffin III who was taken second pick in the 2012 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins. Griffin has been a huge supporter of Griner and Baylor women’s basketball, attending many home games as well cheering from the sidelines throughout their run to the 2012 National Championship.
Hobnobbing aside, the Mystics are in desperate need of a total revamp. In 15 seasons they have finished above .500 only three times, and with a merry-go-round of eight head coaches, they have only made it out of the first-round of the playoffs once. Attendance for what was once one of the biggest and most enthusiastic fan-bases in the country was extremely dismal in the Verizon Center this year, so team owners better get it right this time or fans might reach emotional exhaustion.
Down the stretch, it appeared the Phoenix Mercury did everything in their power to increase their chances in the Draft Lottery, causing some to question the fairness of a lottery system that allots such a tremendous payoff to the four worst teams in a league as small as the WNBA. The Mercury finished the season 7-27, losing their last seven games, thanks in part to Corey Gaines sitting an apparently healthy Diana Taurasi for six of those games.
Yes, Penny Taylor was out with an ACL tear and Candice Dupree was battling injuries all season, but it sure looked like the Mercury threw in the towel in the last month of the season (if not even sooner). The gamble may have angered fans, but Phoenix now has the second-best chance of winning the top pick (27.6 %). If Phoenix does win the draft, fans will quickly forget the tanking of the 2012 season the first time Sammy Prahalis lobs it up to Brittney for a dunk… Although for the record, GM Ann Meyers Drysdale really likes Delle Donne. Either way, Griner or Delle Donne, along with the rest of the team back to health, would put Phoenix back in the 2013 championship mix.
The odds for Tulsa getting the No. 1 pick are 17.8 percent. Unlike Phoenix, Tulsa head coach Gary Kloppenburg spoke out strongly, averring that his team would not play for lottery balls, but was focused on winning as many games as possible. The Shock backed up that statement, winning six of their last nine games to finish the season with a 9-25 record, their best since moving to Oklahoma. Tulsa has been in the lottery the last two seasons, but has yet to come up with the number one pick. Adding some more talent around Liz Cambage, who was the second overall pick in 2010, could change everything for Tulsa.
The Chicago Sky were edged out by the New York Liberty for the final playoff spot and now have a 10.4 percent chance of winning the top pick. Chicago, who finished 14-20, looked like a playoff contender early on in the season before injuries to Epiphanny Prince and Sylvia Fowles changed the equation and had them limping down the stretch. The Chicago Sky have never had a the first overall pick in the draft, so it’s not a surprise they are still seeking their first playoff appearance after seven years of existence. Sylvia Fowles was the second overall pick in the 2008 draft, and she’s certainly a franchise player. Whatever the Sky can haul in will definitely change the 2013 playoff picture.
That said, a caveat is most definitely in order. Washington may have the highest statistical chance of winning the first pick in the draft, but these things rarely play out by the numbers. Since the current lottery system was established 10 years ago, has it gone exactly as predicted only once. That was in 2009 when Atlanta, the team with the most balls in the cage, snagged top-pick Angel McCoughtry, followed by Washington and Chicago, the two teams with the next highest statistical chances. Twice the team with the fewest chances has come out on top, which means there is still hope for a pair of twin towers on the Chicago skyline.
Whatever the odds, may the best team win... or should that be, may the worst team win
- Who's in line for Brittney? WNBA Draft Lottery on ESPN Sept. 26
- Elena Delle Donne: Hometown heroine taking her own path toward greatness
- Skylar Diggins Final Four Remix
- The Shock want wins now, not lottery balls later