It is as easy as ‘one, two, three’ for the three franchises that pick at the top of the WNBA 2013 draft board. As it turns out, these teams then don’t pick again until round three (relatively few stick from there). For the other nine franchises, agonizing over the picks is the equivalent of somewhere between having an upset stomach and a tooth extraction without anesthetic. This draft features a few likely stars (probably the top three picks), a modest number of likely rotation players (hopefully at least picks four through seven) and then a lot of developmental prospects, ‘maybes’ and long shots.
As a byproduct of the new long-term deal with ESPN, round one of Monday's draft will be on ESPN2 (8 p.m. EDT), with rounds two and three on NBA TV and ESPNU.
GMS, do your homework!
Before getting into the draft, it is important to remember how critical it is to handle a top three pick correctly.
In 2011, Tulsa coach/GM Nolan Richardson drafted Australian Elizabeth Cambage, declaring her the future of the Shock low post presence. Numerous offers were made to Richardson to swap the pick for players and/or draft picks (probably the right move). Cambage had made several statements about wanting to play in certain cities not in Oklahoma but Tulsa rebuffed all offers. Cambage played in 2011 and skipped 2012 and now we all learn she will not be playing in the league in 2013 either. In the end, Tulsa will be lucky to get a second round pick for a top three selection.
In 2009, Chicago drafted Kristi Toliver with the third pick. Most observers were surprised by the selection, and Toliver never worked out before being dealt the following spring by coach/GM Steven Key to Los Angeles for a second-round pick (Angie Bjorklund) who never had much impact for the Sky before being cut.
Both Richardson and Key were eventually fired and these missteps played a part in their downfall.
Need versus best player
If someone jumps out at the GM on the clock, he or she should probably ignore need and take the best player on the board. On the other hand, if several players of similar value are on the board, take the one who fills the most pressing need of the team.
Given how foreigners have tended to play just one year in the league, if they come at all, don’t look for any GM to go foreign until he or she thinks there is no domestic help left on the board.
Getting into the draft itself…
In this mock draft, two rounds are projected. With the 11-player rosters, even latter-half first round picks are not assured of sticking as roster spots are very tough to come by.
1. Phoenix: Brittney Griner, 6-8 center, Baylor
Why: Griner fills a need that the Mercury has had for years, namely a strong defensive presence in the key and since her freshman year in Waco, Griner has made opposition post offenses disappear. Granted, WNBA rules (defensive three seconds in particular) may prevent Griner from camping out in the key but she is still likely to have a big impact on opposition shot selection. Phoenix has plenty of offense elsewhere (starting with Diana Taurasi) and it is not important that Griner be a major offensive threat out of the gate --and in fact, she may need time to adjust to the more physical WNBA game. Another plus will be box=office appeal due to Griner’s ability to dunk. Look for a major spike in Mercury attendance at home and on the road.
Why not: The Mercury might wish to avoid Griner if she is one and done (not going to happen) headed to the NBA this fall. Thank you Dallas Mavs owner Mark Cuban for attempting to cash in on some cheap publicity by suggesting the Baylor product as a possible NBA player. And if you believe him, I will sell you the Brooklyn Bridge tomorrow ...
2. Chicago: Elena Delle Donne, 6-5 wing, Delaware
Why: The Sky needs help at the forward slot opposite Swin Cash and the Delaware native readily fills this void. During her college career, Delle Donne has often faced double and triple teams which will not happen in the WNBA. Unusual skill sets have a way of working in this league and having someone with Lauren Jackson height and Diana Taurasi range and ability to create off the bounce makes Delle Donne truly unique. The fact that she does not seem to desire to play in Europe should be viewed as a positive as so many players return to the WNBA worn down from the prior winter’s play.
Why not: Delle Donne’s Lyme disease could flare up, knocking her out of action at a critical time. Also, most of her college play was against midmajor competition and some might not trust that her success there will translate to the WNBA.
3. Tulsa: Skylar Diggins, 5-9 guard, Notre Dame
Why: With the departure of Temeka Johnson to Seattle and Ivory Latta to Washington, the Shock are essentially without a point guard ( depending on how you view Candice Wiggins and Riquna Williams). Diggins is a fierce competitor and known for her leadership. While she may not come into the league and live up to the media hype, she should be a solid addition to the Tulsa roster. Having her close friend Wiggins on the team might be a reason that she might not have a wandering eye to move elsewhere at the first opportunity.
Why not: If one of the two above prospects is by some rare chance available, it might to hard for the Shock to pass. The next true point guard may not be valued enough to be drafted until the late first or early second round so it is hard to see anyone but Diggins drafted here.
The draft really begins here.
4. Washington: Kelsey Bone, 6-4 center, Texas A&M
Why: The Mystics could use help at a lot of positions but Bone (who decided to forgo her last year of eligibility as she graduates in May) may be the best option on the board. The most pressing need would probably be getting a quality point guard or wing scorer if Mike Thibault went need first. Granted, Kia Vaughn is functional at center but Michelle Snow is nearer the end than the beginning of her career. Ashley Robinson is no more than a reserve and Avery Warley is still unproven after a year in Phoenix.
Why not: Need! If so, look for Thibault to go with one of Tayler Hill, A’dia Mathies or Sugar Rodgers (all discussed below). The Mystics are very thin on the wing but this year is really more for rebuilding than chasing the big prizes. Over the last few years, there has been a trend for the Mystics to go local with Tianna Hawkins (besides Rodgers) fitting that profile. However, fellow Maryland alum Crystal Langhorne is the team’s star and a power forward (a relatively deep Mystics position).
5. New York: Tayler Hill, 5-10 guard, Ohio State
Why: The roster cries out for a point guard upgrade but is there one out there after Diggins? With Cheryl Ford back in the WNBA fold, help on the wing might be the next option. Hill would fit the bill as a good offensive player who can drive and shoot the three yet play hard and defend strongly at the other end. This past season the Ohio State product was bothered by her tonsils (recently removed) during a portion of the year and with the Buckeyes having a down year, she has not been talked about as much.
Why not: Coach/GM Bill Laimbeer is playing poker trying to guess what Seattle wants at number six. Trader Bill is fond of stocking up on bigs so he could go for Bone if still on the board, figuring that Seattle would take her if he didn't. He then might still be able to come back and take Hill at number seven. Of course, if he thinks Seattle is after HIll, then he takes her and figures Bone will drop.
6. Seattle: Kelly Faris, 5-11 wing, Connecticut
Why: Without stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, 2013 is most likely going to be a characte- building year for the Storm, which has prided itself on making the playoffs every year since 2003. Faris is a low-risk but probably low-reward pick, who will be a helper (rotation to bench rather than rotation to starter) for years to come. She defends well and plays smart but is not special offensively by WNBA standards. With the return of Bird and Jackson in 2014, her role can be more easily optimized.
Why not: The roster cries out for a quality bi’ but Bone will likely be gone by number six. Another possibility will be the above-mentioned Hawkins who is really a power forward, a position where the Storm has more depth. Another possibility is to reach down and take a post such as Kayla Alexander (see below) who might help in future years but be not so polished for immediate impact. In spite of the normal rhetoric, the true goal for the Storm leadership is to survive this season and try to have everybody healthy for a more earnest title run in 2014.
7. New York: Tianna Hawkins, 6-3 power forward, Maryland
Why: Assuming Laimbeer got a wing at number five, look for him to go big with this pick. There will be an adequate supply of maybes in the point guard category at number 15. What separates Hawkins from other power forwards is her combination of strong body and shooting range (although not really a three-point threat).
Why not: If somehow Bone falls to number five, a wing player might be taken here.
From here down, the odds of helping a team shrink even more.
8. San Antonio: Toni Young, 6-2 power forward, Oklahoma State
Why: With Sophia Young lost for the season, more help is needed up front. Yes, veteran DeLisha Milton-Jones was added but she is in her late 30s. Toni Young is a player similar in nature to Glory Johnson in that her game is from the foul line in and is quick off her feet.
Why not: Of course, if one of the abov- mentioned should drop, particularly Hawkins, coach/GM Dan Hughes might switch in that direction. Also Toni Young has at time been knocked for not playing as hard as a coach might want in spite of physical talent and her shooting range is limited compared to Hawkins. Also, Hughes may see a big on the board he thinks he can develop as low-post offense that has been a San Antonio deficiency the last few years.
9. Indiana: Layshia Clarendon, 5-9 shooting guard, California
Why: Clarendon is an intelligent, adequately athletic player who is best shooting midrange jumpers. She can also play the point for short periods of time. With some question as to the status of guard Jeanette Pohlen, who suffered an ACL tear in the playoffs last fall, the Fever may want to look at a perimeter player with their first pick.
Why not: Clarendon’s three-ball takes a bit of time to get off, thus the question on her offensive game.
10. Los Angeles: Sugar Rodgers, 5-11 wing, Georgetown University
Why: With the loss of Milton-Jones to San Antonio, the Sparks may want to take a look at a perimeter player who can provide instant offense and Rodgers has been known for her ability to score.
Why not: The Sparks may have the deepest roster in the league and could grab a backup point candidate or big if they wish to pass on the Georgetown product, who has been guilty of high volume shooting at times, particularly this past season on a subpar Georgetown team.
11. Connecticut: Kayla Alexander, 6-4 center, Syracuse
Why: The Sun has needs at both forward positions now that Asjha Jones has declared herself out for the season. Alexander, be she a center, is still a frontcourt player who had a solid senior year for the Orange. The rep on her is that she is eager to learn.
Why not: The Sun may see someone out there who can step in at the four or the three, so it’s hard to see Toni Young falling past here. Also, as mentioned above, if Seattle decides it wants to take the risk on a young, not that polished big after Bone, Alexander might be off the board long before this slot.
12. Minnesota: A’dia Mathies, 5-9 guard, Kentucky
Why: Mathies is a very versatile athlete who showed she can score in a lot of ways. She can even play the point for short periods of time. She may remind you of Tiffany Hayes, who was expected to go higher last year but fell to Atlanta in round two and then had a successful rookie campaign.
Why not: The biggest negative about the Kentucky product is questioning what she will do well enough at the WNBA level? If Alexander is on the board here, don’t expect her to fall past this point as Minnesota is looking for tall help inside as well with the retirement of Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
Looking more briefly at the second round.
13. Atlanta Dream: Alex Bentley, 5-7 point guard, Penn State
Why/Why not: The Dream need help at point and Bentley may be the best available. At times, she struggles to successfully shoot the ball from the perimeter but she can run an offense and defend. Down here it will be hard to find more than a backup point anyway and Atlanta really needs more than that and could pass on a point guard if something interesting falls into their lap from above.
14. Minnesota: Nikki Greene, 6-4 center, Penn State
Why/Why not: Greene is still a bit ‘green’ with athleticism similar to Atlanta’s Aneika Henry, who needed a few years as a pro before making it in the WNBA. Like Henry, Greene may contribute but not so much in her first pro campaign.
15. New York: Nadirah McKenith, 5-7 point guard, St. John’s
Why/Why not: McKenith makes generally good decisions and can play reasonable defense. She may not shoot the ball that well but could be a reasonable candidate for back-up point guard duty.
16. San Antonio: Markel Walker, 6-1 small forward, UCLA
Why/Why not: Walker has good size and plays the baseline. She has a WNBA body but does she shoot the ball well enough to make a squad?
17. Washington: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, 5-10 guard, North Carolina
Why/Why not: Ruffin-Pratt is a utility player who could help at the point and shooting guard positions. On the other hand, she is not special at either.
18. Seattle: Waltiea Rolle, 6-6 center, North Carolina
Why/Why not: Seattle needs some size in the key and this player is big and sturdy. The question on Rolle is whether she is active enough on offense.
19. Washington: Shenneika Smith, 6-1 wing, St. John’s
Why/Why Not: Smith is athletic with size. She can score on the perimeter but does not shoot the three-ball particularly well.
20. San Antonio: Carolyn Davis, 6-3 center, Kansas
Why/Why not: Davis was once thought to be a first-round pick but she has been slow coming back from her ACL tear. She is best known for finishing well around the rim in spite of contact. Her state of health regarding her knee and lack of shooting range could combine to prevent her from being picked in round one.
21. Indiana: Jasmine Hassell, 6-2 center, Georgia
Why/Why not: Hassell is a very physical player who operates around the basket. She is a bit undersized and lacks shooting range.
22. Los Angeles: Kamiko Williams, 5-11 guard, Tennessee
Why/Why not: Williams can help at all perimeter positions and plays strong on-ball defense. Perhaps due to having had a knee injury during her career, she does not attack the basket as often as one might expect given her strong body. The Sparks may have the deepest roster in the league and it will be very hard for any second-round pick to make this club.
23. Connecticut: Lindsey Moore, 5-9 point guard, Nebraska
Why/Why not: Moore is highly skilled as college lead guards go. During her career, she improved just about all aspects of her game to go along with her high basketball IQ. The problem remains as to her ability to defend at the WNBA level as well as to function at its generally faster pace. If one of the GMs looking for a point guard says ‘yes’, she could easily move up about ten slots in this draft.
24. Minnesota: Ieasia Walker, 5-8 point guard, South Carolina
Why/Why not: She plays excellent defense and can run an offense. Shooting range is the question.