Reaction from Brittney Griner on being drafted as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury

Competence, not controversy, rules WNBA draft

April 16, 2013 - 10:33am
Elena Delle Donne was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to the Chicago Sky. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

Elena Delle Donne was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to the Chicago Sky. (Photo by Kelly Kline)

All in all, it was a very professional draft – and, in many ways, a tribute to the league’s maturity.


Teams didn’t worry about hometown heroes, or marketing potential (at least in the first two rounds, which are the only ones that matter), or anything but trying to upgrade their rosters as much as possible.

General managers and coaches took into account their existing 11-player rosters, the training camp limit of 14 bodies, and made intelligent, calculated picks that make sense when present and future needs are taken into account.

Granted, there were picks that reasonable people can disagree on, but even if you think, say, that Kelly Faris should have gone to Indiana with the eighth pick instead of Layshia Clarendon, it’s not as if Clarendon is clearly a bad choice, or that Faris was obviously better.

So, breaking it down …

The top three

There had been a little noise that Chicago might opt for local girl Skylar Diggins over Elena Delle Donne, but Pokey Chapman and the Sky ownership know that winning is the best way to boost attendance, and Delle Donne gives the Sky the best chance to win the most games.

That meant Tulsa “settled” for Skylar Diggins, who will fit right in with Candice Wiggins in the backcourt and give the Shock a pair of attractive, articulate and at the least competent guards.

Oh, and some kid named Griner was picked first … we hear she’s pretty good.

The next 11

There was pretty much general agreement on the next 11 choices – the only question was the order in which they would go, and when Washington’s Mike Thibault took Tayler Hill with the fourth pick, a lot of the other selections fell into place.

Undoubtedly, some of these 11 will become solid WNBA players; undoubtedly, some will disappoint, but that’s the nature of this level of the draft. For example, Sugar Rodgers went No. 14 overall to Minnesota, but it would surprise no one if she turned out to be a better pro than A’dia Mathies, who went No. 10 to Los Angeles.  Rodgers has a chance to play very well in the league because of her size, but I’m uncertain about all the posts because adjusting to the physicality of WNBA play is not nearly as simple as it seems.

For what it’s worth, I think Lindsey Moore is a great fit with Minnesota, because she’ll back up Lindsay Whalen and when she’s in, will give the Lynx almost exactly the kind of game Whalen does – except not as good, yet.

All in all, though, no complaints …

Rolling the dice

The next group of players – from Kamiko Williams at No. 15 (New York) to Nikki Greene at No. 26 (Phoenix) – almost all have some potential, but all have serious weaknesses. But you never know, and all of the American players, at least, will have a chance to show what they can do at training camp.

It was a bit surprising that Williams went so high and Greene, a 6-5 post, went so low, but just as above, reasonable people could disagree on most of these picks. I confess, though, that I have a hard time figuring out why Brian Agler took Chelsea Poppens, who was such an unexpected pick that her name was still misspelled on the WNBA draft page the morning after it was over. Poppens is an undersized power forward who isn’t very athletic and doesn’t shoot all that well. Now, Poppens’ teammate at Iowa State, Anna Prins, is 6-7 and can shoot from the perimeter, so that makes sense for Connecticut, but Poppens?

As usual, there are a bunch of wings with gaudy college numbers and plenty of college honors that fans think can easily translate into WNBA success, but what most college fans don’t realize is just how competitive and tough the WNBA really is – especially for wings. There are a lot of athletic young women between 5-10 and 6-1 who can do a lot of things at the college level, but there’s no mercy at the professional level, and experience counts for a lot. Sure, Brittany Chambers (to name just one) had an impressive collegiate career, but that and $1.50 will get you a lousy cup of coffee.

Again, a couple of these players will be on WNBA rosters in August, and it’s possible one might emerge down the road as a starter, but for most of them, a great training camp is a must.

The Euros

Given the way the system works, drafting a non-American player who doesn’t even come to the U.S. for a year or two (or ever) makes a lot of sense.

First, someone like Olcay Cakir of Turkey (the 27th pick, by New York) is just 19. Second, if she doesn’t come to training camp this year, that’s actually a plus because then a player who can help right now can attend. Third, her rights are now owned by the Liberty as long as they make a qualifying offer each year (which the player can turn down) so if Cakir develops into a star, New York can either get her to play for the Liberty or conceivably trade her.

Now, Diandra Tchatchoaung of France will stay in Europe to play for her national team, but Emma Meesseman of Belgium’s national team is not that strong, so she might decide to dip her toe in American waters this summer. Or not – and if the answer is no, then what have the Mystics lost? Well, if you look at who was picked after Meesseman, probably not very much.

It’s possible that one of the four overseas unknowns picked Monday will eventually contribute to a WNBA team, and it’s also possible none will. But again, the WNBA draft really should only be two rounds anyway.

Happy to be there

Players like Brooklyn Pope (Chicago) and Angel Goodrich (Tulsa) and Walteia Rolle (Minnesota) will most likely go to camp and get a look at professional basketball before heading off to Europe to make a little money next winter. That said, just the fact that they were drafted will probably earn them a few thousand dollars more overseas, so regardless of where they were picked, it’s all good.

Whitney Hand most likely will give it a go next year when she’s healthy, and all of the other players, except one, are reasonable gambles. The exception, of course, is Anne Marie Armstrong, a 6-3 wing who can’t shoot and who is the poster child for getting rid of the third round. Atlanta took her only because she’s local and will generate a couple stories in the Georgia media, as she is clearly much inferior to the final group we’ll discuss …

Left at the altar

OK, more precisely, left at their draft party wondering why they didn’t get picked.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Carolyn Davis, a player some believed might even get into the first round, but her injury history apparently scared teams off.

Others who had been in draft discussions were Markel Walker, Alyssia Brewer, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Joslyn Tinkle, but in some ways it’s better not to be drafted. This way, they all will most likely wind up at a training camp of a team with some interest in them, and might be able to choose a team that conceivably could have room on a roster.

Probably not, of course, and not being considered one of the top 36 players available for the draft means that a few years in Europe is very likely their basketball future, but realistically, their chances of making a team are no worse than the last 10 players picked ahead of them.

Which, of course, is the nature of professional basketball, and after all these years, the WNBA has definitely matured into a solidly professional basketball league.