Super-early 2018 WNBA Draft preview
February 1st marks the opening of WNBA free agency & if recent years is any indication, players are starting to exercise their options more & more with each passing trade deadline in both professional leagues. Being the basketball purist that I am, I couldn’t be happier. Players deserve the right to have as much influence as they can when choosing where they will make a living when you consider that organizations hold the keys 75% of the time, continent upon contract terms. The Atlanta Dream & new head coach Nicki Collen held zero qualms about making a splash, signing backup point Renee Montgomery right off the market & out of the Minnesota Lynx dynasty. Being that they traded their first-round pick to acquire elite young center & social media homie Imani McGee-Stafford, I felt I should address that here but keep in mind that the following decisions have considered all free agent announcements as of 1:30 EST & from the perspective that I, Smoove was running the franchise. Mock drafts & predictions in general force you to commit, something I struggle with so for conversation’s sake, these are my thoughts after reading the likes of overnight conversations by WNBA GMs & the Twitter verse.
**Note** With respect to the rules enforced upon WNBA coaches, this & all editions leading up to the draft will only feature graduating seniors & eligible international players.
Pick |Team | 2017 Record | Biggest Needs, Weaknesses
1. Las Vegas Aces | 8-26| Everything, Talent, Talent, Talent, Franchise Piece
Formerly the San Antonio Stars under the direction of Ruth Riley & Vickie Johnson in what we’ll call the “lost season,” the Las Vegas Aces are the talk of the town & they should be. “Trader Bill” Laimbeer has left Tina Charles to find her own way to a championship & will lead this organization’s rebranding. Kayla McBride & Izzy Harrison put together impressive seasons, but something has to be decided with the backcourt of Plum & Jefferson meanwhile the pick has to be A’Ja Wilson, the dynamic, charismatic 6’5 of South Carolina. A professional amongst collegians, this kid is ready to bring toughness & talent to the Vegas Strip
2. Indiana Fever | 9-25 | Health, Size in the post, Scoring
Pokey Chatman takes over the reigns & gets to piece the puzzle together herself & after taking a struggling Chicago franchise to its first WNBA Finals appearance in 2014, I’m excited for the prospects of her adding to an already solid core that could’ve & should’ve extended a WNBA-record 12 consecutive playoff berths but were beset by injuries & inconsistent play. There’s plenty size & talent that is (& could later become available) that could change this pick but for now, it’s hard to see Pokey passing on a talent like Kelsey Mitchell, the Big Ten’s new all-time leading scorer, to add to an already dynamic backcourt including Tiffany Mitchell, Briann January & Erica Wheeler. Shenise Johnson returning only adds to that punch.
3. Chicago Sky | 12-22 | Wing production, Depth in the post, Buy-in
With the next two selections Chicago will likely wants to select best player available Gabby Williams of UConn is likely the most dynamic player on the board at this point & the separator will likely be her motor. She plays herself to exhaustion, something you just don’t see these days.
4. Chicago Sky | 12-22 | Wing production, Depth in the post, Buy-in
Picking back-to-back is nice when you do it correctly. Stocks could knock it out of the park but if you think long, you think wrong. That same dynamic skill & athleticism could be infused into training camp twofold by snagging Jamie Nared, the 6’2 point forward out of Tennessee. I’m a proponent of players with pro siblings & she has a pretty solid one.
5. Seattle Storm |15-19 | Backcourt depth, backup point guard, bench production
Point guard of the future questions could all be answering by snagging Lexie Brown, a pro’s kid out of Duke.
6. Dallas Wings |16-18 | Consistent point production from deep, bench
Rumor or not, Diamond Deshields has history with both Gray & Davis which allows for chemistry to be boosted even further. Especially if Liz Cambage is truly returning.
7. Washington Mystics | 18-16 | Wing scoring, bench production, replacing Emma’s production
Personal fav gets to play for a personal fav. Let’s do it. I know Victoria Vivians is a pro & I also know she’ll get better in DC.
8. Phoenix Mercury | 18-16 | Consistent production from rotation, youth infusion
Call it bias but I hope Sandy plays to her position & influence internationally (off to a great start thus far) & starts by adding the 6’7” Maria Vadeeva
9. Connecticut Sun | 21-13 | Maintain & improve, addition without subtraction
Shekinna Stricklen returns & spreads the floor with her shooting. Ariel Atkins brings that same shooting ability while adding competitiveness, poise & an attack mindset. Let’s do it, Curt.
10. New York Liberty | 22-12 | Wing depth, point guard? Consistent help for Charles in charge
Linnae Harper is an elite athlete playing at freshly minted HC Katie Smith’s alma mater who is a problem on the boards & can help with handling in transition.
11. Los Angeles Sparks | 26-8 | Shooting, dynamic playmaking off the bench.
The rich get richer. Holly Warlick says Mercedes Russell could play point guard with her IQ while standing 6’6, the last Tennessee player that received that type of comparison is two seasons removed from her first ring & would love to add another.
12. Minnesota Lynx | 27-7 | Infusion of youth, athleticism
Bye Bye Montgomery. Hello Canada. Whalen-Canada is even more of a pace change than Montgomery could imagine being on her best days. But this is more about how dynamic & lightning fast Jordin Canada is than taking away from the reigning champ.