The WNBA Draft felt remarkably normal. Yes, it was virtual and saw its fair share of technical difficulties. But from the drafting of Gigi Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli, and Payton Chester as honorary picks to actual draftees celebrating with family, we got to feel pretty normal for a few hours. Hell even ESPN skating by the last two rounds of the draft to stick an extra Kobe Bryant tribute at the end of draft felt typical! Obviously, this season (whenever it is) will be anything but normal. But at least for one night, we got to celebrate the league and just have fun. I’m going to breakdown some of the more interesting things to happen.
New York wheeling and dealing
The New York Liberty dominated the headlines of WNBA Draft week. Here’s a list of the stuff they did:
- Changed its logo for the first time since the league’s inception
- Traded Tina Charles to Washington for draft capital in a blockbuster deal
- Drafted Sabrina Ionescu first overall
- Drafted Megan Walker (9), Jazmine Jones (12), Kylee Shook (13), Leaonna Odom (15), and Erica Ogwumike (26)
- Trade Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (acquired from DC) to Phoenix for the 10th overall pick (Jocelyn Willoughby)
- Traded Erica Ogwumike to Minnesota for Stephanie Talbot
After that whirlwind, the Liberty have clearly started a new era. Trading Tina Charles was certainly a difficult decision given how much she has meant to the franchise. But New York’s focus on the future required it. Drafting Sabrina Ionescu will make up for that move and a lot else. She is a franchise cornerstone and the Liberty can hopefully now build around her for a long time.
But as Jonathan Kolb said on the Winsidr Post-Draft show, the fresh start just means that the Liberty “need to get to work.” They have 17 players (after cutting Brittany Boyd this week) lined up to come to training camp, exceeding the maximum of 15. Kolb and company will need to continue dealing just to get to camp. Then, they will have to make more moves after it. Many critics have been concerned about the Liberty extracting value from all these moves. I agree, but I also think this roster will look very different by the start of the season.
Even if it doesn’t, getting Sabrina Ionescu to Brooklyn was the major objective for the Liberty during the draft. So, Mission accomplished.
Just like New York, the Wings had three first round picks and needed to jump start a new era for the franchise. Satou Sabally, the team’s second overall selection, should do just that. While she doesn’t come with quite the fanfare that her Oregon teammate does, Satou may have just as high of a ceiling. She’s the ideal player for the modern era of position-less basketball and has superstar potential.
The Wings also snagged Bella Alarie at 5. Alarie is another very high ceiling player, but she has a bit further to go than Satou in terms of contributing on a winning team. Dallas got Ty Harris with the 7th pick and she could slot in as their backup point guard next season behind Moriah Jefferson. All three players should fit around Arike Ogunbowale very well and instantly boost Dallas’s offense.
The draft caps off phase 1 of the Wings’ rebuild in my mind. The team has moved on from their two disgruntled stars (Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith), the worst contract on their books (Tayler Hill), and a former face of the franchise (Glory Johnson). It was a painful process and one that was much maligned (rightly so). Now, the team can move from collecting assets to sorting through the assets they’ve collected.
They have a glut of intriguing players that are 25 or under in Ogunbowale, Sabally, Alarie, Harris, Astou Ndour, Katie Lou Samuelson, and Allisha Gray. Will all of them turn into stars for Dallas? Of course not. But they could all be contributors or be packaged for a star player down the road. Also, the team has another three first rounders for next year’s draft to toy around with.
Basically, Dallas is slowly climbing out of the hole they’ve been in for almost two years since Liz’s trade demand. It’s a hole they somewhat dug themselves, but they deserve credit for getting into decent position now.
Note: I turned 27 on Sunday and I was extremely disheartened to find out that only two players on Dallas are older than me (Isabelle Harrison and Kayla Thornton).
Phoenix gets immediate help
A little move that I loved was Phoenix picking up Shatori Walker-Kimbrough from New York. They gave up the 10th overall pick, which turned out to be Jocelyn Willoughby. In a vacuum, Shatori on an expiring contract may not be worth that pick. But Phoenix needed a short-term bench solution to help them win a title next season. As good as Willoughby could be, she probably won’t be ready to contribute to a championship team as a rookie.
Shatori has already contributed to a championship team. She was a bench cog for the Mystics last season and I’m sure DC preferred to keep SWK for next season (just not more so than they wanted Tina Charles). She can provide solid defense, good enough shooting and leadership for a very young Phoenix bench. She could also help a team with so many new faces gel quickly.
I’m not trying to say that Shatori will be the difference for Phoenix next year. But when you are trying to win a title, having people who have done it is important. While I still have my doubts about the Mercury’s long-term plan, getting Shatori moves them just a bit closer to winning a title.
I am a Miami Hurricane. It’s been one of my defining traits since I was 5 years old. So I was super pumped about watching a fellow Cane, Beatrice Mompremier, get drafted in the first round of the WNBA Draft. Well, mock drafts lie and Mompremier fell to the second round. Not a big deal, I thought, she’ll get picked in the second round and show off her talent in camp to make a team. Then, she fell to 20 and got snagged by the Sparks.
Ugh. Obviously, congrats to Beatrice and the Miami program. The Canes had not seen a player drafted into the WNBA since 2017 and Mompremier is just the 7th player drafted from the U. Of course, making any roster would have been very difficult as the 20th pick. But making this LA roster presents a monumental challenge.
LA has perhaps the most star studded team in the league and is trying to win a title, which mean they will likely favor vets for their end of the bench spots. Entering the draft, they already had 12 players on roster with everyone having at least two years of experience. Beating one of them out would have been tough enough.
Unfortunately, Mompremier will also face a cap crunch as Richard Cohen of Her Hoop Stats pointed out. The most logical scenario for her making the roster is either beating out Marie Gulich or Maria Vadeeva getting held up in Europe due to COVID-19. But Mompremier is slated to make $59,750 in the first year of her rookie scale deal whereas the centers I mentioned make $57,000. Therefore, LA cannot merely waive one of them for Mompremier because that would leave them $2,750 over the salary cap.
Hypothetically, she could beat out Sydney Wiese (who makes $68k). But that would make LA pretty thin at guard and with too many bigs. At this point, Mompremier’s clearest path to making the team is beating out Gulich and hoping 3rd round pick Tynice Martin (who makes $57k) takes Weise’s spot. In this scenario, LA would have enough cap space for both of them.
It’s not impossible, but seemingly unlikely. I’m very biased, but I think Mompremier will be a solid WNBA player. But we likely won’t get to see her play next season because of LA’s salary cap situation.