2019 WNBA Mock Draft 1.0: All three rounds

The 2019 WNBA Draft is just months away, meaning it is time to unveil version 1.0 of our 2019 WNBA mock draft here on BBall Index.

New versions of both the big board and my mock draft will be released each month leading up to draft night. The board has one simple criteria, focusing on how good each player currently is as a pro prospect using what we’ve seen to date.

The mock has many more variables at play. My goal with each pick was to try to put myself into the shoes of each WNBA team to make the best possible selection for that franchise.

The age old ‘Need vs. Fit’ can mean slightly different things to different people. My personal philosophy: both words are wholly subjective. Wouldn’t every team want to say they believe they picked the best player available? Some examples:

  • I had Napheesa Collier fifth on my board but mocked her a few slots lower. Some teams already have promising young players at the forward slots, the Dallas Wings being one of them with Azura Stevens and Kayla Thornton. I think several players ranked below Collier could be really good pros, so I went with a different selection after going chalk with my first four.
  • I ranked Teaira McCowan quite low relative to what else is out there. I don’t think she’ll be a bad pro. At the risk of boiling it down too much, I don’t quite see the upside of a two-way star as I do for Kalani Brown. If McCowan is anything less than an All-Defense stalwart, her offensive fit next to Tina Charles in New York or A’ja Wilson in Las Vegas really worries me. I have a higher degree of confidence in several others to become All-Star-level players that also happen to be better fits with the core players of some of those teams early in the first round.

I like the depth of this draft class to churn out a heap of rotation players and am fascinated by the wing-sized players in my top-25, plus several others right below them. Some can really defend but their 3-point shooting is a big question mark. The opposite, or close to it, may be the case for others.

My first round includes three potential early entrants. Allow me to clear that up.

I had a college professor who loved to utter the phrase, “Don’t should on me.” I’m not here trying to tell those players what they should do. I’m not claiming to have insight into their thinking. The goal is to give honest opinions on who I think the best pro prospects are. The draft eligibility rules are in place for a reason. Why exclude some of the best players from the conversation?

This is a purely subjective exercise. People are going to disagree. And that’s okay!

With that, let’s jump right into my first 2019 WNBA mock draft, with some quick thoughts every four picks or so.

First Round

  • 1. Las Vegas Aces: Sabrina Ionescu*, 5’10” Guard, Oregon
  • 2. New York Liberty: Katie Lou Samuelson, 6’3” Wing, UConn
  • 3. Indiana Fever: Kalani Brown, 6’7” Big, Baylor
  • 4. Chicago Sky: Asia Durr, 5’10” Guard, Louisville

* = draft-eligible non-senior

I think there’s much more for Samuelson to explore in her game with WNBA spacing. The Liberty have plenty of capable shooters. None of them have been threats as high volume 3-point shooters hitting north of 40 percent, including tough attempts running off screens, save for Sugar Rodgers’ 2016 season. Her 41.3 percent shooting on 208 attempts from deep remains a bit of an outlier compared to her five other WNBA seasons.

You must close out hard to keep those kinds of shooters from getting off clean looks. Few current players outside of Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart and Allie Quigley attract that kind of attention. Samuelson has connected on 42.4 percent of 774 3-point attempts through 119 games at UConn. If that keeps up, driving lanes will be there to exploit as opponents run her off the line.

Durr has more proven chops to size someone up one-on-one or pull a 3-pointer off the bounce. But I don’t think she has the burst to hurt people at the rim. I have both in the same tier. Samuelson is longer with a bigger frame. Given the choice, I like her chances to become a more adept and creative finisher around bigger bodies.

I’d like all three of Samuelson, Brown or Durr for Indiana. I don’t quite see Brown as a dynamic roller to play with Kelsey Mitchell, but her jumper has looked solid in flashes and I do think she has the skill level to at least use one dribble to score when she catches it on the move. Given the versatility of Mitchell and Victoria Vivians as shooters, I can see Pokey Chatman dialing some stuff up to give Brown the option to post up smaller defenders that switch onto her.

  • 5. Dallas Wings: Jackie Young*, 6’0” Wing, Notre Dame
  • 6. Minnesota Lynx: Alanna Smith, 6’4” Big, Stanford
  • 7. Los Angeles Sparks: Napheesa Collier, 6’1” Wing, UConn
  • 8. Phoenix Mercury: Teaira McCowan, 6’7” Big, Mississippi State

Young is a big guard that can distribute and has a knack for using her body to create windows to finish inside. Of course, the other side of the coin is to go back to school and be the lone returning starter and take on a much bigger role.

It is very tough to expect Smith to go much lower with how comfortable she looks facing up and navigating screens to score on the perimeter. By the time we get to No. 7, questions of whether enough 3-pointers go in the basket for Collier matter much less. She does everything else well. If Alana Beard retires, this team could use another versatile wing, assuming Essence Carson would then be elevated into the starting lineup.

This feels like a much better range for McCowan. We’ve seen so little of her playing in pick and roll offensively that I’m struggling to imagine what it would look like. Defending in space will be a huge question for her and Brown. Backing up Brittney Griner is a great place to start. The addition of McCowan might make them the only team in the league that can say with a straight face that they’re going to single cover Liz Cambage for 40 minutes without getting buried under the goal.

  • 9. Connecticut Sun: Tynice Martin*, 5’11” Wing, West Virginia
  • 10. Washington Mystics: Marina Mabrey, 5’11” Guard, Notre Dame
  • 11. Atlanta Dream: Bridget Carleton, 6’1” Wing, Iowa State
  • 12. Seattle Storm: Kristine Anigwe, 6’4” Big, Cal

Connecticut needs a player on the perimeter that brings some scoring pop. Maybe that player ends up being Courtney Williams if she takes another mini-leap. Washington becomes very interesting with one more lights-out shooter in the mix. Mabrey has looked as comfortable as anybody in this class shooting off the bounce and standstill 3-pointers well beyond the arc.

Atlanta could use another secondary play-maker. Carleton happens to be one that can shoot, a plus for a team that doesn’t have any bigs that regularly space out beyond the 3-point line. You could argue Seattle already has enough of a committee at backup center. Anigwe would immediately be the most athletic of that bunch and is a good fit functioning similarly in their offense to Natasha Howard—rolling hard to the rim and launching occasional wide-open triples.

Second Round

  • 13. PHX (from IND via LV): Sophie Cunningham, 6’1” Wing, Missouri
  • 14. NY: Arike Ogunbowale, 5’8” Guard, Notre Dame
  • 15. CHI: Ezi Magbegor, 6’4” Big, Australia
  • 16. MIN (from LV): Han Xu, 6’9” Big, China

Having addressed a bit of a question mark at backup center, adding another 3-point shooter with some size could help them get to a four out look more often while keeping an eye on DeWanna Bonner’s minutes. New York gets another lightning quick guard that can create some early offense or spot up when they slow it down to play through Charles.

Magbegor would be a worthwhile project, though Chicago does already have several young players competing for minutes up front. The big question for Magbegor, Xu and several others: How much WNBA time will be lost due to their future commitments playing for their national teams?

  • 17. DAL: Megan Gustafson, 6’3” Big, Iowa
  • 18. MIN: Kitija Laksa, 6’0” Wing, USF
  • 19. LA: Presley Hudson, 5’6” Guard, Central Michigan
  • 20. MIN (from PHX): Kennedy Burke, 6’1” Wing, UCLA

I like Gustafson’s ability to quickly turn and finish inside in a role behind Liz Cambage. Laksa is out for the remainder of this season with a season-ending knee injury and it’s quite possible she returns to USF for another season. Until we hear for certain on that decision, it only feels right to include one of the most versatile shooters in the country, who I’d have going higher if healthy.

I don’t quite know where to go with each of these second rounders for Minnesota. If both Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus were to retire, I think a healthy Laksa would really help them. Burke can get to the basket and defend multiple positions. It’d be tough to get on the floor in Minnesota behind their wing depth if her 3-point shooting isn’t there. The presence of another dynamic shooter would be a welcome addition for the Sparks. If Odyssey Sims doesn’t re-up in LA, they could use a guard off the bench that can handle the ball.

  • 21. CON (from CON via ATL): Meme Jackson, 5’11” Wing, Tennessee
  • 22. DAL (from WAS): Maite Cazorla, 5’10” Guard, Oregon
  • 23. ATL: Cierra Dillard, 5’9” Guard, Buffalo
  • 24. SEA: Allazia Blockton, 6’0” Wing, Marquette

By this point in the draft, I think it will be incredibly difficult to make a roster. Some may have felt that way several picks ago. It would be a huge boost for Dallas if they could lock Cazorla in for at least four years as a backup. As an above-average 3-point shooter that can run some pick and roll, she may even have an immediate stabilizing effect in a role last season’s team regularly struggled to fill.

Third Round

  • 25. IND: Naomi Davenport, 6’0” Wing, West Virginia
  • 26. NY: Tiana Mangakahia*, 5’6” Guard, Syracuse
  • 27. CHI: Brianna Turner, 6’3” Big, Notre Dame
  • 28. IND (from LV): Jessica Shepard, 6’4” Big, Notre Dame

I may be failing to recognize some potential with Shepard. I don’t think any of her power game will work in the WNBA. If so, she’d need to really ramp up her spot up jump shooting. Indiana might be the league’s best place to do so alongside Kelsey Mitchell.

  • 29. DAL: Katie McWilliams, 6’2” Wing, Oregon State
  • 30. MIN: Sam Fuehring, 6’3” Big, Louisville
  • 31. LA: Natisha Hiedeman, 5’8” Guard, Marquette
  • 32. PHX: Megan Huff, 6’3” Big, Utah

Phoenix fully committing to somebody that can log minutes at the 4 and let it rip from deep is one of my biggest wishes heading into the offseason. Huff is a viable candidate under those parameters.

They may gain something defensively leaning more on a veteran in that spot. I believe a little more in the value of being able to play four out all the time. In addition to what it does to maximize the scoring of their big three, their role players will get those extra reps playing the same style even when one or two of the stars are on the bench.

  • 33. CON: Gabby Green, 6’2” Wing, LMU
  • 34. WAS: Kianna Ibis, 6’1” Wing, Arizona State
  • 35. ATL: Anriel Howard, 5’11” Wing, Mississippi State
  • 36. SEA: Li Yueru, 6’7” Big, China

Green took it to UCLA in Loyola Marymount’s opener. And it wasn’t a case of a bigger player bludgeoning smaller ones around the basket—Burke and Michaela Onyenwere are one of the best SF/PF pairings in the country. Green doesn’t get up very many 3-pointers, about one per game dating back to last season. A big play-making guard that gets to the line a decent amount, even in a smaller conference, is at least worth a look from somebody.

Full list of all 36 picks


Mailbag! Send in your draft questions

Some of this space with my updated boards and mock drafts will be reserved for any questions you may have on this draft class (or entire posts if there are enough questions). Feel free to shoot me a tweet or direct message with any draft-related question you’d like to see explored in greater detail in this space.

Look for my updated board and mock here on BBall Index in February, as well as my weekly column on women’s college basketball. Next month’s board will be expanded from 25 to 36.

Graphic by Akshay Ram

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