Fit and need are two of the biggest talking points with any draft class, and the 2020 WNBA Draft was no different. The top five went as most expected. But which teams found the cleanest fit the rest of the way with this 2020 draft class? And who left us scratching our heads?
After taking a broader look at what we learned on draft night with last week’s dispatch, let’s dive into some favorite prospect-franchise fits and pick a few nits with picks six through 36 of the 2020 WNBA Draft.
Note: This story was filed before the Liberty agreed to a buyout with Tayler Hill and announced that Stephanie Talbot would not be coming over in 2020.
‘No Glaring Need’ teams
Kitija Laksa was a good value pick for the Storm late in the first round. She’s an outstanding movement shooter. Sami Whitcomb’s recent contributions have illustrated the abilities of that kind of a shooter. Whitcomb immediately impacts games off the bench. Teams fear the idea of losing track of her momentarily. Most importantly, there are layers to their game beyond standstill shooting. But none of it gets in the way of Seattle’s multiple stars.
For now, the more immediate focus can shift to second-round pick Joyner Holmes. Laksa isn’t expected to come over until 2021. The Storm must decide whether they want to keep five or six bigs. Crystal Langhorne appears to be sitting in that No. 6 spot as Holmes’ main competition behind Breanna Stewart, Natasha Howard, Mercedes Russell, Morgan Tuck and Ezi Magbegor. It’s tough to see a path to significant playing time for Langhorne in 2020, and her bigger salary would be a constraint in 2021 as three starters his unrestricted free agency.
The Storm are in a good position to bring Holmes along slowly if she shows up hungry; it’s just a matter of whether they feel a need to hold onto Langhorne or add another guard instead.
A popular sentiment coming out of the draft was that Ruthy Hebard would give Chicago something they didn’t already have: a big more inclined to roll hard to the rim every single time. And that’s true. Hebard has excellent touch, an actual skill that really matters as every scoring window begins to shrink. There’s no wasted motion as she gathers and goes up to finish. Just get her the ball. She doesn’t need a perfect catch or angle. That has real value.
Courtney Vandersloot is the league’s most creative passer. She’ll maximize the impact of this kind of pick and roll partner. And yet, isn’t the shooting the Sky got last year from both frontcourt spots the key ingredient that really made life easier for Vandersloot and Diamond DeShields? Opposing bigs had to cover more ground. They couldn’t sit at the front of the rim waiting to wall off dribble penetration.
Chicago was two-deep at every position heading into draft night. They didn’t have a pressing need. James Wade threaded the needle this offseason to give the current group a shot to really go for it in this upcoming two-year window. Bella Alarie and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan were already off the board. Retaining Jantel Lavender and Cheyenne Parker beyond 2020 seems unlikely. Hebard should get a chance to go grab that fourth frontcourt spot in the near future, and Vandersloot is the ideal partner to make that partnership work.
The Sun will need to start the season with 11 players unless they move on from or cut a veteran. Kaila Charles ‘falling’ to No. 23 is another perfect example of fit over draft position. The difference in salary between a second-rounder and a late-first-rounder comes in under $3,000. Connecticut wants to run and has a stretch 5 locked in for the foreseeable future, paving the way for Charles’ size and slashing ability to shine a bit more as we wait to see if all the concerns about her lack of 3-point attempts were overblown.
Juicy Landrum figures to compete very directly with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for a spot as a bench shooter. Both are capable shooters running off screens and running the occasional side pick and roll.
Really interested to see what the Sun look like this season. Tough to replace scorers that have real pull running around screens, etc. Gonna need some of that from their new shooters. Juicy Landrum was vital in that kind of role @ Baylor from 3, attacking & making the right pass. pic.twitter.com/Wcged34p65
— Ben Dull (@ben_dull) April 23, 2020
The pitch for Brittany Brewer is really simple. Atlanta needs a fifth big. Who will step up and earn that roster spot? Meanwhile, falling into the third must have been somewhat jarring for Mikayla Pivec. But who does Atlanta have on the wing behind Shekinna Stricklen? Pivec can check different boxes than Maite Cazorla or Alexis Jones. The Dream should be less incentivized to keep both Cazorla and Jones with Chennedy Carter and Renee Montgomery above them on the depth chart.
Where Connecticut clearly has at least one spot up for grabs, Te’a Cooper or Stella Johnson would need to flat-out beat somebody for a roster spot in Phoenix. Nia Coffey is worth their time as a pending restricted free agent. They don’t have a player like her on the wing. If anything, the name I’d circle is Sophie Cunningham. But Phoenix needs that lights-out wing shooter, especially if Coffey doesn’t convert at a league-average rate.
Don’t fall for the trap some of these teams set as they project to start the season with 11 players. Every decision that got those teams to that point wasn’t absolutely necessary. In Phoenix’s case, could they have asked Vaughn to accept a slightly smaller 2020 payday? The move at any cost is already questionable if they’re signing her to play over both Brianna Turner and Alanna Smith. That extra body on the perimeter would really matter from the jump if Diana Taurasi suffers another setback or starts on a minutes restriction.
The draft broke perfectly if you really were married to the idea of Minnesota drafting a point guard. A season like last year really showed that Cheryl Reeve knows how to tap into the offensive skill sets of all of her players amid change and uncertainty. Crystal Dangerfield is good enough to contribute to their guard rotation in 2020.
Dangerfield’s off-ball pull might be more interesting to observe in year one than whatever she does on-ball. The Lynx will still be centered around Sylvia Fowles. Some natural improvement in playing through her will come now that the newer players have a season under their belt with Fowles. Dangerfield is a big-time threat that teams will need to worry about as they decide how and when to send extra bodies at the All-Star center.
Chennedy Carter falls to No. 4
We’re breaking the parameters for this one. It won’t ever be fair to truly hammer Indiana for taking Lauren Cox at No. 3. The vision for that pick was crystal clear. But I’ve circled that specific debate repeatedly because Carter is going to be really good. I do not think that very simple point is up for debate. The on-court nitpicking of her game felt silly.
Didn’t we learn anything from Arike Ogunbowale’s rookie season after falling to Dallas at No. 5? Really quick guards that no one can stay in front of—and can work to a spot and rise up at any time—are really valuable! Every team doesn’t have one of those!
It’s fascinating to think about Indiana getting jumped by Dallas in the lottery and losing out on Satou Sabally when they just as easily could have (subtly) embraced the tank to secure the best odds instead of New York. Meanwhile, Atlanta finished fourth in the lottery after a nightmarish one-year fall from grace and came away with a player as talented as Carter. The Dream are one of the draft’s biggest winners no matter how you frame it.
Final spot in D.C.
Jaylyn Agnew is a very skilled 3-point shooter, cut from a similar cloth as Laksa—deep range, a great percentage on high volume and degree of difficulty, you can run plays for her to take and make difficult shots. The question for the defending champs as they open camp will come down to whether Myisha Hines-Allen gets squeezed for that 11th and final spot.
Numerous teams would be affected if international players aren’t able to come over in time for the potential start of a 2020 season. Finals MVP Emma Meesseman would obviously be one of the most impactful players affected by that timeline.
Even if they start the season without her, there’s an argument to carry a guard instead. Couldn’t Mike Thibault just as easily buy some minutes with Ariel Atkins or Aerial Powers at the 4 as opposed to going with three-big lineups? And how much of a sure thing is Kiara Leslie as a rotation player coming off knee surgery?
Smalls at 22
I stated my case last week for the Mercury to have simply drafted Jocelyn Willoughby to keep her at No. 10. One pick I’d campaign hard to redo in the second: Los Angeles to take Kamiah Smalls at No. 22. Why? They don’t really have a natural third point guard.
Derek Fisher can stagger Chelsea Gray and Kristi Toliver to cover the team’s needs there, but I think Smalls is worth the flier at that point in the draft. She’s big, effective in transition and shot well enough from deep in the last two seasons to think she could produce off-ball in a halfcourt setting.
Looking ahead to 2021 with eight Sparks set to hit free agency, I wonder if Riquna Williams, in particular, will end up looking elsewhere for a bigger payday than whatever the Sparks muster together. The package Smalls brings to the table can replace some of what they might lose. She’ll carve out a really nice career for herself if any of the on-ball abilities seen in college translate to the next level.
Was pretty late to the game on Kamiah Smalls. Potential hidden gem of this class. 38% from 3 the last 2 seasons, 3 level scorer, really impressive shooting splits with such a big role for James Madison pic.twitter.com/FPtDU7bcCd
— Ben Dull (@ben_dull) April 22, 2020
Barring some kind of trade, I’m starting to look at New York’s situation as having 14 players for 12 spots. Tayler Hill looks like more of a buyout candidate, and Stephanie Talbot overlaps quite a bit with the wings they added in the draft.
Jonathan Kolb won’t have many tough decisions to make right away if their international players aren’t able to come over. Kiah Stokes might be another name that gets shopped around if Kolb and Walt Hopkins really are all-in on having shooting at every position.
Rebecca Allen is my final swing piece in this exercise. She hits unrestricted free agency in 2021. Her role in New York hasn’t been all that expansive to date, and in a sense, aren’t they betting on Megan Walker to match and exceed Allen’s ceiling?
Could Allen fetch Connecticut’s 2021 first-rounder from the Mercury, pairing Allen with Australian national team coach Sandy Brondello? How about an Allen-Theresa Plaisance swap with Connecticut adding something else on top? The Sun would get a reasonable Shekinna Stricklen replacement while New York adds another stretch big for 2020 and some future draft capital.
Both returns feel too light. Allen is a good player. Carrying four rookie wings on top of the good ones they already had would be a stretch. One of the 2020 draftees might get squeezed out here.
Going back to the Vaughn contract with the Mercury, the Sparks painted themselves into a similar corner with the deals they gave to Seimone Augustus and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. Beatrice Mompremier, the No. 7 prospect on my board, has been heralded as a steal of the draft for L.A. at No. 20. But as you may have already seen over at Her Hoop Stats, the Sparks don’t even have the necessary $2,750 in room to essentially swap Mompremier for Marie Gulich.
The Sparks would need to move on from Wiese or Ruffin-Pratt to open up room for Mompremier. Then they could also look to replace that perimeter player with somebody else on a minimum-ish deal. (This plan would really align nicely with the idea mentioned above to take Smalls in the second round.)
Didn’t this team acquire Brittney Sykes to be their starting 3? Why not use that in negotiations with Augustus and/or Ruffin-Pratt to leave just a smidge more of cap space so they could keep their options open come draft time?
The Sparks can still make room for Mompremier. But the process to do so is much more complicated because of what they did in free agency. That decision wouldn’t just affect the player Mompremier is leapfrogging; a second player would lose a spot. A fairly straightforward and predictable outcome (wanting to roster a second-rounder) would force them to run into the 2020 hard cap line of $1,300,000.