WNBA Rookie Value: Comparing Last Two Draft Classes by Team
The Seattle Storm made no confusion of who were the queens of the WNBA last season. They finished the regular season with the best record of 26-8, dropped two games in the semis, before making a clean sweep of the Mystics in the 2018 Finals. For some teams, major ground was made. For others, footing was lost. We take a look at how everyone finished the season and how big of an impact their newcomers made.
Wednesday night was also the 2019 WNBA Draft at the Nike New York headquarters, featuring three rounds of twelve picks. Some deals were made on draft day, some have been made since, either way there will be some new faces on the court in 2019.
Based on how everyone finished the regular season, we examine all the teams and how valuable rookies were to their production. From there, we also take a look at this year’s draft and where we can expect to see the new class of rookies doing the most work, and where others might fit a specific role.
2019 First Round
- Las Vegas Aces – Jackie Young, Notre Dame
- New York Liberty – Asia Durr, Louisville
- Indiana Fever – Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State
- Chicago Sky – Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn
- Dallas Wings – Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame
- Minnesota Lynx – Napheesa Collier, UConn
- LA Sparks – Kalani Brown, Baylor
- Phoenix Mercury – Alanna Smith, Stanford
- Connecticut Sun – Kristine Anigwe, California
- Washington Mystics – Kiara Leslie, N.C. State
- Atlanta Dream (Traded to PHX) – Brianna Turner, Notre Dame
- Seattle Storm – Ezi Magbegor, Australia
12. Indiana Fever
Starting and ending 2018 with wins, the other four victories the Fever managed to scrap together came few and far between. Indiana is young and getting younger, with only two players born in the 80’s and a heavy reliance on the draft to bring in new hope. With the third-overall pick, the Fever went with Teaira McCowan out of Mississippi State. There’s no doubt Indiana is counting on McCowan to carry a heavy load in the paint right away. She was the first center to go and has climbed her way to the top of the women’s basketball world after being buried in the crowd going into college. Adding some rebounding presence and a solid short-range game is going to let last year’s selections get more comfortable in the roles they carved out.
Last season, the team relied heavily on their pair of first rounders. Second-overall pick Kelsey Mitchell and eighth-overall Victoria Vivians quickly became staples of the lineup, Mitchell finishing second on the team in points per game (12.7) and Vivians second in minutes played (27.1). Vivians was the most consistent shooter from behind the 3-point line and the games she was on were the ones the Fever won. Having the Bulldogs connection with McCowan should create some immediate chemistry Indiana has been desperate for.
After selecting McCowan in the first round, 21 picks went by before the Fever would draw again. In the third round, Indiana selected UNC scorer Paris Kea and the big defensive presence from Georgia, Caliya Robinson. As far as training camp goes in Indy, it would be hard to imagine that everyone isn’t going to get a fair shake. After only putting together six wins last season, Pokey Chatman is going to start looking desperate as the team has not had a winning season or playoff showing since she took over two seasons ago after 12-straight years of postseason appearances.
11. New York Liberty
The story isn’t too much different for the Liberty from the Fever. After 34 games, New York only managed to scratch the win column seven times while losing the last 13-straight. Coming up with the second-overall pick, the Liberty wound up with Asia Durr, who was expected to go first by countless mock drafts through the year. Durr is a natural scorer and has carried the weight of being the star for most of her life. While one thing New York did last year was distribute the scoring, unless it was coming from Tina Charles (19.7 PPG), it wasn’t coming consistently.
2018’s 10th-overall pick, Kia Nurse, was thrown into a major role right away. She was the the Liberty’s second in both points per game and minutes played, both behind Charles. The harsh reality is: no one but Charles averaged double-digit points. Nurse had her double-digit nights and it’s hard to point a finger her way, but it’s worth noting. Durr will bring an immediate spark to the offense, but I’m most excited to see New York’s offseason acquisition play out. After another stellar season in with Bourges Basket, French phenom Marine Johannes is making her way to the WNBA. Johnannes has a massive summer in the EuroLeague, making waves as a scorer and all-around athlete than can cover a lot of the court.
Looking back at the draft, another exciting pickup was second-rounder Han Xu out of China. Xu is the first player to be drafted into the WNBA out of the NBA Academies and towers above the crowd at 6’9″. It would be interesting to see what she can do at the center position to give more of a 4’s role back to Charles. There’s no doubt the spotlight is on the newcomers in camp to take a role and run with it.
10. Chicago Sky
The Sky picked up some serious young talent in the draft that should help approve upon last year’s results. With the fourth-overall pick Chicago picked up scoring machine Katie Lou Samuelson (UConn). Her numbers speak for themselves: 2,342 points, 627 rebounds, 455 assists, and 382 three-pointers. As one of the greatest Huskies to ever grace the hardwood, she’s going to make a difference right away, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see second round pick Chloe Jackson making an impact too. Jackson was the 2019 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and plunged the final dagger in Notre Dame for the game-winner in the final.
Last time around, Chicago had the fourth and fifth picks of the draft and it paid huge dividends. Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams turned out to be two of the top players, starting nearly every game and for long minutes. DeShields revealed herself to be the player the Sky hoped she would be, but many doubted her as the major weapon she became. Second on the team in scoring, DeShields earned 14.4 PPG, one of four on the team in double-digits.
A couple unfortunate losing skids kept the Sky (13-21) from gaining any real traction. They’re a pretty experienced squad that can finally get settled again and start building back toward their four-year playoff run from 2013-16. Katie Lou should be the x-factor.
9. Las Vegas Aces
Double-digit wins, a finish above the bottom 25% and adding more star-power added up for some success after the struggle that was their years in San Antonio. They didn’t kill it in attendance (ninth) and there was no postseason, yet they improved on the last place finish their last year in Texas. Realistically, they only missed the Wings by a game and really could have made it in.
In 2018, Las Vegas featured the league’s top rookie across the board, Aja Wilson. Wilson started every game last year, the only of the Aces to do so, and led the team in scoring (20.7), rebounds (8) and blocks (1.2). Wilson is going to stay the face of the Aces for a long time, and she has solid support, but they’re a young team in age and obviously still trying to flatten out the rebuild ripples.
Expect less young talent to find there way onto the court this year, with one major exception. With the first pick of the draft, the Aces raised some brows by going with Notre Dame’s Jackie Young, but for anyone that’s kept eyes on the Irish, it’s an easy pick for Vegas. Coming into the draft early, Young is no doubt ready for the next level. Finishing her NCAA career with over 1,300 points, Young is a true scorer that sells out to make an effort all across the floor. The addition of Young is the only move made in the draft this year. This team needs more time together and less moving pieces. Making few offseason moves and a focused training camp could be the recipe for the Aces reaching their first winning season.
Middle of the Pack
8. Dallas Wings
The only team to make the 2018 Playoffs with a sub-.500 record, the Wings (15-19) lost 11 of their last 12 games to skid into the postseason. Dallas’ season game to a fiery end with a near-20 point blowout at Phoenix in the first round. Based on the last two years of picks, it seems like the Wings are going to be due for a run in the next couple years.
With the 6th pick of the 2018 Draft, the Wings took Azurá Stevens from UConn. Stevens made an impact immediately for Dallas and she was the most significant rookie contributor of all the ‘middle of the pack’ teams. One of only three players to see the floor in every game last season, Stevens went from a slow and steady start to 17 double-digit performances and nine starts. Her biggest night came July 5th against the Fever, racking up 26 points, six rebounds and two steals.
It should be safe to say that 2019’s first-rounder is going to see a lot of the court for the Wings. College basketball sensation Arike Ogunbowale landed in Dallas as the fifth pick and if her career at Notre Dame taught us anything, this young woman is clutch. Let’s look past the missed free throws that could have sealed the deal in this year’s final, they’re learning lessons that will become something much greater in her life. The back-to-back buzzer beaters in the 2018 dance proved that Ogunbowale is a winner and ready to elevate her game. She might not be the only newcomer to make a difference. I wouldn’t count out the steady post-play from Megan Gustafson (Iowa) who was selected midway through the second round. She had a loud senior year for the Hawkeyes and was picking up speed in the postseason where she eventually finished with 20.8 PPG and 10.8 REB on the season as a 6’3” forward. She a force to be reckoned with under the basket and she should be a solid faces in the pros for the foreseeable future.
7. Minnesota Lynx
Minnesota was one of the few groups without real rookie impact last season. With no first round picks, the Lynx waited until the 17th slot to make their 2018 selection. The night of the Draft, they shipped off their first pick Ji-Su Park and Khalia Lawrence (24th-overall) to the Aces. In exchange, the received Jill Barta (32nd-overall) and the Aces’ second-round pick in 2019. Barta didn’t work out for the Lynx, as expected, with one of the most veteran squads in any sport not having a lot of wiggle room. After adding two rookies into the rotation last year, room for new faces is scarce.
This time around, the narrative might change as the Lynx slipped from the top ranks of the league and have picked up some big names this time back around. First, they got Napheesa Collier (UConn) with the sixth pick. Collier should have no problem working her was into the system right away, a do-it-all kind of player that can come up with rebounds and find the bottom of the net regularly. From her time with Team USA, while still in college, it’s apparent that she’s ready to play with more mature talent. With Rebecca Brunson in question, the Lynx were able to snag Jessica Shepard (Notre Dame) in the second round to help with the boards and stretch the offense. Although she fell in the second round, because of the current gaps and Shepard bringing a ton of big game experience to the floor, don’t be surprised if she could actually make an impact.
Minnesota also added Lexie Brown from the Sun in a deal to bring more shooters to camp. A young player with great promise, Brown didn’t find the right fit in Connecticut and by the looks of her social media, she appears rejuvenated to be heading to work with the Lynx. Camp is going to be tough for the large group of shooter/defender combos. They also added Buffalo point guard Cierra Dillard with a pick from Phoenix, adding yet another ball-handler into the mix. There’s no secret that Minnesota has one tough roster to crack, but compared to last year we can be sure to see at least one or two new faces.
6. LA Sparks
Los Angeles (19-15) practically stayed put with their roster last year and didn’t give much of a look to the incoming class. The Sparks took Russian Maria Vadeeva with the 11th-pick and made her of only two new projects. Vadeeva came off the bench in 25 games for an average of 8.2 minutes, 3.6 points per game and a total of 11 blocks for the year. The other addition came in free agency, adding Karlie Samuelson (Stanford), who was released when Jantel Lavender returned from injury, but later resigned to finish the season. Sameulson averaged 4.2 minutes over 20 games, chipping in a point per game.
This is still Candace Parker’s team. The seasoned vet is still going for 17.9 points per game where she has a support staff of Nneka Ogwumike, Chelsea Gray and Odyssey Sims to back her up. LA has all of the experience they need, but they’ve seen what even the smallest of injuries can do to their lineup and as one of the most seasoned teams in the WNBA, let’s say they could use some young legs to do the dirty work.
Point made, drafting Kalani Brown, a tenacious center out of Baylor, with the eighth selection. She scores, she rebounds, she hustles. The Sparks have loaded up on posts but Brown is one we should be seeing out there. Marina Mabrey (Notre Dame) was also added to the team in the second round. Mabrey might struggle to find a spot with the a tendency to run hot and cold at times, but she’s a winner that finds a way to score when called upon.
5. Phoenix Mercury
Phoenix was another team that didn’t bother too much with the young blood last year. They took German Marie Gülich from Oregon State in the first round, but didn’t find a major impact out of her. Gülich saw 23 contests, averaging just five minutes and 1.5 points. There’s so much talent and experience on the Mercury roster it’s mind-blowing. 91 combined years in the WNBA amongst 11 players is staggering. If new life wasn’t coming in last year’s class, likely the addition of Australian power forward Alanna Smith (Stanford) will be different. One of the top power forward’s in the nation, Smith is worth her draft stock on both ends of the court.
Midway through the first round, Phoenix shipped off Marie Gülich to Atlanta in exchange for their first round pick Brianna Turner (Notre Dame). Turner closed out her career incredibly strong, despite falling short in the title game. The 6’3” center was Notre Dame’s all-time leader in both blocks and rebounds and a three-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Looks like they found their woman to do the dirty work. Then the Mercury picked up Missouri’s all-time points leader, Sophie Cunningham, which could be really exciting to see her come off the bench with a hot hand. 2,187 career points later and 590 threes-made, it’s safe to say she can score.
The Mercury finished 20-14 and made a late push to get where they needed to be, but they didn’t quite have that edge to catch the Storm. Without much change to either lineup, it would be hard to imagine next year yielding different results.
4. Connecticut Sun
The Sun (21-13) have to be feeling confident about the deck they’re playing with again in 2019. They picked another post this time around, Christine Angiwe (Cal) to fight with last year’s top pick, Brionna Jones, for the last remaining spot in a powerful group. Jones is coming off a huge offseason, winning the EuroCup championship with Nadezhda (Russia). Anigwe has her shot and the Sun should be excited for her to come compete. She was the Naismith National Defensive Player of the year, led the country in rebounds (16.1 per game), and was a bucket in the Pac-12, dropping 20.6 per game.
It’s no secret Lexie Brown was a pick that just didn’t pan out and now she’s off to Minnesota in a move that brought Natisha Hiedeman in during the draft. Hiedeman moved the ball considerably well at Marquette, and might just be the three shooter they’re looking for. If she rises to the occasion, she could give a guard a run for her money at camp.
Second round pick Bridget Carleton (Iowa State) should also make some noise at camp. She an incredibly bright, do-it-all talent that can steal, block, shoot and, well, check off all the other boxes too. A fallback point guard would be a huge add for the Sun and they could find that in a handful of women. It’s going to be a gritty fight for a final spot.
3. Washington Mystics
With the seventh pick in 2018, the Mystics got a steal on Ariel Atkins. Atkins was third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.3 points on 22.5 minutes per game. She was a great addition to Toliver’s weapons from the point and another body to respected away from Delle Donne and Sanders inside. With the 10th pick, they’re going to give Kiara Leslie a shot this year, a guard from N.C. State that is tenacious on both sides of the ball.
They’ve got another three guards coming into camp: Kim Mestdagh (Colorado State), Shey Peddy (Temple) and Maci Morris (Kentucky). Despite the wrong final announcement in the draft, Maci Morris will be heading into a tryout, except with Washington. They’re clearly looking for a backup point guard and a shooter to bolster the perimeter.
Washington did a number on the Sparks in the second round, followed by an exciting series with Atlanta where they snuck away in Game 5, 86-81, to meet Seattle in the finale. Then the gas light turned on. Game 1 of the Finals was a thrashing, 89-76, followed by their only close fight, 75-73, completing the sweep with another letdown, 98-82. The East is solid and they managed to put togehter 22 wins, only a game being the Dream. The bottom three in the conference have made some serious moves, but the Mystics, Dream and Sun are looking at a three-way death match for another crack at Seattle.
2. Atlanta Dream
Many expected it to be Atlanta and Seattle in the finals after the season that they had. The Dream pulled off 23 wins, but couldn’t outlast Washington in the fifth game of the semifinals. It’s reload, not rebuild, time for the group, looking at a handful of fresh talents to fill limited spots.
The first move last year came in the second round with the Dream selecting forward Monique Billings from UCLA. Although not all were equal, everyone on Atlanta’s roster made their contributions, including Billings with 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in her 11 minutes per game average. Blake Dietrick was another one of those new faces, playing in her entry year, that came off the bench for small minutes, but in a focused role.
Injury has been holding their other second round pick, Kristy Wallace, down as she”s been out of the WNAB for now. After the draft, Atlanta brought in Nia Coffey from Las Vegas to help as a small or power forward, giving up their second round pick in 2020 to New York in a three-way deal. Obviously they see some promise in Coffey, but there’s three more faces looking for jobs. Marie Gülich struggled to find her spot in Minnesota, so Connecticut is ready to give the German center a look. If she makes the cut, she’ll be directly competing with 6’7” Chinese center Li Yueru next season when she becomes eligible. Also coming in is Oregon guard Maite Cazorla, Ionescu’s right hand in their exciting run and well-tested in her native Spanish leagues.
1. Seattle Storm
It’s hard to get much better than last year. Aside from the Phoenix scare in the semis, it was smooth sailing for Seattle through the whole campaign. They’re stacked, top to bottom, and not much has changed. They’ve added free agent Shavonte Zellous (NYL) post-draft, a tried and true vet with well respected defense that could be sticking around.
First-rounder Jordin Canada was hustle personified last season, making herself the perfect replacement for Sue Bird at running the point, when Bird decides it’s time that is. Lucky for Seattle, that plan paid off. Her 5.7 points per game were nothing to write home over, but there’s no doubt Canada brought immediate value to the Storm’s title run and is the Emerald City to stay.
With no glamorous draft slots, Seattle was a bit more strategic in their moves. 12th-overall pick Ezi Magbegor (center) will be staying put in Australia for a year of development, joining the Storm in 2020. Their following two selections, 24th-overall Anriel Howard (Mississippi St.) and Macy Miller (South Dakota St.), the final pick, will have their work cut out for them if they want to break in.