Things have changed since our last WNBA Draft preview in February. Renee Montgomery has stepped up her game and could be moving up the draft board. Angel McCoughtry showed her mettle, leading her team to the NCAA Championship game. Will previous predictions hold?
Add to that the greater element of “draft for need” in the lottery portion of this draft than in some years. A number of teams have made off-season trades and free agent signings that will affect the needs they are trying to fill with their draft picks. Nowhere is that factor more pronounced than in the market for point guards. Atlanta has signed Nikki Teasley, Washington Lindsey Harding, Minnesota Kelly Miller, and Phoenix Temeka Johnson -- all significant off-season moves adding veteran players who have been WNBA starting point guards. More likely than not, this should signal that these franchises will look to shore up other needs with their lottery picks. If they do take a point guard, they may well turn around and trade either the veteran or their newfound rookie.
These transactions may profoundly affect who gets bragging rights as this year's Number One draft pick. Will both Atlanta and Washington pass on Montgomery as many project? Possibly. But Atlanta could play Montgomery and Teasley together. And Washington could look to trade the recently acquired Harding and upgrade to a better shooter in Montgomery.
The biggest issues remain unchanged, however. How many teams will make meaningful additions from the 2009 draft and how many collegiate players will secure roster spots in this "bear market" year with one less franchise (Comets) and two fewer potential roster spots (11 down from 13) on the remaining teams.
Overall, this draft class can be described as “slightly below average.” With stars, but no superstars, it certainly does not have the quality and depth of last year.
Our prediction is that 15 college rookies will find themselves on WNBA rosters as of opening day.
Looking at the First Round
Three players -- Marissa Coleman, Angel McCoughtry, and Renee Montgomery --stand out as most likely to succeed in the WNBA and, in some order, they should be the top three picked in the draft. I see Montgomery as the safest of these. At point guard, the weakest position in the WNBA, a player doesn’t have to be “that good” to be good and Montgomery should be well above the norm. All have been winners, helping to take their programs to Final Fours and/or conference championships. Do not underestimate the desire of WNBA coaches for players with winning attitudes and, if possible, players from programs with a winning tradition. Where they will finally settle continues to swirl but all should be major contributors to their pro teams.
1. Atlanta: On paper, at least, the Dream have already addressed their point guard needs by signing Nikki Teasley. However, given recent reports of knee problems for Teasley, perhaps the Dream shouldn’t mess around -- grab Montgomery, our top point guard selection (currently projected to go at #3). Assuming Atlanta is satisfied that Teasley will be able to fill the bill, their next greatest need is for a shooting guard. But Marynell Meadors appears to be into size on the perimeter and with this year's first pick, we think she may well opt for Angel McCoughtry.
The Louisville product will give you defense every night out. The big issue will be her perimeter shooting. Can they play her at the shooting guard if Chamique Holdsclaw is going to play the small forward? McCoughtry is playing in the NCAA Tournament more like a 3/4 than a 3/2.
2. Washington: Most prognosticators have the Mystics going big, but I look for them to upgrade the small forward slot with Marissa Coleman. Monique Currie has been a serviceable pro (10.9 ppg, 39% FG, 4.0 RPG), but not the player many expected her to be when she came out of Duke. Coleman, out of the University of Maryland is, like Currie, from the DC local area. Coleman is a stronger rebounder and more offensive-minded with a wide range in ways to score, though, like Currie, she is not special on defense. If the Mystics take my next selection (a point guard), move Coleman down at least one slot.
3. Chicago: The Sky need help at both the small forward and point guard positions. Assuming the foregoing small forwards are off the board, Chicago should without hesitation scoop up Renee Montgomery. The Connecticut product leads vocally, can set up other teammates with her passing skills, defends well and can score via the drive, jumper or three-ball. How many current WNBA guards can do all that? Yes, she will need to go left more as a pro and maybe strengthen up a bit, but good point guards don’t come around that often. If Montgomery is off the board, the Sky might dip into our next group to snatch one of the lesser point guards.
The next group of players should help the teams selecting them, but each carries with her significant limitations that could put a damper on her success.
4. Minnesota: The Lynx basically traded an unhappy Lindsey Harding (to the Mystics) for a soon to be unhappy Kelly Miller, who thrived like she never has elsewhere in Phoenix’s run-and-gun system. Minnesota runs a more conventional offense. They are assuming that the combination of Miller and Noelle Quinn will get the job done at the point and thus will likely go big. Courtney Paris is their likely choice. The Sooner is a good shooter close in, possesses great hands and rebounds well.
However, she does not run the court as well as WNBA coaches would like, lacks range and has trouble defending quicker post players. Conditioning could be the prime issue. Still, Paris should be an upgrade over Nicky Anosike and recently acquired Christi Thomas.
5. Phoenix: DeWanna Bonner fits the Mercury's run-and-gun style like few players of her size. At 6-4, the Auburn product runs like the wind (excellent on the break) and scores in and out of the paint; she can also can help on the boards. Given that the Mercury play relatively little defense, questions about her ability to guard and handle physical play with her thin build will be less important than they might be were she to be taken elsewhere. In more conventional systems, Bonner might have trouble handling more physically built players in the quarter-court setting. If Bonner’s gone, look for them to take Kristi Toliver, our next pick.
6. Indiana: Given that starting point guard Tully Bevilaqua will be 37 in July, it is time to look for help in this direction. Also, remember that the Fever struggled to score at times last year. Kristi Toliver would bring a change of pace to the position. The Maryland product is not close to the defender that the Australian is, but she shoots much better and would enliven the sometimes anemic Fever offense. On the other hand, if the Fever want to continue to stress defense, they may opt for our next selection.
This group features players who raise even more questions about their ability to transition to the pro level. For some, immediate contributions are possible, but more likely, these players will play dividends years down the road, rather than out of the gate. Traditionally, the second half of the first round has produced everything from the proverbial diamond in the rough to the dreaded lumps of coal.
7. Sacramento: The Monarchs are all about defense. As they sent their back-up point (A’Quonesia Franklin) to Phoenix, Briann January (5-8, G, Arizona State) could be a good fit. Previously slotted further down the board, January showed that she can handle the point guard slot when Sun Devil starting point Dymond Simon went down to injury in the latter half of this season. January’s left hand still needs to get stronger in protecting the ball. Otherwise, she presents an attractive package.
To start with, she can defend the opposition’s point. She is strong going to the basket and has three-point range although that is not her primary scoring option. She is adequately creative in the half court and can run the break. At the WNBA level, she is not likely to be a prolific scorer. She is likely to start off as a back-up but has the potential to be a solid pro after a year or two.
8. New York: The Liberty is a team with no great players but many competent ones. As a result, theirs might be the hardest roster for a top-ten pick to make. Most likely, the first-round pick would have to beat out the experienced Ashley Battle or Lisa Willis to stick. Do they add a big, an athletic defender or a perimeter scorer?
The Liberty's goal should simply be to take the best available player on the board, regardless of position. Blazejowski has been unpredictable with her picks over the years although I will say she has improved more recently. Given her size, athleticism and improved range, let’s slot Virginia's Lyndra Littles, a 6-1 forward who averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, here.
9. Minnesota: Minnesota gets a second go in the first round. Let’s assume that they get their big in Courtney Paris with their fourth pick. Now they need some help at the power forward. Ashley Walker could fill that bill as a 6-1 player with some range and a lot of heart. If they want a taller post, see the selections at #10 and #14 below.
10. Connecticut: The Sun will probably look to add size with muscle. Though Kia Vaughn has never lived up to her potential, she has played better late in the year, so put her in this slot, which is higher than her placement two months ago.
11. Detroit: In spite of Bill Laimbeer’s rhetoric regarding the Shock's need for a guard or small forward, anything is possible from Trader Bill (and usually a good move!). The health of Cheryl Ford (knee injury during last season) and Plenette Pierson (recent knee injury in Europe) could be overriding factors. If both Ford and Pierson are going to be unavailable this season, look for Detroit to go big.
Assuming Detroit is confident with their post situation and does go fishing for a guard or small forward, Littles would fit the bill, if still available. If not, we will go outside the box and pencil in Takia Starks (5-7, 2G, Texas A&M). This Aggie is a good athlete, defends well and has a nice jumper off the bounce, but is often erratic from half to half as well as settling for the jumper too often. She does possess an athletic ability comparable to Detroit’s perimeter players, though she is a few inches smaller. If passed on here, she should be picked before the middle of the second round.
Number 12 Down
All of the players present the same question: Can any of players stick?
12. Seattle: The overriding question for Coach Brian Agler remains the re-signing of Lauren Jackson. Assuming that is successful, the team could use a shooting guard. They could opt for Starks, if she's still on the board, or for Shavonte Zellous, our # 13 pick, discussed below.
But the Storm might very well want to take out some insurance against Swin Cash’s injury history by selecting the athletic forward Rashanda McCants. The Tar Heel has the physical tools to play in the league but has been an inconsistent shooter during her college career. The Storm has had success with fellow Tar Heel Camille Little and may wish to do more fishing from that same pond.
13. Los Angeles: Sparks GM Penny Toler has stated publicly that her team will pick the best player still available, regardless of position, when their Number 13 pick finally rolls around. But the ultimate goal has got to be to find a way to move up in the point-guard sweepstakes. The Sparks have already made room in that department by sending former Rookie of the Year Temeka Johnson to Phoenix.
Look for this pick to be packaged in a trade to get better guard material. Another possibility is that the Sparks draft our slotted pick or a big (listed just below) and attempt a trade with that player thrown into the mix.
The question is: Can Toler offer enough in trade (without shooting themselves in the foot) to get even Briann January? If not, the Sparks probably should gamble on the best remaining guard of any ilk and hope they stick. The players remaining at the other positions are probably not good enough to make their roster.
Thus, we will pencil in Shavonte Zellous. With a game based on two dribbles and a jumper but otherwise still lacking sophistication, the Pitt product is unselfish and gradually improving her understanding of basketball subtleties (as, for example, her great defensive play in the NCAA Tournament sub-regionals, in "pulling the chair" on a Gonzaga player, causing her to walk on a critical late-game layup). Still there is a lot in her game that needs to improve. She must learn to move better without the ball and to play better defense if she is to succeed in the pros.
14. San Antonio: The Silver Stars start the second round and here is where I will end my by-team analysis. With the signing of Australian Belinda Snell, Coach Dan Hughes is saying that he is essentially done in re-shaping the Stars’ perimeter. Thus I look for an inside selection.
On a close call, I will give the nod to Chante Black (6-5, C, Duke), because of her combination of height and ability to run the court and score in the key. For most of the year, this Blue Devil was seen as a first-round lock due to those characteristics, and she may still be taken as high as Number 9. But her lack of physical play and consistent range have put more questions on the table, and we think they have lowered her stock.
Noteworthy Second-Round Picks
These players, listed in alphabetical order, could make a roster with the right fit. They should be second-round picks and in two cases could go even higher.
Whitney Boddie, 5-9, PG, Auburn: This Tiger excels at the up-tempo game but has issues in the half court and a limited shooting range. Consider her a middle-to-high second-round pick.
Sha Brooks, 5-7, Combo G, Florida: This Gator can get to the rim, shoot over the opposition and does guard, but she often takes a lot of shots to get her points (high-volume scorer).
Marshae Dotson, 5-11, PF, Florida: Strongly built, this Gator was forced to play closer to the basket due to team needs. In the past, she has shown that she can drive the ball to the rim from the high post. She needs to demonstrate more range as she is undersized at the WNBA level. A second-round pick is possible.
Ashley Paris, 6-3, PF, Oklahoma: The Sooner has made great progress over the last few years in getting into better shape and somewhat improving her range, which still needs to get better. The question remains whether she will blossom if not playing in the shadow of her sister Courtney. She could be picked as high as Number 9 to as low as the mid-teens.
Christina Wirth, 6-1, F, Vanderbilt: Watching this Commodore play in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments has upgraded my opinion of her. Wirth reminds me of the Liberty’s Cathrine Kraayeveld with her ability to step out and hit threes. As she is smaller than Kraayeveld, she would need to play more like a tall shooting wing. She is probably a second-round pick with foot speed and quickness questions.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, 6-2, PF, Purdue: If there was ever someone who looked like a player, exuding court intelligence and framing passes, this Boilermaker could fill that description. The problem is that she does not score with range enough of the time and passes up good looks too often. It is almost like deep-down inside she lacks confidence. Defensively, she is just adequate. She could go as high as bottom of first round but upper-second at a minimum.
Other Players Worth Watching
Below, in alphabetical order, are other possible sub-first round picks. I view these even less likely to stick, but there could be a sleeper or two in this pack.
Jessica Adair, 6-4, C, George Washington: This Colonial has strong build, but lacks range and productivity. Ability to run the court is another question.
Star Allen, 5-11, PF, Ohio State: This strongly built Buckeye shoots 53.5% from the field but only averages 10.8 ppg. Viewed as undersized, she might be worth a lower second-to-third round pick as she does show range beyond the key, though not, however, beyond the arc.
Rachel Allison, 6-1, PF, Baylor: A hard-nosed player, this Lady Bear has worked to improve her range but is most comfortable working mid-key and in. Game may not transfer to next level.
Candyce Bingham, 6-1, PF, Louisville: This Cardinal probably has moved up the draft board, possibly into the second round, as she has shown some range and ability to put the ball on the floor. She just may not have enough punch nor a strong enough build to make the league as a WNBA power forward.
Danielle Campbell, 6-4, C, Purdue: Adequate athletically, but there may not be enough punch here.
Kristi Cirone, 5-8, PG, Illinois State: One might like how this Redbird product shoots and passes the rock. The problem is the results have mostly been against lesser level competition and the few times that Illinois State played a B.C.S. team, the stats produced were not a wow.
Tanae Davis-Cain, 5-11, SF, Florida State: Athletically okay, this Seminole is not a consistent shooter.
Teira DeLa Houssaye, 5-6, PG, Western Michigan: Small in build, she has creativity to get to the rim but heroutside shot needs work. She has not played much against high-level competition. If the WNBA had a D League, she would be a good fit.
Sybil Dosty, 6-3, C, Arizona State: Strongly built, but I don’t see enough offense here.
Krystal Ellis, 5-9, G, Marquette: This is a case of a once promising player who tailed off in her last year. She shot only 37.2% from the field and 26.6% from three-point range this season.
Heather Ezell, 5-9, G, Iowa State: This Cyclone bomber shoots 35.2% from deep but only 36.6% overall. Her ability to guard is also a question. With reduced roster spots, a utility bomber will have less chance to make a roster.
Shayla Fields, 5-9, G, North Carolina State: This guard scored 16.8 ppg but shot 36.4% from the field, fitting the definition of a high volume (of shots) scorer.
Emily Fox, 5-9, G, Minnesota: This Gopher makes flashy plays but is a half-step slow and really does not handle the ball that well.
Megan Frazee, 6-3, F, Liberty: Frazee lacked foot speed coming off injury when I saw her this season. Given her physical condition at the time, she may be better than she looked as a 3/4 player.
Mara Freshour, 6-1, G, Florida State: Foot speed is better than one might think and she has learned to attack the rim, but she doesn’t shoot the ball consistently well.
Danielle Gant, 5-11, F, Texas A&M: There has been some talk that this Aggie will be taken at the bottom of the first round. She shoots the ball well from mid-key and in, but is not that strongly built and plays much more like an undersized power forward than a perimeter player. Will her game translate to the next level? A probable second-round pick.
Marlies Gipson, 6-0, F, Kansas State: A good athlete with solid frame, this Wildcat is really more power than small forward. More range and better handles could help. Second to third-round pick likely.
Shantia Grace, 5-6, G, South Florida: This player from the newly crowned WNIT Champions is really more scoring guard than playmaker and may not have enough offensive punch at the pro level.
Devanei Hampton, 6-3, C/F, California: This Golden Bear has been slowed by multiple knee injuries and, perhaps as a result, has tailed off from her stellar early college career. She needs to add range, but physically, she may not be able to play in the WNBA unless her knees got better. Before the injuries, I projected her as a potential first-round pick and she could still be a sleeper.
Ashley Hayes, 5-10, G/F, Murray State: This player averaged 22.6 ppg on 47.7% FG and 36.4% 3FG. She also hauled down 9.5 rpg. But she has played against mostly non-B.C.S. competition. In the few games that the Racers played against better level competition, her numbers were off significantly. Might be worth a training camp invite if nothing else.
Quanitra Hollingsworth, 6-5, C, Virginia Commonwealth: Having started high school and college a couple of years early each time, the VCU product is still somewhat raw. But she possesses a strong pro build. She needs to get more experience against better competition. She might be WNBA-ready in a year or two if she is willing to play in Europe.
Shalee Lehning, 5-9, PG, Kansas State: In truth, Lehning has been one of my favorite players to watch over her college career, though some of her fans would say she has been one of my favorite players to criticize as a pro prospect. She can handle the ball and run offense with good vision, penetrates going left or right, and for what it is worth at the next level, rebounds very well for a guard. Unfortunately, she often gets lost on defense, struggles to score away from a drive and lately has not run the court that well, perhaps a result of her bout this winter with mono. Does this translate into a WNBA career?
Camille LeNoir, 5-6, PG, Southern California: This Trojan looks smaller than her listed height. She shoots the three-ball well at 39.6% but is not a special passer with just over a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. She might be worth a third-round pick for a team looking for a back-up point.
Sade Logan, 6-0, 2G, Robert Morris: A quality athlete, she has a rep as a high volume scorer (20.8 ppg on 38.1% FG). Possible third-round pick.
Britany Miller, 6-3, C, Florida State: This former Seminole left school early to play in Europe after a number of academic problems. She has had enough success in Europe that she may be attracting WNBA interest. When I last saw her over a year ago, she had a game along the lines of Courtney Paris, though not at the same level. A possible pick after the first round from rumors I have heard.
Jelena Milovanovic, 6-3, PF, Serbia: Just about to turn 20, Milovanovic seems to possess the traditional European face-up game, but is a bit slow in foot. She is currently playing in Hungary and is considered one of the best young players in the Euroleague.
Aisha Mohammed, 6-3, C, Virginia: This strongly built lefty is hard to displace off the low block, but on the other hand, she is not that mobile. A late second-to-third-round pick is probable.
Mandy Morales, 5-8, PG, Montana: A strongly built guard, foot is a serious question.
Jessica Morrow, 6-0, G/F, Baylor: This is another player who can be very hot and cold as a perimeter shooter. Could be a late second-to-third-round pick.
Brianne O’Rourke, 5-6, PG, Penn State: This Lady Lion is truly a field general when running a team. Foot speed and, even more so, overall quickness are issues. On top of that, she does not shoot the ball well enough.
Jhasmin Player, 5-10, G, Baylor: Here is another possible pick out of Waco. The question is: Can she play the point? She has been more of a driver than a wing shooter in the college game. If she can make the transition to a pro-level point guard, she would be a steal as a late-round pick. If not, her lack of three-point shooting would likely end her WNBA career before the season starts this spring.
Jennifer Risper, 5-9, F, Vanderbilt: An undersized player who operates in the paint and is one of the best rebounders for her size in the college game, Risper is best known as a defender willing to take on the tough assignments. However, as Risper is unable to shoot the ball from beyond the key, it is unlikely that there is going to be room on the reduced rosters for this utility player.
Dominic Seals, 6-2, PF, Texas Tech: An above average athlete who tends to play in the upper half of the key, this Lady Raider needs to be able to handle physical play better to have a shot at this league.
Abby Waner, 5-10, G, Duke: This Blue Devil actually defends better than one might think and backed up the point some as a senior. Unfortunately, her offense became reduced to long three-point attempts and her driving skill seemed to deteriorate.
Morgan Warburton, 5-11, G, Utah: A generally good shooter, the biggest issue for this Ute might well be a lack of both foot speed and lateral quickness.
Noteisha Womack, 6-3, PF, Seton Hall: This Pirate is a well-built, in-the-paint scorer who had good results on a mediocre team. Is there enough punch to translate to the next level, as she didn’t always get things done against the better opponents?
Cover composite -- AP Photos by Gail Burton (Marissa Coleman), Mark Humphrey (Courtney Paris), Gerry Broome (Angel McCoughtry), and Jeff Roberson (Renee Montgomery).