WNBA

Trends from Recent WNBA Drafts

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The 2024 WNBA Draft is on April 15th.

With only 144 rostered players in a WNBA season and 36 total draft picks (three rounds with 12 players selected in each round), the WNBA Draft is a lot less risky than other professional sports’ drafts.

Further complicating matters is that some drafted players can make more money overseas and choose not to play in the WNBA at all. Analyzing the last five WNBA drafts, the results are as sporadic as you would imagine.

First-Round Stars

There have been 60 first-round picks between 2019-2023. Out of those 60, 50 played in the WNBA the same year they were drafted. As expected, there have been selections that have transformed franchises.

Eighteen of the 25 All-Rookie selections and four of the five Rookies of the Year since 2019 were drafted in the first round. Picking in the top five of the draft is generally safe; the average pick for the 18 All-Rookie players selected in the first round was 4.4.

Five players have earned All-WNBA honors during their careers:

Rising stars Aliyah Boston (first overall pick – Indiana, 2023), Teaira McCowan (third overall pick – Indiana, 2019), and Rhyne Howard (first overall pick – Atlanta, 2022) are in the hunt for an All-WNBA selection next season.

First Round Hits and Misses

Of the ten players who did not play in the WNBA the same year they were drafted, five were out for the season with an injury (Kiara Leslie – Washington, 2019, Rennia Davis – Minnesota, 2021, Nyara Sabally – New York, 2022, Stephanie Soares – Dallas, 2023, Lou Lopez Senechal – Dallas, 2023).

Two have stayed overseas and have yet to play in the WNBA. Kitija Laksa from Latvia was selected by Seattle 11th overall in 2020. She was waived by Seattle in 2021, signed by Dallas 2023, but has remained in Europe. Her WNBA contract has been suspended by the Wings, and they retain her WNBA playing rights.

Maïa Hirsch is an athletic 6’5” center from France. She was selected by Minnesota with the 12th pick in the 2023 Draft. She spent the 2023 season overseas, and the Lynx are hoping their “draft-and-stash” strategy with Hirsch proves to be as valuable as Seattle’s gamble with Ezi Magbegor.

Magbegor, an athletic 6’4” center from Australia, played overseas after being selected by Seattle with the 12th overall pick in the 2019 Draft. At the age of 20, she joined Seattle for their 2020 WNBA Championship season where she played in 22 games and averaged 13.3 minutes, 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

Magbegor has continued to progress throughout her career. She has been selected to the All-Defensive Second Team the past two seasons and was an All-Star last season for the Storm.

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Las Vegas has built the core of their roster (A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum) through the draft, and supplemented it via free agency (Candace Parker, Alysha Clark, Kiah Stokes). In the last five seasons, Las Vegas has competed for championships every season – winning the past two WNBA Finals.

Because of their loaded roster, rookies have not played a significant role in the Aces’ success. Iliana Rupert was drafted in the first round (11th overall) in 2021, played overseas her first season, then joined the Aces in 2022. She played in 17 games for Las Vegas during that championship season but was ultimately waived before the 2023 season.

Mya Hollingshed was not as fortunate. Obtained by Las Vegas on draft night after being selected eight overall by Minnesota in the 2022 Draft, she was waived before the season and has yet to play a game in the WNBA. She recently signed a training-camp contract with Phoenix.

Kristine Anigwe (ninth pick by Connecticut in 2019), Stephanie Watts (10th pick by Los Angeles in 2021), and Abby Meyers (11th pick by Dallas in 2023) spent little time with the teams that drafted them and have bounced around the league.

Second-Round Swings…and Misses

Minnesota has had tremendous luck picking 16th overall. In 2020, they selected Crystal Dangerfield. She became the only Rookie of the Year in WNBA history to not be selected in the first round. Three years later, the Lynx drafted Dorka Juhász 16th overall. Juhász was named to the All-Rookie team last season.

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DiDi Richards was drafted by New York in 2021. Since 2019, she has been the highest draft pick (17th overall) to make an All-Rookie team.

Second-round selection Dana Evans’s rookie season was quite eventful. Drafted by Dallas with the 13th overall selection in the 2021 draft, she was traded to Chicago after only six games averaging a mere 4.0 minutes per game. With Chicago, Evans blossomed. She played in 23 games for the 2021 WNBA champions and earned All-Rookie honors.

Despite some success stories in the second round, the results are not always great. Due to the limited amount of roster spots available, second-round picks have a tough time making rosters.

Of the 60 second-round picks, 44 have played in the WNBA at one point in their careers. All 44 played in the WNBA as rookies the same year they were drafted. However, 27 were waived before or during the season by the team that drafted them.

Only four of the 16 players who have yet to play in the WNBA (Leonie Fiebich, Raquel Carrera Quintana, Shaneice Swain and Brea Beal) are currently under contract for a WNBA team. Swain, from Australia, was drafted by Los Angeles with the second pick of the 2023 draft and is the only player under contract with the team in which she was drafted.

Third-Round Challenges

Only 35% of third-round draft picks since 2019 have played in the WNBA. Over half of the third-round selections were waived before the season by the team that drafted them. Two of the 33, Stella Johnson and Taylor Soule, were able to make rosters after being waived and played during the same season they were drafted.

Three of the most successful third-round picks fell in the draft partly due to their lack of size. However, all three share two traits that directly transfer from college to the pros: speed and scoring ability.

Paris Kea was drafted out of North Carolina with the 25th overall pick in 2019 by Indiana. Kea finished in the top five in the ACC in scoring all three years at UNC (she played her first season at Vanderbilt). She also used her speed and athleticism to create for her teammates, finishing in the top 10 in the ACC in assists in all three seasons.

The 5-foot-9, 142-pound guard played in 11 games her rookie season. After being waived following the 2019 season, she played in another 11 games in 2020 with New York. She missed the 2021 season due to injury and hasn’t played in the WNBA since.

Dallas picked Jasmine Dickey out of Delaware with the 30th overall in 2022. A two-time CAA player of the year, Dickey was top five in the nation in points scored in both her junior and senior seasons. Amazingly, the 5-foot-9, 147-pound guard was top 20 in the NCAA in total rebounds during her junior season. Her athletic build allowed her to compete at the professional level. Drafted 30th overall by Dallas, she played in 34 games over two seasons before being waived in 2023.

Arguably the most successful third-round selection in the last five seasons has been Sug Sutton. The diminutive 5-foot-8, 140-pound guard was drafted by Washington with the last pick of the 2020 draft out of Texas. One of the top guards in the Big 12, Sutton played in 12 games her rookie season – a remarkable feat for the last overall pick in the draft. Waived by the Mystics before the 2021 season, Sutton signed with Phoenix before last season. She played in all 40 games for the Mercury, starting 12, and finished in the top 10 in the league in assists.

Beyond the Draft

Of the 25 players who have been selected to All-Rookie teams since 2019, 23 were drafted. Eighteen of the 25 were drafted in the first round, four in the second round, and one in the third round. Three were undrafted.

Julie Allemand, from Belgium, was a “draft-and-stash” pick in 2016 by Indiana with the 33rd overall selection. She played overseas until 2020, when she was named All-Rookie with the Fever. Like Kea, Dickey and Sutton, Allemand is a relatively small guard (5’8”, 147 pounds).

Two All-Rookie selections went undrafted. Li Meng was a 28-year-old undrafted free agent last season for Washington. Rebekah Gardner went undrafted out of UCLA in 2012. She played overseas until 2022, when she was named to the All-Rookie team at the age of 32 after being signed by Chicago before the season.

What to Expect in 2024

Teams selecting in the top five this season are (in order): Indiana, Los Angeles, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas. Prospects who could land in the top-five selections include Caitlin Clark (Iowa), Cameron Brink (Stanford), Kamilla Cardoso (South Carolina), Aaliyah Edwards (UConn), Rickea Jackson (Tennessee), Alissa Pili (Utah) and Angel Reese (LSU).

The top of the class should make an immediate impact. Second-round picks tend to be role players who struggle to hang on to WNBA rosters. Although there are some who have performed well throughout their young careers (Dangerfield, Juhász, Natisha Hiedeman, Marina Mabrey, Sophie Cunningham, Bridget Carleton, Megan Gustafson, Jessica Shepard, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Naz Hillmon), most will bounce around the league competing for roster spots for a couple of years before ultimately playing overseas exclusively.

The third round is all about finding players who can possibly steal a roster spot. Of the 21 third rounders since 2019 who have actually played in the WNBA, only 11 have averaged more than 10 games per season. Finding quick guards who may be undersized but have play-making ability tend to be the best bets.

This star-studded group has the potential to be the best class in the most anticipated draft in WNBA history. Most of the picks, however, will be fighting for one of the 144 spots in the league.

Until the WNBA expands, this is the reality of the league.

About Kenyon Wingenbach

High school girls' basketball head coach and educator at West Fargo Public Schools (North Dakota).

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