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The 2021 WNBA season is within reach, and it’ll feel even closer Thursday evening, when the league holds the 2021 WNBA Draft, which will be held virtually for the second straight year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heading into Thursday, here’s everything you need to know, which prospects may have big nights, and more.
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV: ESPN, ESPN app
Connecticut Sun’s picks: 20, 21 and 30
UConn players? No UConn players are in the draft pool for the first time since 2007. This is due to a combination of most players from UConn’s 2017 recruiting class transferring and Megan Walker declaring early for the league last season.
Dallas’ big night
All eyes are on the Dallas Wings, as they have the top two overall picks and four of the top seven. In a pre-draft call with media, Wings president Greg Bibb stressed the importance of bringing in a paint enforcer and rebounder — 6-foot-5 center and expected No. 1 overall pick Charli Collier out of Texas certainly fits that billing.
Dallas won’t have room for all five of their picks (Nos. 1, 2, 5, 7 and 13) to make the team, but this is all part of a bigger rebuild the franchise is undergoing over the last two years and comes off the heels of drafting players like Satou Sabally and Bella Alaire in 2020. The Wings also brought in longtime veteran player/coach Vickie Johnson as their new head coach this offseason.
Not as clear No. 1, lottery picks
Last year, Sabrina Ionescu was the sure No. 1 overall pick by the New York Liberty, and the other lottery picks (Sabally by Dallas, Lauren Cox by Indiana, Chennedy Carter by Atlanta) were all easily predicted.
There’s definitely more intrigue entering this year without as dominant of a senior class. Even Collier, the expected No. 1 overall pick, is a junior who declared early.
Finland’s Awak Kuier, another potential Dallas selection, is just 19 years old but has turned heads already with her play overseas. By the time Atlanta and Indiana are on the clock with the third and fourth picks, they’ll likely consider the likes of Tennessee’s Rennia Davis, Rutgers’ Arella Guirantes, Louisville’s Dana Evans and Arizona’s Aari McDonald, whose draft stock shot up after positioning the Wildcats one basket away from the national title.
International players on the rise
International draft prospects can sometimes fly under the radar, but they shouldn’t and likely won’t after this year’s draft.
“It is a deep international draft, and I don’t think that’s being talked about enough,” Sun head coach/general manager Curt Miller said Monday. “I would not be surprised to see as many as four to five international players taken before 20.”
Kuier has received the most press as a likely lottery pick, but Shyla Heal (a 19-year-old from Australia) and Iliana Rupert (a 19-year-old from France) are two other players that teams could snatch up early. Clubs may decide to “draft and stash” players, allowing them to get another year or more of experience overseas before they’re ready to play in the WNBA.
Impact of extra year of college eligibility
With the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility amid the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors or even graduate students could opt to return to the college game for another season. All of Maryland’s seniors, for example, decided to return, as did UConn’s Evina Westbrook (Westbrook actually has two years of eligibility remaining because of her redshirt season). Some players (such as Georgia’s Jenna Staiti and Que Morrison) even opted into the draft but backed out last minute to remain in college.
Though most potential first-round selections stuck with entering the draft, Miller said the NCAA’s ruling has hurt the depth of the second and third rounds.
“It’s made our job a little bit more challenging because the depth of the second and third rounds has been impacted by that opportunity, but it also has helped us narrow in on the players that have stayed in the draft,” Miller said.
Roster spots limited
It’s hard for draftees any year to secure a WNBA roster spot by the time the season rolls around. This year will be no different.
The league only has 144 roster spots at maximum, with each team able to carry at most 12 players. But the Connecticut Sun, for example, will only have 10 healthy players since they are paying Alyssa Thomas to rehab after she tore her Achilles.
According to Her Hoop Stats, there are 56 protected veteran contracts, and that doesn’t even include younger stars like Chicago’s Gabby Williams, Diamond DeShields and Azurá Stevens who are still on rookie-scale contracts.
One estimate from Winsidr founder/editor Aryeh Schwartz predicted as few as 12 draftees out of the total 36 will be on rosters come opening day.
It’s another reminder that league expansion can’t come soon enough. Draftees who get cut will have to remain ready in case they get the call midseason.
“When you look at roster management right now around the league and you look at salary cap situation, we anticipate numerous teams above us in the second round not having a pathway to their opening day roster with those picks,” Miller said. “We may still stay very actively watching players that we personally don’t pick, but may end up on rosters that there’s no pathway to their opening day roster. We may be able to pick them up and bring them on late, so we are investigating a large pool of players.”
Full draft order
1. Dallas Wings
2. Dallas Wings
3. Atlanta Dream
4. Indiana Fever
5. Dallas Wings
6. New York Liberty
7. Dallas Wings
8. Chicago Sky
9. Minnesota Lynx
10. Los Angeles Sparks
11. Seattle Storm
12. Las Vegas Aces
13. Dallas Wings
14. Las Vegas Aces
15. Atlanta Dream
16. Chicago Sky
17. New York Liberty
18. Seattle Storm
19. Indiana Fever
20. Connecticut Sun
21. Connecticut Sun
22. Los Angeles Sparks
23. Seattle Storm
24. Indiana Fever
25. New York Liberty
26. Indiana Fever
27. Atlanta Dream
28. Los Angeles Sparks
29. New York Liberty
30. Connecticut Sun
31. Indiana Fever
32. Phoenix Mercury
33. Indiana Fever
34. Los Angeles Sparks
35. Seattle Storm
36. Las Vegas Aces
Alexa Philippou can be reached at email@example.com