Takes and takeaways from an out of control 2021 WNBA draft

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

We may be midway through April, the but the calendars in the offices of WNBA general managers still say March, because the 2021 WNBA draft was full of madness.

A number of first-round level talents ended up dropping down to the second round … and a notable from Syracuse who was projected in many mock drafts to go in the second round ends up being undrafted (but on the practice squad of the team coached by her national coach).

While it was, yes, another draft where 36 talented young athletes had the honor of being drafted into the world’s premier professional women’s basketball league, one could not help but get the feeling approximately midway through that this draft felt for weird than typical. A big reason for that is how this draft essentially shredded every mock draft made prior to April 15.

Here are some takes and takeaways from this year’s draft.

A surprising draft? Maybe not

Talisa Rhea may have taken over the GM duties for the Seattle Storm from Alisha Valavanis, but Valavanis was one of the GMs that actually set the tone for this year’s draft by trading the No. 1 overall pick to Greg Bibb and the Dallas Wings. In fact, the Storm are the defending champions, so it is not like they were in the …. lottery or anything.

Jonathan Kolb and his New York Liberty were in the lottery…and they won said lottery for the second consecutive year. Except Kolb’s plan was to add veteran free agents like Natasha Howard, Betnijah Laney and Sami Whitcomb to the black and seafoam as opposed to continuing to stockpile draft picks. So, they traded the No. 1 overall pick to Seattle which later wound up with Dallas.

Despite some late mocks having Charli Collier falling to as far as No. 3 to the Atlanta Dream, the early mocks got it correct with Collier taking the short drive up I-35 from Austin to Arlington and joining the Wings. This draft may not have had a Sabrina Ionescu, an A’ja Wilson or a Breanna Stewart – but it is still the No. 1 overall pick. Except experts and GMs viewed this draft a “weak” compared to next year’s when a certain Kentucky Wildcat named Rhyne Howard will likely be the first overall selection.

#RuinForRhyne anyone?

In many ways, that trade set the tone for the night’s proceedings. WNBA GMs may have chose chaos on draft night, but the trade that saw Howard to the Liberty, Kia Nurse to the Phoenix Mercury and Katie Lou Samuelson to the Storm now can be seen as a precursor to what was an out of control draft. Ironically, the draft was crazy and not many draft-night trades took place.

She went where?

Rennia Davis (Tennessee) was projected by many a mock to go as high as third to the Dream. Instead, the Indiana Fever, Wings, Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky all passed on her until Cheryl Reeve saw a golden opportunity to select Davis with the ninth overall pick.

Then it was the second round selections. Dana Evans (Louisville) – 13th overall to the Wings. Natasha Mack (Oklahoma State) – 16th overall to the Sky. DiDi Richards (Baylor) – 17th overall to the Liberty. Kiana Williams (Stanford) – 18th overall to the Storm. DiJonai Carrington (Baylor) – 20th overall to the Connecticut Sun. Micaela Kelly (Central Michigan) – 21st overall to the Connecticut Sun. Arella Guirantes (Rutgers) – 22nd overall to the Sparks. N’dea Jones (Texas A&M) – 23rd overall to the Storm. Trinity Baptiste (Arizona) – 24th overall to the Fever.

We know there are only 12 selections available per round and no UConn Huskies or South Carolina Gamecocks were available – and it was seen as a “weak” draft by experts and GMs. But these are names that are fresh in everyone’s mind after the NCAA tournament. Either GMs were completely perplexed by their perceived “weakness” of this draft class or need was a bigger priority than getting the best player because of that perceived “weakness.”

We are literally only a month shy of the 2021 WNBA season – and only nine days shy from the start of training camp. Did WNBA GMs essentially hand Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve (who herself is also Minnesota’s GM) a third consecutive Rookie of the Year? Only time will tell.

Tiana Mangakahia

Mangakahia’s story is – in a word, inspirational. She missed the entire 2019-20 season as she was battling breast cancer only to come back and play for Syracuse this previous season. Mangakahia led her team to an NCAA tournament berth this past season.

Even with that, Mangakahia concluded her tenure at Syracuse having been the all-time assists leader for the Cuse.

Despite her illustrious career she had with the Orange, Mangakahia went undrafted. Few details from this draft stand out more than the fact that Mangahakia was undrafted after being projected in a number of mock drafts to go as high as the second round.

Fortunately for Mangakahia, she will have a chance to make the Phoenix Mercury’s roster as she has signed to the Mercury’s practice squad. What helps aplenty is Sandy Brondello is the Mercury’s coach. Brondello is also Mangakahia’s coach on the Australian national team and this happens to be an Olympic year.

The e-word

There are not too many topics that are more favorite topics to banter about among our WNBA family than expansion. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert even said in a pre-draft media availability that she believes expansion is tantamount to the WNBA having a successful 25th anniversary season in 2021.

The talent pool in women’s basketball – collegiately, professionally and internationally has never been higher than it currently is. Unfortunately, there are only 12 teams in the WNBA and 12 roster spots per team. At last check, 12 X 12 = 144. Only the most elite of elite women’s basketball players are getting onto a WNBA roster.

The talk of expansion bubbles up every year around the tournament – and particularly towards the conclusion of training camp once teams make their final roster cuts. The W has probably wanted to expand for a while, but has held off because of unstable ownership situations like those previously in New York, Atlanta, Las Vegas and, most recently, Minnesota. The Liberty, Dream and Aces situations have reached their heads and the Lynx issue appears to be not too far behind with a sale looming to Alex Rodriguez and e-commerce executive Marc Lore (both New Yorkers).

It has been the worst kept secret over the last few years that the WNBA has had its eye on the San Francisco Bay Area – and that some in the Warriors’ front office have had its eye on the W. Natasha Cloud said during one of Khristina Williams’ shows on Clubhouse that locals in her native Philadelphia are working on bringing a team there.

Sports leagues across the board are looking at expansion (and the fees associated with expansion) as an almost instant method to recoup lost revenues from the pandemic which is why NBA expansion to Las Vegas and Seattle appears to be all but baked in at this point. It appears the WNBA is following the same blueprint as Adam Silver and the NBA.

Looks and Families

Need we say more? We will let these pictures and videos do the talking here.

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