A competent professional basketball franchise is able to build and rebuild through the draft.
A competent professional basketball franchise is able to draft back-to-back rookies of the year without needing the number 1 overall pick.
A competent professional basketball franchise is able to do all of this without missing the playoffs or having to tanking.
That competent basketball franchise is the Minnesota Lynx.
What: 2021 WNBA Draft (Virtual format)
When: Thursday, April 15, 2021 @ 6:00 pm CST
In 2020, the WNBA held the first virtual draft of any professional sports leagues in the United States. The result? It became the most watched WNBA draft of all time. As a quick refresher, last year’s draft was spearheaded by big name talents such as Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, and Chennedy Carter. However, it was the Lynx second round pick (16th overall), Crystal Dangerfield, who stole the show last season. She ranked first in FT% and second in points, minutes, and assists per game among rookies, resulting in Minnesota’s second consecutive Rookie of the Year after her college teammate and roommate, Napheesa Collier.
That brings us to this year’s draft. At first glance, it may lack in the same star power that last year’s class boasted, but if the 2020 NBA draft has taught us anything, you can never judge a draft by it’s cover. Mock drafts have wildly varied from outlet to outlet, so it’s tough to get a read on what we might see tonight. However here are a few tidbits to help guide you along the way:
General Draft Notes
- First thing’s first, only 9 out of 12 teams hold their 1st round pick. The Dallas Wings, who finished 9th last season, pulled a Sam Presti and currently hold 4 of the top 7 picks in this year’s draft, with a 2nd round pick to boot. Is it possible they draft and retain all 5 rookies going into the season? Sure, but it’s highly unlikely. Expect draft night to be wild.
- Speaking of wild, WNBA free agency was a sight to behold. I highlighted the Lynx biggest free agency moves a couple months ago, but the 11 other teams kept busy as well. As far as the draft is concerned, the #1 overall pick changed hands from the New York Liberty (Won the lottery) to the Seattle Storm (For Natasha Howard), then to the Dallas Wings (For Katie Lou Samuelson). I believe this is the first time that a WNBA/NBA #1 pick has ever been traded twice prior to draft day.
- Despite the wildly accepted notion that this draft may be a crapshoot, most mocks still have the 6’5” Charli Collier from Texas as the top pick. Though both the Storm and Liberty were willing to pass on seemingly the consensus number one talent due to having an elite level center on their roster already (Breanna Stewart and Howard), there may still be apprehension about Collier’s potential to pan out as an impact player in the W. Will she be the falling knife?
- Casuals may be asking, “What do you mean there’s no big name talent in this draft class? All I’ve been hearing about lately is Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark!” Well, good fellow, the WNBA doesn’t operate under the same rules that the NBA does. In
Jakelayman’s terms, since 2014, the WNBA requires US-born players to be at least 22 years of age by the end of the calendar year of the draft (12/31/2021). That means Bueckers, Clark, and the other outstanding freshmen you’ve been hearing about, likely won’t be eligible until the 2024 draft. There’s a lot more behind why the current CBA is setup the way that it is, but please don’t be like Draymond Green and speak before taking some sincere time to learn about it first.
We appreciate u jumping in on the convo @Money23Green The nba & its players r the only ones sitting at these tables from a position of power. So if we really want to hold companies feet to the fire, y’all r the only ones with the leverage to really put these changes in motion https://t.co/z0x437xJGy— napheesa collier (@PHEEsespieces) March 27, 2021
- As mentioned earlier, there is still plenty of talent in this draft. Aari McDonald had an astounding Cinderella run in the women’s NCAA tournament which came up just a few inches short of ultimate victory. 19-year-old Finnish sensation Awak Kuier is the closest thing to the next unicorn and a polarizing Euro stash. Must I also remind you, Crystal Dangerfield was not the most ballyhooed selection last year either and took the league by storm last season.
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) April 14, 2021
Finland's @KuierAwak, who is 19 years old and is 6-foot-5, is about to bring the ⚡ to the WNBA. ( @WNBA)
'The promising WNBA future of Awak Kuier'
Story ⤵️: https://t.co/cTZ0pR1i5a pic.twitter.com/YBjFsKL0RB
- Current guard/wing rotation:
The guard rotation seems fairly set. Crystal Dangerfield is the point guard of the future and Rachel Banham has proven to be a very capable backup. The development of these two may have impacted the Lynx decision to let Odyssey Sims go. If not that, then the acquisitions of Aerial Powers and Kayla McBride ended the Sims chapter in Minnesota. Those four guards, in addition to the sharpshooting swiss army knife that is Lexie Brown, will be a 5 woman guard rotation that is the cream of the WNBA crop.
- Current forward/big rotation:
The forward rotation isn’t doing too bad either. MVP candidate Napheesa Collier will certainly be a starter, but the other starting spot can be fluid. That’s a good thing. Not only can Phee slide between the 3 and 4 positions, but both Powers and McBride can also play spot minutes at the 3, allowing Damiris Dantas (the sweetest shooting big in the game) to play the 4. Bridget Carleton deserves minutes as well as new addition, Natalie Achonwa. There hasn’t been any recent news about Cecilia Zandalasini yet, but it’s possible the marksman could re-join the team this season. She’s currently averaging 15.4 PPG (Per 36) overseas for Fenerbahçe, alongside Lynx teammate McBride. And no, Maya Moore will not be returning this season.
That brings us to the center position. The 35-year-old Sylvia Fowles will begin her 14th season in the WNBA and is still be one of the most dominant anchors in the game, health providing. Achonwa and Dantas will both likely back her up while the 6’3” third year sophomore, Jessica Shepard, could find herself in the 4 and 5 mix as well.
- So what will be their most important need?
Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx have the fortune of not being particularly weak in one area. On paper, the team looks well-balanced and ready to start the season as is. That means they’ll have the flexibility of focusing on whoever the best player on the board is, regardless of fit. By my count, if Zandalasini doesn’t join the team this season, the Lynx roster will stand at 11 players with just 1 spot remaining. BPA, baby!
Reeve has hinted at their lone pick “really more about the future” while also mentioning positional needs:
If you look at our group, I like our post group a lot, but we’d like to have something different in the post group if we go that route. Does a player in our four or five prospects bring something different? That would be valuable to us. On the perimeter, I would call them more ‘insurance.’ If your number is called for a couple minutes, are you someone that we can trust? What’s your assist-to-turnover ratio? Do you score efficiently? Those are things that really start to matter to us that move you up our list.
- Potential Lynx prospects:
I’ve done by best to sift through the likely 1st round talent and below is my personal big board. I’m far from an expert, but I’ve been spending the last few weeks sifting through data and (the very limited available) film to come up with a board I feel comfortable with. Big shoutout to Her Hoop Stats for providing a ton of useful data which I’ve referenced below - Best $20 I’ve spent recently!
YoLeo 2021 WNBA Draft Big Board
|4||Chelsey Perry||F||UT Martin||21.87||6'2"||26.5||8.3||2.1||1.3||1.9||2.2||0.502||4.9||0.422||6.6||0.833||5.4||1.4||6.8|
|3||Natasha Mack||F/C||Okla. St.||23.47||6'4"||21.1||13.2||1.9||2.1||4.3||1.7||0.529||-||-||4.7||0.634||5.9||4.1||10.0|
*All statistics adjusted to Per 36.
There are only 3 current players in the WNBA who are listed as 5’6” or shorter: Leilani Mitchell (2x MIP), Moriah Jefferson (4x NCAA champion), and Crystal Dangerfield (2020 ROY). That means the margin or error for Aari McDonald and Dana Evans are extremely slim and based on the comments that Coach Reeve suggested in the quote above, they don’t necessarily scream ball security and efficient scoring. That would leave the exciting Arella Guirantes and steady-handed Kiana Williams as the remaining lead ballhandlers on the table.
I’d bet Guirantes is off the table by the time Minnesota is on the clock, coupled by the fact that the latter seems to be more of a fit with Reeves’ vision (Despite that 40.1 FG%) so Williams would be my best guess. If the freshly minted NCAA Tournament Champion is still on the table, that may very well be the selection for our backcourt.
Meanwhile for the frontcourt, I have Natasha Mack a lot higher than many of the mocks that I’ve seen floating around the web. She’s a bit of an old-school plodding center, but make no mistake that she is a defensive menace. Her 6’11” wingspan has helped her become the premier paint defender in this draft class. Add to Mack’s resume the highest Win Shares score of all draft entrants - just above projected #1 pick, Charli Collier - and you have my very insignificant, but ringing endorsement! It’s very possible she could be available at pick #9 and receive a great mentor in Big Syl, who she’d eventually receive the baton from.
However, Reeve does mention that she’d “like to have something different” if they select a post player. How about another stretch big who can shoot the lights out next to Dantas? The 6’3” Jasmine Walker comes to mine, as she may be the best shooter of this class, but I’d like to go off the map for this one. Chelsey Perry, another 6’3” big who’s adept at facing up, kept popping out to me as I stared and stared at the data.
I assume because she hooped for a mid-major college (University of Tennessee at Martin), I hardly saw her come up in any mock drafts nor did I find any available film on YouTube. However the numbers don’t lie and a 1:53 video of Perry versus top ranked Louisville was enough to convince me. She can score inside and out efficiently, hustles on defense to the tune of 3.5 stocks, and grew as a player every single college season.
You may officially lineup behind me for the Perry Express™!
Chelsey Perry (UT Martin) @cmperryabcd highlights vs Louisville 12/6/20 #ncaaw #WNBADraft pic.twitter.com/RV8z2JEIhK— Eric (@nemchocke) March 22, 2021
Are you ready for the draft now? How about for next season?
I know I am!
Mark your calendars— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) April 13, 2021
The 2021 schedule is here!!! pic.twitter.com/yOaj7KgcCG
— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) April 14, 2021
LIVE updated board:
1) Charli Collier - C (DAL)
2) Awak Kuier - C (DAL)
3) Aari McDonald - G (ATL)
4) Kysre Gondrezick - G (IND)
5) Chelsea Dungee - G (DAL)
6) Michaela Onyenwere - F (NYL)
7) Jasmine Walker - F (LAS)
8) Shyla Heal - G (CHI)
9) Rennia Davis - F (MIN)
10) Stephanie Watts - G (LAS)
11) Aaliyah Wilson - G (SEA -> IND)
12) Iliana Rupert - C (LVA)
13) Dana Evans - G (DAL)
14) Destiny Slocum - G (LVA)
15) Raquel Carrera - C (ATL)
16) Natasha Mack - F/C (CHI)
17) DiDi Richards - G (NYL)
18) Kiana Williams - G (SEA)
19) Unique Thompson - F (IND)
20) DiJonai Carrington - G (CON)
21) Miceala Kelly - G (CON)
22) Arella Guirantes - G (LAS)
23) N’dea Jones - F (SEA)
24) Trinity Baptiste - F (IND)
25) Valerie Higgins - F (NYL)
26) Chelsey Perry - F (IND)
27) Lindsey Pilliam - G (ATL)
28) Ivana Raca - F (LAS)
29) Marine Fauthoux (NYL)
30) Aleah Goodman - G (CON)
31) Florencia Chagas (IND)
32) Ciera Johnson - C (PHO)
33) Maya Caldwell - (IND)
34) Aina Ayuso - (LAS)
35) Natalie Kucowski - F (SEA)
36) Kionna Jeter - G (LVA)
Per @Lynx_PR, the Lynx have signed Asheika Alexander from Langston University (NAIA).— Her Hoop Stats (@herhoopstats) April 16, 2021
Per @EliasSports, Alexander becomes the first HBCU alumni to ever be signed by Minnesota