Saturday, 19 Jun, 2021

Why This Class OF WNBA Second-Rounders Could Be The Best Ever

In a WNBA draft full of surprises, one particularly shocking development was a trio of players projected as top picks falling into the second round..

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In a WNBA draft full of surprises, one particularly shocking development was a trio of players projected as top picks falling into the second round.

Arella Guirantes out of Rutgers was considered a possible lottery pick but didn’t go until the Los Angeles Sparks selected her at No. 22 overall. Widely expected to go as high as sixth, Louisville star Dana Evans was the first pick of the second round, heading to the Dallas Wings, who had already taken three players ahead of her. And Oklahoma State standout Natasha Mack, seen as a potential top-five draftee, finally went to the Chicago Sky at No. 16.

“I think they poked the bear,” Guirantes said after she was selected. “I’m excited. I’ve never ran away from a challenge. I think it just adds more to the story. So whoever has the pen, just keep writing.”

When the 2021 WNBA season starts in less than a month, it’s no sure thing that even all this year’s first-rounders will make their respective rosters. It will be an uphill climb for Guirantes and company, but all three of these second-round picks have the ability to make an impact as rookies if given the chance. 

Though first-rounders have accounted for most of the league’s Win Shares, plenty of lesser-hyped second-rounders over the past decade have left their mark. Look no further than former No. 15 pick Natasha Cloud, who tweeted on draft night, “we know them second rounders different.”

Since the league contracted to 12 teams in 2010, the top second-rounders by career Win Shares have been Tiffany Hayes (25.1 Win Shares), drafted by the Atlanta Dream in 2012 at No. 14, and Emma Meesseman (23.6), taken by the Washington Mystics at No. 19 in 2013. Led by Hayes and fellow No. 14 Sugar Rodgers, that draft position has the most Win Shares among all second-round slots with a combined 35.8.

The best second round by Win Shares since 2010 was the class of 2011 (48.2 Win Shares), featuring No. 23 Karima Christmas-Kelly, No. 13 Jessica Breland, No. 20 Danielle Adams and No. 15 Carolyn Swords. The second-rounders of 2013 are close behind, with Meesseman and Rodgers combining with No. 13 Alex Bentley to provide most of the 41.6 Win Shares of the class.

Plenty of teams didn’t miss with second-rounders

Total career Win Shares by second-round pick in the WNBA draft since 2010, with highest performer by career WS at each spot

Pk Total WS Highest performer Drafting team Year WS
13 27.2 Jessica Breland Minnesota 2011 11.3
14 35.8 Tiffany Hayes Atlanta 2012 25.1
15 21.7 Carolyn Swords Chicago 2011 9.6
16 8.0 Astou Ndour San Antonio 2014 2.7
17 34.7 Alysha Clark San Antonio 2010 18.2
18 1.4 Natisha Hiedeman Minnesota 2019 1.2
19 28.1 Emma Meesseman Washington 2013 23.6
20 11.7 Danielle Adams San Antonio 2011 10.4
21 2.2 Maggie Lucas Phoenix 2014 1.6
22 5.3 Mercedes Russell New York 2018 3.7
23 16.8 Karima Christmas-Kelly Washington 2011 15.1
24 -0.3 Chucky Jeffery Minnesota 2013 0.1

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

So where could this year’s crop of second-rounders end up? Given the pedigrees, these players have a real opportunity to make this the best draft class ever — if they can make their teams’ rosters.

Evans is undersized at 5-foot-6, but the two-time ACC Player of the Year averaged 20.1 points and 3.9 assists per game. She led the Cardinals to a 26-4 record and the Elite Eight before her second-round selection. 

“It caught me off guard, but I think that was just another way to keep me wanting to get better, to keep me hungry, to keep me ready to just attack every obstacle that’s thrown to me,” said Evans, who might wear No. 13 as a reminder of her draft slot. “And be willing to do whatever I’ve gotta do to make that roster with the Dallas Wings.”

Despite her talent, it won’t be easy for Evans to make the team given Dallas’s roster construction. Assuming they sign their top two picks, the Wings would have to waive an unprotected player to keep Evans or Chelsea Dungee, their other draft pick. General manager Greg Bibb wasn’t thinking about any of that, though, when Evans was still on the board at No. 13.

“When you have an opportunity to draft a player as talented as Dana Evans in the second round, you don’t hesitate,” Bibb said. “You take that opportunity and run with it.”

Evans might have a training camp battle ahead of her with second-year guard Tyasha Harris, but even if she doesn’t make the cut, she’ll likely latch on with another team.

In Mack’s case, Chicago has some room under its cap and on its roster to keep a draft pick or two. No. 8 overall pick Shyla Heal is almost a guarantee to make the team as the backup point guard to Courtney Vandersloot. Still, the Sky probably have room for Mack, even if just as an investment for the future.

The Sparks have room for a few players depending on how training camp shakes out. Jasmine Walker, their first-round pick, is probably a lock given that they traded up for her. After that, Guirantes will have to battle it out with roster hopefuls like No. 10 overall pick Stephanie Watts and training camp players Nia Coffey and Te’a Cooper.

The biggest takeaway from this year’s draft may be just how little room there is for the league’s ever-growing talent pool. Until roster spots are added, though, a lot of WNBA-caliber players will be anxiously waiting for a chance to prove themselves.

Evans, Guirantes and Mack might become the best trio ever to drop into the second round — if there’s room for them to show it.