2020 WNBA Draft (April 15, 7 PM) Preview


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Will 3 be the Magic Number?

We’ll find out soon, as the metamorphosing Atlanta Dream seek to enter the next quarter-century of WNBA basketball with an all-new look in the ATL. New ownership, new venue, new logo, new unis, new stars. Maybe a future star will be suiting up soon, thanks to the #3 pick in today’s WNBA Draft (7 PM Eastern, all three rounds on ESPN).

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If you hadn’t already known a good deal about newest minority owner Renee Montgomery, from her stellar college and pro careers as a top-flight 3-point markswoman, then, over the past couple years, you surely have had an inundation. From Hawks analysis and Skyhawks play-by-play to hanging with the TMZ Sports homies, Renee lights up any screen and any room with her infectious attitude.

Montgomery won’t be meddlesome in day-to-day player movement and contract affairs, as she and Massachusetts-based co-owners Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair leave that scale of decision-making in the capable hands of GM Chris Sienko and head coach Nicki Collen. But expect Renee to be instrumental in expanding the Dream brand’s profile across the metro Atlanta area, a crucial endeavor with the team now playing full-time in College Park, while building more lasting connections between the WNBA league and the Southeast’s evolving sports market for youngsters and women.

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All signs suggest Sienko and Collen will continue with the evolution of the Atlanta roster, heading into season #2 since letting longtime franchise anchor Angel McCoughtry chase a championship with Las Vegas. This draft will be about finding a star-quality talent to pair with 2020’s All-Rookie 1st Teamer Chennedy Carter (#3, in your program), while identifying some developmental depth for the seasons to come. Coming off an upbeat conclusion to 2020’s run in the Wubble (Atlanta finished 7-15, incl. 5-5 against the WNBA East and a 4-2 finish), this season will be about optimizing the veteran influence and a winning mindset around the youngsters.

Looking ahead to what will be season #3 of the renovation, after 2021’s season concludes, six of the Dream’s nine highest salaried players will be unrestricted free agents, one (forward Monique Billings) would be a restricted free agent if she makes this year’s roster, and the other two just arrived in free agency.

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Veterans, from guard Tiffany Hayes, who sat out last year’s Wubble run, to center Elizabeth Williams and swing players Courtney Williams and Shekinna Stricklen, can elevate their own value with solid gameday production, particularly in the run-up to the midseason Trade Deadline. The aforementioned pair of new arrivals, stretchy power forwards Cheyenne Parker (via Chicago) and Tianna Hawkins (via Washington), are under contract through 2023 and 2022, respectively.

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Any success these vets have in 2021 should improve Sienko’s flexibility to either retain key contributors in 2022, using cap space, or pursue in-season deals for draft picks and prospects. But the immediate task is to complement Carter, and while fit can be nice, the teams’ assessed “best player available” is likely the best tactic in Atlanta’s Draft War Room. It’s an easier calculation for the Dream since, as of this moment, only one WNBA club picks above them tonight.

There are a couple teams to watch in this year’s Draft, but no one is more intriguing than Dallas. The Wings hold not only the #1 and #2 picks, but three of the top seven (#5; they had #7 before trading to L.A. yesterday), while the first pick of the second round makes it four picks in the top 13. The Wings also have ten players currently under contract, with room for just two more additions. Squeeze play!

The easy answer is to start making cuts along the second and third strings. Yet Dallas is already featuring 2020 rookies Bella Alarie, Satou Sabally and Tyasha Harris (three Top-7 picks from last year’s Draft) alongside 2019 draftee Arike Ogunbowale, and new coach Vickie Johnson probably lacks the appetite for a top-to-bottom youth movement. If and how the Wings choose to be creative with their young assets to build around Ogunbowale, already a 2020 All-WNBA First Teamer and league scoring champ, will be worth a close watch.

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Texas does everything big. While there’s no clear-cut game-changer in this year’s Draft, as there was in 2020 with New York’s selection of guard Sabrina Ionescu, prototypical rebounding center Charli Collier of the Longhorns appears to be the consensus #1 overall, and the Texas native won’t have to go terribly far. Dallas may very well go for double trouble on the interior with Finnish prospect Awak Kuier, who has the flexibility to play all three frontcourt positions. Former Dream star Sancho Lyttle might be Kuier’s floor.

Connecticut is almost in an inverse situation to Dallas. Coming off a second-straight surprising run in the WNBA Playoffs, the Sun have just six players under contract, and one, their second-leading scorer and league steals leader Alyssa Thomas, is out for 2021 after tearing an Achilles while playing in the Czech Republic. As of today, Connecticut has no draft picks until #20 and #21 in the back half of the second round.

Gaining quality depth will be a challenge for the Sun, either by lucking out with contributors at that stage of the Draft (as Minnesota did last year), or trading to move up and/or add players without parting with one of their stars, like center Jonquel Jones, 2019’s WNBA rebounds and blocks leader who voluntarily sat out of the Wubble for 2020.

You can bet Connecticut has been working the phones with Sienko, formerly the top exec with the Sun, and other teams with both first-rounders and nearly full rosters, like Indiana and New York. Atlanta’s slate of talented players on expiring contracts, several with UConn or Sun conn-ections, are sure to tantalize.

If Atlanta stands pat at #3, and if the most touted bigs are already off the board, then the Dream will have a slew of scoring guards and wings to choose from, with a few rocketing up draft boards after stellar March Madness (if it’s okay to use that phrase, NCAA) performances this year.

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Leading the charge is guard Aari McDonald, who carried Pac-12 club Arizona to within a bucket of the national championship, in its first-ever Final Four appearance. Not far behind is Louisville point guard Dana Evans.

Small-ish backcourt tandems are not looked down upon as much in the W, especially when players have blazing speed, big-bucket mindsets, and are dogged defenders like these two (McDonald checks in at 5-foot-7, Evans at 5-foot-6). Many of us learned that lesson the hard way last year, when UConn’s diminutive Crystal Dangerfield dropped out of the first round to #16, but she was a game-changer for the Lynx in her Rookie of the Year campaign. There’s little reason to worry about these players’ ability to share the court with Chennedy.

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Finding a better long-term fit for Carter along the wing may also be where Atlanta is headed. Rutgers’ Arella Guirantes has been a sweet shooter and, as one might expect for a player coached up by C. Vivian Stringer, a resolute defender. Tennessee’s Rennia Davis doesn’t quite have Guirantes’ range, but is a superb rebounder and fullcourt finisher, capable of filling either forward spot. Either player would be a suitable heir apparent if the Dream choose, over the next year, to part ways with Hayes, the longest-tenured Dreamer on the roster. Last season’s most pleasant surprise, WNBA Most Improved Player winner Betnijah Laney, left the Dream in free agency and should be a great fit in New York. (EDIT: I somehow left off Stanford hero Kiana Williams, so let me shoehorn her name in here. ~lw3)

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If Atlanta elects to trade down a couple spots, they could still have the WBCA Defensive Player of the Year, Oklahoma State’s forward Natasha Mack, waiting for them. The Dream held a 107.1 Defensive Rating, ahead of only Dallas and Indiana, in 2020, and having someone to firm up the interior with Liz Williams, who shared 2020 All-Defensive First Team honors with Laney, and that other “C. Parker” (in case you missed it, Candace is back home with Chicago, now).

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Unless Collier or Kuier drop past Dallas to #3, the Dream could afford to wait until picking at #15 in the second round for a frontline player that could push Billings and Kalani Brown for backup minutes. Unique Thompson of Auburn, and mid-major Tennessee-Martin’s Chelsey Perry would be good looks. UCLA Michaela “Onions!” Onyenwere is undersized for the 4-spot but still rebounds the mess out of the ball. The best true pivot left on the board, 6-foot-4 French star Iliana Rupert may slide, although given Atlanta’s past draft history with French centers, they’ll want to double-check her birth certificate to make sure she’s only 19 and not, like, 25.

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The 2021 WNBA season boils down to: Liz Cambage will be back alongside Angel and league MVP A’ja Wilson, so it’s a two-horse race for the title, between the Las Vegas Aces and Breanna Stewart’s reigning champ Seattle Storm. But Atlanta is in a race of its own, hoping to keep pace with fellow upstarts New York and Indiana in preparing as the league’s top contenders begin to age and subside in future years, and to have a little fun along the way.

How many years should Dream fans have to wait before joining the title-contention fray? Well, let’s say 3. But if they hit it big with #3 tonight, maybe a whole lot sooner!

 

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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Dang it Lw3, you’re gonna make me a WNBA fan soon. I don’t know anything about the league, I mean I watched a few in the inaugural 96 (?) season but not much at all for 25 years. It’s expanded for real.

 

Renee Montgomery is just awesome 👏 I love her analysis and standing up the franchise and wanting to lead it in the right direction.

Not knowing anything about the prospects, I’m hoping the Dream get the best talent and fit.

Go Dream!

ps Those jersey’s are 🔥 

 

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Wait a second, Dallas has 2 franchises and they get the 1st and 2nd picks? I’m really starting to hate that city 🌃 How does a city (NFL LA and NY NFL and hockey 🏒) get 2 when some don’t have one. 🤦‍♀️ 

If we dislodged Texas from the United States, what would our map 🗺 look like. 🤔 I don’t want to put that burden on Mexico though. Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean 🌊 not near Hawaii though either. 
 

Where was Tom Hanks located in Cast Away? 😆 

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Sue Bird is still playing. Whoa 😮 

11. Seattle Storm: Kiana Williams -- G, Stanford

Sue Bird is coming back this season, but as she closes in on two decades in the league, the Storm need to start looking for another point guard. If Williams, who recently helped Stanford win the national championship, drops all the way to No. 11 that seems like a perfect match. She's a steady point guard who makes good decisions and shoots the ball well from 3-point land. The Storm wouldn't need her to make an impact immediately either, so she'll have time to develop. 

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