The Indiana Fever will draft two of the top eight players in next week’s WNBA Draft presented by State Farm. The Fever will also collect the second pick of the second round, making three selections in the draft’s top 14 picks.
Never have the Fever owned such a bevy of top picks. Rarely has any team owned such a haul.
It is not unprecedented, however, in the youthful WNBA with only a dozen franchises. Just last year, Dallas owned picks at No. 3, 4 and 10. Two years ago, Connecticut claimed the No. 3, 4 and 6 selections. In 2011, Minnesota had picks No. 1 and 4 in the first round, and No. 13 and 14 atop the second round.
The Wings, Sun and Lynx all were playoff teams within two seasons of those drafts. Riding the coattails of No. 4 overall pick and Rookie of the Year Alisha Gray, Dallas returned to the WNBA Playoffs last year after a one-year hiatus. Connecticut also reached the playoffs in 2017, taking two seasons for its draft haul to mature. The energized Sun used budding superstar Jonquel Jones — No. 6 overall in 2016 — to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Minnesota took Maya Moore with the No. 1 pick in 2011 and has been to the playoffs every year since.
Indiana will be the fourth team in the past decade to make three selections within the draft’s first 14 picks. There are no guarantees of championships, playoff appearances, MVP awards or Rookie of the Year accolades — but the odds are greatly enhanced by the three early selections which, in a 12-team league, may as well be three first-rounders.
Las Vegas and Chicago will each pick twice within those top 14 picks. Atlanta, Connecticut and Minnesota will not pick until at least No. 15 and all other teams will pick just once in that span.
Since 2006, the league’s top rookie award has been presented to a top-four selection every season. Last year was the second time a No. 4 pick received the top-rookie hardware. Eleven of 20 Rookie of the Year awards have been bestowed upon the top draft selection, and 15 of 20, including Tamika Catchings in 2001, have gone to top-three picks.
In what direction will the Fever proceed? Most prognosticators expect the Fever to select Ohio State scoring guard Kelsey Mitchell — especially after the February acquisition of center Kayla Alexander filled a need in the post; and a March trade of former point guard Briann January opened space in the backcourt.
Following last week’s Final Four however, 6-6 UConn center Azurá Stevens, a draft-eligible junior, declared her intention to enter the draft. With the presumption that Las Vegas takes South Carolina center A’ja Wilson with the No. 1 overall choice, Stevens’ addition to the draft pool makes for an interesting choice by the Fever — giving Indiana the choice to go big or collect the talents of one of the most dynamic scorers in recent years to enter the draft. Whether Stevens goes as high as No. 2, or not, her late addition makes an already-deep draft class still deeper.
Pokey Chatman and the Fever balanced their roster with the pair of offseason trades (Alexander from Las Vegas; January to Phoenix), putting themselves in position to draft the so-called “best available player” with each selection — rather than drafting solely from a basis of need.
Whether the Fever selects Mitchell or Stevens, or any other darkhorse pick at No. 2 like former Tennessee guard Diamond DeShields, Indiana is set up to consider a second likely All-American with the fruits of the January trade, at No. 8. Top names for consideration could be one of Stevens’ UConn teammates, Gabby Williams or Kia Nurse; or a Huskies’ Final Four rival, Victoria Vivians of Mississippi State. Tennessee center Mercedes Russell could be in the mix, as well as top point guards Jordin Canada (UCLA) or Lexie Brown (Duke).
At least two star players will be ticketed to Indianapolis. Their pro games may not mature immediately, their impact might not be immediate. But their talent surely will help stock a future playoff roster, presumably in Indiana and hopefully within only a couple seasons.