Reviewing the 2010 WNBA Draft in Links: Storylines, Sleepers, and Surprises

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) New York had to be surprised when Kalana Greene fell to them at #13...and then they pulled a surprise of their own.

Despite the fact that last Thursday's draft was widely considered a "weak draft" by fans, journalists, coaches, and general managers (did I miss anyone?) there's a wrinkle this year that most people are also aware of: the rosters were cut to 11 last year and the salary cap has been cut this year.

Connecticut Sun Free Agency Breakdown: How Well Does Kara Lawson Fit? - Swish Appeal
"It takes away the equivalent of another veteran minimum salary," said Thibault. "Reduce it by $52,000, just makes it less flexible for a lot of teams to do some things...I get a feeling that we'll see a lot of teams with high end contracts and rookie contracts but not much in between."

Every general manager except one that I've spoken to this off-season has said that the salary cap will present a challenge to them in making roster decisions leading up to the season. So it's very possible that a) players were selected with specific roles for them in mind and b) players who might not normally make a roster will because they become a cheaper means by which to fill the roster.

So instead of looking forward with incomplete information, the following breakdown is a description of some of the bigger moves of the day, some potential sleepers, and surprises relative to pre-draft expectations.

Storylines (the major stories of the day)

Connecticut: Got Talent?

Who they got: Tina Charles (#1), Kelsey Griffin (#3 via Minnesota trade), Danielle McCray (#7 via Tulsa trade), Allison Hightower (#15), Johannah Leedham (#27)

In a draft that many people considered to be less than ten deep, the Sun managed to pick up 3 of the players considered definite contributors and get one to put on reserve until next year at no cost to them. It's been variously considered the best draft day ever to just plain unfair.

But perhaps the biggest single splash of the day was their trade with the Minnesota Lynx for Nebraska forward Kelsey Griffin (#3) in exchange for its own 2011 first round pick and the second round pick they obtained from Tulsa in their trade last Tuesday. In making such aggressive moves - not only picking up such a talented rookie class, but also moving two players who accounted for less than 10% of their overall production last season - the Sun clearly believe they can win now despite their youthful inexperience.

The Day - She's trading places | News from southeastern Connecticut
It says a lot about the Connecticut's belief in Griffin that it was willing to part with two draft picks, more so because UConn sensation Maya Moore will be next year's top pick. There's a risk, then, that if this season goes awry in Connecticut, the Sun end up winning the draft lottery and the Lynx get Moore.

"Somebody else would be coaching them anyway," Thibault said with a smile. "The odds of getting Maya Moore are next to zero for us. You have to get in the lottery, which I don't ever intend to be in again unless … I can't even fathom that at this point. Even once you get in, now it's an unbelievable chance (to win the lottery). I don't think you can think that way. I think you have to think about what makes your team better. I want to win right now. I'm not sitting around waiting.

"These people that think you're going to try to get a lottery pick, that's a self-deflating idea. Your players should think that you're competing every day for a championship."

However, in an Eastern Conference in which the top two teams in 2009 (the Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever) have kept their core in tact and the fourth place team (the Washington Mystics) have unquestionably improved with the addition of Katie Smith through free agency, making the playoffs is not at all a given. Of course, the Lynx are banking on the Sun's inexperience leading to a lottery pick.

Minnesota:  Just waiting to see if any seniors emerge next year from a school that may or may not be in Storrs...

Who they got: Monica Wright (#2), Gabriela Marginean (#26)

With the big trade, if the Sun do in fact miss the playoffs, the presumably playoff-bound Lynx would land another lottery pick and the chance to land University of Connecticut phenom Maya Moore. Per WNBA rules they cannot say that out loud. But it's pretty obvious what they're up to.

Lynx roll the dice in WNBA draft, hope for a delayed jackpot - TwinCities.com
Because of WNBA guidelines, Griffith and Reeve are forbidden to declare that Moore is the player they are targeting because she is still in college. "I think everyone knows who we are after,'' said Griffith, who typically keeps his plans to himself.

"It's no secret who we are going after,'' Reeve said. "Going after that player was the motive behind this trade. The reality of the situation is that whoever we took at No. 3 was going to be the No. 10 player on our team. We took a chance at strengthening our draft position for next year, and we feel pretty good about that.''

It is a risk, but perhaps not as big as it first seems.

Postbulletin.com: Rochester, MN
"We went all in, we had to do it," said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve at the team's draft party, attended by about 125 season-ticket holders. "We weighed risk vs. reward."

The reward, although Reeve could not use her name by WNBA rules, was a chance at picking Moore, a 6-foot junior forward who has led the Huskies to back-to-back NCAA titles and 78 consecutive victories.

"We figured (the Sun's draft pick) is going to better than our pick," she said. "We know we are not going to be a lottery pick."

Reeve has steadfastly maintained the Lynx, after making a number of offseason moves to add talented veterans, will make a deep run in the playoffs.

The Lynx would have selected Stanford University center Jayne Appel with the #3 pick had they not traded it. So yes, there is a chance that they miss out on both the second-best center in this draft - which would fill a need for them - and Moore, if the Sun make the playoffs or luck is just not on their side in the lottery. However, the fact is, this Lynx team is already 9 deep as it is. They can run with what they have while also taking a chance at getting one of the best women's college basketball players of this generation. If they get in the lottery but miss out on Moore, the 2011 draft class figures to be much more talented than this years unless a few people from this year really surprise us. Not a bad idea overall.

Chicago: We have more perimeter scorers than you...and Sylvia Fowles.

Who they got: Epiphanny Prince (#4), Abi Olajuwon (#28)

In drafting Prince after already adding Shameka Christon in the trade with the Phoenix Mercury to a mix that includes Dominique Canty, Jia Perkins and Kristi Toliver, the Sky will arguably have the strongest set of perimeter scorers in the league once they figure out a rotation. Even with coach Steven Key suggesting to Swish Appeal in an interview before the draft that post play was their biggest need and Appel "falling" to them at #4, the hope is that Prince will give them something that all of these other perimeter players don't - a reliable point guard.

Daily Herald | Prince took risks in career, and Sky might reap rewards
"When I got here (overseas), I found myself on the court with people like (WNBA star) Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles and they were teaching me about the game and showing me things I could do to get better," Prince said. "That's when I knew going over here was the right choice for me as a player."

Most WNBA coaches and general managers tend to agree. That's why Prince was snapped up by the Sky with the No. 4 overall pick.

"We kind of feel like we got a steal," Sky president Margaret Stender said. "We were worried she wouldn't be there at No. 4, so we were trying to figure out some creative ways we could get her earlier. We were thrilled she was still available and that we got her."

At #28, Olajuwon is a solid pick - one of the Sky's biggest weakness was rebounding and if Olajuwon can make the roster, her rebounding ability will certainly be an asset. 

Tulsa - Hometown draw? Check. Players to run with Marion Jones and Shavonte Zellous? Check.

Who they got: Amanda Thompson (#19), Vivian Frieson (#31)

After the Shock traded their #7 pick to the Sun last Tuesday, Oklahoman sports columnist Jenni Carlson wrote that she was "Shocked by Tulsa's move".

Shocked by Tulsa’s move | Jenni Carlson
Adding Riley or Thompson would’ve been a chance not only to draw fans but also to improve the team. Both are going to be solid professional players, Riley with her offensive skills and grittiness, Thompson with her rebounding prowess and will. But the Shock chose against either of those players when it made the trade with the Sun.

Well, looks like it worked out after all - they managed to trade for two players that almost certainly will give them more this year than any one player they could have drafted at #7 and grab Thompson in the second round. Adding Frieson in the third round might not constitute a steal -- she was a fringe draft prospect who really came on with her tournament performance -- but if the Shock want energy players, she's not a bad start. With the salary crunch, Frieson could be another surprising beneficiary.

Storm | Former Garfield, Gonzaga star Vivian Frieson drafted by Tulsa | Seattle Times Newspaper
Making final rosters remains difficult. The WNBA trimmed the salary cap by $28,000 from last season's $803,000 limit, and teams can only carry 11 players. But for late picks like Frieson, drive and a good fit could be the edge.

"(Richardson) said they could tell I had a will and always want to win," said Frieson, who averaged 12.5 points and 7.4 rebounds as a Gonzaga senior. "That's the type of player they want and they said they were looking for me. Now that I have a spot, it's time to go in and work hard."

Although the Shock might still need the veteran leadership that coach Nolan Richardson suggested they lack prior to the draft, they definitely maximized their picks as well as anyone in the draft, if you agree with Carlson's reasoning.

Phoenix - Excellent opportunity for recent college grad willing to learn from Diana Taurasi.

Who they got: Tyra Grant (#24), Nyeshia Stevenson (#36)

The Mercury probably epitomize the impact that the financial crunch will have on this rookie class.

Although Grant is not necessarily a "sleeper", she has a good a chance as anyone drafted ahead of her to make the Mercury roster simply because the Mercury will need to fill out their roster and might still benefit from doing so cheaply even after Le'coe Willingham, Kelly Mazzante, and Cappie Pondexter have departed.

Mercury rises to pick Grant - Sports | Centre Daily Times - State College, PA
Making the roster will present a challenge for Grant, 21, who averaged 19.3 points per game for the Lady Lions last season.

"We have a solid eight players," Phoenix general manager Ann Meyers Drysdale said on the team’s Web site. "It’s hard to beat out Penny Taylor, Diana Taurasi, Temeka Johnson and Tangela Smith, but we know that whoever comes into camp it’s important to have them because we’ve had games where players have gotten hurt or games where players have been suspended. We’ll need our whole bench."

However, independent of financial considerations, Grant might even be able to crack the roster on the merits of her own ability.

Phoenix Mercury select Penn State's Tyra Grant, Oklahoma's Nyeshia Stevenson in WNBA draft
"She gets to the basket," Gaines said. "You know how some people go around defenders? She goes through them. No, she does. She goes through and scores and finishes. She takes a hit and finishes."

While Stevenson's college tendencies demonstrate something of a streaky "pure scorer" - not the most encouraging type for WNBA success - it will be interesting to see how she performs in training camp after an impressive Final Four.

Sleepers (teams who may have gotten the most bang for their draft bucks)

San Antonio: Oh look what we found!

Who they got: Jayne Appel (#5), Alysha Clark (#17), Alexis Rack (#29), Lacey Simpson (free agent signing)

In a way, it's hard to say the Silver Stars "did" anything well because with their first two picks, they simply took the best available prospect on the board. As nice of a fit as Appel might have been for the Lynx, she might be an even better fit for the Silver Stars as one of the best passing centers collegiate centers to enter the WNBA in the last decade. 

But the more intriguing second round pick might be Alysha Clark, who statistically rates as one of the less than 10 players in this draft who will actually become contributors. Even the Silver Stars expected to go in the first round.

Alysha Clark, Pt 2: A Gift That Defies Categorization, But Can She Make the Roster? - Swish Appeal
"Very surprised -- we never talked about her being available in second round," said Silver Stars GM Dan Hughes when asked about Clark via email. "We expected her to go in first round."

The concerns about Clark's height are legitimate - and even she acknowledges that as a potential challenge - but with those kind of scoring instincts, if she can adjust to playing defense in the WNBA and the Silver Stars can find opportunities for to utilize those scoring instincts, she could contribute in her first year. Over time, she could develop into an effective player if she can adjust to playing on the perimeter. Although she would be considered a first round "gamble", as a second round pick, she's a potential steal.

After the draft, they got another value pick up in Simpson. She may not be able to make this roster, but they do need to fill the wing spot and Simpson rated statistically as a very clear first round pick. The problem is that she was a non-scorer in college, which probably drug her stock down a bit. But she's a strong defender who does very little to hurt a team offensively and was actually one of the best non-point guard distributors in the entire draft.

Seattle: Just filling needs, but perhaps picking up a gem along the way.

Who they got: Alison Lacey (#10), Tanisha Smith (#22), Tijana Krivacevic (#24)

Seattle wanted perimeter depth and in picking Lacey, they got unquestionably the most effective distributing point guard in this draft class who will serve as a backup in the backcourt. That was pretty much expected.

Iowa State’s Lacey taken by Seattle 10th overall at WNBA Draft - TimesRepublican.com | News, Sports, Jobs, Community info - Times Republican
The Australia native will likely begin her career behind one of the WNBA's best point guards in Seattle's Sue Bird.

"We wanted to get some depth in our perimeter," said Seattle head coach Brian Agler. "We coveted Alison for a long time. She gives us depth at the point and on the wing, and we are really excited to have her."

More interesting is the selection of Smith, a long, athletic, wing who has surprisingly strong defensive instincts on and off the ball. Looking at the Storm's roster, she could definitely offer them an athletic defender on the wing right away and if she can become a more consistent offensive player - both building on her scoring and passing instincts - the Storm might have gotten a steal in a draft in which second rounders were considered "after thoughts".

Washington: Grand Theft Drafting

Who they got: Jacinta Monroe (#6), Jenna Smith (#14), Shanavia Dowdell (#18), Alexis Gray-Lawson (#30)

Although Monroe is a bit of a question mark due to her slight frame, Smith, Dowdell, and especially Gray-Lawson were all steals in terms of value relative to where they were picked. Whether all of them make a team that will have almost two WNBA rosters worth of players in training camp is another story, but the draft overall was quite masterful.

Smith is a strong defensive rebounder who is capable of stepping outside and shooting mid-range jumpers. Dowdell was a strong interior scoring presence in college and though undersized, has a knack for establishing position and creating scoring opportunities for herself.

Techsters' Dowdell selected in second round of WNBA Draft | thenewsstar.com | The News Star
Mystics General Manager Angela Taylor said that the organization has been watching Dowdell all year. "Shanavia has been someone that we have had on our radar all season," said Taylor. "If you look at her statistically, she puts up a double double every single night. And she did it against some of the top teams and post players like Brittney Griner at Baylor, Jacinta Monroe at Florida State, LSU and Mississippi State. It just reinforced what type of player she can be."

One could probably make the argument that either Dowdell or Smith is better than Monroe (exhibit A, the head-to-head between Dowdell and Monroe in the first round of the NCAA tournament), although height and athleticism swing in Monroe's favor in projecting pro success.

On Gray-Lawson: it's almost unfathomable that she was picked after some of the players picked ahead of her, barring some dark secret about her that Swish Appeal has not been informed of.

What are Gray-Lawson's Chances to "Beat Someone Out" After a Draft Day "Fall"? - Swish Appeal
"We had Alexis projected as a mid-second round pick on our overall draft board and pretty high by position when we looked at combo guards," said Mystics GM Angela Taylor in an email to Swish Appeal. "As we entered the third round, our priority was to take the best combo guard available, but we certainly didn't think we would ever have the chance for that to be Alexis Gray-Lawson at #30. We were ecstatic when we realized that she would fall into our lap in the third round because she was someone who offered many of the dimensions we were looking for in a 2/1. There were a few teams selecting immediately ahead of us who looked like they would be considering taking the best perimeter player on the board or someone who could play both guard positions, so we were very surprised to see that Alexis was there for us."

Again, independent of whether all four of these rookies make the team, it was a successful draft for a team on the rise.

Surprises (teams that did something...unexpected)

Los Angeles: New slogan: "5 players, 1 basketball."

Who they got: Andrea Riley (#8), Bianca Thomas (#12), Angel Robinson (#20), Rashidat Junaid (#32)

In terms of value and draft stork, the Riley selection makes some sense - she was widely expected to be a first round pick and swears that she will not continue shooting indiscriminately in the pros.

Los Angeles Sparks use No. 8 pick on former Cowgirl Andrea Riley | NewsOK.com
Riley, who was also named to the USA Select team on Thursday, averaged 26.6 points and 6.5 assists per game as a senior to lead the Big 12 in both categories. Despite her reputation as a scoring point guard, Riley plans to change with the Sparks.

"I’m not going in there with a scoring mentality," she said. "That was my role at Oklahoma State. I want to average 10 assists and I want to be one of the best defenders on the floor. It’s a different mentality for me."

But after the draft Thomas said that she was surprised to be drafted in the first round.

MSU players selected in WNBA draft - The Dispatch
Thomas, who led the SEC in scoring this season (20.9 ppg.), also said she was surprised by her selection.

"I didn’t have a clue they were going to pick me," Thomas said. "It was surprising to get the phone call and to hear my name. It is a dream come true."

Thomas was at a friend’s house watching the draft. She was en route to Jackson to be a part of the ceremony to announce the winners of the Howell Trophy and the Gillom Trophy, which recognize the state’s best college basketball players.

I actually liked Thomas quite a bit in college - her 42 point game against Hightower's LSU team was impressive in about every way possible. That said, statistically as a pro prospect, Hightower is a more efficient version of Thomas. Given that they are both touted as shooters, it would seem that the more efficient one should be selected over the less efficient one. In addition, Kalana Greene was still on the board as well...and she was definitely the best guard prospect left on the board and one of the most efficient in the draft.

However, those might be debatable points - the main point is that if Thomas wasn't expecting to go in the first round, it's possible that nobody was thinking of selecting her first round. It's feasible that Thomas would have been available at #20, where the Sparks chose Robinson.

Thomas may very well turn out to be a great player that improves on her college performance in the pros - and I'm actually rooting for her. But in terms of draft strategy, this definitely stands as one of the bigger surprises of the draft.

Atlanta: Visions of upside dancing in their heads...

Who they got: Chanel Mokango (#9), Brigitte Ardossi (#21), Brittainey Raven (#33)

Like Thomas, I like Mokango's game - an argument could be made that she's got a brighter future than Monroe on the strength of her post footwork alone. It's excellent and she has great instincts. She has that thing that has plagued the NBA: "upside".

Mokango lives a Dream with first-round selection  | ajc.com
The key word to describe Mokango’s game now is "potential." She thinks she will improve in her shot-blocking and shot-making abilities. "My basketball is only going to get better," she said. Meadors also loved Mokango’s potential. "I think we filled a tremendous need at that post position," Meadors said. "I think her upside is just out of sight."

However, the numbers foretell of a darker story. Looking at collegiate centers drafted since 2004, there are a few pretty clear indicators of success (interestingly, for everyone excluding Nicky Anosike and Janel McCarville, whose tendencies swung more toward "utility" players in the league - but they're the only two centers who fit that category).

Mokango's scoring efficiency - points per empty possessions -- is beneath the threshold of a successful center in the league.  She generates less than two points for every empty possession (missed shot or turnover) that she's responsible for. While being above that threshold is no guarantee of that success (the best since 2004 was Katie Feenstra), being below it is a pretty clear sign of either mediocrity or sitting on the sidelines. We simply don't have a strong enough sample size in the WNBA to say anything for sure statistically (Anosike and McCarville might be perfect examples), but the patterns are certainly developing.

Indiana - A mild surprise, but a good fit.

Who they got: Jene Morris (#11), Armelie Lumanu (#23), and Joy Cheek (#35)

Again, even Jene Morris says she was a bit surprised by Indiana selecting her.

WNBA's Fever is hot for SDSU's Morris - SignOnSanDiego.com
Reached by phone soon after the completion of the first round, Morris couldn’t hide the combination of shock and pride she felt. "The first round," she uttered. "I would never have thought I would have gone this early.

The issue here is not that Morris cannot play - she's an excellent defender and quickly developing offensive player. The issue - like Thomas - is that as someone who tended to be a pure scorer in college based upon SPI playing style, higher scoring efficiency might be nice.

Furthermore, players with low college rebounding numbers tends to struggle, independent of position. The Jason Terry comparison that has been made doesn't quite work either - Terry was a college point guard who transitioned into the role of scoring sparkplug. But he clearly demonstrated ball handling ability in college. Morris is a college scorer and defender who will likely also transition into another role as well. So to select her ahead of other players on the board at that time is indeed surprising.

The same goes for Lumanu - while she was a solid energy player and defender, it's difficult to determine what she offered over some of the other players available. Nevertheless, if Indiana wanted defensive guards with potential to score, they got it.

The Daily Aztec - Morris drafted into WNBA
But it wasn’t just her defense that got the Fever’s attention; her 17.1 points per game as a senior stood out as well.

"With Morris, we were looking at her scoring ability," General Manager Kelly Krauskopf told USA Today. "She’s so fast and so quick. We know that her pedigree early on in her career was defense, but what we really liked about her was her offense."

New York: Trying to figure out the New York State of Mind

Who they got: Kalana Greene (#13), Ashley Houts (#16), and Cory Montgomery (#25)

The Liberty sort of pulled off contrasting surprises - Greene was easily the second best shooting guard prospect in the draft behind Monica Wright. Conversely, looking at point guards who have entered the league, Houts does not fit in the range of successful WNBA point guard prospects so it was a bit surprising to see her selected before some of the people below her (especially picks 17-19) and making it through camp might be difficult.

RN-T.com - UGA’s Houts Robinson selected in Draft
"I was pretty relieved when they called my name," Houts said. "It’s something I’ve been working for for a long time. To be honest, I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. To get drafted is great, but what matters the most is to get to training camp. I’m excited about the weeks ahead and looking forward to getting up there, working hard and seeing what I’ve got to do."

Yes, after waving Loree Moore they have a hole at the point guard spot. Pondexter might be seen as the solution, but having someone to allow her play off the ball in addition to Leilani Mitchell seems to be a priority. Unfortunately, this just wasn't the draft to find a point guard solution beyond Alison Lacey or Epiphanny Prince. Nevertheless, New York is publicly pleased.

Liberty Selects Greene, Houts & Montgomery In 2010 WNBA Draft - OurSports Central - Independent and Minor League Sports News
"We are delighted with this year's draft," said team President and General Manager Carol Blazejowski. "With our first pick we were very fortunate to be able to select Kalana Greene, a player who possesses great athleticism and a championship mentality. We believe this is another step in assembling a team that can challenge for the WNBA Championship this season."

However, Swish Appeal has also learned that New York may be looking for a solution to their point guard situation through free agency having cleared cap room by waiving Moore and Kelly Mazzante.

So... tomorrow: Who will run point for the New York Liberty?

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