And if you've been following things closely during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, you're also probably aware that quite a bit has changed since then:
- The New York Liberty will apparently be returning both Plenette Pierson and DeLisha Milton-Jones, which means that acquiring a post player is probably not a top priority.
- Seattle acquired Jenna O'Hea from the Sparks, which probably further highlights their need for a post player.
- Notre Dame post Natalie Achonwa suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Elite Eight, meaning it seems unlikely that she'll be a factor in the first round.
- Atlanta signed France's Celine Dumerc and 2012 All-Rookie selection Samantha Prahalis, meaning point guard is not the pressing need that it seemed to be after trading Alex Bentley.
- The Connecticut Sun traded Sandrine Gruda to the L.A. Sparks for the 11th pick.
- The Sparks have acquired Armintie Herrington and Candice Wiggins as well while releasing A'dia Mathies, meaning guard is probably not a priority need for them to fill through the draft.
- The Minnesota Lynx have signed Damiris Dantas, not that they need more talent or could really need a rookie to crack their rotation anyway.
There was other news during the tournament, of course, but those developments probably had the biggest direct effect on how we might think about projecting the draft now compared to before the tournament began.
So with our community mock draft already obsolete, let's take a look at who our community might consider as the top prospects.
Our incidental community top 20 prospects
During our community mock draft process, we also ended up with a group of 20 players that we believed were worthy of consideration for that draft board. Those players are as follows (organized by position and then order of selection within that):
Community draft selections
Chelsea Gray (#7)
Tiffany Bias (#11)
Odyssey Sims (#2)
Bria Hartley (#8)
Alyssa Thomas (#3)
Kayla McBride (#5)
Shoni Schimmel (#10)
Tyaunna Marshall (#12)
Chiney Ogwumike (#1)
Natasha Howard (#4)
Stefanie Dolson (#6)
Markeisha Gatling (#9)
Save for a few minor quibbles with a few of those based on the numbers, that top 20 list is not terribly inconsistent with what I might have had prior to our community draft.
A few observations on the top 20, which might make draft day interesting:
- After Ogwumike is selected #1 – and there's not much question about that right now – the next four picks could get interesting. Tulsa has been rumored to be interested in Odyssey Sims for some time, but Alyssa Thomas is arguably a better fit for their roster given what they currently have. Regardless of who Tulsa selects, ESPN's Doris Burke said repeatedly during the national championship game broadcast that Kayla McBride was "a top three pick" - not impossible to imagine, but not the scenario most of us assume will happen either. If things were to play out where McBride went in the top three, that could leave New York with Thomas, Stefanie Dolson, and Natasha Howard on the board - but given their need for a point guard or shooting, do they go for the best fit instead? I expect the top four to go something similar to what I had in my original mock draft, but there's a lot of room for different outcomes there.
- When you win a title and national Defensive Player of the Year award on an undefeated team, someone is bound to be a bit more excited about your professional future than they were before. Of course, Dolson's draft stock probably didn't have much further to rise – it's really hard to imagine her falling past Washington at #6 – but there has been at least one report of San Antonio Stars coach/GM Dan Hughes being interested that would further disrupt most people's projections.
- What you probably notice is that this draft is rather guard/wing heavy after you get past the top five or six players and Achonwa's injury really exacerbates that effect. That leaves a team like Seattle – who has a clear need in the post – in a potentially awkward position if none of those first three players are on the board: how high did they rate Achonwa and do they consider Gatling a strong enough prospect to draft at #7? Or will they look to trade down?
- Contrary to the point that the first round might be wing/guard heavy, there aren't a lot of highly-touted ball handlers available. So where will Chelsea Gray be drafted? The chances of Seattle taking Chelsea Gray for future purposes, as proposed in our community mock draft, just seem slim. Atlanta isn't the obvious choice that it previously was. And would it really be fair for Minnesota to add more future talent? It's not inconceivable that Gray could fall out of the first round if teams deem her definitely out for the entirety of this season or any injury risk.
Players who might have made an impression in the tournament
In addition, if we were to make a mock draft reflecting reality today, we'd also have to account for players who might have made an impression in the NCAA tournament.
As someone who takes a more quantitative approach to the draft, the idea of players "improving their stock" in the tournament has never been all that compelling. First, the best scouts are watching players not only all season but over the course of their entire careers – this is not the NBA draft where a freshman prospect might finally turn a corner late in the season and show flashes of developmental upside; by the time a player's senior year tournament comes around, you have to imagine that most general managers have a good handle on what the top prospects offer. Just from a logical standpoint, it's hard to make a case that one to seven games should carry more weight than the previous 30+: getting hot over the course of a few games is not the same as being good enough to play among the elite. Fom a more practical historical perspective, it's really hard to think of a player (in the five to six years I've been following the draft) whose draft stock significantly increased during the tournament and followed that up with a productive pro career.
But I digress; reality is that it's possible for a player's last impression to be the lasting one and there might be a few players who might be higher on general managers' draft boards than we assumed in our mock draft process.
Jennifer Hamson, C (6'7", BYU)
It's hard to imagine that anyone had more to gain and seized that opportunity more than Jennifer Hamson. Already sporting a nation-leading 4.2 blocks per game, winning the WCC's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards, and getting plenty of hype from national media types, Hamson might be a player who somewhat surprisingly fulfills the first round expectations put forth by her coach. Whether she succeeds is another story, of course, but if you want to leave an impression getting six blocks and 13 rebounds against UConn in the Sweet 16 isn't a bad way to do so.
Although I sincerely hope that nobody saw N.C. State's loss to BYU in the first round and wrote Markeisha Gatling's season off because she lost a head-to-head matchup with Hamson (primarily because it wasn't Hamson guarding Gatling most of the time), reality is that it wouldn't be the first time one prospect improved their standing in the minds of general managers at the expense of another. Hamson is definitely among the top mid-major prospects in this draft and we probably shouldn't be surprised if she gets her name called before some of the other players in our informal top 20.
One lingering question pertains to her volleyball career though: although she was apparently at a pre-draft combine, she was also selected for USA Volleyball's national collegiate team and has her final year of volleyball eligibility at BYU to use as well. How much will the two conflict? And how much will GMs weigh that along with her basketball talent? That's hard to know.
Asya Bussie, C (6'4", West Virginia)
Bussie's 21-point, 8-rebound performance in a second round loss to LSU might not have been spectacular, but it was probably a quintessential performance for the player who had a quietly outstanding season coming off a redshirt year.
She shot 13-for-15 from the free throw line that day and had six offensive rebounds in just 26 minutes. Add to that her defensive ability (a block percentage of 5.2% with a personal foul efficiency of 1.32 is outstanding) and she could be in the mix for a team looking for a post player as well.
Aaryn Ellenberg, G (5'7", Oklahoma)
Ellenberg had 36 of Oklahoma's 100 points against DePaul and her ability to shoot off the dribble had to catch people's eye in that performance if it hadn't previously. A problem for her might be needing to play point guard full-time at the next level – and she wasn't a particularly efficient ball handler at Oklahoma - but when you look at the depth chart at point guard in this year's draft someone might be willing to give her a chance to do so.
Asia Taylor, F/Antonita Slaughter, F (6'1", Louisville)
If we're going to consider Bri Kulas, then it's probably also reasonable to consider Asia Taylor as well. Taylor is more of a WNBA tweener who does have the physical tools to possibly play the wing. Her potential versatility was on display in Louisville's Elite Eight loss with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
I'm not sure where Slaughter might rank among WNBA general managers, but she did shoot 12-for-25 from the three point line beyond the arc during Louisville's tournament run and Lisa Leslie has compared her style of play to that of Tina Thompson. Three point shooter prospects don't have a great track record in the WNBA, but Slaughter has the size that might get her a look.
Maggie Lucas, G (5'10", Penn State)
So Maggie Lucas' tournament might not have actually helped her much, whether that be due to her 22 points on 5-for-15 shooting and 4 turnovers against Florida or her career-low 6 points against Stanford. But she's still a 41.8% three point shooter and someone whose shooting prowess is widely known. Our community obviously didn't think highly enough of her to include her in our poll, but it wouldn't be shocking to find out that a WNBA general manager does rate her ahead of some of those other wings, especially those looking for three point shooting.
How deep is this draft?
The second round could be a bit more interesting this year than previous years simply because it's not entirely clear what will happen after the sixth pick, which creates a situation where someone could fall unexpectedly and we'll see who has the best eye for reading the combination of talent and fit. And in terms of figuring out how many will make rosters, it will be nearly impossible to project until we know who went where and which teams plan on using that 12th roster spot: as we saw last season with a few players, landing with the right team can make a third round pick a part-time starter and an undrafted player a rotation player on a playoff team.
Who might you add to our previous 20 to get to a top 25 (approximately two rounds worth of prospects)? Let us know in the comments.
For more on the top WNBA prospects, check out our 2014 WNBA draft prospect watch storystream.