Before looking at the big winners of the 2014 WNBA draft, we first take stock of some if the less expected moves of the evening in three categories:
- Steals: Players whose performance relative to their draft class could be expected to exceed their draft position down the road.
- Sleepers: Players whose low draft position was about right but fit with their team well enough that they could be expected to outperform their draft position.
- Surprises: Three unexpected events from draft night.
Without further ado, nine observations from the draft.
Chelsea Gray drafted 11th by the Connecticut Sun
Yes, Gray is injured and there is some uncertainty about how well she'll recover. But one thing that is almost certain is that some of the players ahead of her will be either on their way out of the league or on the fringe of a rotation while Gray is playing next season and beyond. You can certainly understand the desire to bring in talent that can contribute now, but point guards with Gray's talent as a distributor and scorer don't come along often and she could make some teams regret passing on her.
Tyaunna Marshall drafted 14th by the New York Liberty
I've been on the Tyaunna Marshall bandwagon for a while, so I won't belabor the point but she was easily among the top 10 prospects in this draft in my opinion. But listening to Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer describe Marshall should've made it more evident that she fits his style of ball: she's an athletic, hard-nosed "power guard" who can handle the ball better than she's given credit for and defend.
I'm not sure Marshall is a major steal here: as noted yesterday, there were a number of shooting guards available/drafted this year with varying strengths and weaknesses and it was inevitable that someone(s) would slip out of the first round. But for New York to use their first round pick as a trade chip and still grab a player who fits as well as Marshall does is at the very least a good draft day.
Kody Burke drafted in the third round by the Washington Mystics
When you look at the talent drafted ahead of her, there's a pretty good case that Kody Burke should have been a second round pick ahead of some of the other forwards drafted. With a sturdy 6'2" frame and a 31.6% career three point percentage, Burke has a chance to make a contribution to the Mystics similar to what she did for N.C. State alongside first round pick Markeisha Gatling. And her numbers suggest that she can fill that stretch four role as well or better than some of the players clearly drafted for a similar role ahead of her.
Burke can shoot, pass and hold her own on the defensive end which is a bit more than some similar forwards drafted ahead of her can say. Making the Mystics roster won't be easy - and second-year player Emma Meesseman offers a very similar skill set - but with a number of other inexperienced forwards as competition it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see Burke get a spot.
Theresa Plaisance drafted in the third round by the Tulsa Shock
When you have a post player like Glory Johnson who is better with space to work around the basket and an attacking guard in Odyssey Sims who is outstanding in the pick and roll, surrounding them with other players who can shoot threes to spread the court and make opponents pay for slow rotations is a great idea. Plaisance is exactly that as a 6'5" post with passing ability that makes her a very good option as a high post facilitator.
Plaisance's inefficiency and mediocre rebounding numbers at LSU made her draft position perfectly reasonable - there are a number of teams that she either wouldn't fit with or wouldn't be able to win a roster spot for. But with the (perpetual) uncertainty around Liz Cambage's status this season and the composition of the roster gives Plaisance a very reasonable shot of making the roster as a third round pick.
Meighan Simmons being drafted in the third round by the New York Liberty
By the numbers, Simmons probably should've gone higher in this draft; years of film of poor decision-making probably contributed to her sitting in the audience without hearing her name called for so long.
Nevertheless, the Liberty have a hole at guard next to Cappie Pondexter and if Simmons can defend opposing point guards and hit threes with a far reduced workload than she had at Tennessee, she could be a fit in theory - outside of Leilani Mitchell, who doesn't appear to be in Laimbeer's future plans, Simmons may well be the best three point shooter on the team. She might not be an ideal fit, but she was a guard who probably should've gone higher than she did and has at least one skill that gives her a shot at making the roster.
Bri Kulas being drafted in the third round by the San Antonio Stars
One reason why people were keen on Thomas going to the Stars (or Shock) is that they have a perimeter rotation that isn't getting any younger and can struggle to keep up with the league's better small forwards defensively. Kayla McBride obviously gives them an excellent backcourt of the future, but Bri Kulas could be an interesting addition to the roster as someone who was a 40% three point shooter at Missouri and has good length at 6-foot-1 to possibly develop into a "3 and D" player.
The challenge for Kulas might be that she really did play a four's role on both ends in college even though she spent considerable time beyond the arc, but she has the ball handling and shooting skill to develop into a contributor on the wing at some point.
The Washington Mystics trading Crystal Langhorne on draft night
As Albert Lee has astutely pointed out on a number of occasions, Mike Thibault had never committed to keeping anyone on the Mystics roster when he was hired and it was clear that he would look to move Crystal Langhorne if the right offer came along. So the fact of trading Langhorne wasn't all that shocking; doing it on draft night was - the assumption was that the Mystics would be heading into the season with what they had.
What the move signals is that the Mystics are a team focused on building toward becoming a contender in the future rather than competing with frankly more talented teams - with Langhorne or not - for the right to earn a first round playoff exit this summer. Moreover, it represents that Thibault is serious about changing the culture of the franchise by distancing himself from those who were here with the last regime; that's not at all a knock on those he has and will send off but more a fairly standard business decision about wanting to go to battle with "your own" people.
This isn't about short-term wins and losses but figuring out how to build a sustainable winner in the future. You could do a whole lot worse than doing so with the players Thibault picked up on draft night. It's a move that the Storm will certainly benefit from in the short-term but the Mystics should be fine down the road.
The Sun landing Ogwumike, Thomas, and Gray
The Tina Charles trade was surprising in its own right obviously, but landing Chiney Ogwumike, Alyssa Thomas, and Chelsea Gray in one round should help ease fans' transition into the post-Charles era by the end of next season if not this season.
And grabbing Alyssa Thomas with the fourth pick? Maybe we can't call it a steal but they got more value from their first round picks than anyone (in terms of rookies acquired) and there shouldn't really be much discussion about that.
The Sun insist that they're not rebuilding, but whatever you want to label it a future lineup of Chelsea Gray, Allison Hightower, Alyssa Thomas, Chiney Ogwumike and Kelsey Bone (with Alex Bentley coming off the bench as Sixth Woman) is probably not one that opponents will chalk up as an easy win in the future.
Three mid-major players drafted
Last year, there was only one mid-major player drafted and she wasn't exactly the typical mid-major prospect: Elena Delle Donne began at UConn and had every reason to believe she could compete there. But three mid-major prospects earned selections this year with Jennifer Hamson leading the way. The most surprising of them might have been Haiden Palmer, but she might be able to compete for a spot on a Fever roster that has a shaky guard situation after parting with Katie Douglas and Erin Phillips.
For more post-draft analysis, check out our 2014 WNBA Draft section.