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2014 WNBA Draft recap: The big winners and great value drafts

The biggest winners in this draft are probably clear, but there are a few other teams who should be given credit for using their draft picks well.

Connecticut scored an trio of players at the top of their college position in the first round.
Connecticut scored an trio of players at the top of their college position in the first round.
Photo by Getty Images.

A few hours before Monday's draft, I was discussing prospects and other rumors with M Robinson when we hit upon a point of agreement: Chiney Ogwumike, Odyssey Sims, and Alyssa Thomas have that ideal combination of a killer mindset, elite skills, and physical gifts that allow them to impose their will on games in ways that many players just can't.

That's neither about statistics nor wonky similarity ratings - those three carried teams to the Elite Eight that would not have been there without them. This is not meant to be a slight on Kayla McBride - who's about as flawless a prospect as there was in this draft - as a way to frame how surreal it was that two of those aforementioned players ended up on the same team. That's before they went and added Chelsea Gray with the 11th pick, who I might've put in the same category has we seen her go to work for the entirety of the last two seasons.

I won't publicly divulge the hyperbolic discussion that M Robinson and I had, but the idea of those two on the same team should be exciting for Sun fans, especially given the context of that deal happened.

Winners: The top three

Connecticut Sun

Draft night analysis of picks | Tina Charles' trade demand | Chelsea Gray's a steal at #11

What can't be forgotten when evaluating the Sun's big trade on Monday night is that they were not entering trade negotiations with anyone from a position of strength: the rumors about Tina Charles wanting out of Connecticut have been around since at least mid-season last year and the Sun's choice pretty much came down to trading an unhappy Charles this season or losing her to free agency next season.

Charles had forced their hand, everyone was aware of that, so getting fair value for her was even more difficult than it would normally be when trading a MVP.

To get two first round picks - with the certainty that this year's pick was a lottery pick - plus an immediate option to fill the void at center in 2013 All-Rookie selection Kelsey Bone is quite remarkable given the circumstances, which could be described as giving up a player who didn't want to be there. With the selection of Chelsea Gray at #11 after trading Sandrine Gruda, who apparently wasn't committed to them either, they've got a very bright future, which is about as much as you can ask for when your MVP decides she wants to go elsewhere.

New York Liberty

Draft night analysis of picks | Liberty acquires Tina Charles | Libs get value picks in Marshall, Simmons

The Liberty's night began with getting themselves a player that they would've had years ago were it not for an ill-conceived trade for Sidney Spencer (yes, that happened - I still struggle to believe it as well); it ended with them drafting the two-time defending SEC Player of the Year in Meighan Simmons.

The Liberty put themselves in win-now mode, seizing the opportunity to grab one of the league's top rebounders (ever?) and adding to their guard rotation with what could be seen as a bit of a steal down the line in Tyaunna Marshall.

However, the trade isn't without considerable risk: they gave up two first round picks (the fourth pick in this year's draft, which became Alyssa Thomas, and next year's first round pick) in addition to promising 2013 All-Rookie selection Kelsey Bone. They're all in to not just make it back to the playoffs but make a leap to contender status. If something - for whatever reason - goes wrong, they're going to pay for it in the future.

One thing that will be interesting to see resolved is how they distribute shots: the combination of Charles and Cappie Pondexter represents two of the top 10 highest usage rates in both league history and last season, according to Of course, this is not the first time this has happened: Pondexter played with Diana Taurasi on the Phoenix Mercury and won two titles in three years. Interestingly enough, Taurasi had the two lowest usage rates of her career in the Mercury's two championship years (2007 &' 09) and Pondexter didn't rank in the league's top 10 in 2007; in 2008, Pondexter and Taurasi had the top two usages rates in the league.

We could go through more of those past high-usage pairs to tease out a pattern, but the bottom line is that one of those players' usage rates is going to have to decline - or, in plain language, someone is going to have to defer - if the team wants to be successful. The extent to which those two are able to co-exist as high-usage players along with the other vets on the team will determine how far this team can go.

Seattle Storm

Draft night analysis | Storm acquire Crystal Langhorne in trade with Washington

So we've said quite a bit about the Crystal Langhorne trade from a D.C. point of view, but here's the elevator speech version from a Seattle perspective: the Storm's championship window is closing and the addition of Crystal Langhorne should gives them about as good a chance as any move would have to contend once Lauren Jackson comes back next year.

Any time you can get an All-Star post player in return for a guard and a player who played less than 10 minutes per game last season, you've struck a bargain. Or you can think about it this way: if you think of it just in terms of what they gave up from last year's playoff roster (without Sue Bird), Seattle gave up a player who was on the fringe of their rotation for a veteran starter at the same position. Exchanges like that rarely, if ever, happen.

Yet most importantly, given the type of player that Langhorne is - best as a moderate-usage low post threat - Seattle is an almost perfect fit for her game. In 2010, Langhorne's All-Star year, Washington surrounded the 6-foot-2 post with three three point shooters over 36%, including an increasing anomalous career-high 44.6% from wing Monique Currie; Seattle has four players on this season's roster shooting over 36% for their careers, not to mention a couple of other reliable three point shooters, making them a far more reliable three point shooting team with veteran guards who know how to get the ball into the post.

The formula for Seattle is pretty simple and stunningly similar to the style that won them the championship in 2010: spread the court with three point shooters and force opponents to make a decision between risking leaving shooters open by directing attention to the post or risk Langhorne dominating the paint against single coverage. It was a brilliant move for a team that was hurting for a post player badly entering draft night - as a second or third option with (a hopefully healthy) Lauren Jackson back next season, it could pay major dividends.

Great value drafts: Teams who maximized their draft picks


Draft night analysis | Breaking down the Mystics' trade of Crystal Langhorne | Kody Burke a potential steal

Although there's no doubt that Seattle benefited from the Langhorne trade, Washington didn't exactly "lose" either - this is about as close to a mutually beneficial deal as you can expect to get in pro sports.

The reason is pretty simple: the flip-side of Langhorne is that she was at her best in 2010 at an average usage but hasn't been quite as good since then due to a) poor three point shooting and b) the loss of the distributors (Lindsey Harding and Katie Smith) that helped make her successful in 2010. It should also not be forgotten that they were the second best defensive team in the league, with a number of solid defenders on the perimeter.

What the Mystics have now is a number of guards who are best creating for themselves and a team built to win by pushing the tempo and an average defensive team by points per possession. Sure, they could've completely restructured their team to better support Langhorne, but there's an important question to ask with that: is building a team around Langhorne as the top option going to yield a contender? The answer is probably not.

Part of the problem is that Langhorne is a player who both needs to be set up to get the ball in the post but is also rather turnover prone - it's really difficult to build around a player who is both best playing off others and turnover prone because there will be a number of empty possessions in the process.

What Mystics coach Mike Thibault has hinted at knowing that for some time is that Langhorne is probably not the player who will lead a team to the promised land as a the top option and you can't just go out and get Hall of Famers like Bird and Jackson at two positions to push her to a second or third option and support her defensively. It was only a matter of time before he pulled the trigger on a deal and this wasn't a bad one: right now, this is a team driven by guard play and Langhorne didn't quite complement that well.

With the additions of Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson, the team has a set of players who complement a scoring point guard like Ivory Latta extremely well: Hartley is a player who has been best playing off spot-ups and transition in college; Dolson should be an excellent pick-and-roll partner for Latta who can also facilitate offense from the high post to open driving lanes. In the future, a combination of Hartley and Tayler Hill is equally enticing: Hartley is a combo guard who's excellent spotting up, Hill is a scoring guard who is best operating with the ball in her hands, and both could play off Dolson. Kody Burke, who may not make the roster but isn't a bad fit for what they're trying to do, is another player who can help create court spacing by spreading defenses out and competing on the boards defensively.

The key here is that Thibault is building a roster for the future that is easy to plug players into and a culture that's a departure from a dismal past for the Mystics. Despite past accolades, that's just easier to do with the splashy move he made on draft night.

Tulsa Shock

Draft night analysis | Plaisance a potential sleeper | Hooper, Plaisance good fits for Shock

The Shock didn't necessarily make any aggressive moves, but drafting Odyssey Sims was certainly a bold one.

Would Alyssa Thomas have been a better fit for this roster as a player who could fill in the three? Absolutely. Is that especially true after drafting marketing superstar Skylar Diggins last season? Yep. But they took the player who they deemed best available here and you can't exactly fault them for it given the potential that Sims has.

Sims is just one of those players who was absolutely unguardable in college. For those of you ready to pull out points per shot numbers, by "unguardable" I mean that college opponents needed 2-3 defenders to even hope to hold her under 20 points and when they did give her that much attention she made them pay with her passing ability. She was an elite prospect and should be an instant impact player.

But it's really the other picks they made that show that Tulsa is probably headed in the right direction this season, even if it doesn't necessarily culminate in a playoff berth in a stacked Western Conference. Jordan Hooper and Theresa Plaisance are both big forwards who can help them spread the court to allow Sims, power forward Glory Johnson, or Liz Cambage (when she's around) go to work as scorers. Whether both Hooper and Plaisance make the team is an open question, but you can see how they fit a team built around Sims, Johnson, and possibly Cambage.

That selection of Sims of course left them in a bit of a quandary given that they just drafted Diggins last season: unless Diggins significantly improves her shot, she'll have to be a point guard in a rotation that now includes Sims, Angel Goodrich, and Riquna Williams. That's a rotation of guards that are difficult to play together and survive defensively; one of those guards will likely have to be cut or traded at some point and, unfortunately, the obvious target would be 5'4" guard Angel Goodrich who was a non-factor as a scorer last season.

Nevertheless, you can easily see a core developing with Sims, Johnson and possibly Cambage and their two latter draft picks nicely complement that. And if Cambage never shows up, looking to pair her with one of those other guards in the rotation might get a decent return at some point in the future anyway.


Draft night analysis | Foggie, Liston part of an unusually large group of three point shooters drafted

Look, the Lynx didn't need any more talent and, as with every year, there's a chance that their draft picks will either never make the roster or cast off for almost nothing after struggling to crack their talented championship rotation. They're already returning the top seven of their three-time defending Western Conference champion roster and Brazil's Damiris Dantas is coming to the U.S. a bit earlier than expected. To repeat, the Lynx don't need any more talent.

And yet, they still made good picks.

Christina Foggie and Tricia Liston will at the very least compete in training camp as scorers until their talented core returns from their overseas commitments; Asya Bussie could be considered a sleeper pick were she on a roster where she had a bit more of a chance in that her defensive acumen is great. Reality is that, as usual, it comes down to a numbers game and they just won't have enough spots to accommodate the talent in camp, but just by taking a player who was even arguably best available at their position with each pick lifts them ahead of some other teams.

For more post-draft analysis, check out our 2014 WNBA Draft section.