The 2015 WNBA Draft is widely regarded as a weak rookie class, and we haven't really started looking in-depth at the prospects for this year just yet. Though most first overall picks in the WNBA Draft become All-Stars at some point in their careers, some believe this class may have no All-Stars at all. That doesn't mean that the players in this draft aren't going to be good players. It just means that none are expected to significantly change a franchise's direction.
Since most WNBA teams aren't particularly excited about the 2015 draft class, nor are there any quality free agents realistically up for grabs, some teams will be thinking more about the 2016 WNBA Draft. In 2016, UConn junior forward Breanna Stewart is expected to be the number one pick in that class. Stewart has already won the AP and Naismith Player of the Year awards in the 2013-14 college season, and she is continuing her stellar play this season as a scorer, rebounder, and even as a passer. Since Stewart also played on the 2014 USA Basketball women's national team that won the Gold Medal in Turkey, that only further indicates that she may very well change a team's direction right away.
Since nine teams had losing records in the 2014 season, there won't be a shortage of teams who could use Stewart to give them a shot in the arm in 2016. Let's take a look at five WNBA teams who could realistically miss the playoffs this summer because they do not have enough talent to win a championship. Why could these teams miss the 2015 WNBA Playoffs and how would Stewart fit with their teams? Also, is it possible that these teams will make the playoffs after all?
Let's take a closer look.
More on the Sun
More on the Sun
2014 record: 13-21, 6th place in the Eastern Conference
Why the Sun will miss the 2015 playoffs and how Stewart fits with them: I originally pegged Connecticut as a playoff team, given that they have a large core of young players including Chiney Ogwumike, Kelsey Bone, and Alyssa Thomas. This season, the Sun has the #3 and #4 picks in the 2015 Draft, plus Chelsea Gray, the 11th pick in last year's draft coming back after missing the season due to injury. That's a lot of young talent that is poised to make the postseason.
Unfortunately, things happen. Ogwumike will miss much of the 2015 season, if not all of it due to microfracture surgery. If she is gone for much of the season, is a playoff appearance worth it when a National College Player of the Year and a 2014 Team USA FIBA World Championship team member is the prize? To me, if this is the case, it is worth it for the Sun to miss the playoffs this summer.
How does Stewart fit in with the Sun? She already goes to school nearby, so the fans aren't going to mind one bit seeing her stay in the state after graduation next year. If she has a chance to play with Ogwumike and at least some of the other young players that are at the Casino, we could very well see the Sun re-live the Mike Thibault days (plus a championship) very quickly.
Why not: The Sun has a lot of assets to play with to stay out of the Draft Lottery, especially, the #3 and #4 picks in this year's draft. I'm thinking out loud, but perhaps, they could use one of those picks to acquire Crystal Langhorne from the Seattle Storm where she could be a one-year rental replacement for Ogwumike. However, the Sun should only go for a deal like this if they believe that the current core without Ogwumike is playoff caliber right now. With Oguwmike, I think they could go further than just a one-and-done appearance.
More on the Fever
More on the Fever
2014 record: 16-18, 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, lost in Eastern Conference Finals
Why the Fever will miss the 2015 playoffs and how Stewart fits with them: The Fever may be three seasons removed from their 2012 WNBA title, but their franchise player Tamika Catchings will retire in 2016, Katie Douglas has returned to the aforementioned Connecticut Sun, and their remaining players from that team aren't playing like they did during that magical playoff run. Since 2012, the Fever has gone 16-18 in consecutive seasons. Yes, injuries have played a part in that, but the team has still went through considerable change since that time. In 2015, the bottom may start falling out.
Should the Fever miss the playoffs and get Stewart in 2016, she will be the franchise successor to Catchings, and be the face of Fever Basketball for a decade. Having a star like her would help Head Coach Stephanie White make her mark on the WNBA after serving as Lin Dunn's assistant for several seasons.
Why not: The Fever's one of the best coached teams in the WNBA. Indy made the Finals three out of the last six seasons, and advanced to the conference finals in each of the last four seasons. Also, Catchings continues to play at a very high level when she is playing, and is more than capable of carrying a team throughout a regular season.
San Antonio Stars
More on the Stars
More on the Stars
2014 record: 16-18, 3rd place in the Western Conference, First Round Playoff Loss
Why the Stars will miss the 2015 playoffs and how Stewart fits with them: The San Antonio Stars have only two Top-4 picks under contract with Kayla McBride and Sophia Young, and Young is now getting past her prime. Therefore, it's time to start thinking about adding another impact player. Since most other teams in the West have a lot more top draft picks on their rosters than the Stars, this makes many games an uphill battle for them. Perhaps a one-year tank job could be enough to recharge the their batteries as they head into the post-Becky Hammon Era, and help them take a major step forward.
In San Antonio, if Stewart were to join an already promising young group that includes McBride, Danielle Robinson, Danielle Adams, and Jayne Appel, this team could be more than capable of being a WNBA championship contender in 2016.
Why not: Stars HC/GM Dan Hughes is known as one of the best, if not the best player development coach in the WNBA. Sure, he has a team made up mostly of mid first round picks, but we haven't seen the best of Robinson, Appel, Adams, and especially McBride as one unit just yet. Robinson specifically has developed into one of the WNBA's top point guards, and McBride has already developed a reputation for being a clutch scorer, where she made multiple game-winning shots during her rookie season in 2014. If this core group shows good chemistry this summer, that could be enough for them to get into the playoffs, even though I strongly believe that the Tulsa Shock will be in the postseason.
More on the Storm
Jenny Boucek named Seattle Storm head coach
She previously was an assistant with the Storm from 2003 to 2005 and again from 2010 to 2014. Boucek was also the Sacramento Monarchs' head coach from 2007 to 2009.
More on the Storm
2014 record: 12-22, 5th place in the Western Conference
Why the Storm will miss the 2015 playoffs and how Stewart fits with them: The Storm had one of the WNBA's oldest rosters and tied a league-worst 12-22 record in 2014. In this month alone, the Storm announced that they have parted ways with Brian Agler, have hired former assistant coach Jenny Boucek to replace him, and have embraced the idea of a franchise rebuild where they intend to infuse the roster with youth, but they don't have much of it. Even if current franchise star Sue Bird stays, it is unlikely that the Storm will make the playoffs given the moves that are likely to be made, and that there is wider talent gap between their team and the Phoenix Mercury than between the Eastern Conference's best and worst teams.
Should the Storm win the number one pick in 2016 to draft Stewart, she should be able to play at least one year with current franchise player Sue Bird in a "passing of the torch" type scenario, not unlike the case in Indiana. By 2016, Seattle should also have many more core young players around her as well, which could make the Storm an exciting team to watch, even if the wins don't come right away. Nevertheless, with Stewart in the Emerald City, they Storm's future will be in bright hands, and they could be back in the Finals as soon as the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury's veteran cores fall out of their primes.
Why not: Lauren Jackson remains a wild card, at least to fans who want to see her back. If she returns, how good will she be? Second, could Bird have a bounceback year and play at a near-MVP level? Not playing overseas will help keep her legs fresh. Third, will the Storm not walk the walk after talking the talk? Hopefully they don't.
More on the Mystics
More on the Mystics
2014 record: 16-18, 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, 1st Round Playoff Loss
Why the Mystics will miss the 2015 playoffs and how Stewart fits with them: Washington may have had seven rookies and sophomores on the 2014 roster, but they only have one Top-4 pick to show for it in Tayler Hill who many think is a bust. Nevertheless, they still have to give her a real shot to see if she can be a starter anyway. Either way, the Mystics are already over-dependent on mid-first round picks and lower over the past decade to take larger roles than their draft position would suggest. If they continue with an all-out youth movement in 2015, the roster will probably be filled with more low draft picks and that will make them worse on paper.
Adding Stewart would be an ideal fit for D.C. position-wise as well. Monique Currie, the 2014 team's starting small forward is now an unrestricted free agent, and it should be no surprise to see her elsewhere very soon. Stewart could fill that role very well after a one-year period where the Mystics are heavily dominated at that position, but again, wins shouldn't be Washington's primary focus anyway. As a team with as few top picks as the Mystics do, they're easy picking to be a bottom feeder.
In D.C., Stewart would immediately be the face of the franchise, and this team has lacked that type of identity for over a decade. The Mystics also have many young players who could fit around her and build a core that could be among the WNBA's best for years to come. Current Mystics players Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson also went to college at UConn and this can't be something that's overlooked. You can bet that they'll be excited to welcome Stewie to D.C. in 2016 since they all played together for two seasons. It could be the start of something even bigger when it comes to basketball in the nation's capital.
Why not: Mystics HC/GM Mike Thibault has never coached a team that has won fewer than 16 games which includes his time in Connecticut. If the Mystics miss the 2015 Playoffs and be the worst team in the East, they're going to have to lose at least 20 games. Playing to lose isn't in his blood and he may be a bigger obstacle to getting Stewart than random lottery ball bounces. In addition, veteran guard Ivory Latta is still under contract, and she has been a major reason why Washington has been in the playoff picture in each of her two seasons. Thibault may also play some game theory, banking on most WNBA teams tanking for Stewart. This would give him a rationale to make "win-now moves" and avoid the risk of striking out on a draft lottery.
Speaking about striking out in draft lotteries, the Mystics have missed out on multiple drafts to get franchise players when they did miss the playoffs, most notably in 2013. Even though the disturbing trend of missing out on franchise players has to change at some point, could the risk of that happening anyway be why the Treadmill of Mediocrity is more desirable to at least some Mystics fans? But that's worth another post, another day.
I know we're still over a year away from the 2016 WNBA Draft. But the 2015 Draft class that doesn't look particularly enticing to many. And the free agent class doesn't look that great either, considering that most of the best players "available" played for teams that contended last season. Therefore, some teams have no choice but to think about 2016 in order to improve for the future.
A poll's below on where you think Breanna Stewart will play in 2016. Will she succeed Sue Bird in Seattle, Tamika Catchings in Indiana, or Becky Hammon in San Antonio? Or could she be the centerpiece of ongoing youth movements in Connecticut or D.C.? Share your thoughts in the comments below.