The women's basketball world was rocked to its core last week as Minnesota redshirt sophomore center Amanda Zahui B. and Notre Dame junior guard Jewell Loyd declared as early entry candidates for the 2015 WNBA Draft.
The news made our Community Mock Draft pointless, which is why we didn't move on to pick number 9 last Wednesday. Nevertheless, it gave us a lot to talk about at the water cooler.
Until now, it has long been expected that players would complete their college eligibility -- or their college degrees -- before entering the pros. There had been some players who had left before their college eligibility expired, like Candace Parker in 2008 or Kelsey Bone in 2013. However, they were redshirt juniors when they declared for the draft, and both graduated from their colleges. Zahui B. and Loyd, however, have only been in school three years and haven't graduated yet. That is significant because most WNBA players enter the league as college graduates or are on the verge of doing so.
As a WNBA fan, I was just dying for something exciting this summer given that draft projections weren't great before last Sunday when Zahui B. declared. Now that she and Loyd have, I'm starting to get pumped up for WNBA season as a whole. Given that this news was huge let's break it down between the winners and losers. First, let's start with the winners:
More on Zahui B. and Loyd
The case for Amanda Zahui B. as the top pick
We looked at Kiah Stokes and low usage center prospects for the 2015 WNBA Draft the other day, but today we're going to look at trends among the opposite group of centers with a focus on Amanda Zahui B. and her pro potential.
More on Zahui B. and Loyd
Amanda Zahui B. - I've pointed out reasons why the redshirt sophomore should go pro earlier. But ultimately, Zahui B. is taking advantage of two things. First, she will turn 22 years old in the 2015 calendar year. Second, the 2015 draft class up until the time she drafted wasn't expected to have any game changers. By going pro in 2015, she would probably fall no lower than third, it's hard to see why she'd lose declaring early for the draft given her rebounding and scoring ability.
Jewell Loyd - Loyd's national championship game performance was forgettable. But at the end of the day, she is one of the most athletic and talented WNBA Draft prospects at the guard position in some time. By going pro now in an otherwise weak draft class, Loyd also knows that she is arguably the number one draft pick in 2015 to the Seattle Storm. In Seattle, she will get to play with a coach and GM dedicated to revamping the team around a young core. If she played her senior season, she would probably not be the number one pick, and it's up in the air as to which teams appear to be presumptive lottery favorites in 2016.
Seattle Storm - Besides the players themselves, the Storm is arguably the biggest winner with Zahui B.'s and Loyd's early entries. Team President GM Alisha Valavanis must be salivating over the possibility of having the both the first and third picks in the draft because Zahui B. and Loyd are like unexpected Christmas presents. She's guaranteed to draft one of them and still pick the player who they were eyeing at #1 before last Sunday with the third pick they received from Connecticut last January! That #TogetherWeRise hashtag is just so fitting!
Tulsa Shock - The Shock won't have complete freedom to pick whoever they want with their second pick in the 2015 Draft. However, picking whoever is left between Zahui B. or Loyd isn't a bad thing by any means, even if they play positions that overlap with other major contributors on the current roster.
If Tulsa picks Zahui B., there will be a logjam at the center position since they signed Courtney Paris to a multi-year contract extension in early February. And should they select Loyd (which I would doubt because Seattle should pick her), their guard rotation would have an even bigger logjam than they already have. It will be hard to find minutes for Skylar Diggins, Odyssey Sims, Riquna Williams, and Angel Goodrich and keep them all happy long term. Adding Loyd to the mix will only make things tougher.
Fortunately, these are first world problems -- problems they haven't had since they relocated here from Detroit.
I think that someone on the current Shock roster, whether it's Paris or Sims will eventually have to be traded to accommodate the 2015 draft pick, depending on who they select. But at the same time, Tulsa will get a good return for them, so they are in good hands as they take a crack at their first playoff appearance since relocation.
WNBPA - The players' union and the league finalized the current Collective Bargaining Agreement last year. We knew a few details here and there, but the actual document was FINALLY released in January 2015, which showed that the WNBPA paid a high price to get the 12th player on the roster.
According to the CBA, the salary cap will grow by 2 percent if half or more of the teams have 12 players on the roster. But that growth factor increases up to 4 percent if no teams have 12 players. It sounds counterintuitive to me.
Salaries also don't raise very much between the 2014 and 2021 seasons, when the agreement is in effect. Perhaps that is partly why a superstar like Diana Taurasi is taking the entire 2015 season off from the Phoenix Mercury while Candace Parker is also taking some time off before rejoining the Los Angeles Sparks.
In a comment, pilight directed the blame on Taurasi's and Parker's situations on the team owners:
All the blame goes to the owners
The W won the battle but lost the war in the last CBA. They kept costs down and gave paltry pay increases despite healthy income improvements but stars have insufficient incentive to actually play here. I predict the next CBA will look much different from this one.
But are the CBA, Taurasi and Parker's situation relatable to early entries in the WNBA Draft? Yes!
Like their NBA counterparts, WNBA players only have a limited timespan to showcase their talents. If Zahui B. and Loyd completed their college eligibility, they would be older than the minimum age to enter the draft, and lose their earning potential. Of the WNBA's current superstars, there's little doubt that at least some of them could still have great careers as professionals if they left a year or two early. Parker, as mentioned before did just that.
I'm hedging my bets with pilight that the next CBA will likely have some major changes. Income will be part of those talks, but I certainly expect that there will be talk about possibly lowering of the minimum age to enter the WNBA Draft. If the league makes a lot of revenue over the next several years, you can expect that talks will be more contentious on these subjects.
WNBA fans - The current offseason has been boring, and I was half-expecting the 2015 season to be huge tank-race for Breanna Stewart and Loyd. But with Loyd AND Zahui B. now in the 2015 WNBA Draft, nearly everything has changed.
Self-serving I know, but here's my initial reaction when Mike broke the news of Loyd's announcement:
I give up on this offseason. I give up! But in a good way.
I feel like a fool now for writing something on the topic last weekend, and I called it unlikely. Now I’m eating crow about hedging my bets.
But let’s just enjoy this story. These are things that I have been hoping to see in the WNBA as a fan for some time as a fan. It’s not this move in and of itself per se. I just want to see more newsworthy moments and big trades. Because all too often, the WNBA offseason seems to be run of the mill at times.
As for Seattle, they now have a MUCH BETTER OUTLOOK to improve right away. I don’t know what to say, think, or do anymore now. I’m now excited about the draft again as Nate mentioned!
There are a lot of people out there who were surprised about two players declaring early. But the good news is that it makes the 2015 WNBA season an exciting one indeed!
Last week's events were positive for most in the WNBA. But not everyone came out ahead with the news of Zahui B.'s and Loyd's departures. Let's take a look at them:
Connecticut Sun - At the time, their trade as mentioned earlier with the Seattle Storm involving the third pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft looked like a very sound deal at the time. The Sun is a young team that needed some reinforcements after the team announced Chiney Ogwumike would miss at least part of the 2015 season after knee surgery.
Acquiring a proven veteran like Camille Little and a young wing player like Shekinna Stricklen in exchange for a pick in a weak draft and Renee Montgomery sounded like a good deal. Now, they will likely have to miss out on the best senior in the Draft Class, who could be UConn star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. To be fair, the Sun wouldn't be picking up Zahui B. or Loyd with the third pick -- and I think they're in fine shape. However, trading their highest draft pick still took away their chance at another major young piece to their roster.
The WNBA's Eastern Conference - As a whole, the WNBA's Eastern Conference is clearly weaker than the West, not only with championships, but also with #1 overall picks in the WNBA Draft. Take a look at the list of every first overall pick in league history:
|1997||Dena Head||Guard||Tennessee||Utah Starzz||Western|
|1998||Margo Dydek||Center||Poland||Utah Starzz||Western|
|1999||Chamique Holdsclaw||Forward||Tennessee||Washington Mystics||Eastern|
|2000||Ann Wauters||Center||Belgium||Cleveland Rockers||Eastern|
|2001||Lauren Jackson||Center||Australia||Seattle Storm||Western|
|2002||Sue Bird||Guard||Connecticut||Seattle Storm||Western|
|2003||LaToya Thomas||Forward||Mississippi State||Cleveland Rockers||Eastern|
|2004||Diana Taurasi||Forward||Connecticut||Phoenix Mercury||Western|
|2005||Janel McCarville||Center||Minnesota||Charlotte Sting||Eastern|
|2006||Seimone Augustus||Forward||LSU||Minnesota Lynx||Western|
|2007||Lindsey Harding||Guard||Duke||Phoenix Mercury (later traded to the Minnesota Lynx)||Western|
|2008||Candace Parker||Forward||Tennessee||Los Angeles Sparks||Western|
|2009||Angel McCoughtry||Forward||Louisville||Atlanta Dream||Eastern|
|2010||Tina Charles||Center||Connecticut||Connecticut Sun||Eastern|
|2011||Maya Moore||Forward||Connecticut||Minnesota Lynx||Western|
|2012||Nneka Ogwumike||Forward||Stanford||Los Angeles Sparks||Western|
|2013||Brittney Griner||Center||Baylor||Phoenix Mercury||Western|
|2014||Chiney Ogwumike||Forward||Stanford||Connecticut Sun||Eastern|
From the list, 12 of the 19 players selected first in the WNBA Draft went to Western Conference teams, including 2015. In the past five years including 2015, four of the five number one picks went to Western Conference teams, and seven of the last ten. No wonder why the West seems to have a systematic advantage over the East in the WNBA.
Before last week, I wouldn't have cared much about the disparity between the East and West when it comes to number one draft picks and overall talent level. The seniors in the 2015 Draft class weren't projected to be number one franchise cornerstones.
But with Zahui B. and Loyd declaring early, we could be seeing another potential superstar going to the West, which cultivates another dynastic team in the future. Meanwhile in the East, most of their teams seem to struggle to get past mediocrity though the Chicago Sky is an exception.
Notre Dame women's basketball - Losing the national championship game to UConn last Monday was bad enough. Losing Loyd is like putting salt on the wound the following day. The Irish return the core of their lineup including sophomores Taya Reimer and Lindsay Allen, as well as freshman Brianna Turner, plus a strong freshman class, so they will be in good hands next season. Still, an Irish team with Loyd is better than one without her.
Minnesota women's basketball - The Gophers aren't a perennial Top-10 or Top-20 women's college basketball program like Big Ten Conference foe Maryland is. That said, they had a good 2014-15 season despite the loss of Rachel Banham last December when she tore her right ACL. Banham, who has since redshirted for the 2015-16 season, could have formed a potent one-two punch with Zahui B., which could have some Gophers fans wonder if they could make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Unfortunately, a Banham-Zahui B. duo is not going to happen next year, and it's going to be a tall order to fill Zahui's shoes this fall.
Top Tier NCAA women's basketball team recruiters - Unlike their men's counterparts, the NCAA's top women's college basketball programs didn't have to factor in recruiting was whether start players would declare for the WNBA Draft early before graduating from college. Now, teams may have to start doing so, especially with blue chip players who are older within their recruiting classes. If the WNBA lowers the minimum entry age for the draft in the next CBA, this will be an even bigger issue.