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2019 WNBA Draft Primer: A team-by-team breakdown

A brief overview of the upcoming 2019 WNBA Draft, each team’s biggest need and the draft prospects teams should consider.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Albany Regional-Connecticut vs Louisville
Asia Durr (#25) and Katie Lou Samuelson (#33) will both be highly sought after in next week’s WNBA Draft.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve officially reached single digits in the WNBA Draft day countdown!

Of course, there’s still a Final Four to be played — minor detail, right? But, by this point, if you have draft fever, there’s absolutely no shame in admitting so. We’ll have a mock draft for you soon (complete with draft order and analysis of each pick) but, until then, whet your appetite with this overview of each team’s needs, including what they most need from the draft and some names they should be considering.

Atlanta Dream: Shooting

The logic behind this is based on process of elimination. The Dream certainly don’t need another frontcourt player; their post rotation of Elizabeth Williams, Jessica Breland, Monique Billings and Imani McGee-Stafford is long, disruptive and as good defensively as any frontcourt in the WNBA. They’ve also got slashers on the perimeter in Tiffany Hayes, Brittney Sykes and — when healthy — Angel McCoughtry.

How about more perimeter shooting, then? The Dream’s offense wasn’t particularly efficient in 2018 — scoring just under a point per possession on a paltry 46.8 effective field goal percentage — so a knockdown shooter to space the floor for Hayes’ drives and keep defenses from collapsing on Williams would make sense here. Atlanta’s first pick in the draft is No. 11, so most of the big names will probably be off the board by then. However, someone like Sophie Cunningham would be a safe pick for them.

Chicago Sky: Defense

The Sky have most of what you need to field an exciting, competitive team. They have a record-setting point guard in Courtney Vandersloot. They have outside shooting at several positions. They have a glut of young, explosive perimeter players. And Diamond DeShields, Gabby Williams and Kahleah Copper can all push the envelope offensively and figure to get even better in 2019.

The one thing that’s missing is defense. Chicago’s D wasn’t just bad in 2018, it was historically bad. According to Basketball Reference, the Sky allowed 112.0 points per 100 possessions, the highest such mark in WNBA history.

The bad news is that there’s no one player in this class (especially one who will be available when the Sky pick at No. 4) who can fix that defense. The good news is that the Sky have the personnel to improve. In DeShields and Williams — the team’s No. 3 and No. 4 picks last year, respectively — Chicago has a pair of athletic ball-hawks who, if they’re not playing lockdown perimeter defense, can at least create some havoc and force more turnovers. We’ll see what new head coach James Wade does schematically to cover up his team’s weaknesses.

Connecticut Sun: Best player available

The Sun is in a pretty good position, at least for the time being. Connecticut has depth, particularly in their frontcourt: Chiney Ogwumike, Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Morgan Tuck form a rotation that is diverse in its skill set and gives head coach Curt Miller plenty of options depending on matchups.

The question for Connecticut is how long they’ll be able to keep these players. Ogwumike and Jones are no-brainers, and Thomas, despite her lack of an outside game, is critical for the pace Miller wants his team to play. Tuck, meanwhile, can play either forward position, though she was used mostly situationally last season, playing just 13.6 minutes per game.

With Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams presumably having earned starting spots in Connecticut for as long as they want them, the team is going to have some decisions to make regarding who they want to pay. The Sun is a great example of how the draft shouldn’t just be looked at for immediate needs. The Sun may not find a player who can crack their current rotation, with the No. 9 pick, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be drafting for the future. A forward who can play several positions, like Napheesa Collier, would make sense — that is, if Collier falls this far. The Sun also could draft a foreign player like Xu Han or Eziyoda Magbegor and just stash her.

Dallas Wings: Center, point guard

After a seemingly endless Wings’ rebuild finally yielded results in 2018, the franchise is now back to square one. All-world center Elizabeth Cambage’s time in Dallas is all but over after she requested a trade. Star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith is pregnant and we don’t know if she’ll play this season. Veteran head coach Brian Agler is now at the helm. But what are his plans for the franchise?

Given that their top-two players from 2018 won’t be with the team (at least to start the season), there are several different avenues the Wings could take in the draft. Replacing Cambage is obviously going to be a difficult task, but a center like Kristine Anigwe or Kalani Brown would help plug that hole. A playmaking guard should also be on the Wings’ shopping list. Arike Ogunbowale (or teammate Jackie Young, if she declares) could fill that role. The Wings will be picking at No. 5 in the draft’s first round.

Indiana Fever: Size

This is an easy one. The Fever have their point guard of the future in Kelsey Mitchell and a talented wing to pair with her, in Victoria Vivians. But their young core lacks a post presence and the team lacks rim protection. Indiana ranked last in the WNBA in opposing effective field goal percentage and, per Lynx Data, allowed opponents to shoot a league-high 64.5 percent at the rim. On offense, the Fever shot just 52.9 percent from the same distance.

None of this should be surprising to anyone who watched the Fever last year. They just didn’t have the personnel to match up with players like Sylvia Fowles, Brittney Griner or Liz Cambage. While such assignments are difficult for anyone (especially rookies), there are plenty of big centers in the 2019 class that would be logical fits in Indiana, such as Teaira McCowan or Kalani Brown. At least one of those players should still be on the board when the Fever pick at No. 3.

Las Vegas Aces: Shooting

The Aces were one of 2018’s bigger WNBA surprises. Led be Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson, they improved rapidly as the season went on, barely missing the postseason and giving fans a glimpse of what could be a perennial powerhouse.

In order to get there, though, the Aces need to improve their shot distribution. Per Lynx Data, the Aces took just 15.5 percent of their shots from three-point range — by far, the lowest in the WNBA — while shooting 48 percent of their attempts from 11-21 feet.

This is a problem against teams that pack the paint and don’t foul. More outside shooting would benefit the Aces and Wilson, whose main strength is facing up and getting to the free-throw line. If Sabrina Ionescu declares for the WNBA Draft, she could give the Aces another perimeter threat. If she doesn’t, Asia Durr would also be a good choice to help the Aces spread the floor. Because the Aces will be picking first, the world is their oyster.

Los Angeles Sparks: Perimeter presence

The Sparks are one of the tougher teams here to evaluate, mainly due to the fact that All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray remains unsigned. While most expect Gray to re-sign with the team eventually, the Sparks have already lost Essence Carson to free agency (the veteran guard signed with Phoenix in February), while Riquna Williams is also still without a contract. Lock-down perimeter defender Alana Beard will be back with the team, but she’s in the twilight of her career.

With all of this in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sparks draft a wing player in the first round. A shooter like Katie Lou Samuelson would be a nice fit alongside Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, or the Sparks could go with Napheesa Collier for a well-rounded prospect who can contribute in several areas. Players like Beard don’t grow on trees, though, and it’s highly unlikely Los Angeles will find one at pick No. 7. But the Sparks should still have a few intriguing prospects to choose from.

Minnesota Lynx: Scoring

Is it finally time for the Lynx to rebuild?

It’s a question we’ve been asking for years now. Cheryl Reeve and company have kicked the can down the road for as long as they could, keeping the Lynx competitive even as the championship window for their once-dominant core closes.

Now, with Lindsay Whalen retired, Maya Moore taking the season off and Rebekkah Brunson’s status in doubt, it’s looking like the Lynx will finally rebuild — or, at least, reload. Minnesota owns five picks in the 2019 Draft’s first two rounds (including the No. 6 pick in the first round), giving them plenty of options for a roster that’s in desperate need of a youth injection.

That’s not to say Reeve will be able to draft WNBA-caliber players with all of those picks, of course. But she’ll at least be able to add one or two that can put the ball in the hoop. Sylvia Fowles is still one of the most physically-imposing centers in the league. But, without Moore, the Lynx will need to balance its offense. A gunner like Arike Ogunbowale could provide a nice scoring punch for Minnesota, as could someone like Bridget Carleton or Sophie Cunningham — if they’re still available in the second round.

New York Liberty: Franchise talent

Okay, so that’s easier said than done, especially when you don’t even have the draft’s first selection.

But the Liberty have to try. After three straight seasons with at least 20 wins, the Liberty went just 7-27 in 2018, suddenly looking like an old and slow team that was over-matched on most nights. New York was outscored by 8.5 points per 100 possessions, showing no trace of the hard-nosed, defensive-minded identity the team had forged under Bill Laimbeer.

Perhaps that’s what the Liberty need the most heading into 2019: a new identity. Tina Charles is still the face of the franchise and will be until she retires (or leaves). But the team needs a serious shot in the arm from a talent perspective. Asia Durr would give them a dynamic playmaker — Teaira McCowan, a defensive anchor. Whichever direction the Liberty choose to go with the No. 2 pick, they can’t afford to miss.

Phoenix Mercury: Best player available

That situation the Lynx are in? That will be the Mercury soon, if they don’t play their cards right.

There’s no doubt that a lineup featuring Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner is formidable when at full strength. But how many more years will the Mercury be able to lean on those players? The same could be asked of Phoenix’s supporting cast of Briann January, Sancho Lyttle and Camille Little as well. We just don’t know how much longer these players will be in the WNBA.

For Phoenix, this should be fairly straightforward: Pick the best possible young talent at No. 8 and use the 2019 season to develop that player while Taurasi and company give it one more go. Alanna Smith and Eziyoda Magbegor wouldn’t be surprising picks, considering that Sandy Brondello has already coached them on the Australian National Team. A shooter like Katie Lou Samuelson would also be able to contribute if Brondello wants someone to help space the floor for Griner to do her work in the post.

Seattle Storm: Depth

It can be hard to identify a glaring need for teams coming off a championship run. It can be even harder when three of a team’s top four players are still well under 30 years old. In Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Natasha Howard, the Storm have a core that should keep them competitive for a while.

Picking at No. 12, it’s doubtful Seattle will get the chance to select a franchise-changer anyway. Sue Bird isn’t going to play forever, but the team has Jordin Canada ready to assume starting point guard duties. Perhaps a post player would make sense here? Megan Gustafson would be great value if she falls. Seattle could also take a flyer on an international player, such as Han Xu or Eziyoda Magbegor; the Storm is in a position to be patient with such a player.

Washington Mystics: Best player available

Looking at the Mystics’ roster, no immediate need jumps out. They have their star in Elena Delle Donne, shooters in Kristi Toliver and Ariel Atkins, and perimeter defender Natasha Cloud . LaToya Sanders and Emma Meesseman aren’t spectacular in the frontcourt, but they are excellent at their respective roles.

Washington’s first pick in the draft will be at No. 10. While Mike Thibault hasn’t been afraid to play his youngsters during his tenure with the Mystics, this is probably the deepest and most talented roster he’s had. So, it might be difficult for whoever he picks to make the rotation. A Mystics’ draftee will need to be able to contribute in short bursts. Megan Gustafson’s skill on the low block would be a good fit here, as would Kalani Brown’s size. Washington would also be another good destination for an international player who might take some more time to develop.