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2021 WNBA Draft Grades (East): Sky and Sun fill needs and get gifts

It was a better-than-expected night for the Connecticut Sun, given where they were picking from. Meanwhile, the Chicago Sky, who did have a first-round pick, took care of business.

WNBA Draft 2021
Cathy Engelbert (right) holds up a Chicago Sky jersey as Shyla Heal is selected at No. 8 overall.
Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser /NBAE via Getty Images

In the 2021 WNBA Draft, the Connecticut Sun got a dream scenario at No. 20 and could add two draft picks to their roster, the Chicago Sky got exactly what they needed plus a steal who should both make their roster, the Atlanta Dream and New York Liberty did both did a solid job and the Indiana Fever followed up a dull free agency period without a home run in the draft. Here are our draft grades for the East:

Connecticut Sun (A-)

Picks: 20. DiJonai Carrington (Baylor Lady Bears), 21. Micaela Kelly (Central Michigan Chippewas), 30. Aleah Goodman (Oregon State Beavers)

We said that DiJonai Carrington falling to No. 20 would be a dream scenario for the Sun and it happened. Connecticut needed to add another shooting guard to its roster and it got one that is 5-foot-11 and can wreak havoc on defense. Her size, though not 6-foot-2, and defense will replace some of what is lost due to Alyssa Thomas’ season-ending injury. She is also a first round talent, so a steal at No. 20. It was a long shot for Connecticut to get her and the team should be thrilled.

The Sun have plenty of space on their roster with just seven players under contract so training camp is going to be interesting for them. Carrington will likely make the team along with Natisha Hiedeman, Beatrice Mompremier and one other player. The team may not be able to afford second-rounder Micaela Kelly, who is a phenomenal scorer though she was picked far ahead of her projection. Sharpshooter Aleah Goodman was a good third-round pickup for a Connecticut team that was 11th in 3-point shooting last year.

Chicago Sky (A-)

Picks: No. 8 Shyla Heal (Australia), No. 16 Natasha Mack (Oklahoma State Cowgirls)

The Sky got what they needed at No. 8: a backup point guard. They didn’t go for Dana Evans or Kiana Williams, who were both still available, but you can’t knock them too much for taking Shyla Heal, who was projected to go early- to mid-second round and is a great all-around point guard. With Natasha Mack at No. 16, they get a power forward with a good shot at making the roster. The Sky only have nine players under contract, so Heal and Mack could very well be players No. 10 and No. 11 on the roster. Astou Ndour and Brittany Boyd will compete with Mack for that final spot, but props to Chicago for drafting a player in Mack that was projected to go in the first round and definitely isn’t a wasted pick. With Heal, the Sky may no longer need Boyd and her 4.6 assists per game and Mack’s ceiling is high enough to keep her and add some talented youth to an otherwise win-now roster. She likely will make the roster and could even contribute a bit right away. It’s surprising she fell to No. 16.

Atlanta Dream (B)

Picks: No. 3 Aari McDonald (Arizona Wildcats), No. 15 Raquel Carrera (Spain), No. 27 Lindsey Pulliam (Northwestern Wildcats)

The Dream didn’t have any glaring positional needs, so they were able to take the best player they though was available at No. 3. Many were split on whether they would take shooting guard Arella Guirantes or small forward Rennia Davis. They went with point guard Aari McDonald instead, a player whose draft stock rose due to her exciting run to the NCAA championship game with Arizona. McDonald will join point guards Chennedy Carter and Odyssey Sims on Atlanta’s roster. It was a bit of surprise pick, but overall a solid choice.

The Dream will have to cut someone somewhat valuable, either guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough or center Kalani Brown, to create enough cap space to sign McDonald. Don’t expect the team to part ways with more valuable players beyond that to make space for either Raquel Carrera (the No. 15 pick) or Lindsey Pulliam (the No. 27 pick). Those picks are likely just going to end up being good training camp competition.

New York Liberty (B)

Picks: No. 6 Michaela Onyenwere (UCLA Bruins), No. 17 DiDi Richards (Baylor Lady Bears), No. 25 Valerie Higgins (Pacific Tigers), No. 29 Marine Fauthoux (France)

The Liberty stole Michaela Onyenwere away from the Los Angeles Sparks, who may have traded up to get the UCLA forward. However, LA ended up with the better shooter and bigger player in Jasmine Walker anyway. Onyenwere is still a solid pick and is battled-tested from playing in the Pac-12. She could become a great WNBA player. We thought New York would take Natasha Mack at No. 6 to help its frontcourt. Onyenwere could still be considered a frontcourt player but will not give the Liberty the size and shot-blocking that Mack would have given them. It’s also interesting that New York went with non-3-point shooters with both of their first two picks, the other being DiDi Richards of Baylor. The Liberty like to shoot a lot of threes — that is their team strategy. But they were looking for improvement on defense, which was a good idea. Richards, like Onyenwere, is battle-tested (Big 12/perennial championship contender) and said herself that she is a complete WNBA player if she can find her offense. The Liberty failed to take and any power forwards or centers, rounding out the draft by selecting Valerie Higgins of Pacific and Marine Fauthoux of France, both ahead of where they were projected.

Indiana Fever (C-)

Picks: No. 4 Kysre Gondrezick (West Virginia Mountaineers), No. 11 Aaliyah Wilson (Texas A&M Aggies)*, No. 19 Unique Thompson (Auburn Tigers), No. 24 Trinity Baptiste (Arizona Wildcats), No. 26 Chelsey Perry (UT Martin Skyhawks), No. 31 Florencia Chagas (Argentina), No. 33 Maya Caldwell (Georgia Lady Bulldogs)

*acquired in trade with Seattle Storm

The Fever, who missed the playoffs last year and had one of the least-impressive free agency periods, went rogue with their highly-important No. 4 pick, at least in the eyes of most, by taking Kysre Gondrezick, who was projected to go at No. 17 by Swish Appeal and at No. 29 by ESPN. However, let’s take a moment to consider just how good a player Gondrezick is. She averaged 19.5 points and 4.5 assists as a senior at West Virginia and led the Mountaineers to a great season in the Big 12.

Nevertheless, the Fever could have had a taller, more physical guard in Arella Guirantes (many teams could have; she fell all the way to No. 22). They also could have taken Rennia Davis of Tennessee, a versatile small forward who can guard multiple positions. We’ll see if their gamble on Gondrezick works out.

If the Fever’s second pick was higher than No. 19, they may have waited to get Gondrezick. It’s understandable, if they wanted her that badly, that they took her at No. 4 because, even though some mock drafts had her going after 19, she was a big-name player and a phenomenal scorer in college. With 19, the Fever went with a much safer pick: Unique Thompson of Auburn. Thompson was projected to go at No. 15 in both the Swish Appeal and ESPN’s mock drafts and you know you can rely on her rebounding.

One thing Indiana has going for it is plenty of cap room. They, unlike many teams, can afford to sign a 12th player. And by trading Kennedy Burke for the No. 11 pick (Aaliyah Wilson of Texas A&M), the Fever have just 10 players under contract. Hello to a roster spot for Gondrezick and then another for either Wilson or Thompson. And Kathleen Doyle’s roster spot certainly isn’t a lock either, leaving the door open for the rest of Indiana’s draft picks to at least compete.

Trinity Baptiste was picked ahead of her projection at No. 24, but, like Aari McDonald, was impressive during Arizona’s run to the national championship game. Chelsey Perry of UT Martin was a steal at No. 26 and then Florencia Chagas of Argentina (No. 31) and Maya Caldwell of Georgia (No. 33) were not expected to get drafted but Indiana took them.

Washington Mystics (no grade)

Picks: none