We've already heard the hype: Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and the deepest class in WNBA history. They sound like givens at this point.
But several major questions still remain as we look ahead to Wednesday's WNBA Draft in Tampa. We asked some of the league's coaches to help us out in understanding these issues and how they might be resolved on Draft Day.
So without further ado, we try to tackle five of the most burning questions about the 2008 WNBA Draft.
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Of those polled at the Pre-Draft Camp in Tampa, most coaches were diplomatic in their view of the Parker vs. Fowles debate. Most suggested that they'll both be star players at the next level, but in their own special ways.
"They’ll bring different contributions to their teams," said University of Georgia coach Andy Landers. "Fowles will be more yeoman in what she does and Parker will be a little flashier with what she does. But at the end of the day, they’re both going to contribute a lot to the WNBA.”
Indeed, Parker will likely kill teams with her versatility and Fowles figures to be a dominating force down low for years to come. And both are expected to start and make an impact from the get-go. But it would be interesting to see how many teams would consider the decision so up in the air if they were in L.A.'s position and had the No. 1 pick. Sparks coach Michael Cooper seems to be confidently leaning in a certain direction. "That's set in stone," he said of the top pick on Saturday.
Teams must also consider marketability. But that's not the issue we're tackling here. We're trying to find out which player will have a better WNBA career on the court.
“It’s like asking who do you like better, The Rolling Stones or The Beatles?" said Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes. "They’re both going to be really good. To be honest with you, I think Candace Parker is the best collegiate player in my decade of evaluating talent. That says a lot because I’ve seen an awful lot of great ones.”
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2. What will Minnesota do with the No. 3 overall pick?
It seems to be virtually set in stone at this point that Los Angeles and Chicago aren’t trading the top two picks, which means the Lynx hold one of the more interesting picks in the 2008 WNBA Draft with their No. 3 overall selection.
As the coach of one of the youngest teams in the league, Minnesota’s Don Zierden has already expressed interest in trading the pick for more veteran experience and that very well could happen leading up to (or on) draft day. If no sufficient offers for current players come their way though, the Lynx will likely look to fill their need for a big.
But Minnesota could very easily find a frontcourt player later in the first round of this post-heavy draft. Meanwhile, high-profile guards are at a premium and they’re just what a lot of teams are looking for.
“It’s funny, coming into the draft, most people would have said it’s a good post draft or power forward draft,” said Connecticut coach Mike Thibault. “Yet there are four or five teams in the first round that need wing players. So it’s kind of skewed what I thought would be the order of the draft a couple months ago. Now there are teams looking to take wing players and guards that maybe would not have been.”
Shock coach/GM Bill Laimbeer has made it known that he wants a top guard out of this draft to back up Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan. Whether it’s just a smoke screen to throw some teams off remains to be seen.
The best backcourt prospect entering the draft is Stanford’s Candice Wiggins and she’s only helped her stock with a stellar NCAA Tournament, putting up a pair of 40-point games. There’s a very good chance Wiggins is rated as the No. 3 player on a lot of teams' boards, thus you could see some attempts to trade with Minnesota to move up past Detroit and into the third overall pick. Or the Shock could even trade up a spot if Wiggins is their girl and they fear she won’t be there at four.
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This is a question the aforementioned Lynx are dealing with right now, but the answer to this issue really depends on the team in question. If a squad is just a player or two away from competing in the postseason, it makes sense to go for need and fill the hole(s) in the rotation. Such is the case with the Seattle Storm, who added Swin Cash and Sheryl Swoopes in the offseason.
“For us now, we’re looking more specifically for needs," said Seattle coach Brian Agler. "There’s always a point and time in the draft where you feel like you have all your bases covered and you just pick who you feel is the best player at that time.”
The consensus seems to be that drafting for best overall is more likely to happen later in the draft, even with a group as rich in talent as the class of 2008. New York coach Pat Coyle, whose team hopes to build upon its playoff appearance of a year ago, left no doubt to the Liberty's approach, saying they will go for need in the first round and then best available after that. There just aren't a lot of roster spots to be had -- although the addition of Atlanta helps a bit --- and teams can't afford to be too selective once the sure-thing prospects go off the board.
As an expansion team, Atlanta finds itself in a unique situation, valuing different things from the other 13 teams. At this point, the Dream aren't doing themselves any favors by drafting simply on need, because in reality they need essentially everything. Atlanta coach/GM Marynell Meadors already did some manuevering with draft picks to acquire proven talents like Ivory Latta and Iziane Castro Marques, but said the quest for the best that's out there will continue on draft day.
“I’m just taking best available player," said Meadors. "We’ve got a very young team and we’ve got a couple of veterans and that’s about it.”
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The Shock have to trade one of their top picks, right? Six months after losing in the WNBA Finals, the veteran-laden squad, which is built to win now, has two first-round picks and five total in the 2008 WNBA Draft. By swinging a trade or two for established players that fit in with "Detroit basketball," the Shock could possibly put themselves in a great position to win their third WNBA title.
Last year, most people expected Detroit to swap its first-round pick -- No. 11 overall – for a veteran that could crack the rotation. But when North Carolina dynamo Latta fell to them at No. 11, the team stood pat and snatched her up.
As expected, Latta didn’t see much playing time in her first season in the Motor City and following the season was dealt to Atlanta for LaToya Thomas and the 18th overall selection in this year’s draft. That gives the Shock three picks in the top 18 and could signal Detroit, like most everyone else, likes the talent in this draft a lot.
The Shock aren’t getting any younger. And don’t forget that they lost a little depth in the offseason with the departures of Latta, Cash (also traded for a pick – No. 4 overall), Shannon “Pee-Wee” Johnson and Katie Feenstra. The 2008 Draft could present the Shock with a great opportunity to re-stock and prepare for the next generation.
We'll let the team officials do the talking on this one:
Thibault: “I think you have to go with your initial instinct with what you see during the season. But here, if you’re kind of indecisive between a couple of kids, you get to see them matched up with each other and see them go head to head where you might not have been able to see that during the season. And there are some kids you don’t see every day , but now you may consider them in the second round. Maybe this clears it up for you and how you feel. You don’t see them play in a real strong conference and now they’re playing against the best players out here. So it helps to see if they really stack up. Some kids can get stats in certain conferences and out here they're playing against kids they normally don’t play against.”
Alger: “Seeing them at the Pre-Draft Camp helps because you get a chance to see people you’re evaluating play head to head. I think it definitely helps us. I think it’s a great event.”
Hughes: “I don’t want to diminish the camp, but I don’t think I’ve ever made a decision on what I see played here in camp. I’ve made decisions on the people I’ve seen – the way they’ve handled themselves. I’ve made decisions on that. But most of our decisions are made by the tape and the in-person viewing prior to this. What we learn a lot about here is the people themselves.”
Sacramento GM John Whisenant: “It gives us a chance to see them play against the best. Sometimes -- especially some of these players that are not in the premier leagues -- it’s hard to tell when they’re so dominant and explosive in a less dominating league. I like this camp. I think it’s important. But the reality of the camp is that this year you’ve got two players from Rutgers, two from North Carolina and two from Maryland that are not here. And those six will be in the top dozen chosen at the draft. Then you add in it the Final Four teams -- two from Tennessee, one from LSU and one from Stanford – and that’s 10 of the top 12 picks that are not on the floor. The very fact that I know that, and I assume I’m not a lot different from the other GMs, we’re trying to see who comes in the order after that here at this camp.”
Chicago coach/GM Steven Key: "These players are very comfortable with who they are. They were the stars of their teams in high school and college. But in this (Pre-Draft Camp) situation, they go from being really comfortable to really nervous. Now they’re playing against other people with some big names like Bill Laimbeer, Michael Cooper and (Carol) Blaze(jowski) watching. And there’s definitely a little bit of anxiousness and excitement out there.
"But the good thing about the camp is that we can look at the little things. What I’m trying to notice is not how many shots she hits or whether or not she blocks a big shot, but more the little things: how she blocks the shot or whether or not she rotates the right way on defense. It’s not necessarily whether or not they can score 20 points in five minutes, because at our level, we’re looking for pieces to a puzzle. We’re not looking for somebody to come in and do everything all the time like maybe they did in college. You need to rebound, you need to defend, you need to pass, you need to do everything. We’re looking for people to make special plays that maybe other players would not. It requires a certain skill level, which a lot of players still need to rise to."
Zierden: "We've done plenty of scouting before the camp, but here we're able to see how they deal with nerves. That's the first thing they’re really doing: trying to get through their nerves. We interviewed a few of the players, and the first thing a couple of them said was that they’re so nervous. But the thing for them to realize is that they just need to go out and show the coaches here one thing they can hang their hat on, whether it’s rebounding, whether it’s defense, and it’s up to us to pick someone whose skill fits best with what we need."
Coyle: “What we’ve done all year long and the past couple years is we’ve been evaluating these players. Here you just come to get a last look. That’s all.”