Top prospects: clockwise from the top left: Armintie Price, Lindsey Harding, Alison Bales, Ivory Latta and Jessica Davenport (middle).
In fact, this is the biggest question surrounding the 2007 WNBA Draft. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone thinks they know what will happen. But in the 10-year history of the WNBA, there has never been as much uncertainty over who should be the first pick. It is a decision that will affect every other team in the league, all of whom have multiple contingencies in place depending on who, in fact, the Phoenix Mercury do select with the first pick.
Franchise players like Seimone Augustus, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson have all been the top picks in previous drafts, but there was rarely any mystery that they would, in fact, be taken first. It was all but a foregone conclusion in the days and weeks leading up to the Draft. But this year, there is no obvious choice who stands out.
"This year's Draft does not have a clear-cut franchise player," Monarchs coach Jenny Boucek said. "But I think there are a lot of players who can play important roles. It may be deeper in some ways than previous Drafts, but the talent level is not as strong in the top players who are a notch above the rest."
The Mercury actually finished with an 18-16 record in 2006 and just missed out on returning to the postseason. Instead, they found themselves in the Draft Lottery with around a 1% chance of sneaking in and winning the first pick. But that is just what happened. The Phoenix Mercury won the Lottery and are now faced with the ultimate decision. There had been speculation whether or not Tennessee sophomore Candace Parker or LSU junior Sylvia Fowles would declare themselves eligible for the Draft. Yet both have explicitly declared that they will not enter the Draft. So the questions remain.
"We are not locked in yet because there are so many options," Mercury GM Ann Meyers said last week. "I am open to trading the pick or working out another deal. Perhaps we can solve the issues on our front line through free agency. We do have a great nucleus in place with Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Penny Taylor, Kelly Miller... There are a lot of options, and there are conversations that continue to take place. So nothing is settled."
With Taurasi, Pondexter, Miller, Taylor and Dispersal Draft acquisition Kelly Mazzante, the Mercury are loaded in the backcourt. But the frontcourt is an area that the Mercury need to focus on as starting center Kamila Vodichkova recently announced that she is pregnant and will not be playing in 2007. The team also lost Sandora Irvin in a trade with San Antonio and Kristen Rasmussen signed with the Sun.
In response, the Mercury signed veteran Olympia Scott and just traded for a center, Kelly Schumacher, in a deal with the Liberty this past weekend. So does that mean Phoenix can take the best player available? Or will they take whomever they see as the best center or forward?
"Everybody knows that (Alison) Bales and (Jessica) Davenport are your two posts," says coach Bo Overton, whose Sky have the third and 10th picks. "And (Lindsey) Harding and (Ivory) Latta (are your two points)."
Among the names being discussed as the potential top overall picks, Ohio State's Jessica Davenport and Alison Bales are the only posts. The top guards available are Duke's Lindsey Harding, North Carolina's Ivory Latta and Mississippi's Armintie Price.
"Lindsey Harding is probably the best player out there," Meyers agreed before Pre-Draft Camp. "She has shown that she is the top point guard and the top player. She does so much for Duke. I attribute a lot of that to the fact that she sat out two years ago. Even though she wasn't playing in games, she could still work out with teams. If you look at who came out last year, Augustus, Pondexter and Currie, they all could have come out the year before. So they had that year of experience, as does Lindsey. To me, because of that extra year, she is hungry. She understands what is expected of her in leading the team."
So if they really feel that Harding is the best player available, yet they don't need a guard, they may still be working to trade the pick to an interested team. But there are other options as well, which begs a clarification in the original question: "Who should go first?" and "who will go first?" may get two different answers.
"Why not draft Harding, then play Cappie at the two and Taurasi at the three," Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman wondered?
But Davenport is the three-time Big Ten Player of the Year and the best center in the Draft, which would fill the most pressing need that the Mercury currently have. At her size, she can compete against the big posts in the Western Conference like Jackson, Thompson, Riley and Griffith. Plus she can rebound for the shooters already on the Mercury roster.
"I'm able to play with anybody," Jessica Davenport said. "As a post player, I'm able to score inside, pass the ball back out for open shooters, catch and run the floor."
Davenport's opponents agree that she is a special player.
"A 6-5 lefty in the post? You don't teach that," Purdue's Katie Gearlds said. "She is very intelligent on the court, she's a big body and will help a team immediately. Top five pick, easily."
But the Mercury also need to find a player that fits their system, a unique up-tempo style that requires players with speed, agility and the ability to run the floor. Perhaps another quick, smart guard to run the floor is not such a bad idea. And since many experts believe that Harding is the best player in the Draft, she is smart enough to figure out how to blend in with the other stars on the floor.
"I love Lindsey's game," Temple's Kamesha Hairston said after the two teams played in the second round of this year's NCAA Tournament. "She is a great point guard, aggressive and she knows when to score, when to set her teammates up and when to make a big play. I love to play against her."
There is also Armintie Price, whose stock rose so high during the NCAA Tournament and her run of 30-point games that Price chose not to attend Pre-Draft Camp here in Cleveland. Yet from what teams saw of her ability to score, they obviously liked her. Nor was Ivory Latta able to participate in the Pre-Draft Camp, but that is because her UNC team was still alive in the Final Four. With her fiery leadership and 3-point ability, Latta provides a bit of a different option to the top teams.
"This year, (Ivory) has become a different player," Maryland guard and ACC foe Shay Doron said. "She is more of a 3-point threat than anything else. It really spreads out the game for Carolina. She has a great team around her and does a great job of getting everyone involved. She has been doing it for four years."
Despite all of the options, one thing is clear. All of the teams who choose after the Mercury are waiting for Phoenix to tip their hand and give some hint as to which direction they are leaning. And all of our questions will be answered around 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday (ESPN2).