Second and Third Round Picks Who Made an Impact
Top Draft Steals in WNBA History

April 8, 2009 -- On the eve of the 2009 WNBA Draft we offer GMs and coaches this: You don't have the grasp on the prospects in this draft class that you think you do.

This is by no means a slight to the brass of WNBA teams, who put in countless hours scouting the top talent in the college game and overseas to zero in on the players they think can help them improve. It's just a reality. As the WNBA enters its 13th season, it now has 12 years of history and trends to pull from, and one trend that is hard to ignore is that players slip through the cracks, exceed expectations and make a lot of teams regret not selecting them sooner in the draft.

With that, we present to you our annual rendition of draft day steals currently playing in the WNBA, remixed with the results from 2008.

This year, with so many examples to choose from, we have stretched our list from the 15 biggest WNBA Draft steals to the 20 biggest. That's thanks in large part to the deep 2008 Draft, which by our count had four of the top 20 heists. The growing number of late-round selections to make an impact in the league is a testament to another trend -- the improvement of the women's game as a whole.

We must temper things a bit though by mentioning that it figures to get much tougher for unheralded prospects to make their mark this year and perhaps beyond. This season, with one less team in the league and one less roster spot on teams, making a squad will be an accomplishment in itself.

But, as this list shows, we've all been proven wrong before.

Some reminders: by draft day steals, we mean players not selected in the first round. We are not counting Expansion or Dispersal Drafts and have excluded the 1997 Elite Draft and player allocations. Also not included are undrafted players (i.e., Becky Hammon) because if they weren't drafted, well, they couldn't have been stolen on draft day.

Seattle's Camille Little blossomed into a force in the post during the 2008 season.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

20. Leilani Mitchell, 2008: Round Two, #25 overall
Drafted by: Phoenix Mercury
Current team: New York Liberty

Mitchell didn't exactly set the world on fire in her first WNBA season, posting averages of 3.9 ppg and 2.9 apg, and putting her at No. 20 might be generous. However, she proved to be a solid back-up point guard for a Liberty team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals while showing flashes of a player that could have a long WNBA career. Not bad for someone who was drafted late in the second round by Phoenix, which actually traded Mitchell for a third-round selection in this year's draft.

19. Sidney Spencer, 2007: Round Two, #25 overall
Drafted by: Los Angeles Sparks
Current team: Los Angeles Sparks

In 2007, Spencer was one of the top contenders for the Rookie of the Year Award, but narrowly lost out to third overall pick Armintie Price. The 6-3 Tennessee product averaged 9.6 ppg and 4.1 rpg, hit over 88 percent of her free throws and was the third-ranked 3-point shooter in the league at .439. But with the additions of Candace Parker and DeLisha Milton-Jones and the return of Lisa Leslie, Spencer saw her minutes shrink from 24.4 mpg in '07 to 13.7 mpg in '08. As a result, her production slipped as well (5.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg). Spencer will need to regain her '07 form if she hopes to remain on this list in years to come.

18. Crystal Kelly, 2008: Round Three, #31 overall
Drafted by: Houston Comets
Current team: Sacramento Monarchs

Kelly was actually a late training camp cut by the Comets after the team had drafted her in the third round last year. The Monarchs subsequently scooped her up and her physical play solidified the inside game of a team that qualified for its sixth straight playoff appearance. In the span of a season, Kelly went from not being on a roster to being the third-highest scorer for Sacramento (12.3 ppg) during its playoff series with San Antonio.

17. Erin Thorn, 2003: Round Two, #17 overall
Drafted by: New York Liberty
Current team: Chicago Sky
Thorn had a breakout season in 2007 for New York thanks to the departure of Becky Hammon, averaging career highs in points, assists, rebounds, steals, minutes and shooting percentage. However, with the arrival of Essence Carson in 2008, Thorn was again forced to accept a diminshed role with the Liberty. As a result, during the off-season the BYU grad signed on with the Chicago Sky in the hope of regaining those minutes that allowed her game to flourish in '07.

16. Chelsea Newton, 2005: Round Two, #22 overall
Drafted by: Sacramento Monarchs
Current team: Sacramento Monarchs

Never the star name while at Rutgers, the Monarchs liked what they saw in Newton's defensive skills and nabbed her late in the second round. She started in all 34 games and all eight playoff games as a rookie in 2005 and helped lead the Monarchs to their first WNBA championship title. As a defensive specialist, Newton was assigned to the other team's best player and always gave her fits. She was then taken by Chicago in the Expansion Draft and posted even better numbers across the board in 2006, before returning to Sacramento in 2007.

15. Charde Houston, 2008: Round Three, #30 overall
Drafted by: Minnesota Lynx
Current team: Minnesota Lynx

No one would have picked a player from a celebrated program like UConn to be an under-the-radar selection in any draft, but such was the case last year when Houston fell all the way to the third round -- No. 30 overall -- to Minnesota. Houston took advantage of the opportunities she was afforded early on, scoring in double figures in four of her first six WNBA games. While she hit the wall a bit during the middle of the season, she finished the season on a roll, scoring at least 18 points in each of her last four games. For the season, she averaged 8.8 ppg and 3.7 rpg, shot 49 percent from the floor, and did it all while coming off the bench.

14. Camille Little, 2007: Round Two, #17 overall
Drafted by: San Antonio Silver Stars
Current team: Seattle Storm

Little's WNBA career has already seen some ups and downs despite the fact that she's only entering her third season. After being drafted out of North Carolina in the second round by San Antonio in 2007, Little became a respectable big for the Silver Stars, averaging 3.9 ppg and 4.5 rpg while playing all 34 games and starting seven. Prior to the following season, she was dealt to Atlanta, where her minutes declined, despite the fact that she went from a championship contender to an expansion team. Little was moved again during the season, this time to Seattle, where her game took off. With Lauren Jackson sidelined, Little was inserted into the starting lineup and did more than an adequate job on the boards and in the scoring column. In 19 games with the Storm last season she averaged 9.7 ppg and 4.4 rpg while shooting 53 percent from the field.

13. Nicky Anosike, 2008: Round Two, #16 overall
Drafted by: Minnesota Lynx
Current team: Minnesota Lynx

It's easy for anyone to be overshadowed by a player like Candace Parker, and that seems to be just what happened to Anosike, who was Parker's teammate at Tennessee. At last year's draft, Anosike watched a slew of post players get selected before she went to the Lynx in the second round. But the league soon took notice of Anosike, who earned Minnesota's starting center spot from Day One and never let go, proving to be a force on both the offensive and defensive ends. Anosike finished with impressive averages of 9.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 2.2 spg, the latter of which was good for second-best in the entire league. Thanks to the addition of Anosike as well as Houston, the Lynx have built up a solid core and moved much closer to that goal of returning to the postseason.

12. Cathrine Kraayeveld, 2005: Round Three, #27 overall
Drafted by: San Antonio Silver Stars
Current team: New York Liberty

A big body with a soft outside touch, Kraayeveld was cut by the Silver Stars and picked up by the Liberty as a rookie. As the Liberty have replaced their veteran, Finals-experienced roster with younger talent over the past few seasons, Kraayeveld has logged more time than most people would have expected. Yet this 6-4 Orgeon alum scored 8.8 ppg in 2006, a career high with 10.8 ppg in 2007, 9.6 ppg in 2008 and is helping to make New York a new powerhouse in the East.

11. Dominique Canty, 1999: Round Three, #29 overall
Drafted by: Detroit Shock
Current team: Chicago Sky

Canty finished second to Washington's Chamique Holdsclaw for 1999 WNBA Rookie of the Year and spent her first eight seasons in the WNBA as a productive, lightning quick guard for Detroit and Houston. During the 2006 campaign, Canty was scoring 10.9 ppg and having the best year of her career with the Comets before suffering a season-ending injury. She went on to sign a free agent contract with Chicago prior to the 2007 season and has been one of the Sky's veteran, go-to players over the past couple seasons.

Nicky Anosike started all 34 games at center for the Lynx last season.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

10. Janell Burse, 2001: Round Two, #28 overall
Drafted by: Minnesota Lynx
Current team: Seattle Storm

The 2001 Draft gave us one of the deepest classes ever, including names like Lauren Jackson, Tamika Catchings, Ruth Riley, Deanna Nolan, the Millers, Marie Ferdinand, Katie Douglas and Penny Taylor. And that was just the first round! Burse was taken much later in the Draft, and while she may not have had the impact of the aforementioned names, she is just emerging as a productive starter in the WNBA. She spent three seasons in Minnesota as a reserve, then another year as a key reserve during the 2004 Storm's title run. It wasn't until Kamila Vodichkova went to Phoenix that Burse got the starting job at center, and she has broken out since. She averaged career highs with 11.1 ppg and 6.6 rpg in 2006, and despite her numbers slipping a bit in 2007, was still a productive member of the Storm's rotation. After taking 2008 off because of injuries, Burse is back and hoping to help return Seattle to elite status.

9. Erin Buescher, 2001: Round Two, #23 overall
Drafted by: Minnesota Lynx
Current team: San Antonio Silver Stars
Ever heard of The Master's College? Most folks around the WNBA hadn't when Erin Buescher was taken in the second round of the 2001 Draft. And though she didn't make much noise over the first four seasons of her pro career, Buescher came out of nowhere to win the 2006 Most Improved Player Award. Since latching on with San Antonio prior to '07, Buescher has continued to star in the small forward role, despite suffering a knee injury that forced her to miss most of 2007.

8. Elaine Powell, 1999: Round Four, #50 overall
Drafted by: Orlando Miracle
Current team: Free Agent

Don't look now, but Elaine Powell has three WNBA championship rings! Powell became a full-time starter in 2001, her third season with Orlando, and scored 11.2 ppg. She then went to Detroit halfway through the 2002 season and was the starting point guard on the title team in 2003. Her production dropped a bit in 2004 and 2005, yet she remained the starter until she was chosen in the Sky expansion Draft prior to 2006. She played 14 games with Chicago, then rejoined Detroit midway through the 2006 season, serving as a valuable guard during the Shock's three straight trips to the WNBA Finals, which resulted in two titles.

7. Tammy Sutton-Brown, 2001: Round Two, #18 overall
Drafted by: Charlotte Sting
Current team: Indiana Fever
This Canadian-born talent left Rutgers and slipped into the second round in 2001, but has performed at a high level over the course of her career in Charlotte and Indiana. She has averaged over 10 points per game, posting a career high of 12.0 ppg in 2007 and following that with 11.8 ppg in '08. She is also one of the league's premier shot-blockers and will play a big role in Indiana's quest for a title in 2009.

6. Jia Perkins, 2004: Round Three, #35 overall
Drafted by: Charlotte Sting
Current team: Chicago Sky

Perkins missed most of her rookie year with the Sting after giving birth, but stepped in as a starter with Chicago in 2006. However, it was in 2007 that she established herself as a dependable scorer at this level. She went on to finish second on the Sky in scoring (11.7 ppg) behind only All-Star Candice Dupree. Last season, she raised her game to even greater heights, by averaging a team-best 17.0 ppg along with 4.0 rpg and 2.8 apg and finishing second only to Ebony Hoffman in the voting for the Most Improved Player Award.

5. Tamika Whitmore, 1999: Round Three, #30 overall
Drafted by: New York Liberty
Current team: Connecticut Sun

As far as talent goes, the 1999 WNBA Draft was the best ever. Thanks to the infusion of talent after the ABL folded, players like Yolanda Griffith, Katie Smith, Dawn Staley and Jennifer Azzi joined the WNBA. Because of that, there were better players available deeper in the draft. Whitmore is a prime example. A big body in the paint, she spent five seasons in New York (becoming a regular starter in 2001), two seasons in Los Angeles and two more in Indiana before a recent trade to Connecticut. She was finally named to the WNBA All-Star Game in 2006, the first such honor of her career, and scored a career-best 15.5 points per game that season.

Taj McWilliams-Franklin won her first WNBA title with the Detroit Shock last season.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

4. Sheri Sam, 1999: Round Two, #20 overall
Drafted by: Orlando Miracle
Current team: Free Agent

Sam is one of the veteran imports from the ABL who did not go in the first round, yet she has had a great WNBA career. After one season in Orlando, Sam went to the Miami Sol and led Miami in scoring in 2000, 2001 and 2002. She also made her first WNBA All-Star appearance in 2002 and finished her time in the sun as the Sol's all-time leader in 14 categories, including points, scoring average, field goals, three-point field goals, rebounds and minutes played. From there she has been a hired gun, a traveling assassin. She was a valuable member of the Seattle Storm's championship team in 2004 and spent two seasons in Charlotte. She has missed only four games since entering the WNBA and has scored 3,353 career total points.

3. Tamecka Dixon, 1997: Round Two, #14 overall
Drafted by: Los Angeles Sparks
Current team: Free Agent

Dixon spent nine seasons with the Sparks and was part of the nucleus of the franchise that won titles in 2001 and 2002. She is one of only a few players to play in all 11 WNBA seasons and has averaged double digits in scoring over that time. As an unknown rookie in 1997 playing with veteran professionals, Dixon quietly went about her business, improving each year and providing versatility on both ends of the floor. She signed with the Comets as a free agent prior to the 2006 season, but was used primarily as a reserve. She was waived early in 2007, but came back in early July to provide some experience and midseason scoring (12.0 ppg) in Houston's otherwise young backcourt. The Comets have since suspended operations and Dixon is currently a free agent.

2. Tangela Smith, 1998: Round Two, #12 overall
Drafted by: Sacramento Monarchs
Current team: Phoenix Mercury

Smith has been one of the quieter stars in the WNBA since entering the league a decade ago. Yet she ranks among WNBA career leaders in points, blocks, field goals made, field goals attempted, blocks per game, rebounds, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and minutes. Smith spent seven seasons in Sacramento, but was traded before the 2005 championship season. In Charlotte, she continued to work hard and improve every season, even adding a 3-point shot to her game. After a 2007 Draft Day trade from Minnesota to Phoenix, Smith was the post presence the Mercury needed to claim their first WNBA title in 2007.

1. Taj McWilliams-Franklin, 1999: Round Three, #32 overall
Drafted by: Orlando Miracle
Current team: Detroit Shock

Taj was both an unknown college sleeper and a late-round pick, yet nearly five years apart. She was the NAIA National Player of the Year in 1993 and played overseas to start her career. She was then the 40th overall pick in the 1996 ABL Draft and played three seasons for the Richmond/Philadelphia Rage. She was an All-League standout and a member of the U.S. National Team, yet somehow she dropped all the way to No. 32 in the 1999 WNBA Draft. The Miracle selected her and Taj then spent eight seasons with the Orlando/Connecticut franchise. She is a six-time All-Star, at the top of many WNBA career records and is a member of the exclusive 3,000-point, 2,000-rebound club. Oh, and she won her first ever WNBA title last season at age 37 as a key part of the Shock's revamped attack.