It’s almost time for the best players in women’s college basketball to learn where they will begin their professional careers. Ten of the top prospects will be in attendance Thursday night in New York City, and 36 total players will hear their names called during the WNBA Draft presented by State Farm.
During a conference call with the media last week, WNBA coaches answered questions about the draft and its top prospects. Dallas coach Fred Williams, San Antonio’s Vickie Johnson, Chicago’s Amber Stocks and Los Angeles’ Brian Agler were among the participants, in addition to ESPN WNBA analysts LaChina Robinson and Rebecca Lobo.
Here are their thoughts on five of the biggest questions heading into Thursday’s draft.
Will Kelsey Plum wind up in San Antonio?
Plum took college basketball by storm this year, surpassing Jackie Stiles as the all-time leader in both career points and single-season points in the women’s game. The 5-8 guard from Washington is widely regarded as the top prospect in this draft. But the top pick belongs to the Stars, who already have an All-Star shooting guard in Kayla McBride and an up-and-coming point guard in Moriah Jefferson. Most believe Plum will still be taken No. 1 overall, but San Antonio has plenty of options that it could weigh before, during or after the draft.
Rebecca Lobo: When you look at the draft and you look at San Antonio, Kelsey Plum does not seem like the biggest need for that team. With Kayla McBride, with Moriah Jefferson, with the other guards they have on the roster, Plum does not seem like she fits there. But that doesn’t mean they won’t take her and keep her or take her and trade her, because I think there are a lot of teams out there who would move some things in order to get Kelsey Plum on their roster. I think right now Kelsey Plum just has too much value for her not to go No. 1. I’ll be really surprised if she doesn’t go with the first pick.
LaChina Robinson: She was the best player in college basketball this season. I think when you put her up against other players in similar positions in the WNBA, she will have a little bit of adjustment in terms of the speed of the game, the quickness. If she can knock down open shots and make her teammates better, which we saw her do this season with her ability to pass the ball, I think she has a tremendous future in the league. … I think Kelsey Plum is the greatest value [in this draft]. You’re going to get your bang for the buck as the No. 1 pick, whether you keep her or trade her. Anything is possible, depending on what teams are willing to offer.
How will South Carolina’s early entries shake up the draft?
After helping South Carolina capture its first-ever national championship, guards Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray opted to forego their final year of eligibility and enter the WNBA Draft. Davis and Gray only spent one year with the Gamecocks, as they both sat out during the 2015-16 season after transferring. This marks the third straight year at least one player has declared early: Aerial Powers did in 2016, and Jewell Loyd and Amanda Zahui B did in 2015. Players must turn 22 during the calendar year of the draft to be eligible.
Robinson: I was surprised that they declared, and not because of their readiness. It’s more because of what South Carolina put on the floor this season, what they were able to do in winning a national championship, and I thought they would have a great chance to do the same next year. But I think these are two players that are ready for the WNBA. When you look at their size, skill, versatility, athleticism and strength, these are two players that can impact the game from just about anywhere on the floor.
Robinson: I was really impressed with the way [Gray] played, especially in the NCAA Tournament, filling in at the power forward spot when Alaina Coates was out. She’s a tremendous asset to any team. She had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the national championship game. I think it just speaks for itself. She’s also gotten into better shape physically, which allows her to play in different places on the floor. Kaela Davis is a pro. She comes from basketball pedigree, obviously, with her dad having played in the NBA. She plays for a demanding coach in Dawn Staley, so she understands the rigors and all that goes with it. I think that if she stays healthy and continues to get better, she’ll be an All-Star one day in the league. I think both of them have the ability at some point in their WNBA careers to do that.
Other than Plum, which guard prospect has the most potential?
In a draft that is deepest at the guard position – thanks in part to Davis and Gray entering early – teams will have difficult decisions to make in the first round. Some other notable guards that will likely hear their names called early are Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Baylor’s Alexis Jones and Oregon State’s Sydney Wiese. All four guided their teams to immense success at the college level.
Vickie Johnson: I think Alexis Jones is ready for the WNBA. She has done all she can possibly do on the college level. Her ability to score the basketball and also play the point guard position is very important in the WNBA, with her ability to create her own shot and create for her teammates. I think she’ll be a great pro. I would still say it will take her a year or two to understand the WNBA and the speed of the game, but I think she’ll do fine.
Robinson: As far as Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, I really think the most exciting thing about her going into the WNBA is that she actually has that speed and length on the wing that you need to be successful. I think she has a lot of defensive potential, which we didn’t talk a ton about in her college career because she was really great on the offensive end. But she’s wiry, very active, and I think something that you look at as you’re adding pieces to any WNBA team is where you can put them on the floor defensively. I think she’s only scratched the surface of what she’s capable of on that end of the floor.
Brian Agler: [Wiese] has great size for a point guard. She played in a really good program there, a program she was a big part of in regards to rising to the top of the Pac-12. She’s an excellent three-point shooter, and a really good team player. I think with Sydney, how she can defend in this league is probably going to determine her longevity. This league is so quick, fast and strong, something those players aren’t used to, so how they can adjust that way is going to be very important.
Which frontcourt player will come off the board first?
The top prospects in the frontcourt are considered to be Alaina Coates, who joins Davis and Gray in representing South Carolina at the draft, and Maryland’s Brionna Jones. Coates is still recovering from an ankle injury that sidelined her for the NCAA Tournament, and it remains to be seen whether the setback will impact her draft position. Another interesting prospect is Chantel Osahor, Plum’s teammate at Washington and a unique frontcourt player because of her passing ability and outside shooting touch.
Lobo: I think for Coates, her game is going to translate really well. She already has a pro body. She has a pro skill set in terms of what she can do when she gets the ball on the block. She also has a nice, soft touch out to 10 feet or so. Of course, her health is going to play into it in terms of this year, but I think she definitely has a pro-ready body and pro-ready skill set. She’ll be a player who can really help a team this year and will get a lot of minutes, assuming she’s healthy.
Lobo: [Jones] obviously had an incredible college career, and I think she’s an interesting one because ostensibly I think her game translates. Her efficiency, her ability to rebound, and her uncanny ability to score over double teams and bigger defenders stand out. I think if there’s any question with Brionna, it would be defensively. There’s so much pick-and-roll action in the WNBA; how will she handle that? That being said, I think she will be taken in the first round, and I think she has a chance to be a very good pro. I love how she’s changed her body over the course of her college career.
Agler: Osahor obviously came on the scene last year when they made their run to the Final Four. She really is a unique type of player with her ability to shoot the three-point shot. I think that skill sort of opened up the eyes to her potential. She has tremendous, quick hands, great strength, and tremendous instincts for the game. But her uncanny ability to hit the three-point shot is what’s probably going to give her a legitimate shot of making a team.
What will Chicago and Dallas do to start the rebuilding process?
After an offseason of major changes to their rosters, both the Sky and Wings are set up to leave the draft with promising young talent. The Wings traded guard Odyssey Sims and lost forward Plenette Pierson in free agency, but they own the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 10 overall picks on Thursday. Chicago has the No. 2 overall pick behind San Antonio, which it received in the trade that sent former MVP Elena Delle Donne to the Mystics. The Sky, under first-year head coach and GM Amber Stocks, will also have the 10th overall selection.
Amber Stocks: I’ll say it’s wise to always keep your options open, and so as the process draws nearer and nearer to the 13th [of April], we’re just keeping the board open, keeping options open. We’re continuing to evaluate players on all different levels, and we’re continuing to evaluate all different types of options. Some of those may include potential trades.
Robinson: After Elena Delle Donne was traded from the Sky, you’ve got a big void. You need more of everything without her. I know one thing Amber talks about is wanting to have a better rebounding identity, so maybe a player like Gray who can shoot the three consistently as well as give you some rebounding. And I love [Northwestern’s] Nia Coffey, as well, but she’ll need more development to play the wing spot. So maybe one of those players, but definitely a big guard that can help them from the three-point line as well as on the glass.
Fred Williams: I think that what we want to accomplish is find the players that can fulfill our need on the defensive end, on the structure of our defensive end. And then the other thing is we’re looking at players who are really pro-ready, who can come in and really help us right away. I think that’s very important. I don’t think we want to look at players to kind of wait and sit on them a little bit. But our thing is, for me, I like to have a team that has a lot of speed, a lot of height and a lot of depth. And I think we have some of that with the veteran players we have now, and bringing some fresh legs into our team will most definitely help us.
Lobo: I think Dallas would love to get Alaina Coates. She would be an ideal fit for them in terms of defensively having a rim protector inside, plus an offensive player who can provide a lot. They have the flexibility of picking at No. 3 and No. 4, and you would expect them to take a big and a guard. And whether that would be a guard like [Kaela] Davis, [Allisha] Gray or maybe even Alexis Jones – a local kid who could fit and fill some holes for you – I would expect them to fill two positions. If Coates is available, to me that would be a perfect pick for them.