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Inside The W With Michelle Smith: 2020 WNBA Draft Storylines

Like everything else during these unprecedented days, this 2020 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm will not look like any of the others that have preceded it.

The 24th season in WNBA history is planted on shifting ground thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a difficult contrast to a thrilling offseason that included a historic Collective Bargaining Agreement and the most compelling free agency period in league history.

The start of the season has been delayed and the schedule has almost assuredly been altered by the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. But to say what comes next is anyone’s guess isn’t entirely true, because what comes next is the annual infusion of young talent into the WNBA’s exclusive ranks with Friday’s WNBA Draft (7 PM ET, ESPN).

In a sports-starved landscape, the WNBA will have a chance to show its future to a large audience. It is a bright one. Let’s take a look at Friday’s most compelling storylines.

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT – JANUARY 27: Crystal Dangerfield #5 of the UConn Huskies. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Different Kind of Draft

There will be no players in a ballroom when their name is called. The WNBA, like the rest of the world, will go virtual for this one. There will be no players, guests or media in the room when Commissioner Cathy Engelbert begins announcing picks at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. Drafted players will take part remotely via video conference. During the draft, the WNBA will honor Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, who were killed in the helicopter accident on January 26 that took the lives of nine people, including Kobe Bryant, who will also be recognized for his advocacy for the league and its players. Coaches and GMs will be making draft picks from separate spaces, rather than the traditional “war room” setup, which should make for some interesting moments, particularly if deals start percolating.

Sabrina’s New Business

Sabrina Ionescu made the decision last season to return to college for her final season because she had “unfinished business” after her Oregon Ducks fell in the 2019 NCAA national semifinals to Baylor. To that end, it remains unfinished. After a season in which she likely put the NCAA triple-double record out of reach forever, Ionescu became the first player ever to collect 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists, win both the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles in dominating fashion and win every national player of the year award there is. Unfortunately, Ionescu did not get her chance to win a title thanks to the heartbreaking cancellation of the NCAA Tournament. And she did it all under an emotional cloud that followed the death of friend and mentor Kobe Bryant. Now it is time for her to move on to the next phase of her career as a professional basketball player. There should be barely any drama when Ionescu’s name is called first by the New York Liberty, who will – with the first No. 1 pick in franchise history – get a newly minted household name on their roster, not to mention a play-making guard who will change the face, and quite possibly the fortunes, of the franchise.

The Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon on January 16, 2020 (Samuel Marshall/Eric Evans Photography)

A Trio of Ducks

Ionescu will be joined in this draft by two of her Oregon teammates, forward Satou Sabally, who gave up her final year of eligibility to turn pro, and post Ruthy Hebard, who finished her career as one of the most efficient finishers in NCAA history with a career field-goal percentage of 65.1 percent. Sabally, the Cheryl Miller Award winner as the top small forward in the nation, shot to the top of many draft boards when she announced earlier this winter that she would be turning pro after her junior season. Long and athletic with overseas experience, Sabally is viewed as a top three pick. Hebard, the Katrina McClain Award winner as the nation’s top power forward, is also projected as a first-round pick. Should all three go in the first round, that would mark the first time that one school has produced three first-round picks since 2017 when South Carolina produced three first-round picks.

Early Birds

Sabally isn’t the only player who has turned pro with a season of eligibility left. Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter and Connecticut’s Megan Walker have both made the decision to begin their pro careers in the anticipation of being first-round draft picks. Carter, who ranked 6th in the NCAA at 21.6 points per game, is a scorer who can find her own shot and also brings speed and court vision to any team looking for a dynamic young guard. Walker, a strong shooter from the wing, was the top recruit in the nation three years ago when she came to Connecticut. She finished as the 2020 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, averaging 19.7 points and 8.4 rebounds and shooting 45 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Walker scored 20 or more points in 18 games this season.

Athletics Ð WomenÕs Basketball vs Lubbock Christian Ð WBB Ð Ferrell Center Ð 10/30/2019 (Photo by Baylor Athletics)

Does Dallas Make Deals?

The Wings hold the No. 2, No. 5, No. 7 and No. 9 picks in this Draft, five of the first 15 picks, and the most picks of any team overall with six over three rounds. Expect general manager Greg Bibb and head coach Brian Agler to package at least a couple of these picks to make a deal for an impact player following the loss of Skylar Diggins-Smith and Glory Johnson in free agency, though it’s hard to imagine them not keeping the No. 2 pick, where they will get an elite talent like Sabally or Baylor’s Lauren Cox. Last season, the Wings finished 10-24 with four rookies on their roster. While there is plenty of young talent out there, it would be surprising not to see the Wings make a deal to bring in a top-tier veteran.

Update (4/15/20): Dallas traded their No. 9 and No. 15 picks to New York as part of the three-team deal centered around Tina Charles landing in Washington.

Miscellaneous

Three teams, the Connecticut Sun, Los Angeles Sparks and Las Vegas Aces will be without a first-round pick…If Rice product Erica Ogwumike is drafted, as expected, she will join her sisters Nneka and Chiney in the league (both with the Los Angeles Sparks)…Princeton’s Bella Alarie has a chance to be the highest drafted Ivy League player since Alison Feaster (Harvard) in 1998. Alarie will likely be the fourth Ivy League player taken alongside Feaster, Temi Fagbenle (Harvard) and Leslie Robinson (Princeton).


Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes columns on WNBA.com throughout the season and offseason. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

Images Courtesy of Eric Evans/GoDucks.com*