In this blissful period between last Thursday’s WNBA Draft – a thrilling infusion of young talent into the league – and the start of training camp heading into the 2018 season, the dust has settled.
With camps opening on April 29, teams are now officially setting the course for who they will become in the 22nd WNBA season by evaluating their rosters and preparing to take the court. It’s time to take a look at those preparations, with rosters that include veterans, new signings, rookies and free agents looking to find their place in the best league in the world.
New head coach Nicki Collen made perhaps the biggest splash in the free-agent season, signing guard Renee Montgomery away from the defending champion Minnesota Lynx. And with no first-round draft pick, things actually turned out pretty well for the Dream anyway. UCLA product Monique Billings, one of the most athletic players in the draft, was available at No. 15 and allows Atlanta to build depth inside. Billings will learn from veterans Jessica Breland and Elizabeth Williams. Meanwhile, with Angel McCoughtry back on the floor and young backcourt standouts Layshia Clarendon, Tiffany Hayes and Brittney Sykes playing alongside Montgomery, the Dream are stacked at guard. Atlanta also selected Baylor point guard Kristy Wallace, who is out for the season with an ACL tear, but will have plenty of time to heal while the Dream have things covered in 2018.
With a pair of top-four draft picks, the Sky nabbed two of the best young talents in the draft in Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams. These two young players should make an immediate impact on a team that wants to be back in the playoff conversation, as veterans Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson are preparing to break in the new home court in downtown Chicago. DeShields is already an experienced professional, having played in Turkey this past winter and finishing her commitments following the WNBA Draft. Williams is a versatile, pro-ready player, as well-prepared Connecticut Huskies usually are. Another interesting add for the Sky this season will be South Carolina product Alaina Coates, who was drafted last year but sat out the season with an injury and is completing her first season overseas. Coates is going to provide depth inside and support for Dolson.
The Sun were last year’s surprise. But no more. Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas took care of that a year ago when Connecticut made an impressive run to the playoffs. Now Chiney Ogwumike, the No. 1 draft pick in 2014 who has missed most of the last two seasons with injuries, is healthy and ready to return. She makes the Sun deeper and even more dangerous. Coach Curt Miller went for guard depth in this draft, getting Duke product Lexie Brown, a versatile scorer who will learn much from the Sun’s cadre of young backcourt players. Miller said he now just wants to keep his team healthy and happy with their roles as he figures out what to do with a bounty of talent.
The excitement was already high with word that Liz Cambage is returning to the WNBA for the first time since 2013. But then Connecticut product Azurá Stevens decided to leave a year of college eligibility on the table and enter the WNBA Draft. Stevens landed in Dallas as a long, athletic player with a lot of potential to improve quickly under the tutelage of Cambage and Glory Johnson. With Skylar Diggins-Smith and 2017 Rookie of the Year Allisha Gray holding down the backcourt, there is much to look forward to here. Cambage averaged better than 16 points and eight rebounds per game in her last WNBA season. That kind of contribution is going to turn Dallas into a true threat.
Like Chicago, the Fever had two high draft picks with which to rebuild a franchise and set on a new course. And Pokey Chatman went for offense in a big way with the selections of Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians. Mitchell is the No. 2 scorer in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history and has hit more 3-pointers than any player ever. Vivians led Mississippi State to back-to-back appearances in the national championship with an all-around game that includes scoring and very solid defense. With their third pick, the Fever took Stephanie Mavunga, the post who pulled down 26 rebounds in a single game this past collegiate season. With Tiffany Mitchell and veteran Candice Dupree on the floor, Indiana wants to set the stage for a new streak of consecutive playoff appearances.
The undisputed draft-night queen was No. 1 pick A’ja Wilson, who comes to Vegas with the goal of turning the Aces into a competitive contender. She will get plenty of minutes, touches and attention. But the Aces have more up their sleeve, particularly in the backcourt with the high-scoring trio of Moriah Jefferson – who has been in Vegas for months rehabbing and preparing for her Aces debut – Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum, last year’s No. 1 pick. Bill Laimbeer will expect much from Wilson, but Wilson looks ready to handle it.
The Sparks hope they ended up with the steal of the draft in No. 11 pick Maria Vadeeva of Russia. Vadeeva plays with Nneka Ogwumike overseas, has extensive international experience, and should fit nicely in Los Angeles. Brian Agler added to his team’s depth with the free-agent signing of WNBA stalwart star Cappie Pondexter, and nailed down two of his most important re-signings with Alana Beard and Odyssey Sims. With Candace Parker leading the way, it’s time to find out if the pieces are in place for a third straight run to the WNBA Finals.
For the most part, the Lynx decided to stand pat during “draft season.” The defending champions have collected a whole lot of wins by relying on veterans, and this coming season looks to be no different. Minnesota grabbed Gonzaga product Jill Barta with a late-round pick, but will rely on the new energy to be brought by free-agent signings Tanisha Wright and Lynetta Kizer as well as guard Danielle Robinson, who came to the Lynx from Phoenix via trade. Lindsay Whalen just accepted the head-coaching job at her alma mater, Minnesota, but will be back for her 14th WNBA season. Robinson will be there to share time and the floor-general load.
It’s not been the easiest offseason for the Liberty, with news that team owners were trying to sell and that the squad would be moving from Madison Square Garden – where they have played since the first WNBA season back in 1997 – to Westchester. But when the team re-signed star Tina Charles, the Liberty could breathe a sigh of relief. New York added to its collection of Connecticut players in the draft with the addition of guard Kia Nurse. Nurse joins fellow former Huskies in Charles, Bria Hartley, Kiah Stokes and Kelly Faris. Another interesting addition for New York is 6-foot-6 Mercedes Russell from Tennessee. Russell could provide some needed assistance in the paint for Charles.
The biggest move that the Mercury made before the draft was getting veteran point guard Briann January back to Arizona, where she starred in her college career for the Sun Devils. But then they went big again in the draft by getting Oregon State product Marie Gulich with the No. 12 pick. The 6-foot-5 Gulich improved her draft stock dramatically with her strong performance inside for the Beavers during the NCAA Tournament. She will be a poised presence inside and learn much from veterans Brittney Griner and Sancho Lyttle. The return of DeWanna Bonner, who sat out last season after giving birth to twins, as well as a rested Diana Taurasi, has already put this team back in the title talk.
What new head coach Dan Hughes wanted more than anything was an heir to Sue Bird’s amazing legacy at the point for this franchise. He may well have found it by choosing UCLA product Jordin Canada in the first round. Canada is the Pac-12’s all-time assists leader, one of the fastest players in the draft and a smart, heady leader who will soak up Bird’s wisdom like a sponge. Seattle also added Natasha Howard and Courtney Paris in the offseason to deepen the frontcourt and support Breanna Stewart. Keep an eye on free-agent signing Brittany McPhee from Stanford, a hustle-always, aggressive guard who could challenge for a roster spot.
Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said heading into the draft that he was looking for another guard, and he found one in Texas’ Ariel Atkins with the No. 7 pick. Atkins, a strong passer and defender, fills a spot that the Mystics needed in the backcourt. Washington has its fundamental pieces in Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver and free-agent addition Monique Currie. Tayler Hill is still recovering from the knee injury she suffered late in 2017 and will miss at least the first month of the season. With Emma Meesseman sitting out the 2018 campaign to prepare with the Belgian national team for the World Cup tournament, Thibault also drafted Louisville product Myisha Hines-Allen, who can fill a scoring role on the wing.
Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.