A WNBA Draft Full of Surprises

Selections by the Fever, Sparks, and Wings blew up mock draft boards.

By Savannah Moore

By the end of the first round in the 2021 WNBA Draft, ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson’s comment after the 10th overall pick perfectly summed up how draft commentators and viewers must have felt by the end of the night:

“This is a surprise to me.”

Robinson’s comment came after the Los Angeles Sparks selected North Carolina guard Stephanie Watts as 10th overall. The evening was full of surprising selections at all three rounds, with several projected lottery picks hearing their names called later than most expected.

The top three picks in the draft proved to be fairly predictable. The Dallas Wings selected Charli Collier and Awak Kuier with the first two picks, as they had been projected to go one-and-two for months. The Atlanta Dream selected NCAA Tournament star Aari McDonald with the third overall pick. McDonald’s heroics during the tournament helped propel the Arizona Wildcats all the way to their first ever championship game, and she should form an explosive backcourt with Atlanta’s top pick from 2020, Chennedy Carter, who was the No. 4 overall selection in last year’s draft. 

Then the Indiana Fever went on the clock…

Most experts’ mock draft boards had West Virginia guard Kysre Gondrezick going in the late second or early third round, so you could imagine everyone’s shock to see her go fourth overall to the Fever, including Gondrezick herself. Although the selection was surprising, Gondrezick was an efficient scorer at all levels for the Mountaineers and could potentially contribute to the Fever immediately. 

Kysre Gondrezick
(SOURCE: Kysre Gondrezick)

Indiana’s choice sent projected lottery picks, like Louisville’s Dana Evans and Rutgers’  Arella Guirantes, tumbling down the board. The Fever even traded for the rights to the Seattle Storm’s No. 11 pick, Aaliyah Wilson, yet another player most thought would go much later. Wilson, who starred at Texas A&M, has shown promise, but only played two seasons in college due to injuries. The decision was a head-scratcher given the players that were still available.

The Chicago Sky held the eighth overall pick, and it was an unexpected one as well. Australia’s Shyla Heal wasn’t projected to be a first round pick, but maybe she should have been. The 19-year-old point guard has been playing professionally in Australia since she was 14, giving her a level of experience unmatched by anyone else in the draft class. 

The Sky were one of the teams able to take advantage of the big names sliding in the draft. Oklahoma State’s Natasha Mack seemed to be a shoo-in for the first round. Mack was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and led the country in blocks. At 6-foot-4, she has the frame and intangibles to be a defensive anchor in the WNBA, so it was strange to see her fall all the way to the Sky in the second round. 

Dana Evans’ was finally selected with the first pick of the second round by the Wings. Evans expressed her disappointment after falling into the second round, but also said she plans to use it as motivation at the next level. At the collegiate level, Evans won 122 games with the Cardinals, the most in Louisville’s history, so it’ll be intriguing to see what she does now that she has a chip on her shoulder.

Dana Evans
(SOURCE: Louisville Women’s Basketball via Twitter)

Dana Evans’ was finally selected with the first pick of the second round by the Wings. Evans expressed her disappointment after falling into the second round, but also said she plans to use it as motivation at the next level. At the collegiate level, Evans won 122 games with the Cardinals, the most in Louisville’s history, so it’ll be intriguing to see what she does now that she has a chip on her shoulder.

Guirantes’ wait proved to be much longer, but she was eventually scooped up by the Sparks with the 10th pick in the second round after they had passed on her earlier. She expressed a similar mindset to Evans’. Guirantes said teams had “poked the bear.”  Most analysts considered Guirantes one of the most pro-ready players in this class, given how strong she is on both sides of the ball. Guirantes ranked top five in the Big Ten in points, assists, steals, and blocks per game during her senior season at Rutgers.

Arella Guirantes
(SOURCE: Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)

The frightening reality of the WNBA Draft is that in a twelve team league, roster spots are hard to come by, especially as a second or third round pick. The depth of this draft class has sparked some conversation for expansion, and commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said that talks of new teams could begin as soon as next year if this upcoming season is successful.

Even though being a late-round pick could be discouraging, several have been able to find success in the WNBA in recent years. In fact, the reigning Rookie of the Year, Crystal Dangerfield, was selected by the Minnesota Lynx in the second round of the 2020 WNBA Draft as the No. 16 overall pick.

The WNBA’s 25th season tips-off on Friday, May 14th at 7:00 pm with the Indiana Fever vs New York Liberty.

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