Mike Thibault sees opportunity where others see misery. The new coach and general manager of the WNBA's Washington Mystics, a franchise with 11 wins over the past two seasons, is confident that the No. 4 pick in this year's WNBA Draft will produce a quality player.
What it is unlikely to produce is a shot at one of the following players: Brittney Griner, the game-changing 6-foot-8 center from Baylor; Elena Delle Donne, the 6-foot-5 forward from Delaware whom many consider a cross between Lauren Jackson and Diana Taurasi, or Skylar Diggins, the heady and popular Notre Dame point guard who will be a box-office draw for the team that drafts her. That trio of college All-Americas are near-locks for the first three picks for the April 15 WNBA Draft.
The star quality at the top is such that ESPN will air the WNBA Draft this year for the first time in prime time. The first round will begin at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2, followed by the second and third rounds on ESPNU from 9-10:30. The entire draft -- three rounds of 12 picks each -- can also be seen on WatchESPN.
"Everybody kind of thought, 'OK, there are three players, and if you don't get one of those three players, it is a disaster," Thibault said. "But it's not a disaster. Everyone talks about Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins, but I think the draft is deep enough through seven or eight picks."
History is on Thibault's side. Since 1998 the No. 4 pick has produced five WNBA All-Stars (Asjha Jones, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Ephiphanny Prince, Sophia Young and Lindsay Whalen). Thibault himself drafted Whalen in 2004 while he was coach of the Connecticut Sun.
"I am embracing the idea that we will get a good player," Thibault said.
Griner gives the league a unique athletic player with incomparable size, and she'll team with Taurasi in Phoenix to form an entertaining 1-2 punch.
"She'll be a game-changer because defensively she is just an incredible presence," Thibault said. "Guards coming in the lane have to change their shots. I am glad we're going to NBA defensive rule so she just can stand there. Offensively, she has gotten better every year. A good offensive player but maybe not at her potential when she comes in."
Delle Donne can play inside or outside and can put the ball on the deck. Her skill set is beloved by scouts and coaches.
"Delle Donne is as skilled offensive player coming into our league as we've seen in a while," Thibault said. "She has a little bit of Lauren Jackson's skills and a little bit of Taurasi's skills. She has an incredible shooting touch. Defensively, she has not been asked to do much in college but that's not a negative. A lot of times you don't want that player in foul trouble. That will be an adjustment for her."
As for Diggins, Thibault sees her as more of a combo guard.
"She's very skilled, and it is a testament to her that their program [Notre Dame] has been immensely successful she went there," he said. "In our league, you are looking for people who know how to win. Her role will be determined by teams who draft her."
Who are the best candidates for the No. 4 pick? We asked ESPN basketball analyst Kara Lawson, who also plays for the Sun, and Renee Brown, the WNBA's Chief of Basketball Operations, for guidance on the bounty after the Big Three: