The 2021 WNBA draft is in the books, with the Wings having made league history by using the first two picks. Dallas appears to have bolstered its frontcourt after selecting Texas center Charli Collier and Finnish forward Awak Kuier. The Dream snagged Aari McDonald with the third pick, adding the star of the 2021 women’s NCAA tournament.
While this year’s class might not have some of the headline-grabbing names of other recent classes, it still has plenty of talent that could shape the league going forward. Below are the winners and losers of Thursday’s draft:
Winner: Dallas Wings
In a league full of loaded frontcourts, Dallas is hoping that the duo it selected on Thursday night becomes a foundational part of a future dynasty. Collier had 19 double doubles this past season for the Longhorns, averaging 19 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. At Texas, she emerged as a force around the rim, shooting 51.6% from the field on post-up possessions. While her perimeter game is still developing, she’ll look to pair well with 19-year-old Kuier, who is coming off her debut professional season with Italian club Virtus Eirene Ragusa. The duo will look to round out a frontcourt rotation that also features last year’s No. 2 pick, Satou Sabally, and No. 5 pick Bella Alarie.
While Collier might be the most WNBA-ready of any player taken Thursday, Kuier could have the highest upside, both because of her physical attributes and her age. “I think she has no limits,” Vanja Cernivec, a scout for the Chicago Bulls, who worked with Kuier at multiple Basketball Without Borders camps, while serving as the director of operations for NBA Europe, told me. Kuier grew up watching Candace Parker highlights on YouTube and saw a bit of herself in the forward’s versatility and size. She recognizes she has to get stronger if she wants to truly emerge as an elite WNBA player, but the early returns on her professional career are encouraging.
But Dallas’s big night didn’t end there. The addition of guard Chelsea Dungee at No. 5 gives Dallas a 39% shooter from three, and the selection of Dana Evans represents one of the biggest steals of the draft. The 5' 6" guard from Louisville finished her career as a two-time ACC Player of the Year and is a crafty creator who should take pressure off 2020 WNBA leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale.
Losers: Mock Drafts
The first two picks of the night went largely as expected with Collier and Kuier going one-two to Dallas. Atlanta’s selection, NCAA tournament star McDonald, was also relatively predictable. But from there, the draft got wonky. Indiana’s selection of West Virginia guard Kysre Gondrezick marked the first major surprise of the night, and Chicago’s selection of Australian guard Shyla Heal at No. 8 and Los Angeles’s selection of Stephanie Watts at No. 11 were both relatively shocking. The result was a number of noteworthy players, including Evans, Rennia Davis and Arella Guirantes, slipping in the first round or even into the second round. It also led to seemingly every 2021 WNBA draft mock draft being ripped up in agony.
Winners: The WNBA
The league as a whole is a big winner on Thursday night. Yes, it successfully put on its second straight virtual draft (though commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced this year’s picks from ESPN’s studios and not, like last year, from her New Jersey home). But more so it is a winner in that this year’s event provided the latest reminder of just how much talent is entering the league on an annual basis. High-quality players now slide in the draft with some regularity because of the depth in each draft class.
In media availability earlier this week, Engelbert acknowledged that “expansion is certainly on the list of things I’ve been thinking about down the road,” saying that “hopefully next year, that we’re prepared to start talking about” growing the league. With every passing draft it seems as if the current 12-team, 12-roster-spot structure might unfairly limit deserving entrants.
Loser: Arella Guirantes
This categorization is not a reflection of Guirantes as a player. Instead, it stems from Guirantes’s slipping into the second half of the second round. No one would have batted an eye had she been taken No. 3 by the Dream. She averaged 20 points per game in each of her final two seasons at Rutgers, shooting 41.6% from the field and 37.8% from three in last year in particular. Guirantes was also named first-team All-Big Ten for the second straight year and awarded All-Big Ten Defensive Team honors. All of which is to say is it wouldn’t be a huge shocker if Guirantes is one of the most productive rookies this season.
In the end, Los Angeles might be a great fit for her, especially with Chelsea Gray’s signing with the Aces in free agency. But her draft night wasn’t as pleasant as she might have hoped, considering how long she waited to hear her name called. “The wait was terrifying,” Guirantes told reporters afterward. “It was just a bunch of emotions flying around.”
But, Guirantes said, “If I did need any more motivation, that was it. Definitely poked the bear.”
Winner: Dream Fans
The Dream already had one of the WNBA’s best backcourts featuring Tiffany Hayes, Courtney Williams and 2020 first-round pick Chennedy Carter, who averaged 17.4 points per game as a rookie. But they will now also fold McDonald, the beloved Pac-12 Player of the Year, into the mix. “Did you just say my name and Chennedy?” McDonald asked reporters after the draft about joining Atlanta’s backcourt. “That sounds scary already.”
McDonald captivated the hearts of the college basketball world in the NCAA tournament because of her scoring ability and competitive drive, but she also has proved to be a disruptive perimeter defender. The Dream won just seven games last season and have made only two playoff appearances since 2015, but the addition of McDonald will immediately make them one of the league’s most exciting teams to watch.
Winner: Chicago Sky
While Chicago’s selection of Heal at No. 8 might have been one of the night’s biggest surprises, its selection of Natasha Mack at No. 16 might be the biggest steal of the draft. Mack slipped into the second round despite averaging 19.8 points and 12.4 rebounds for Oklahoma State last season while shooting 53% from the field. She also took home the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award after leading the NCAA in blocked shots, with four per contest. In joining the Sky, the 23-year-old center won’t be expected to take a starring role right away, but she will instead be provided the opportunity to learn behind one of the league’s best players in Candace Parker. In that regard, Chicago might have added both its center of the present and the future this offseason. “I have a chip on my shoulder. I’m ready,” Mack said afterward. “Like I’ve been saying I’ve always been slept on, so this is nothing new to me.”
Winner: Cheryl Reeve
Reeve and her Lynx have earned the benefit of the doubt on draft night due to their continued success. And with their one pick on Thursday night, they might have found another foundational piece. In selecting Davis at No. 9, they add a long and athletic wing who provides Minnesota with some positional flexibility. Reeve, the coach and general manager, told reporters that Davis was the No. 2 player on their draft board, making their selection of the 6' 2" wing at nine even more impressive. The Lynx have produced the last two Rookie of the Year winners in Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield, and it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if Davis took home the hardware to Minnesota for the third straight year. There’s a reason why the Lynx have made the playoffs in 10 straight seasons and Thursday’s draft illustrates one of the reasons why.
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