CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
For the second year in a row, the New York Liberty won the WNBA draft lottery and will pick first in April’s draft. The rest of the WNBA draft lottery, which was revealed Friday, was Dallas at No. 2 — also for the second year in a row — Atlanta at No. 3 and Indiana at No. 4. Lottery odds are based on the cumulative records of the two most recent regular seasons.
“The fans who have been ride-or-die with this team since ’97 deserve this,” Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said. “They deserved it last year. If you really look at the trajectory of this franchise, where it’s going … this is exciting. It’s about time some good stuff is happening. When you build something, it does take time. Now we have the opportunity.”
With a cumulative record of 12-44, the Liberty had the most chances to land the top pick (442 out of 1,000). Atlanta (15-41) had 276 chances out of 1,000 to win the top pick, Dallas (18-38) had 178 and Indiana (19-37) had 104.
The WNBA draft selection order for the rest of the first round and the entire second and third rounds is determined by inverse order of the teams’ regular-season finish in 2020.
The consensus among WNBA coaches and GMs is that there is no clear choice for the No. 1 pick at this point. One of the candidates is Texas center Charli Collier, who is a draft-eligible junior but has not said whether she would enter the league early. With just two victories in 2020, the Liberty have nowhere to go but up and could see Collier, who has had a 44-point outing already this season for the Longhorns, as another building block.
“We draft for fit when it comes to character,” said Kolb, who took Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu first, UConn’s Megan Walker at No. 9 and Louisville’s Jazmine Jones at No. 12 in the 2020 first round. “That’s what we’re looking for. I think probably [we are] geared more toward the post. But as you know, we play a five-out system. We need shot-makers.”
The Liberty were one of the WNBA’s original eight franchises when the league began in 1997, and they were owned by MSG Company until Joseph Tsai, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, bought the team in 2019. New York has never won a WNBA title; the franchise’s most recent trip to the WNBA Finals was in 2002. The Liberty have not made the playoffs since 2017, Bill Laimbeer’s last year as coach in New York before he left for Las Vegas. Former WNBA player Katie Smith was head coach in 2018-19, and Walt Hopkins took over last year.
These same four teams had the lottery picks for 2020 as well, with New York getting the No. 1 selection for the first time in franchise history. There was excitement about Ionescu after her stellar college career, but she missed most of the WNBA season after an early ankle injury. New York went 2-20 in the WNBA’s bubble in Bradenton, Florida.
Dallas took Ionescu’s Oregon teammate Satou Sabally at No. 2; Indiana took Baylor’s Lauren Cox at No. 3; and Atlanta took Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter at No. 4. But none of them was Rookie of the Year; that went to Minnesota’s Crystal Dangerfield, who was a second-round selection at No. 16 overall.
Atlanta has had the No. 1 selection once: in 2009, when the Dream picked Louisville’s Angel McCoughtry. Dallas, a franchise that previously was in Detroit and Tulsa, Oklahoma, has never had the No. 1 selection, and neither has Indiana.
Dream coach Nicki Collen said there are more uncertainties than certainties right now with the 2021 draft, including how free agency will affect teams’ selections. In general, Collen says the Dream need more depth in the post, especially with a post player who is more adept at playmaking.
“When you look at the success of Seattle, L.A., Connecticut, it’s that versatile player that can really handle the ball, pass it, shoot it, get us into offense,” Collen said. “Someone who can affect the game from a point forward position.”
Then again, Collen said the Dream might just end up with whoever the best player available is, whether it’s a specific fit or not. The same could be said for the other lottery teams. Dallas could be looking at a player such as Arizona’s Aari McDonald with the second pick, although it already has an outstanding shooting guard in Arike Ogunbowale. As young as the Wings are, GM Greg Bibb said they also might opt to use one or more of their three first-round picks in a trade.
“It’s proven that to really win in a meaningful way in the WNBA, you have to have some veteran leadership and experience to win those close games,” Bibb said. “And we’ve been void of that. Certainly, that will be something we’ll be looking to address this offseason.”
Indiana coach Marianne Stanley said the NCAA’s decision to allow players, even seniors, to return for another college season because of the impact of COVID-19 could have some impact on the 2021 WNBA draft pool.
“As of right now, it’s difficult to get out and see players live; we do a lot of watching games on video,” Stanley said. “And we may not know for quite a while who’s going to be in the draft and who’s not.”