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2020 WNBA Draft: Results and Analysis

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 06: Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the Oregon Ducks reacts after a teammate hit a 3-pointer against the Utah Utes during the Pac-12 Conference women’s basketball tournament quarterfinals at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on March 6, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Ducks defeated the Utes 79-59. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The 2020 WNBA draft featured an emotional opening tribute, a no-brainer first pick, and more than a few surprising later-round selections. The action was streamed via a virtual telecast, with draftees across the country turning their living rooms into temporary broadcast studios. (If there’s one thing every player has in common, it appears to be fairly decent wi-fi.)

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a bit (or a while) to find out which teams made the most of their selections, as the league’s 24th season, originally scheduled to start May 15, has been indefinitely postponed due to the coronavirus. In the meantime, here are the biggest stories coming out of Friday night’s proceedings.

WNBA honors Alyssa Altobelli, Gigi Bryant and Payton Chester: 

The most emotional moment of the draft came before any selections had been officially made. Prior to the first pick, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelberg announced that Alyssa Altobelli, Gigi Bryant and Payton Chester had all been selected as honorary draftees. The three youth basketball teammates lost their lives in the January helicopter accident which also claimed the life of Kobe Bryant, who was likewise honored before the draft for his unfailing support of the WNBA.

Family members of all three honorary draftees, including Kobe’s widow Vanessa, spoke on behalf of the three girls, demonstrating remarkable strength and composure. Their pain was obvious, and yet their collective example was also a beacon of fortitude, and given our current world, it was powerful to witness such a display of dignity in the face of overwhelming loss.

Sabrina Ionescu goes No. 1 and signs with Nike

Surprising absolutely no one, the New York Liberty selected Oregon superstar Sabrina Ionescu with the first overall pick in the draft. Basketball’s biggest media market now has the sport’s biggest star, and while it’s unclear if Ionescu will have a chance to suit up for the Liberty this summer, it’s safe to say she’s already the face of the franchise. The hype is that real, and we’ve got the receipts to prove it: within an hour of being selected, Ionescu’s jersey had already sold out online.

Ionescu finished her NCAA career with a record 26 triple doubles (14 more than the next player, men’s or women’s), and is the only player (again, men’s or women’s) to ever record more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists in a career. She famously reached that second milestone on the same day she spoke at the memorial of her mentor, Kobe Bryant.

“I think you need to look no further than the way that she’s handled herself in times of crisis to know what type of a leader she is,” said new Liberty coach Walt Hopkins, who was hired in January. “And what type of leader she could be at the next level.”

Before we get too caught up in speculating just how good Ionescu might be in the pros, it’s worth pausing to consider if she might just have completed the greatest college career in women’s basketball history.

“There’s never been one like her before and may never be another one,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. Of course, her resume has one big hole in it, given that Ionescu never won a national championship after being denied a golden opportunity this year due to COVID-19. But crazy as this may sound, the fact is a lot of players have won national championships. Ionescu, on the other hand, is in multiple clubs all by herself. (I mean, a champion will be crowned next year, whereas it’s legitimately a question as to whether anyone in our lifetime will come close to those 26 triple doubles.)

But while there wasn’t any doubt as to who the Liberty were going to take, there was a lot of speculation regarding who Ionescu was going to pick as a sponsor. In the end, she stuck with her roots, signing with the brand born at her alma mater, and whose headquarters is just up the road outside of Portland.

According to industry insiders, Ionescu’s compensation is the biggest in women’s professional basketball history. This is a huge win for the sport, which has seen so many of its most famous college talents lose visibility as they transfer to the pros. But Nike now has real skin in the game. The brand has more than enough resources to make Sabrina the face of women’s basketball, and judging by the paycheck they just cut, that’s exactly what they intend to do.

Dallas reloads 

Following Ionescu was her former running mate Satou Sabally, selected by the Dallas Wings with the second pick of the draft. This is the first time a school has produced the first two picks in the draft since 2016, when UConn’s Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson went 1-2.

Sabally is considered a unicorn, a versatile player who averaged 16.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists in her final season at Oregon before declaring a year early for the draft. She’s the rare talent who both has a very high ceiling and yet can contribute immediately. Better yet, she’s a perfect on-court partner for Dallas cornerstone Arike Ogunbowale. Satally can both play off ball while also relieving Ogunbowale of having to do everything herself offensively.

Dallas owned three first round picks, and with the second, they took a risk, drafting Princeton forward Bella Alarie fifth overall. She’s only the second Ivy League player to ever be drafted this high, with many expecting her to slide after not having a chance to showcase her talent against more talented teams in the NCAA tournament. If Alarie can prove to be a consistent 3-point threat in the pros, however, her and Satally will hold down the forward positions for Dallas for years to come.

With the seventh pick of the draft, Dallas took South Carolina guard Tyasha Harris, filling a need at point guard. Harris is a pass-first floor general who finished in the top 1 perfect in assist rate in the NCAA this past season, making her a perfect compliment to the offensive threats Dallas already has.

Did Atlanta get the steal of the draft? 

It may seem strange to describe the fourth pick in any draft as underrated, but given the disproportionate amount of hype surrounding Ionescu and her teammates, Chennedy Carter certainly slipped under the radar this cycle, despite having the potential to be a bona-fide superstar in the WNBA. The Texas A&M guard is an elite scorer, having averaged over 20 points a game since she stepped foot on campus as a freshman. She’s not afraid to shoot, and given her ridiculous handles, as well as her underrated passing ability, she would have been one of the top 2 selections in just about any other draft.

Carter is going to win games for her team all by herself at the next level, but that same propensity for hero-ball is also cause for concern. Whether it’s deserved or not (and frankly, it probably isn’t), Carter has a reputation for occasionally playing like someone looking to fill up the stat sheet. In the grand scheme of things, such concerns are fairly trivial, especially when you consider both Carter’s sky-high potential. Surrounded by professional talent, she has the opportunity to be a perennial All-Star in this league, starting sooner than most of us are probably expecting.

Seattle bets on their future (and their training staff)

The Storm had a pick in each round of the draft, all of which they used on players whose ceilings are high and yet whose resumes are plagued with fairly serious injuries.

With the eleventh pick, Seattle took Kitija Laksa, a Latvian native who played three seasons at South Florida before an ACL injury prematurely ended her senior year. An outstanding 3-point shooter, Laksa is unlikely to play this year, meaning Seattle is placing a premium value on what she can (hopefully) do both next year and moving forward.

In the second round, the storm took Joyner Holmes from Texas. One of the top recruits when she entered college, both injuries and a semester-long suspension kept Holmes from ever really showcasing what she can do on a consistent basis in college. With the 31st pick, the Storm took Haley Gorecki from Duke, another player whose career was marked by injuries, but who had an exceptional senior season for the Blue Devils.

Making moves with the big picture in mind is never a bad thing. But in a league where there’s only 144 jobs available across all 12 teams, it’s already difficult for a rookie to make a roster, especially if there’s any lingering concerns about her ability to stay healthy. Seattle has plenty of veterans, so they don’t need immediate help, but in a year or two from now, it wouldn’t be surprising if none of these picks are on the Storm’s roster.

Then again, there’s also a near future in which Laksa is a lethal 3-point compliment to Seattle’s playmakers, and either Holmes or Gorecki (or both) has made the jump from talented college player to dependable pro.

Seattle can afford to gamble, and this year, they did just that.

Round 1

1. New York Liberty: Sabrina Ionescu — Oregon, Guard

2. Dallas Wings: Satou Sabally — Oregon, Forward

3. Indiana Fever: Lauren Cox — Baylor, Forward

4. Atlanta Dream: Chennedy Carter — Texas A&M, Guard

5. Dallas Wings:  Bella Alarie — Princeton, Forward

6. Minnesota Lynx: Mikiah Herbert Harrigan — South Carolina, Forward

7. Dallas Wings: Tyasha Harris — South Carolina, Guard

8. Chicago Sky: Ruthy Hebard — Oregon, Forward

9. New York Liberty: Megan Walker — UConn, Guard

10. Phoenix Mercury: Jocelyn Willoughby — Virginia, Guard/Forward

11. Seattle Storm: Kitija Laksa — South Florida/TTT Riga, Guard/Forward

12. New York Liberty: Jazmine Jones — Louisville, Guard

Round 2

13. New York Liberty: Kylee Shook — Louisville, Forward

14. Indiana Fever: Kathleen Doyle — Iowa, Guard

15. New York Liberty: Leaonna Odom — Duke, Forward

16. Minnesota Lynx: Crystal Dangerfield — UConn, Guard

17. Atlanta Dream:  Brittany Brewer — Texas Tech, Forward

18. Phoenix Mercury: Te’a Cooper — Baylor, Guard

19. Seattle Storm: Joyner Holmes — Texas, Forward

20. Los Angeles Sparks: Beatrice Mompremier — Miami, Forward

21. Dallas Wings: Luisa Geiselsoder — Germany, Forward

22. Los Angeles Sparks: Leonie Fiebich — Germany, Forward

23. Connecticut Sun: Kaila Charles — Maryland, Guard

24. Washington Mystics: Jaylen Agnew — Creighton, Forward

Round 3

25. Atlanta Dream: Mikayla Pivec — Oregon State, Guard

26. Minnesota Lynx (via trade with New York Liberty): Erica Ogwumike — Rice, Guard

27. Atlanta Dream: Kobi Thornton — Clemson, Forward

28. Indiana Fever: Kamiah Smalls — James Madison, Guard

29. Phoenix Mercury: Stella Johnson — Rider, Guard

30. Chicago Sky: Japreece Dean — UCLA, Guard

31. Seattle Storm: Haley Gorecki — Duke, Guard

32. Chicago Sky: Kiah Gillespie — Florida State, Forward

33. Las Vegas Aces: Lauren Manis — Holy Cross, Forward

34. Los Angeles Sparks: Tynice Martin — West Virginia, Guard

35. Connecticut Sun: Juicy Landrum — Baylor, Guard

36. Washington Mystics: Sug Sutton — Texas, Guard