2021 WNBA Draft: The biggest steals of an eventful night

Dana Evans (Justin Tafoya via Getty Images)

Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen called it “the most unpredictable draft” she’s ever been a part of in the WNBA. By the fourth pick, everyone who’d filled out a mock draft prior to Thursday night’s virtual event was feeling the same way.

After the Dallas Wings took Charli Collier and Awak Kuier with the first and second picks, as most expected, the Dream bet big on 5-foot-6 Arizona guard and Pac-12 Player of the Year Aari McDonald at No. 3. The Indiana Fever then shocked nearly everyone by taking guard Kysre Gondrezick out of West Virginia. Most mock drafts projected Gondrezick going off the board in the mid-second or third round, so fourth overall was a downright surprise.

The excitement — and talk of disrespect — picked up from there. With plenty of first-round talent plunging down the board, it seems only appropriate that we address the biggest steals of the draft as we inch closer to the first day of competitive WNBA training camps.

Rennia Davis (No. 9, Minnesota Lynx)

As the draft moved toward Minnesota’s first pick at No. 9, with top-tier talent left on the board, you had the feeling of “here we go again.”

Just a year ago, the Lynx had the steal of the draft when they tabbed point guard Crystal Dangerfield with the 16th overall pick. The UConn product went on to average 16.2 points and 3.6 assists in her first WNBA season and win the Rookie of the Year award.

Rennia Davis has the all-around talent to give coach Cheryl Reeve another dangerous, versatile option off the bench. Davis finished her career at Tennessee as one of only four players to rank in the top 10 in points, points per game, rebounds and rebounds per game — putting her in elite company. At 6-foot-2, she has the athleticism to finish around bigger players in the paint and grab rebounds on defense. The Lynx have championship aspirations after swinging big in free agency, and Davis bolsters their case.

Dana Evans (No. 13, Dallas Wings)

Wings president Greg Bibb couldn’t believe Evans was still on the board as they prepared to make their fourth pick of the night (the first of the second round). The two-time ACC Player of the Year was a standout guard at Louisville who showcased her elite speed and playmaking ability this past season as a senior.

“I can’t even put into words how much it motivates me,” Evans said in her draft press conference after going 13th overall to Dallas. “I told somebody that I’m ready to just get in the gym tonight. I kind of feel disrespected, overlooked, but that’s just been my career, my path and my journey.”

I had the Wings taking Evans fifth overall in my mock draft because of her talent and ability to compete for a starting spot right away. At point guard, Evans can create offense and open up the floor for Arike Ogunbowale. She’s also a nuisance for opponents on defense and is a threat from 3-point range, where she connected on 35.3 percent of her shots in 2020-21.

Natasha Mack (No. 16, Chicago Sky)

Natasha Mack’s senior season at Oklahoma State catapulted her late into the first round of many mock drafts. Named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year after leading the nation in blocks (4.0 per game) and ranking ninth in rebounds (12.4), Mack looked like one of the most WNBA-ready bigs.

She fell to the Sky with the fourth pick in the second round and, at first, couldn’t believe how long she’d had to wait.

“I got a little frustrated, like I guess I’m not going to be called anytime soon,” Mack said. “I have a chip on my shoulder. I’m ready. Like I’ve been saying, I’ve always been slept on, so this is nothing new to me. It’s just time to go out there and prove myself.”

The Sky are entering the 2021 season with one of their deepest rosters in years. Mack will be able to learn from one of the best post players in the game, 2020 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Candace Parker, and should provide a spark off the bench as Chicago makes a deep postseason push.

N’dea Jones (No. 23, Seattle Storm)

N’dea Jones’ stats don’t jump off the page, which likely contributed to her drop down the board, but she makes up for it with her basketball IQ and efficiency on both ends of the floor. She also knows how to win, as a key contributor on Texas A&M teams that won over 20 games every year she was there.

“A really big part of my game is rebounding, and it’s really all effort and energy, and I hope I can bring that to Seattle,” Jones said Thursday night. “I hope that the coaches see that I’m a hard worker — I don’t like to quit on plays, I go hard on the boards… I’m a role player, and I think that’s something that’s gotten me far in life.”

Jones averaged a double-double as a senior for the Aggies and was a big reason they lost just one game during the regular season while playing a tough SEC game slate. Developing under players like Breanna Stewart and Katie Lou Samuelson with the Storm will serve Jones well in her WNBA future.

Chelsey Perry (No. 26, Indiana Fever)

The only third-round selection on this list, Chelsey Perry is probably the most accustomed to being overlooked.

A four-year starter at UT Martin in the Ohio Valley Conference, Perry was destroying opposing defenses by her junior and senior seasons. She averaged 22.9 points per game as a senior, 11th in the nation, as well as 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. She also improved her 3-point shooting every year (averaging 42.2 percent from beyond the arc in 2020-21), a skill WNBA teams covet in their bigs. With her well-rounded offensive repertoire, Perry ranked seventh in offensive win shares per 40 minutes this past season.

The 6-2 forward will have to prove herself in training camp — the Fever have 20 players competing for 11 or 12 spots based on salary cap totals — but she has the potential to carry the mid-major torch into the WNBA.

Full draft results

First round

1. Dallas Wings — Charli Collier, F/C, Texas

2. Dallas Wings — Awak Kuier, F, Finland

3. Atlanta Dream — Aari McDonald, PG, Arizona

4. Indiana Fever — Kysre Gondrezick, G, West Virginia

5. Dallas Wings — Chelsea Dungee, SG, Arkansas

6. New York Liberty — Michaela Onyenwere, SF, UCLA

7. Los Angeles Sparks — Jasmine Walker, F, Alabama

8. Chicago Sky — Shyla Heal, PG, Australia

9. Minnesota Lynx — Rennia Davis, SF, Tennessee

10. Los Angeles Sparks — Stephanie Watts, G, North Carolina

11. Indiana Fever (from Seattle) — Aaliyah Wilson, SF, Texas A&M

12. Las Vegas Aces — Iliana Rupert, C, France

Second round

13. Dallas Wings — Dana Evans, G, Louisville

14. Las Vegas Aces — Destiny Slocum, G, Arkansas

15. Atlanta Dream — Raquel Carrera, F, Spain

16. Chicago Sky — Natasha Mack, C, Oklahoma State

17. New York Liberty — DiDi Richards, G, Baylor

18. Seattle Storm — Kiana Williams, G, Stanford

19. Indiana Fever — Unique Thompson, F, Auburn

20. Connecticut Sun — DiJonai Carrington, G, Baylor

21. Connecticut Sun — Micaela Kelly, G, Central Michigan

22. Los Angeles Sparks — Arella Guirantes, G, Rutgers

23. Seattle Storm — N’dea Jones, F, Texas A&M

24. Indiana Fever — Trinity Baptiste, F, Arizona

Third round

25. New York Liberty — Valerie Higgins, F, USC

26. Indiana Fever — Chelsey Perry, G/F, UT Martin

27. Atlanta Dream — Lindsey Pulliam, G, Northwestern

28. Los Angeles Sparks — Ivana Raca, F, Wake Forest

29. New York Liberty — Marine Fathoux, G, France

30. Connecticut Sun — Aleah Goodman, G, Oregon State

31. Indiana Fever — Florencia Chagas, G, Argentina

32. Phoenix Mercury — Ciera Johnson, C, Texas A&M

33. Indiana Fever — Maya Caldwell, G, Georgia

34. Los Angeles Sparks — Aina Ayuso, G, Spain

35. Seattle Storm — Natalie Kucowski, F, Lafayette

36. Las Vegas Aces — Kionna Jeter, G, Towson