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2021 WNBA Draft: First round picks and analysis

AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 17: Texas Longhorns forward Charli Collier (35) is defended by West Virginia Mountaineers Lucky Rudd (4) and Rochelle Norris (31) on February 17, 2020, at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, TX. (Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The WNBA Draft is making players’ dreams come true from their homes. The virtual event got underway with the first round Thursday night on ESPN.

As teams make their selections, we’ll be delivering instant analysis.

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

The Wings didn’t surprise with their first pick, selecting the 6-foot-5 forward who declared for the draft after her junior season at Texas. Collier will need to work on the finer points of her paint game to contend with veteran WNBA players, but she has the type of upside Dallas is looking for in building out its frontcourt behind Satou Sabally.

“My heart is racing because I worked so hard for this moment,” Collier told Holly Rowe on air. “Hate me or love me, you still gotta respect me either way.”

2. Dallas Wings – Awak Kuier, PF, Finland

The Wings have the youngest roster in the WNBA and the highest ceiling. They added another athletic big with the No. 2 pick, taking the 19-year-old out of Finland. Kuier is 6-5 and has played for the Finnish national team since she was 16, preparing her for the elevated skill in the WNBA.

3. Atlanta Dream – Aari McDonald, G, Arizona

Aari McDonald’s draft stock rose as she led her Arizona team to the NCAA championship game, but No. 3 is even higher than some might’ve predicted. McDonald showed off her speed and offensive repertoire in San Antonio, averaging 24.8 points through the tournament, and will give Atlanta a dangerous 1-2 punch at guard with Chennedy Carter.

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

The first big surprise of the draft came very early. Most pundits didn’t even have Kysre Gondrezick going in the first round, but the 5-9 guard was coming off her best season as a redshirt senior at West Virginia. She led the Mountaineers with 19.5 points per game and became a more efficient shooter at all levels.

5. Dallas Wings – Chelsea Dungee, SG, Arkansas

The Wings beefed up their frontcourt with their first two picks, so it only made sense for them to find a shooter, and Chelsea Dungee has one of the purest strokes in this draft class. The third-team All-American averaged 22.3 points per game for Arkansas, 14th in the NCAA, and shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range.

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

The Liberty added some needed veteran starters in free agency between Natasha Howard and Betnijah Laney, and Michaela Onyenwere gives them a versatile option with a lot of upside to add to the mix. The athletic forward can rack up points in a hurry and goes hard on the glass.

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

The Sparks took one step toward filling Candace Parker’s shoes with their seventh pick. Jasmine Walker is one of the most intriguing forward prospects in the draft because of her 3-point shooting ability. She averaged nearly a double-double as a senior (19.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game) while also shooting 39.8 percent from range.

8. Chicago Sky – Shyla Heal, PG, Australia

It made sense for the Sky to take a point guard with this pick and give her a season to develop under veteran Courtney Vandersloot. The surprise came in the player they selected, but the 19-year-old Shyla Heal has potential and the skills they can mold into their point guard of the future.

9. Minnesota Lynx – Rennia Davis, SF, Tennessee

The Lynx have made a habit of finding gems in the draft, evidenced by two of their most recent picks (Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield) being named Rookie of the Year. Based on Rennia Davis’ college resume, they might’ve done it again. Davis is an efficient scorer who can do a little bit of everything on offense and defense, just the type of player Cheryl Reeve likes.

10. Los Angeles Sparks – Stephanie Watts, G, UNC

The surprises continued in the first round, with the Sparks taking a guard many had targeted for later in the draft. Los Angeles’ frontcourt is formidable and pretty much set between Amanda Zahui B., Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike (and Jasmine Walker joining the mix), so it made sense for Derek Fisher to add guard depth. Watts is someone they have the ability to develop in the background this season.

11. Seattle Storm – Aaliyah Wilson, G, Texas A&M (traded to Indiana)

Aaliyah Wilson was an underrated playmaker on one of the best college teams in the country this season. The Fever boosted their backcourt even more by trading for Wilson on Thursday night, giving point guard Julie Allemand another shooting option. Wilson made a huge leap from beyond the arc as a senior, shooting 12.5 percent better than the year before.

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

It would have made sense for the Aces to target a player who can contribute right away, given the 2020 WNBA finalists have the talent to contend for a championship season. So it came as a surprise they went with a player who might be more of a project. That said, there’s no better center for the 19-year-old Iliana Rupert to learn from than Liz Cambage, and the French national team player has the tools to shine in a few years.