This year’s WNBA draft is going to look a little different. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will be calling out the 2020 selections virtually on April 17 because of stay-at-home orders. The league’s future stars won’t get the chance to hear their names reverberate throughout Nike’s New York headquarters, or make the awkward walk to the podium to pose for a picture with their new team’s jersey. It’s a sad development, given that many of these players have probably dreamed about this moment since they were in elementary school. But at least by the end of the night, even through a computer screen, their dreams of playing with that oatmeal-orange Spalding will come true.
After February’s free-agency frenzy, many WNBA teams come into draft night looking a bit different—and for some, that means looking very, very stacked. (Reminder: Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Brittney Griner are now on the same team.) League officials announced that because of the coronavirus, this year’s training camp will be postponed, as will the season’s start date, originally May 15. But fans and players alike remain hopeful that the teams will be able to suit up this calendar year.
The 2020 draft class is an added bonus. The competitiveness and skill level across this group displays how great women’s college basketball was last season. Even though March Madness was canceled, each of these ladies left a lasting impression on their programs and the college game as a whole. And this draft will be one to remember. The best NCAA D-I player—male or female—in history will go no. 1. Sabrina Ionescu’s ridiculous 2,562 points, 1,040 rebounds, and 1,091 assists during her four years at Oregon has set the new standard for the sport. Plus, Dallas nabbed four (!!) first-round selections in this year’s draft through trades; it could essentially craft a new starting lineup with the selections made Friday night.
With only 144 roster spots, the WNBA epitomizes the crème de la crème of women hoopers around the world. Yes, this year’s draft may look different, and the current state of sports may look a little grim, but these incoming rookies show that the future of the WNBA is brighter than ever. Here is a look at how the first round could unfold:
1. New York Liberty: Sabrina Ionescu, PG
Skill set: Everything—keen passer, lethal stepback 3, and deadly midrange floater
Shades of: Sue Bird
This one is a no-brainer. One of the most decorated hoopers to ever play the sport will occupy the top spot. Ionescu decided not to enter the draft last year because she had unfinished business at Oregon, but with COVID-19 cutting her senior year short, she’ll be more than ready to jump into her rookie season.
The Naismith Player of the Year will be an immediate boon to a struggling Liberty team. The team has gone 17-51 in the last two seasons, and this pick will be New York’s second lottery selection in as many years.
I’m sure the Liberty’s 2019 first-round pick, Asia Durr, couldn’t be more excited to have Ionescu join the team—the two have known each other since high school. And despite the rumors that Tina Charles had considered jumping ship to join the Mercury, she’ll be back in the fold this year too. (Imagine that pick-and-roll action!) With her leadership, unnerving desire to win, and pure prowess, Ionescu is already expected to have a breakout rookie season even before she puts on those light-turquoise threads.
Shortly after this piece was published, Charles was traded to the Washington Mystics.
2. Dallas Wings: Satou Sabally, F
Skill set: Long, lengthy player with a consistent outside shot
Shades of: DeWanna Bonner
Oregon owns these first two lottery spots. The Pac-12 powerhouse was led by the one-two punch of Ionescu and Sabally, so it only makes sense they would go in that order in the WNBA draft. Sabally decided to forgo her senior year to enter the draft, and her 25-point performance in an upset win over Team USA last November proves that she’s more than ready to play at the next level. She’s a lengthy, athletic forward who will make a great swingwoman next to second-year standout Arike Ogunbowale in Dallas. Sabally can score all over the floor; she possesses the versatility to take post players off the dribble and can confidently shoot over smaller guards. Dallas is on one hell of a rebuild, and Sabally is the right woman to help this team become a future playoff contender.
3. Indiana Fever: Lauren Cox, F
Skill set: Solid body in the paint, great footwork, and a consistent jumper
Shades of: Stefanie Dolson
Other mock drafts have Cox going no. 2, but I think she’d be a perfect fit with the Fever. Indiana needs another dominant scorer, and Cox can be exactly that. The Big 12 Player of the Year averaged nearly a double-double last season, with 12.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. It would be a dream to see her playing next to last year’s rookie-leading rebounder and shot blocker, Teaira McCowan. Imagine the rest of the WNBA trying to stop that high-low motion. Are you kidding me?
Cox can seal the inside, and she plays well with her back to the basket. Despite being the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019, her challenge at the next level will be guarding quicker players along the perimeter. She suffered a knee injury during the 2019 NCAA championship game, which took her off the floor for the final quarter of Baylor’s win, but if she can stay healthy, expect her to make an immediate impact.
4. Atlanta Dream: Chennedy Carter, G
School: Texas A&M
Skill set: High-energy, pure scorer
Shades of: Courtney Williams
Carter is the type of player who will score on you (probably several times in a row) then clap in your face as she backpedals onto defense; she’ll get an and-1, then step over you on her way to sink the free throw; she’ll go off for 46 points on you as a freshman. Yeah, she’s that kind of player, and it’s wildly entertaining to watch! Her skill set is ridiculous, too. At only 5-foot-7, she makes getting to the bucket look easy, and she’s more than capable of pulling up for a rainbow 3 from NBA range.
Her challenge at the next level will be learning how to, er, pass the ball. She averaged 18.9 shot attempts per game last season, which ranked third most in the country—so yes, she shoots a lot. But at 45.2 percent from the field, she’s at least efficient. The Aggies offense essentially revolved around setting high ball screens for Carter, then letting her do the rest. If she’s taken at no. 4, she’ll head to a Dream team that’s looking to finish atop the Eastern Conference this season. Carter would be teaming up with her playmaking doppelgänger Courtney Williams, and veteran guards like Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes. Once she learns to share a little more and settle into a new role, I can see her having a standout year—and bulldozing through everyone in her path to get there.
5. Dallas Wings: Megan Walker, G
Skills: Fearless perimeter scorer, lengthy defender
Shades of: Napheesa Collier
Some might say Walker needs another year of college basketball under her belt, but I believe she’s WNBA ready. The 6-foot-1 junior provided instant offense for the Huskies and could always be counted on to make the right play. Walker was the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season and led UConn in scoring with 19.7 points per game. Dallas acquired shooter Marina Mabrey via trade this spring, but Walker’s 45 percent from 3 would still be a nice addition; the Wings had the third-worst 3-point percentage in the league last season. With her aggressive rebounding and defensive tenacity, Walker will more than earn her spot on this young squad.
6. Minnesota Lynx: Tyasha Harris, PG
School: South Carolina
Skill set: Speedy floor general, elite ball handler
Shades of: Brittany Boyd
The Lynx were noticeably quiet during free agency, but you can bet head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve will craft another championship-caliber team soon. And Harris would be another piece to the puzzle. At 5-foot-10, Harris is an excellent point guard option—which would be great for the Lynx since Odyssey Sims will miss at least part of the season due to pregnancy. Harris could dish the ball to reigning Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier and do pick-and-rolls with All-Star Sylvia Fowles, and is capable of creating her own shot as the clock winds down. This well-coached, level-headed senior will have a smooth transition into the league—and she should make some noise for years to come.
7. Dallas Wings: Ruthy Hebard, F
Skill set: Efficient interior scorer, rebounding machine
Shades of: Tina Charles
You can sum up Hebard in one word: efficiency. The All-American leads Oregon and the Pac-12 in career field goal percentage (65.1) and she is Oregon’s all-time leader in career field goals made (987). For Dallas’s third pick this round, why not scoop up Hebard and pair her with her former teammate Sabally? Hebard is an excellent pick-and-roll player, even if she won’t have Ionescu dropping dimes to her off the screen. She may struggle to assert her position in the post at the next level, but Dallas would still be lucky to draft her. She offers guaranteed points in the paint and is a one-woman rebounding machine.
8. Chicago Sky: Crystal Dangerfield, PG
Skill set: Quickness, court awareness, leadership
Shades of: Jasmine Thomas
Dangerfield has been the leader of head coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies for four years, snagging AAC first-team honors in her junior and senior seasons. If she goes no. 8, she’ll be heading to a playoff-ready Chicago Sky team whose roster is full of strong vets, so Dangerfield won’t be expected to contribute right away. Even so, playing backup to future Hall of Fame point guard Courtney Vandersloot would have its perks; she’d get to learn from one of the best passers in the league. Plus, Dangerfield would be surrounded by dominant post players (Stefanie Dolson, Jantel Lavender) and dynamic guards (Diamond DeShields, Allie Quigley) who could help pad her assist stats.
9. Dallas Wings: Beatrice Mompremier, F
Skill set: Quick, back-to-the-basket post moves, skilled scorer in transition
Shades of: Nneka Ogwumike
Mompremier, a 6-foot-4 Baylor transfer, is one of two unicorns expected to go in the first round (read about the second one next). With the combination of her length, quickness, and athleticism, any WNBA team would be happy to have a bruiser like her. Mompremier saw limited action in her senior season due to a foot injury, but she still averaged a team-high 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. She is a walking double-double—she’s had 34 in her career—and her high motor hints at real longevity if she can stay healthy. Her spin moves inside the paint, ability to pass out of double (sometimes triple) teams, and skill at sealing defenders inside all point to her high basketball IQ. Dallas will have a stacked roster come training camp, but my money is on Mompremier earning a starting role.
As part of the Charles trade, this pick will now belong to the Liberty.
10. Phoenix Mercury: Bella Alarie, F
Skill set: Interior post moves, excellent footwork, shot blocking, size
Shades of: Young Elena Delle Donne
OK, invoking EDD here might be generous, but the 6-foot-4 Alarie does have a skill set that’s similar to the reigning MVP’s. The Princeton star stays more inside the key, but she can still drill it from deep. Her handles will surprise you—have you seen that crossover?—and she’s a defensive stopper; she’ll leave Princeton as the team’s all-time leading shot blocker (249). She carried the Tigers to a 26-1 record last season, and the team was expected to land a top-5 seed in the NCAA tournament before it was canceled. We missed out on seeing Alarie compete in the Big Dance against some of the top players on this list, but she’ll get her chance to show she can compete with the rest of them at the next level.
11. Seattle Storm: Kiah Gillespie, F
School: Florida State
Skill set: Reliable pick-and-pop option, shooter
Shades of: Tianna Hawkins
Gillespie was a role player in her first two years at Maryland, but at FSU, she became a key offensive target. She led the Seminoles in scoring (15.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.7) last season and almost carried her team to a school-first ACC tournament championship. She notched 25 points and nine rebounds in her final collegiate bout. Gillespie’s challenge will be solidifying her outside shot (she averaged just 30 percent from 3 last season). Seattle has a deep bench, but Gillespie’s fearless determination on the boards could give Storm coach Dan Hughes some clutch minutes with the second unit.
12. Washington Mystics: Te’a Cooper, G
Skill set: Speed, energy, and dependable outside shot
Shades of: Jordin Canada
Cooper can give you 40 minutes of high-energy basketball, and she’s not afraid to show off all the skills in her bag. She’s capable of scoring 32 points (like she did last season against Oklahoma) or snatching five steals (like she did against Oklahoma and Morehead State). She played at Baylor for only one season—with stops at Tennessee and South Carolina before that—and has had a few injuries, but don’t let that fool you; she’s a baller, and she can add substance to the reigning WNBA champions. The Mystics lost Kristi Toliver to the Sparks in free agency, but Cooper can come off the bench and help fill that role. Also, can you imagine her and Natasha Cloud’s energy in the same arena? Sheesh.
As part of the Charles trade, this pick will now belong to the Liberty.
This piece has been updated after publication with more information. An earlier version of this piece misstated Indiana’s team nickname.