Talent is so deep in the WNBA, the reigning Naismith POY doesn't have a team to start the season

Iowa forward Megan Gustafson runs up court during a second round women's college basketball game against Missouri in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Megan Gustafson was cut by the Dallas Wings. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The reality of the WNBA is that few who are drafted will make a squad. In 2019 that includes the reigning Naismith Player of the Year, forcing a look at just how much talent is in the league and how difficult it is for any collegiate superstar to earn her spot.

The Dallas Wings, without two of last year’s stars when play begins Friday, included Megan Gustafson in final roster cuts. Gustafson won multiple player of the year awards and lifted Iowa into national recognition.

Wings waive player of the year

In their final roster cuts, the Wings waived Gustafson, the 17th overall pick in the draft, and guard Kennedy Burke, the 22nd overall pick in the draft of out UCLA.

Both were second-round picks. Wings CEO called getting Gustafson “a steal” at that point. The 6-foot-3 center averaged 27.9 points and 13.5 rebounds per game at Iowa and shot 70.1 percent from the floor.

Gustafson’s cut is most surprising given she won the Naismith Women’s Player of the Year award and Associated Press POY award out of Iowa. She became the fourth player in women’s college basketball history to reach 1,000 career points and led the Hawkeyes to their first Elite Eight despite an opening-round upset bid by Mercer.

Wings CEO Greg Bibb told The Athletic’s Dorothy Gentry the two “can and will” play in the WNBA but the Wings roster couldn’t hold them. Looking back, Gustafson was omitted from recent previews about the Wings season.

Bibb told the Dallas Morning News, “I've been doing this a long time and probably two of the harder decisions to make at this stage of training camp,"

Gustafson averaged 2.6 points and 3.0 rebounds in the Wings’ three-game preseason slate and could be picked up by another team if one made a roster cut themselves to get her. The season begins Friday and that is unlikely.

Wings trades make it difficult

The Wings no longer have Liz Cambage, who they finally dealt to the Los Angeles Sparks after she demanded a trade, and are without Skylar Diggins-Smith, who had her first child during the offseason. Diggins-Smith is practicing with the squad, but there’s no word on when she’ll return to game play.

In announcing the roster cuts, the Wings also revealed they moved Moriah Jefferson, the 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up, to the temporarily suspended list. Jefferson, a Dallas native and four-time champion at UConn, was part of the package the Wings got for Cambage and might sit out this season.

The deal that sent Cambage was the deal that hurt Gustafson’s chances the most and made it “very difficult” for her to make it, Bibb told Gentry. The Wings got Jefferson and forward Isabelle Harrison in addition to a deal earlier that day that brought in center Imani McGee-Stafford.

Reality of making a WNBA roster

There are 12 teams in the WNBA and 12 active roster spots on each, meaning only 144 women are in the league each year. Many of these players stay around for a decade-plus and experience breeds higher levels of talent and physical ability that is difficult to compete with directly out of college.

To put it into perspective, each year there is hordes of talent coming out of the 350-plus Division I college programs. Only 36 are drafted.

Per NCAA data from 2018, teams draft .87 percent of NCAA draft-eligible players and not all of them make rosters. Even if the top 24 picks make it, that’s only .65 percent of eligible players make it to play in the WNBA, far fewer than that of the NBA, NFL and MLB, per The Athletic.

Of course, as many players shared on Twitter, not all great collegiate player become great professional players. Yet the bar is so high out of the gate it’s hard for even the best to attempt it at all.

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