5 things to know for the 2020 WNBA draft: Watch the Wings, Ducks and roster limits

Yahoo Sports

The 2020 WNBA draft will be franchise-altering for the Dallas Wings. The team’s name will be called four times Friday night in the first round, and the Wings can shape their future around 2019 selection and Rookie of the Year finalist Arike Ogunbowale.

The Oregon Ducks can also draw attention to their program beyond Sabrina Ionescu’s accolades. They could have the most draft picks of any collegiate program in 2020, a year altered forever by the loss of the NCAA tournament due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Here are five things to know ahead of the draft, which will be held virtually on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET on Friday.

1 — Dallas Wings are ones to watch

Watch the Wings. They have four of the first nine picks and six overall, plus they come into the day already over the season limit of 12 players on the roster.

“The idea was to try to get the best competition as possible in an environment where we’re extraordinarily young, perhaps painfully young,” Wings CEO Greg Bibb told reporters during a conference call Monday. “[And to] give ourselves enough assets to get to where we want to be. So I think along the way you could see some unconventional moves from us.”

This has been two years in the making, Bibb said, dating back to the May 2019 trade that sent Liz Cambage to the Las Vegas Aces. The Wings received Moriah Jefferson and Isabelle Harrison along with first- and second-round picks in this draft.

“At that time I thought the [2020] draft had the opportunity to be a good one,” Bibb said. “And then moving forward to the transaction involving Skylar Diggins-Smith, at that point I was feeling more confident about the quality of the draft so we really emphasized getting a draft pick back in return rather than established players.”

The Wings sent Diggins-Smith, who sat out last season after the birth of her son, to the Phoenix Mercury and netted the Nos. 5 and 7 draft picks out of it. They return leading scorer Ogunbowale, last year’s fifth overall pick out of Notre Dame who averaged 19.1 points per game, ranking third behind MVP Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner.

2 — Going without: Sparks, Sun, Aces lack first-round picks

The Los Angeles Sparks, Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces do not have a first-round draft pick heading into the WNBA draft.

The Sparks got rid of theirs when they traded with the Sun for all-star Chiney Ogwumike last April. They’re in a good spot despite a first-round playoff loss. Former league MVPs Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike return and Kristi Toliver re-signed with the Sparks after a title with the Mystics last season. Their two picks are Nos. 20 and 22.

The Sun let go of their two picks in a bombshell deal to get DeWanna Bonner, a two-time champion and three-time Sixth Woman of the Year with the Mercury who joined Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas.

The Aces, who made the first selection in three straight drafts from 2017 to 2019, dealt their pick to get Cambage last offseason. They’re also in good shape with A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Dearica Hamby. The Aces’ one pick is at No. 33.

3 — Ducks can make some noise beyond Ionescu

(From left) Oregon's Minyon Moore, Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard could all be drafted Friday night. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)
(From left) Oregon's Minyon Moore, Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard could all be drafted Friday night. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

It’s all but guaranteed Sabrina Ionescu will be taken with the No. 1 pick. If the Wings do select Oregon forward Satou Sabally, who declared early, with the No. 2 pick, they would be the first teammates not from Connecticut to be taken 1-2.

Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird and retired forward Swin Cash were taken 1-2 in 2002. Forward Storm forward Breanna Stewart and Wings point guard Moriah Jefferson did it in 2016. Connecticut’s Morgan Tuck, who signed with the Storm this free agency period, was drafted No. 3 that year.

[10 players to watch in the WNBA draft not named Ionescu]

Ruthy Hebard is also expected to be a first-round draft pick, though it’s likely she’ll be taken deeper down the board. It would be the fifth consecutive season, and ninth overall, that three teammates were taken in the first round. The last ones were, in order, Notre Dame (2019), UConn, South Carolina and Stewart’s UConn class.

Ducks graduate student Minyon Moore, who previously played at USC, could also be drafted.

4 —Losing the NCAA tournament did impact some draft stock

WNBA teams don’t start scouting players a month before draft night. They’ve had their eyes on many of them for years already. In that way, the cancellation of this season’s tournament doesn’t have a huge impact.

But there are some players who might have gotten a boost from a standout tournament. Say South Carolina’s Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan have stellar performances in March and lift their three freshmen starters to a national title. That might push them up the board a little bit.

Athletes at mid-major schools, such as Princeton’s Bella Alarie, are the ones impacted the most. The Tigers (26-1) reached the Associated Press top 25, but an early matchup against Iowa was their only high-caliber game.

“A lot of people are excited about her talent,” ESPN analyst and former Liberty star Rebecca Lobo told reporters, “but would have loved to have seen her in the tournament against a different level of competition than maybe everybody she saw in the Ivy League.”

Rice graduate Erica Ogwumike, the youngest sister of Sparks stars Nneka and Chiney, also took a hit with the lack of a tournament. South Dakota’s Ciara Duffy and Rider’s Stella Johnson are the other projected mid-major picks.

5 — It’s tough to make a WNBA roster

The WNBA is the toughest league break into with only 12 teams and 144 roster spots total. For comparison, the NBA has 450 roster spots.

Per NCAA data from 2018, WNBA teams draft .87 percent of NCAA draft-eligible players. That number is around 1.2 percent in the NBA, 1.6 percent in the NFL and 9.5 percent in MLB.

The difficulty of making a roster was highlighted last season when Iowa superstar and Naismith Player of the Year Megan Gustafson was left off the Wings’ final roster. She was the No. 17 overall pick in the draft — “a steal,” Wings executives said — but roster issues outside of her control pushed her out. She eventually re-signed midseason.

With the higher salary cap under the new collective bargaining agreement, some teams will carry only 11 players at the beginning of the season to stay under the cap. And with leagues around the world shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis, it creates another difficulty for rookies.

“I think this is an interesting year in that because of the free agency movement that we saw in the offseason, there are some teams that they just don’t have a lot of room on their roster,” Lobo said. “This is going to be a very unique year that in the past a player who is maybe undrafted was still able to go to a training camp because players were coming late from their overseas commitment. A player would get an opportunity to be in a camp for a couple of days or maybe a week before one of the veterans returned and took that training camp spot. That’s not the case this year.”

Players drafted by veteran-heavy teams like the Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm will have a tougher time breaking in, while those selected by Liberty will have it easier.

The players who are selected Friday night are the best to come out of college basketball this year. But there’s unfortunately no guarantee we’ll see these stars play in the United States at the professional level.

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