WNBA draft grades: Phoenix and Minnesota score A-plus marks


WNBA draft day is one of hope and promise, but things get real pretty quickly. Remember the math: 12 teams with 12 roster spots. It's a challenge to get and keep a job in the WNBA. Your work is cut out for you, kids.
Still, some franchises need an infusion of youth, with four-time champion Minnesota and three-time champ Phoenix on that list. In a draft that didn't have a guaranteed future superstar but featured a number of players with potential to contribute, the Lynx and the Mercury particularly stand out after filling needs with their choices.
Let's take a team-by-team look, in order of their grades:
Draftees: No. 8 Alanna Smith, Stanford, 6-4 forward; No. 11 Brianna Turner, Notre Dame, 6-3 forward; No. 13 Sophie Cunningham, Missouri, 6-1 guard; No. 32 Arica Carter, Louisville, 5-8 guard
Evaluation: The Mercury would love nothing more than to get one more championship for Diana Taurasi, but she'll need to help groom some youngsters for that to happen. These four players all have the right personality to learn from her. Smith has size and outside shooting skills and is bursting with more potential to develop. The Mercury traded Marie Gulich, a first-round pick last year, for Turner, and the Notre Dame post fits the Mercury better. She's a terrific defender who has come back well from the ACL injury that caused her to sit a year in college. Cunningham is known for her grit and hustle, and she could have no better mentor than Taurasi. Carter was a good defender and cog for the Cardinals, and could find a similar role in the pro game.
Grade: A-plus
NCAA runner-up Notre Dame became the first team to get all five starters drafted, while champion Baylor had two players selected in the top 15 picks.
Top overall pick Jackie Young was the first of five Notre Dame players to be selected in Wednesday night's WNBA draft. Louisville senior Asia Durr went second to the New York Liberty.
Las Vegas selected Jackie Young with the No. 1 overall pick. We tracked all three rounds of the WNBA draft, with player rankings and analysis.
Draftees: No. 6 Napheesa Collier, UConn, 6-2 forward; No. 16 Jessica Shepard, Notre Dame, 6-4 forward; No. 20 Cierra Dillard, Buffalo, 5-9 guard; No. 30 Kenisha Bell, Minnesota, 5-9 guard
Evaluation: Lindsay Whalen has retired, Maya Moore is sitting out this season and the other members of the Lynx's championship core -- Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles -- are all north of 30. The Lynx know they have to get younger. Collier is a high-energy post player who will expand her game. Shepard can do a lot as a post, too. Rivals at UConn and Notre Dame the past two seasons, Collier and Shepard now could be the post duo of the future for Minnesota. Without Moore, the Lynx need scoring, and guards Dillard and Bell, if they make the squad, can help provide that. And the Lynx also used one of their draft picks, No. 18 Natisha Hiedeman, to trade to Connecticut for Lexie Brown, a second-year guard who could blossom with the Lynx.
Grade: A-plus

Draftees: No. 5 Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame, 5-8 guard; No. 17 Megan Gustafson, Iowa, 6-3 center; No. 22 Kennedy Burke, UCLA, 6-1 guard; No. 29 Morgan Bertsch, UC Davis, 6-4 forward
Evaluation: With point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who is pregnant, out some and perhaps all of this season, and center Liz Cambage still wanting a trade, new coach Brian Agler has to reshape this team. He has some good pieces to do that. Ogunbowale is a premier scorer who could see a lot of playing time, especially with Diggins-Smith out. Gustafson fell into the second round because she was so pinned to the low block as a college player at 6-3; let's see how she develops her game as a pro. She doesn't lack work ethic, for sure. Burke could make a big impact defensively, which Agler would like a lot. Bertsch was a strong scorer in college, although it seems unlikely both she and Gustafson would make the roster.
Grade: A

Draftees: No. 1 Jackie Young, Notre Dame, 6-0 guard
Evaluation: The Aces had one pick, and it was the first, so they could do whatever they wanted. Had Sabrina Ionescu entered the draft, she likely would have been the choice. But without her, the multidimensional Young was the clear pick. Young was a high school scoring sensation, but with the Irish she did everything: score, pass, rebound, defend. She was their best all-around player, but played well with other stars at Notre Dame. She will do the same at the pro level, because she can easily fit in, while also having the ability to take over.
Grade: A

Draftees: No. 2 Asia Durr, Louisville, 5-10 guard; No. 14 Han Xu, China, 6-9 center; No. 26 Megan Huff, Utah, 6-3 forward
Evaluation: The Liberty have new ownership and would like to recapture some of the old spirit they used to have with their fan base. Franchise centerpiece Tina Charles needs more help from a consistent big scoring threat, and that should be Durr's biggest strength. She's an extremely hard worker, and nobody knows more about successful guard play than Liberty coach Katie Smith, a Hall of Famer. Han is just 19 and we can't be entirely sure of her availability because of Chinese national team commitments. But it could be fantastic for the Liberty and the league if she becomes China's first WNBA star, especially in New York City. Huff also could provide post depth for New York.
Grade: B-plus

Draftees: No. 9 Kristine Anigwe, Cal, 6-4 forward/center; No. 18 Natisha Hiedeman, Marquette, 5-8 guard; No. 21 Bridget Carleton, Iowa State, 6-1 guard; No. 33 Regan Magarity, Virginia Tech, 6-3 forward
Evaluation: The Sun don't have a lot of needs this season from this draft, but they're also looking to the future. Anigwe dropped further in the first round than many expected, which means there are questions about her WNBA adjustment despite huge stats. Then again, she might make people regret passing on her. Hiedeman was drafted by Minnesota but then traded to the Sun for Lexie Brown; she can play both guard spots. Carleton was Big 12 player of the year and had a great career with Iowa State, although this is a tough roster to crack even with her skill set. Same applies to Magarity.
Grade: B-plus

Draftees: No. 4 Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn, 6-3 guard; No. 15 Chloe Jackson, Baylor, 5-8 guard; No. 27 Maria Conde, Spain, 6-1 forward
Evaluation: Samuelson as a lottery pick was a bit of a surprise. By the same token, there's no question she can score and gives Chicago another 3-point threat. And drafting UConn players high is always a good bet. Jackson upped her draft stock more than anyone with her NCAA tournament run to the championship. As a converted point guard from shooting guard, she has a chance to learn from one of the best true point guards to ever play in the WNBA in Courtney Vandersloot. Conde played collegiately at Florida State and could provide post depth if she makes the squad.
Grade: B

Draftees: No. 3 Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State, 6-7 center; No. 25 Paris Kea, North Carolina, 5-9 guard; No. 28 Caliya Robinson, Georgia, 6-3 forward
Evaluation: The rebuilding continues for the Fever, who unfortunately lost one of their 2018 first-round picks, Victoria Vivians, for 2019 after she tore her ACL playing overseas. They have another Mississippi State product in McCowan, a rim protector and rebounder who might expand her game a little offensively. The Fever are still looking for an identity in the post-Tamika Catchings era, and maybe McCowan can help them find it. Kea is a talented scoring guard who might help with Vivians out. Robinson has a WNBA-style build, but her game didn't evolve much while at Georgia. If she makes the Fever roster, maybe we'll see more of that.
Grade: B

Draftees: No. 12 Ezi Magbegor, Australia, 6-4 forward; No. 24 Anriel Howard, Mississippi State, 5-11 forward; No. 36 Macy Miller, South Dakota State, 6-0 guard
Evaluation: The defending WNBA champions benefited greatly from the draft and some trades in recent years, and put it all together with ageless veteran point guard Sue Bird last year. The Storm are a threat to repeat this year. They didn't need a lot from the draft, but they got some pieces that could help. The Australian Magbegor is a tantalizing talent, but still young and a bit raw. The Storm have the talent to give her time to develop. Howard is fantastic athlete, but as a "tweener" sizewise, she'll face some challenges establishing herself. Miller is jack-of-all-trades big guard, but cracking this roster will be hard.
Grade: B

Draftees: No. 7 Kalani Brown, Baylor, 6-7 center; No. 19 Marina Mabrey, Notre Dame, 5-11 guard; No. 31 Angela Salvadores, Spain, 5-10 guard
Evaluation: Brown upped her stock with her NCAA tournament success, and she can provide some welcome size for the Sparks in matching up with other big women. Of course, there's always still the possibility that Dallas center Liz Cambage gets the trade to Los Angeles that she wants, and Brown goes elsewhere. But if not, Brown can help the Sparks. Mabrey is Notre Dame's all-time leading 3-point shooter, and the Sparks were eighth in the WNBA in treys made last season. Salvadores spent one season at Duke, and has played professionally in Spain, and could provide guard depth.
Grade: B

Draftees: No. 10 Kiara Leslie, NC State, 6-0 guard; No. 34 Sam Fuehring, Louisville, 6-3 forward
Evaluation: The joke is that coach and general manager Mike Thibault lives to mess up mock drafts, because he tends to take players at unexpected spots. Reality is, he's a career-long talent scout who couldn't care less what the mocks say. Leslie had a lot on her shoulders as the injuries kept piling up at NC State, and she handled that well. Just as Thibault saw more in guard Ariel Atkins of Texas last year, picking her at No. 7, he sees a lot in Leslie. As for Fuehring, she has the toughness that will at least get her a look in the WNBA. The Mystics made the WNBA Finals for the first time last year, even with Elena Delle Donne dealing with a knee injury suffered in the semis. They should be a strong team this season without much help from their draft picks, so anything they get is a bonus.
Grade: B-minus

Draftees: No. 23 Maite Cazorla, Oregon, 5-10 guard; No. 35 Li Yueru, China, 6-7 center
Evaluation: The Dream made a run at the WNBA Finals last season even with star Angel McCoughtry out with an ACL injury. Center was a position of need, and they drafted one in Notre Dame's Brianna Turner, but promptly traded her to Phoenix for Marie Gulich, who was taken No. 12 by the Mercury last season and got little court time. The Dream took post player Li in the third round, but passed on her more highly touted Chinese teammate Han Xu, a 6-9 center they could have taken instead of Turner at No. 11. The Dream are either concerned about Han's availability this season, or they really believe in Gulich. Cazorla did a nice job playing alongside the sensational Sabrina Ionescu at Oregon, and as a true point guard, might find a spot with the Dream.
Grade: C-minus