In the first official act of the 2021 WNBA season, the league had its’ draft lottery on Friday, December 4. The New York Liberty came away with the first pick for the second consecutive year. Even though there doesn’t seem to be a transcendent talent like Sabrina Ionescu, they will still be adding an extremely good player to a roster already loaded with young talent.
The Dallas Wings, Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever will round out the lottery selections in that order. The rich are getting richer, in a sense that all of these teams currently host a bevy of youth on their rosters. And with free agency looking like it’s going to be even crazier than last year, the worst that any of these teams will do is get a top 4 talent or trade for an established veteran.
A representative from each lottery team was present on a quick zoom call, with media following the lottery. Marianne Stanley, Greg Bibb, Nicki Collen and Jonathan Kolb made themselves available for questions on Friday evening. They all spoke to how COVID has affected scouting and preparation. While the pool will be expanded due to the new eligibility rules, none of the team reps felt they would severely impact things. One sentiment that was shared amongst the group was how international scouting has been hampered.
Nicki Collen said she will definitely get overseas to scout in-person as safely as possible. Jonathan Kolb doubled down on the importance of getting an up close and personal feel for players. Film is great but it doesn’t give you the intricate details that you see by being in the gym. Kolb has spoken intently about bringing high character players to the Liberty. He likes the face to face aspect because it allows him to see interactions, body language, mannerisms, how they interact with their coach and gives a glimpse into what type of player they truly are.
Marianne Stanley also touched on how limitations due to the pandemic have forced them to readjust their scouting efforts. She also favored the eye test as the ultimate barometer but said there was value in analytics. And if the pool broadens significantly, analytics will be used at a higher volume. Stanley gave kudos to the WNBA for the job they did in the bubble with keeping the league essentially COVID-free.
A few questions were geared towards player selection. While it’s difficult to be specific about an April draft in December, they did speak about addressing needs without attaching a name to them. Greg Bibb spoke to the Wings rebuilding process over the past couple of years. They are looking to build around Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally.
Having the second pick in the draft is a great position to be in but it does present a challenge. Oftentimes there is a juggling act between need, talent and fit. But having basically the entire talent pool available to you is a good problem. With Dallas’ needs being a little more centralized than last season, they will have some decisions to make. Bibb said they’d be looking to add some interior defense, but also would like to add veteran leadership and experience as their most tenured players only have four years in the league under their belt.
Based on the the comments from all four team representatives, we could see some fireworks in free agency. Each person shared their intent to be aggressive during the free agency period. We saw it pay dividends last year as several teams made key additions. It wouldn’t be surprising if we saw one of these picks get traded, in order for one of these teams to make a big splash.
We’re still trying to recover from the excitement of the bubble. It’s a full-time job keeping track of the ladies doing work overseas. We still have a front row seat to the history being made by the ladies social justice efforts. And in the midst of all this, we have to gear up for another season. April seems like a long way from now but before we know it, Cathy Engelbert will be saying, “And with the first pick the New York Liberty select…”. Fingers crossed that it will be in an arena full of fans.